by Warren Camp
1 Peter 3:1–7 . . .
“Living as Christian Husbands and Wives”
In the first two chapters of Apostle Peter’s first letter to the scattered Christians of Asia Minor, he made three things abundantly clear: (1) A believer’s future with God, who’s enabled us to become born again, is absolutely secure; (2) because Christians are God’s holy people, we’re “set apart” here on earth to follow his directions so we can effectively accomplish his purposes; (3) today’s believers will suffer, even for doing good things; sometimes hardship comes to those who attempt to live as Jesus did.
In chapter two, Peter revealed that God’s holy people are called to live by submitting to human authority, even those in authority who bring about our suffering. Here in chapter 3, we’ll see him extend the concept of submission to Christian wives. Herein, he commands them to be subject to their husbands, even unbelieving ones. Note: Peter is not saying that wives are to submit to all men in a general sense.
Peter was very much in touch with reality. He knew that marriages couldn’t be realized as a “heaven-on-earth” manifestation. Marriages, similar to other institutions, suffer from the adverse result of mankind’s fall. Because every marriage will experience suffering and groaning, Peter assumes that even the marriages of Christians who live godly lives will endure suffering. As a result of this fallen world, and our sinful nature, Christian marriages are susceptible to the same ailments found in non-Christian marriages.
“Wives, Submit Yourselves to Your Husbands” (3:1–2)
As we saw in Warren’s previous commentary on 2:18–25, Peter focused on servants, telling them to be submissive to their masters, whether they were kind and gentle or overbearing. Then he reminded them of the example set by Lord Jesus: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats (2:23a).” Peter thereby committed himself to the Lord. Now, he directs our attention to the home. Just as the Lord took the unjust treatment that was accorded to him, Peter now says, “Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands” (v. 1a) — even when they aren’t right.
When Peter begins with “in the same way” or “likewise,” he’s relating the new topic to what he’s already said regarding citizens submitting to rulers and servants submitting to masters. The point in all three cases is that subjection is demanded by God, even if the one in authority is misusing the authority (though this in no way justifies the one misusing authority).
Submission to Husbands
3 1Wives, in the same way, submit yourselves to your own husbands, so that if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without word by the behavior of their wives, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives (1 Pet. 3:1–2 NIV).
Proper submission in the home follows the same principles of submission towards government as well as our employers, teachers, and so on. It’s a submission not only of actions but also of the heart, as demonstrated by the surrendering heart of Jesus (2:21–25). The call for submission isn’t merely a call for love and consideration; it’s a call to submit to authority the way an obedient soldier submits to one of superior rank.
To understand this passage, we must put it into the context of 2:11–12. In v. 11, Peter called his readers “foreigners and exiles” or “aliens and strangers” because they were heavenly citizens on a journey through life, headed for their heavenly country. As sojourners, they might wrongly conclude that they had little or no social responsibility on earth. Peter points out that, because they’re Christians, they were to act more responsibly toward every social institution (v. 12), especially government, slavery, and marriage. Now in vv. 1–6, the issue becomes more specific: the saved wife’s responsibility to an unsaved husband while joined in the God-ordained institution of marriage.
As sojourners, Christian women were “to abstain from sinful desires,” fleshly lusts, and passions (2:11). In context, these fleshly passions were related to the concept of submission, which is Peter’s major conviction in 2:11–3:12. Such fleshly passions raise their ugly heads when we feel we’ve been treated unjustly and then demand that people treat us right. How easy it would be for a saved wife to feel defensive, resentful, and vindictive, possibly wanting to retaliate when her unsaved husband treats her cruelly, whether psychologically or physically.
In v. 1, women are told specifically, as were servants/slaves (2:18), that they aren’t justified in disobeying the one in authority, even if he’s disobeying God. Wives might think that they don’t have to submit to their husbands if they’ve mistreated them or misused their authority. However, this passage clearly contradicts that idea. Instead, a husband’s disobedience to God is why a wife should obey her husband; by doing so she can set a godly example and possibly even convert him.
Beauty, as Applied to Outward Appearance (vv. 3–6)
In the following verses, Peter will emphasize abstinence regarding clothing, jewelry, makeup, and manner of dress. The way we dress matters. We need to understand what’s proper about our outward semblance. Peter admonishes wives, as Apostle Paul does in 1 Timothy 2:9–10,saying that the inner person — the spiritual character — is far more important than outward appearance. This is a matter of emphasis or priority. For many women, outward beauty is of prime importance. One must follow the latest fashions and styles. God says that these things are not what’s most important.
In the same way that Peter is not saying that wives are to submit to all men in a general sense, he did not forbid all adornment! For the godly woman, “outward adornment” (v. 3) must always be done in moderation, always emphasizing inward beautification.
3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear (1 Pet. 3:3–6).
Peter’s point in these four verses is that proper emphasis must be on the heart. A godly wife should have an inner self that radiates “a gentle and quiet spirit.” She may frequently give helpful advice to her husband while having the right to express and propose her views, provided she does so in a godly manner. She must always speak out against sin. And, after making her point, she must remember that she’ll influence others primarily through her example, “which is of great worth in God’s sight” (v. 4).
What’s the husband’s duty to the wife? His obligation includes giving her due respect, upholding her authority, protecting her, and trusting her. Husband and wife are heirs of every God-given blessing today and those we’ll receive in our days to come. Both should live peaceably one with another.
“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves” (v. 5a). Therein, Peter reminds women that he wasn’t calling them to a new standard but to what had been practiced by “holy women of the past” who’d put their hope and trust in God, powerfully demonstrating their faith. Sarah’s submission to Abraham demonstrated that she obeyed and submitted to him even when it was difficult, even when he was wrong (as in Genesis 12:10–20).
Sarah honored Abraham by calling him “lord” (Greek, kurios; Gen. 18:12). It’s possible to obey someone without showing them the honor that’s part of submission. But true submission knows the place of both obedience and honor. Although Sarah refereed to Abraham as “lord,” the text isn’t clear about how she “obeyed” Abraham. And, since Peter didn’t specifically mention these lying events in Gen. 12 and 20, we shouldn’t assume that these were the events he had in mind.
Verse 6 closes by highlighting the importance for wives, who are Sarah’s daughters, to be truly submissive to their husbands. They must never be fearful but always faithful. Such submission is good; it puts the results in God’s hands, not man’s. Doing so demonstrates an active commitment to the will of God while documenting a strong trust in him.
Husbands Be Considerate; Prevent Hindered Prayers (v. 7)
In Christianity, obligations are reciprocal by nature: If slaves have obligations, so do their masters; if children have duties toward their parents, so do parents have duties toward their children; if wives have duties to fulfill, so do their husbands.
Peter calls for men to uphold two virtues: wisdom and respect. He then gives two reasons: women are weaker but are to be respected as being equal to men in terms of their standing before God and his future promises.
A Word to Husbands
7Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).
The way that a husband behaves is also very important. Every husband should learn how to care for his wife. A man has a stronger body that enables him to protect his wife. Because God chose to make men and women different, we must not think it bad that she’s weaker than him. Women will receive an equal inheritance from God (Galatians 3:27–29). “Giving honor to the wife” affirms the desire and need to sustain and jointly develop their new spiritual life. A husband should honor and respect his wife because she’s precious. If a husband behaves badly towards his wife, he fails to obey God’s purpose.
Peter concludes by showing the relationship of a Christian husband and his believing wife. When the relationship between them is strained, it hinders communion and fellowship with God; thus the couple’s prayer life becomes paralyzed by the sin of one or both partners. When a conflict between believers arises, it often occurs as a result of one or both partners’ pursuit of self-interest, rather than a mutual submission to one another. In these cases, married partners’ prayers usually get misdirected and unanswered.
In his closing “A Word to Husbands,” Peter instructs Christian husbands to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate “Suffering Servant” (2:21–25). They do it by actively demonstrating Christ’s servanthood toward their wives, just as Christ demonstrated it toward his church.
- Q. 1 Why is it hard for humans to submit?… When is submission wrong for a Christian?
- Q. 2 How can trying to look their best divert women from what is more important?
- Q. 3 How does a person cultivate inner beauty? How does one gain character?
- Q. 4 Why should a husband relate to his wife with knowledge and wisdom? How can treating each other wrongly hinder a couple’s prayers?
Intro Video: “First Peter”
Warren’s New “Peter Masterpieces” Photo Album
† View several classic paintings of Saint Peter by art world masters: Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rubens, Goya, El Greco, Raphael, Masaccio, Giotto, Correggio, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Veneziano, Tissot, Duccio, Fra Angelico, Galle, Dürer, Palomino, and many more.
1 Peter 3:1–7