How is marriage doing today? In general, how do you think the institution of marriage is doing in our society today? I suspect the vast majority of you, even the most optimistic, would say that marriage in general and many or most marriages specifically are not doing well.
I would say that it goes badly with marriage today. Why? Well, that is a long conversation. Multi-faceted. A significant reason for that is because we’ve lost sight of God. And we’ve neglected his prescribed plan for marriage. After all, I reason, shouldn’t the Creator of marriage know how to make it work??
The topic today is roles in marriage. That the husband and the wife have different roles in their marriage. In many circles this is an unpopular topic. Our society has gotten so off track in this arena of proper, godly roles in marriage that I suspect most of us—even myself—don’t see this area nearly as clearly as we ought.
In summary, these ROLES I am speaking about are the husband wisely, humbly, and lovingly LEADING his wife. And that the wife confidently, intelligently, and in faith being subject to that leadership. The husband and wife, in those with different roles, complement one another beautifully. This combination is for a healthy marriage that is pleasing to the couple, honoring to God, and a testimony to the world.
Some of you understand this and are already living this way. Others of you may, even just now, have an averse reaction to that. All I ask for this morning is to hear God out. I will give my best shot in a few minutes to explain God’s plan here as faithfully as I can. Peter’s words we will read were inspired by God through the Holy Spirit. This is what GOD says. This is not merely some popular author or speaker who has the latest insight into marriage.
Also, I recognize that a large % of you today are not married. I hope you still pay attention. Many or most of you will be married someday, but even if you don’t, the truths here impact relationships all around us here in the church and in our extended families. And in Society in general. So to have God’s mind on all this is VITAL for all.
Let’s pray. Lord, I know in our society today and even in some of our hearts, this is a sensitive topic. Maybe it’s hard to swallow. Some of us have seen good examples, healthy marriages. Others of us have seen few, if any, healthy marriages. Lord, help us to simply examine your Word freshly. To trust you. To walk by faith. Lead us into what our parts should be in marriage, that we might imitate the very nature of God, and that the world might see more of you because of us. Amen.
History of God’s plan for Marriage
This topic of roles in marriage is a controversial one in our society today. There are misunderstandings. There are bad experiences many have had, perhaps our own or our parents. Our society has values that contradict this. And we all have a sinful flesh that pushes us away from what the Scriptures say. So I want to take a few minutes to look at the big picture. Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. Let’s get a very brief historical perspective on how marriage even started.
Let’s start with the most foundational verse of all for virtually every topic, not just marriage.
Genesis 1:27 ESV “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Men and women are made in the image of God. This is powerful. Life-altering. Different from all other creatures on the planet, we are uniquely made. There is much discussion about what exactly “in the image of God” means, but it’s obvious from Genesis 1 & 2 that we are special. We are God’s representatives. There is a likeness of God in us.
All of us. No matter whether we are male or female, rich or poor, American or Chinese, black or white, Genius or Down’s Syndrome. All are made in God’s image. This gives dignity and worth to every single one of us. We have to start with this. If we miss this, everything else is muddled.
Yet there is more. Adam was created first. But for the man to be alone, the Lord said, was not good. This was the first problem in creation. Man’s aloneness. (The problem of sin comes later.) So God created the woman.
Genesis 2:23 ESV “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’”
Profoundly the woman was the only creature not created out of the dust of the earth. She was created from the man. This created order is significant, leading us into distinct roles in the marriage. And this reveals the unique bond and purpose that the man and the woman have together.
God created something beautiful. Harmonious. A reflection of the very nature of God. Both made in the image of God. At the same time, both have unique purposes and roles within that new and beautiful relationship.
I don’t know how well you know the next event in the story, but the world’s greatest catastrophe happens: man sins, and God’s curse comes down on the Man, the Woman, the Earth itself, and the Devil. This beautiful, glorious, world that God Himself called, “Very good”, is now plunged into sin and corruption and darkness.
And this brand new Marriage that God created is now marred. Not forever ruined, but certainly marred. And now a Myriad of problems arise. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that every problem in marriage today springs out of this one catastrophic day. Every problem. Hatred, anger, unforgiveness, lying, fighting, sneaking, isolation, pushing, abusing, pride, loneliness, apathy. Let that sink in.
I hope we now ask, “Well, then, what hope is there?” The only and best hope for restoration of the Man, the Woman, and the Earth is the redemptive work of the Son of God. Jesus Christ came to earth to pay the death penalty. He came to restore us to the God who created us. Who created us in Wholeness, but we shattered that. He came to redeem. To restore. To forgive. To cleanse. To make new.
That really is the Main Message of the New Testament, including Peter’s letter: That Jesus has come to redeem us from our sin and darkness, make us brand new, give us a restored relationship with him, and call us to walk with him as long as we’re on the earth.
That’s a brief history lesson. That’s the crucial background. Without that foundation, all conversations on marriage are incomplete. So with all that in mind, let’s dive in to Peter’s God-inspired words.
1 Peter 3:1-7 Verses 1-2
1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,
2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Let’s break this down.
“likewise” [in the same way] Peter is calling wives to have the same type of heart that he just spoke of . He uses this controversial, often-misunderstood word: be subject. Or, submit. The Greek word simply means “to order yourself under someone.” To submit. To obey. To follow. The Greek word was used in military terms, as in being under the command of a leader. Like in the military today, we use the term, “Rank.” There is an ordering in the military. A chain of command. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden”.
Interestingly, Peter uses this word 6 times in this letter, including some in Chapter 2: Citizens be subject to the governing authorities. Slave be subject to masters. (Equivalent: Employees be subject to Employers.)
When I was an engineer, I submitted to my boss. My heart was to make him successful. I had a variety of bosses. One was very passive and indecisive. Another was more like a drill sergeant. But I still submitted to them.
And while Peter doesn’t use the word “submit” when referring to the Lord Jesus and God the Father, it is implied. Look back at the end of Chapter 2. Vs. 23: The Lord Jesus submitted to the Father. “He entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” This may be the most marvelous truth in this entire topic. We see leadership and submission in the very nature of God. Why are we surprised to see it in marriage??
This is very profound!! When women fight against humble, faith-filled submission…and when men fight against loving, godly leadership, we fight against the very nature of God!!
As the wife walks as Jesus walks, she has the opportunity to win her husband to obedience to his God, both in his salvation and his repentance in his walk of godliness. Observe how she is to win him: without a word and through her conduct. Not by nagging. Not by constant talking. Not by manipulating. Instead she wins him by her godly character. She is to have respectful and pure conduct. Respectful. She honors him. Speaks highly of him in public and private. Not wicked or hateful or manipulative or anything else contrary to the purity and holiness of God. God somehow uses such her godliness to convict the conscience of a rebellious man.
My wife has been such a great example to me in this area. I can’t remember the last time she nagged me. The Lord knows I’ve given her PLENTY of opportunities. But time after time, she wins me without a Word by her kindness and patience. The Lord has used her character to convict me of my own sin.
He gives some more specifics of what this looks like:
3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—
4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Peter is not prohibiting any attention given to outward appearance. He’s not implying the opposite: Look sloppy, unkempt, dirty. I think it’s good if a wife wants to look good for her husband. And Peter doesn’t mean that braided hair is evil. Or gold jewelry is wicked. His point is, “Don’t let those things become the emphasis. Don’t let those things bring the attention to you.”
Peter’s great emphasis is on the heart, character, and conduct. The hidden person. The imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit which is precious to God. The older we all get the more we know that our beauty and muscles and health perish. They fade. God tells us, “There’s a Beauty that never fades.”
Would anyone disagree that as a rule our culture (and maybe we) have this one wrong?? Most of the emphasis for women is on the external.
Some of you here this morning are already following this emphasis on the inner person, the godliness. What a beautiful thing in the sight of God. Others of you may have the wrong emphasis. You feel an internal and external pressure to WIN people by the External Beauty. The Lord would gently yet firmly say, “You have it backwards.”
When our daughters were young, and they would look pretty on the outside as they twirled in their dresses, I would often tell them, “You look pretty on the outside, but you’re even more beautiful on the inside, in your heart.”
Peter is telling wives, “This is how you should live within your marriage.” Maybe the husband is walking with Christ. Maybe, as vs. 1 says, he is disobedient to Christ and his Word. In either case, such a lifestyle is glorious and precious to God.
Then Peter points to women in the Old Testament.
5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,
6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
These holy OT women adorned themselves with godliness as they submitted to their husband. Sarah...called him her lord. Such terminology was not uncommon in the ancient world. Peter then calls the wives not to walk in fear. What is the opposite of fear? Courage. Courage. To follow takes great courage. For a soldier to follow his captain into battle is a position of strength, not weakness. (Consider Jonathan and his armor-bearer in 1 Samuel 14.) Of courage, not fear.
This is just as Jesus lived in submitting to the Father's perfect but painful will while on earth. "Father, if it possible, take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." The faith-filled, godly wife imitates Jesus Christ when she is subject to her husband.
Let me insert something here to help clarify what this does and doesn’t mean. One author, Wayne Grudem, speaking to both the husband and the wife, spoke of Errors in Passivity and Errors in Aggressiveness. I found this helpful.
|Errors of Passivity||Biblical Ideal||Errors of Aggressiveness|
|Husband||Wimp (passive, lacks leadership)||Loving, humble headship||Tyrant (monster, brute)|
|Wife||Doormat||Joyful, intelligent submission||Usurper|
As we see these Errors, we can better understand what the Lord is and is not calling us to. \
Now he gives instruction to the Husbands. Don’t worry, ladies. The Lord won’t let them off the hook.
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Here Peter makes no mention to the husband about his wife’s manner. Whether she is a humble, faith-filled, kind woman, or …whether she is the Wicked Witch of the West. Peter simply gives instructions that apply to every husband who reads this. No husband has an excuse.
Live in an understanding way. Literally from the Greek, this would mean, “Live with her according to knowledge.” You should really KNOW her. And understand her. Talk to her. Listen to her. Study her. And the implication is that you will treat her accordingly.
Husbands, do you really know your wife? Do you understand how she thinks? Why she does certain things? Do you know her strengths and weaknesses? Do you know what she needs? Men, on the average, we are not as relationally intuitive as women are. So we need to work on this.
One practical thing that can help here is a regular date with your wife. Weekly, if possible. Be a good leader and take initiative on this. Don’t passively assume she will do it. One practical thing we tried to do is not have all our time talking be about the externals. The kids, finances. Some of that is necessary. That’s the “business” side of the relationship, and it’s important. But we tried to talk about our hearts, dreams, worries. Who we are.
Then Peter says to honor her. Treat her with honor, respect, dignity. Elevate her.
What does Peter give as the foundational reasons for this honor? She is inheriting the grace of life. God’s gracious offer of eternal life with him. She has access to God Almighty through Jesus Christ just like you. You have no advantages over her. You have no access to God beyond what she already has. She has been adopted by God as his Child, just like you.
So what other conclusion can the Husband have except to Honor.
Peter also says something that may jolt or annoy some of us. He says the wife is the “weaker vessel.” Peter doesn't actually say how she is weaker, but physically weaker seems obvious given that the word is literally “vessel”, and it has a common use of "body". I think we all understand this, that the average man is stronger than the average woman.
And given the context of Vs. 1-7, Peter may also be referring to the “Weaker Position” of authority, a position that the Man could be tempted to misuse for selfish ends. So Peter tells the Husband to honor.
Charles Spurgeon, English preach in the 1800’s, said this:
“Tender love and affectionate honor must be rendered to the queen of the little kingdom of home, through whom God blesses the household so much”"
Note that when Peter mentions that the wife is "weaker physically," he does not counter this by saying she is stronger and better than the man in many ways….which there are many.
My wife has some amazing qualities that are so much better than me. Her patience, her perseverance, her uncomplaining spirit, creativity, thinking about the needs of others, generosity. On and on.
Peter could have argued that in order to humble the man and compel him to honor the wife. But instead Peter goes for the deepest, most spiritual statement about the wife: she is a co-heir to the kingdom of God. God views her on an equal, eternal level, not more or less. So if God views her this way, then the husband dare not dishonor her merely because he is stronger physically OR that he is the Head. He should fear God like Peter commanded in Chapter 2 because she is Co-Heir to the kingdom of God.
This argument is crucial for all of us. How we treat one another ought never to be based on whether that person (man OR woman) is better than us in some areas. This is the argument the world tries to make. To help us all to see how women are very good in many areas. I agree strongly that they are very good in many areas. But I think that is grossly overemphasized. The fact that we are all created in the Image of God is the foundation for our dignity. Male/Female. Black/White. Down’s Syndrome/Genius. Young/Old. Rich/Poor. The fact that fellow believers in Christ—Men OR Women—are co-heirs with us of all the glories of the kingdom of God…..THIS is our foundation for honor.
The stakes here are at their highest, for if I neglect to honor one of God’s children (including my wife), I am going up against their Father, their Heavenly Father. I’m messing with his kid. I believe we do a great mis-service to one another and to ourselves when we’re constantly trying to stack ourselves up against one another.
And Peter finishes this with an inspiring statement: “Do all this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.” We’re not given any more details, but if a man doesn’t honor his wife, his prayers are less effective. I think Peter is indicating that God may discipline the rebellious man as a father disciplines his son until the man repents. And the Lord may simply not respond to his prayers as much until then.
Men, it is on you to show kindness and honor and dignity, for she is made in the image of God himself. Be a man. Lead your wife. Love her truly. Honor her as a co-heir of the kingdom. Understand her deeply. Do this and your prayers will be not be hindered.
I want to briefly tell our story. How my wife and I try to live these out.
We work together (most days) in harmony. We talk about our lives. Our schedule. Money issues. Serving the Lord together. We share the Word of God with one another. Most days it just flows. It works peacefully.
There is no power play. There is no Domineering. There is no Nagging. There is no Passivity. There is no Brute-ishness. There is no being a Doormat.
She lives this out 1 Peter 3 all the time. Last week, numerous times she wasn’t feeling well. She was in pain. Exhausted. Yet she’s wanting to serve me. To show kindness to me. Making a meal. Running an errand. Making a phone call.
Likewise, I make attempts at following 1 Peter 3. Last Wednesday it snowed, and I dropped her off at a store for 3 minutes. And while I’m waiting I thought, “When she comes out, since she’s not feeling well, I should get out an help her through the snow and ice piled up on the curb.” But then I thought, “I’m exhausted. I don’t want to get out. She’ll be fine…maybe.” Well, the Holy Spirit won out. Reminded me to live with her in an understanding way. So when she came out of the store, I got out to help her.
Now, please understand, I don’t always do what is right. But generally, we walk in the commands Peter lays out here. And the outcome is very good for our marriages.
I want to tell a brief story that was a profound picture for me of how a husband and wife are intended to live their marriage in these different and godly roles.
About 12 years ago, my daughter was in jazz band at Ames High. A well-known jazz band was playing in Des Moines, and the entire high school jazz band was going to go. I was one of the parent chaperones. Before the concert, someone had sponsored some dance lessons. Salsa. I thought, “Why not. That could be an enjoyable time with my daughter. And afterwards maybe I could impress my wife with my new-found dance skills. Haha!"
This couple came out as our instructors. Before he started he asked if we would like to see them dance first so that we knew what we were shooting for. Sure!! They started dancing. Wow. I was smiling as I watched. “Wow, that’s beautiful.” In my dreams I wish I could dance like that with my wife.
Then the music stopped. He said, “Men, listen up.” He had my attention. He went on to say, “Men, listen up. You need to hear this. You must lead in the dance.” In short, his point was, “There are different roles. Different parts to the dance.” Both this guy and his wife brought very different things to the dance. He was strong, she was graceful.
I was so enraptured by the beauty of the dance, how effortless and graceful and strong it was, that I was clueless as to what was actually happening between them. They had different roles. But I didn’t know that. All I knew was that the dance was beautiful.
The Lord wants marriage to be like a beautiful dance. Yes, there are different roles. Men and women are very different. Yet when they live out those roles together, the result is a beautiful dance.
So Why All This?
So why all this instruction to husbands and wives?? Peter is not giving a full discussion on how everything in marriage can and should play out. But he is giving us an important look into how a good, godly marriage ought to function. How the Household should have a sense of ORDER and FUNCTION.
So why all this instruction? Peter gives a couple of reasons within the immediate text:
Wives, be subject to your husband. Period, and if your husband is disobedient to Christ, your godliness might win him back to Christ. There is no guarantee he will repent. But this is the way to live. When you live this way, you are following in the very footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Husbands, if you honor your wives, your prayers won’t be hindered. Love and honor her, and so reflect the very nature of God.
There are a couple more reasons for this instruction. In the larger context of the letter, we find this:
This is a call to Holiness in 1 Peter 1:15-16. When wives are subject to their husbands and when husbands honor their wives, we are imitating our Heavenly Father. He calls us to be like him: Be holy because I am holy.
Also, the world is watching us in 1 Peter 2:12. (We looked at this passage from last week.) They are watching to see Christ in us. Will they see him?
Men and women are made in the image of God. Our glory and worth starts with that. Our sin greatly hinders living out this image of God in the beauty and perfection that it should be. And marriages suffer for it. But Christ came to redeem us from our sin. He came to make us new and whole.
Men and women in Christ are both heirs of the kingdom of God. There is no distinction. Through Christ, both walk as children of God Almighty, born again into new life in him..
Yet men and women have different roles to play in the marriage. Different is OK. It is God’s design. Together, the husband and wife create a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ and his Bride, the Church.
May we live lives that are worthy of such nobility and glory.
Lord, we acknowledge that you are the Creator and we are your created ones. We worship you for the glory of being made in your image. What an honor. Yet we also acknowledge our brokenness. Our sin that MARS that image of God. In spite of that and because of that, you sent your Son to redeem us. To bring forgiveness and life. To cleanse us and make us new. Lord, that gives us hope for both this life and the next life. For our walk with you. For our marriages. For every aspect of our lives. As we sing here now, help us to sing with hearts of gratitude and awe for the saving work of your Son.