1 Peter 3 v1 – 3 v12
This passage clearly follows on from what has gone before, and so it is worth looking back and remembering who Peter has said we should submit to, and why, and how. The larger context is given in 2:12 – Peter telling us to “live such good lives among the pagans that … they may glorify God …” – ie a concern for our witness to a watching, though often hostile, world.
“In the same way” does not imply that a wife’s submission to her husband is the same as a slave’s submission to his/her master, but rather that this is another outworking of the principle of 2:12. This submission is voluntary, motivated not by fear of her husband, but fear of God (v.6). It is not determined simply by cultural expectations of the day – Peter appeals to a Biblical norm, the example of Sarah, who lived getting on for 2000 years earlier, in an enormously different cultural setting to Peter’s readers.
Peter gives two reasons for this submission: (i) that this behaviour might win over an unbelieving husband. The witness of a wife’s life is likely to be far more eloquent and persuasive than her words. (Not that words are therefore unnecessary, as though the husband does not need to hear the Gospel explained, but very likely it is others in the church who should be seeking to share the Gospel, invite to events etc – I wonder how good we are at supporting those with non-Christian husbands in that way). And (ii) this behaviour pleases God, for it is the beauty God especially prizes and longs to see in us (vv.3,4). A “gentle and quiet spirit” is not a particular personality type, they are words applied to Christ and are qualities all Christians should aspire to. It means not being pushy and self-assertive, insisting on your own way, and not being contentious or argumentative. It’s part and parcel of an attitude of submissiveness. I don’t think v.3 forbids nice clothes or jewellery, but we are not to find our beauty in such things. The desire to be beautiful is good and natural, but we mustn’t be entranced by the world’s shallow idea of beauty and forget where real beauty is found – not in cosmetics, but Christlikeness.
The fact that husbands only get one verse does not mean they get off lightly. Men are told to “be considerate”, or literally “live with your wives according to knowledge”. Men might joke that women are baffling, and we can be lazy at trying to understand and know our wives. It means listening more, being more sensitive, more compassionate, making more effort to understand out wives’ desires, concerns, frustrations etc etc
Then secondly husbands are told to treat their wives “with respect” – or the word is perhaps stronger than that: honour them, treat them as precious. Headship in marriage is not about crushing wives and keeping them in their place, for despite the different roles there is equality before God – they are “heirs with you of the gracious gift of life”. Being the “weaker partner” implies no inferiority, but rather that they are deserving of extra care. The end of verse 7 is a sobering warning: the way we treat our wives will have a profound impact on our relationship with God. God is so concerned that we treat our wives rightly (since after all we should be a visual aid of His love and care for His people) that He is prepared to spoil our enjoyment of our relationship with Him if we disobey.
In v.8, Peter is concerned particularly about relationships within the church. That’s clear because the central command of the five given – “love on another” – is more literally “love as brothers”. Such love implies a mindset that prizes unity and puts other’s needs first (the 1st and 5th commands), and a heart attitude of sympathy and compassion (the 2nd and 4th). Do tease out what this might look like in practise for us in St.Ebbes.
Then vv.9-12 probably have a wider application in terms of our relationships with all people. Peter does not expect all to speak well of us (see for example 2:12, 3:16), but what matters is our response: not fighting back, or merely being tight-lipped, but responding with love, with blessing, with grace. And in so doing we will know God’s grace and blessing ourselves, for righteousness pays, as the Psalmist shows. Notice how v.12a reinforces the lesson of v.7b that our horizontal relationships have an impact on our enjoyment of the vertical relationship with God.
Used with the permission of St Ebbe’s, Oxford