What do you mean she’s not under my thumb?
by Jack Wald | February 13th, 2000

I Peter 3:1-7

The internet provides items of humor that circulate throughout the world with the click of a mouse. Often times, these focus on male/female differences and since today is the day before Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d read you part of one.

Recently, a group of computer scientists (all males) announced that
computers should be referred to as being female. Their reasons
for drawing this conclusion follow:

1. No one but the Creator understands their internal logic.
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers
is incomprehensible to everyone else.
3. The message “Bad command or file name” is about as informative as,
“If you don’t know why I’m mad at you, then I’m certainly not going
to tell you.”
4. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for
later retrieval.
5. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself
spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

However, another group of computer scientists (all female) think that
computers should be referred to as if they were male. Their reasons
follow:

1. They have a lot of data, but are still clueless.
2. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time
they ARE the problem.
3. As soon as you commit to one you realize that, if you had
waited a little longer, you could have obtained a better model.

We are different. Happy Valentine’s Day.

We come to a section in I Peter this morning that most people avoid. This passage can be like a minefield, one false step and you get blown up. Pray for me.

Now as I mentioned last week, this text must be understood within the context of Peter’s letter. One of the reasons this text has been so misused is that it is often preached and taught outside of the context of Peter’s letter.

So how does today’s text fit into Peter’s thought pattern? This discussion of wives and husbands refers back to Peter’s thought process in 2:11-12.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.  12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

The thought process in these couple verses is this:
1. The pagans slander us as evil doers.
2. Our good deeds prove their slander a lie.
3. Our good lives convict them of their sin and slander.
4. The pagans become converted.

Peter goes on then to illustrate the good deeds that cause non-Christians to be converted. These good deeds focus on submission to every human creature and specifically, Peter writes of submission to rulers, masters and in today’s text, husbands and wives.

The thesis sentence, the topic sentence, the general heading for this entire discussion of submission to every living creature is found in verses 13 and 17 of chapter 2: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.” “Show proper respect to everyone.”

When we read today’s text, remember that it comes under the heading of submission to every human creature. This means wives submit to husbands and husbands submit to wives.

Notice in verses 1 and 7 of today’s text that both sections begin with a reference back to the thesis sentence. “Wives, in the same way,” “Husbands, in the same way.” Wives and husbands, in the same way, submit for the Lord’s sake to every human creature. As I mentioned last week, Peter knows the situation of his readers. He is writing this letter at a specific point in history, to a specific group of people. He knows their situation and applies his message to them.

What specific application does Peter make concerning husbands and wives?
He writes, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,  2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.  3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  4 Instead, 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.  5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands,  6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

Now why, in applying his message does he use 97 Greek words to discuss the situation of wives and only 26 Greek words to discuss the situation of husbands? And for those of you thinking about the  internet humor I started with this morning, it is not because women like to talk more than men.

Peter is writing to a new church. I don’t mean by this that some Christians got together in a town and decided to start a new church. I mean that the whole universal church is new. At the writing of this letter, it is only 35 years after Pentecost when the church began. And in this church, in it’s infancy, there were a lot of women who were the first to respond to the Gospel. Many of these women had husbands who were not Christian believers. Peter writes to these women who, in the cultures of the day, Jewish, Greek and Roman, were in a very difficult situation.

Let me read from William Barclay’s commentary. “Under Jewish law a woman was a thing; she was owned by her husband in the same way as he owned his sheep and his goats; on no account could she leave him, although he could dismiss her at any moment … In Greek civilization the duty of the woman was ‘to remain indoors and to be obedient to her husband.’ … She had no kind of independent existence and no kind of mind of her own, and her husband could divorce her almost at caprice, so long as he returned her dowry. Under Roman law a woman had no rights. In law she remained for ever a child. When she was under her father she was under the patria potestas, the father’s power, which gave the father even the right of life or death over her; and when she married she passed equally into the power of her husband, and completely at his mercy.”

It is to these women, little better than slaves, who are married to men who have power of life or death over them, that Peter writes these 97 words.

What does he have to say to these Christian women who have non-Christian husbands?

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,  2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Peter continues in his emphasis that runs throughout this letter. “Obey the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ” “abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul” And in his advice for women, he continues to focus on the internal holiness and purity of the heart. We’ve talked about this in previous sermons so I don’t want to dwell on this now. But it is what comes from the heart that makes a person what he or she is. We can hide what is in our heart from others for a period of time, but it is what is in our heart that makes us who we are. So Peter urges wives to be women of purity and reverence.

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

Some things don’t change with time and this is one of them. Societies have always inflicted standards of beauty on women as a way for women to be accepted in a male dominated society. Japanese women crippled their feet forcing them into tiny slippers. Modern women wear high heels. Society sets a standard for beauty and women cripple themselves trying to fit it. In Peter’s time, one Roman writer said that since women were allowed to do nothing else in society, they should be allowed the luxury of making themselves beautiful. Peter says nonsense to all this and points out what we know to be true, that it is the inner beauty of a woman, that is true beauty.

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  4 Instead, 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.

Does this come as news to you? I know men who made the mistake of looking only at the external appearance of a woman and have paid the price of living with a woman who society would say is beautiful, but whose heart was cold and bitter. Beauty in the heart shines forth and makes the whole person beautiful.

Why does Peter say this to women and not to men? This relates to one of the male/female differences. Women tend naturally to look at the beauty of the inner person, men have a harder time with this. Do you know the story of the Beauty and the Beast? It is a French tale about a man who is imprisoned in the body of an ugly beast and who is loved by a beautiful woman. She loves him and this allows him to be returned to his human form, a handsome prince. Note that it is the male who is the beast. Quel supris, as I’m learning in French. What a surprise! This tale would not have been written with the roles reversed, with the woman the beast.

Peter says not to play the world’s game. Beauty is not found in emulating the models and stars of the world. Beauty comes from the heart and a pure and reverent heart creates a beautiful woman.

At any rate, Peter urges wives married to non-Christian men to submit to their husbands, to develop inner beauty and without words, to live good lives with good deeds that will cause their husbands to open their hearts to Christ.

Monica, the mother of Augustine, provides an example of Peter’s teaching. Augustine was a native of what is today Tunisia and later became the Bishop of Hippo, today called Annaba. Augustine is one of the leading saints of the early years of the church and his writings have had a major influence in the church over the 2000 years of church history.

His mother, Monica, became a Christian through her contact with a devoted servant of the family. But her parents chose a pagan husband for her. She never ceased to pray for the conversion of Patricius, her husband, and, despite his unfaithfulness to her, she endeavored by her loving, gracious loyalty to win him to the truth. She said little to him about her Christian faith, but preached without words, as Peter says, by the way she lived. Augustine writes that his father was a kind man, but rather hot-tempered: “My mother knew better than to say or do anything to resist him when he was angry. If his anger was unreasonable, she used to wait until he was calm and composed and then took the opportunity of explaining what she had done.” She would not allow other women to gossip and complain about their husbands in her presence. Augustine’s father died when Augustine was seventeen, but Monica’s preaching without words was fruitful preaching. Patricius in his last days became a Christian and asked for baptism.

That is the reward for submitting to your non-Christian husband for the Lord’s sake.

Now let me point out what this text does not say. If a woman is living in an abusive situation, if she is being mentally and physically abused, submission does not mean staying in that relationship. The slaves and wives Peter talks to in this letter did not have the option of leaving their master or spouse. There was no legal right in Jewish law, Greek law or in Roman law for a woman to leave her husband. With no exit, Peter says to stay and share in the sufferings of Christ. But in today’s world, there is a legal basis for leaving and my advice to any woman or man in an abusive relationship is to leave immediately and seek protection and counseling.

This text also does not say that a woman is to disobey God. Submission to a husband does not involve violating God’s law. When the husband of a Christian wife tells her to do something she knows is not right, moral or spiritual, submission does not entail obedience to her husband. Obedience to God always takes precedence over obedience to any human authority.

What does Peter have to say to husbands?

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

What does Peter mean by referring to women as the weaker partner? In this context, the word clearly refers to physical strength, not to moral, spiritual or intellectual inferiority. I am not a particularly strong man, but I’d bet I could win in an arm wrestling contest with most women in this church – maybe not all, but most. Men are generally physically stronger than women. On the other hand, I am not willing to compete with the women in this church on the basis of moral, spiritual and intellectual strength.

Peter’s teaching here acknowledges that men are physically stronger than women and says because of that, treat them with respect. There is no justification for bullying, being domineering or being physically abusive.

Peter calls husbands to respect their wives as the weaker partner and as heirs of the gracious gift of life. The Greek word for heirs is really joint heirs. Man and wife, together, are heirs of the gracious gift of life. The teachings of Jesus were great news for women who had no rights under Jewish, Greek or Roman law. Jesus’ teachings elevated the rights of women and Peter follows Jesus’ lead . The New Testament teaches an equality between men and women. God’s gift of salvation is given equally to men and women.

As with wives in their relationship to their husbands, Peter is talking to men who are married to women who are not Christians. Peter’s concern, again, is that these women become Christians. So Peter says that these Christian husbands should  be considerate and treat their wives with respect. The literal meaning of “be considerate” is “live with them according to knowledge”.

Christian husbands are to know about their wives. Christian husbands are to know the needs of their spouse and attempt to meet those needs. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” Paul writes in Ephesians. Christian husbands are to know the needs of their spouse and lay down their lives in serving their spouse with this knowledge.

What does this mean? A husband should know the needs, desires, gifts and abilities of his wife and lay down his life in serving his wife. As Christ sacrificed himself for the church, husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives.

So let’s look at some situations:
1. A Christian woman married to a non-Christian man. What should such a woman do? Work at the process of sanctification so the purity and reverence of your spirit will develop and grow. Let the beauty of your spirit make you a beautiful woman. Pray for your husband. Respect and honor him and trust that God will speak to his heart and cause him to turn to the truth.

2. A Christian man married to a non-Christian woman. What should such a man do? Love your wife. Make it your goal to know her completely. What makes her happy? What is she afraid of? What secret ambitions does she have? Encourage her to develop her gifts and abilities. Help her to shine in this world as she uses her gifts. Let her development as a person be your delight. Pray that as you love and serve her, she will open her heart to God.

3. A Christian man married to a Christian woman or a Christian woman married to a Christian man. What should they do? Exactly what I just said for the other two situations. Wives, pray for your husband, let your purity and reverence shine, respect and honor him. Husbands, know your wife completely. Serve her and encourage her to develop as a person, as a woman of God.

What do you do if your Christian wife does not submit? What do you do if your Christian husband does not serve you? The answer is not to demand submission. Submission is a voluntary act. The answer is not to demand service. Service is a voluntary act.

My wife, Ann, and I were married when she was 21 and I was 26. Part of my attraction to her was that she is a strong person with a good mind. If I had ever in our marriage demanded that she submit to me, my head would have been served to me on a platter, ala John the Baptist, because I was not serving my wife. The truth is that we were both self-centered people, each looking out for our own interests, concerned for our own rights.

We had a very rough first 15 years of marriage. Only the fact that we were stubbornly Christian and had children prevented us from getting divorced. In those years we had some very good times and we had some very bad times. We went for marriage counseling for two separate periods of time. We dealt with some of the demons of the past that kept us from having an emotionally mature relationship but what really turned our marriage around about seven or eight years ago, was that Annie decided she would love me even if her needs were not being met. And I began to love her, even when she was angry and not loving me. Our marriage was transformed and the most amazing thing has happened. The strong, independent woman I married could actually be said to submit to me. I am humbled by this. It is a gift of her love that overwhelms me. I, in turn, have made it my goal to help her develop in the use of her gifts. We decided a couple years ago, that whatever happened, we would make the sacrifices necessary for her to quit her job and write full-time.

Our relationship is testimony of the difference that mutual submission can make in a marriage and it is testimony of God’s grace in our lives.

I know that in our congregation are single adults. If you are looking for a spouse, I urge you to follow Peter’s advice and focus on the purity of your heart. Don’t focus on finding a spouse, focus on becoming the man or woman God made you to be. Work at the process of being sanctified and let beauty shine. For the single men in our congregation, beware of the world’s trap that focuses only on external, superficial beauty.

For those who are married, it’s time for a marital checkup. How is your relationship with your spouse? In what ways has God spoken to you about your marriage this morning? If you have a marriage that is souring or has soured, don’t expect instant healing. In my case, it took 15 years to turn our marriage sour and it took time to heal the wounds we had created. But make the decision today to begin loving your husband, loving your wife. Begin today to honor and respect your husband. Begin today to know and serve your wife. If you have a strong marriage, then take some time today and be together to express your appreciation for God’s good gift to you and rededicate yourselves to honor, respect and serve each other.