1 Peter 3:1

Friday, 8 November 2019

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 1 Peter 3:1

Peter has been talking about the patience in suffering and obedience of Christ Jesus for the past eight verses, explaining to servants that they should act in a similar manner. Here, he now says that wives should be likewise submissive to their husbands. He has gone from general thoughts to believers, to an exhortation to “servants,” using a word which indicates a household servant, but which may possibly imply all believers as servants in God’s household (the words which followed in verses 2:18-25 certainly point to something all believers should practice), and now he specifies “wives.”

His words here are in perfect accord with the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:24 –

“Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.”

In that same vein, Peter says to the wives that they are to “be submissive to your own husbands.” The word translated as submissive signifies to place oneself under the ranking authority of another. It is the same word directed to all believers in verse 2:13, and to the “servants” in 2:18. Wives are to be under obedience to the authority of their husband. This is the hierarchy established at the very beginning. At the fall, the words were pronounced by the Lord –

 “To the woman He said:

I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire 
shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.’” Genesis 3:16

This is the divinely established order which is reflected in Scripture and throughout Scripture. It is spoken of by Paul in great detail. Peter gives further elaboration by saying, “that even if some do not obey the word.” The word “obey” carries with it the idea of belief. There is a conscious disbelief of the word, and this leads to not obeying its precepts. The assumption is that these are not believers.

Some have tried to align the word “obey” with the Jews only, meaning that Peter’s words here are directed to only Jewish women who believe, and who are married to unbelieving Jews. This is without merit. Paul says to Gentiles in Romans 11, and using the same word twice –

“For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.” Romans 11:30-32

Paul also uses the same word in Romans 2:8 when speaking of both Jew and Gentile. The word simply means that these people are disobedient to the gospel through disbelief, whether Jew or Gentile. In Peter’s case, he is addressing Jewish believers, but the distinction is made because he is the Apostle to the Jews, not in the presentation of a variant gospel, but as an ethnic calling.

Understanding this, Peter continues with, “they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.” Peter uses the same word for “win” that Paul uses five times in 1 Corinthians 9:19-21 when speaking of winning others to Christ through his own serving and submission to others.

For Peter’s words now, this again speaks of the husbands. The conduct of the wife itself is to be submissive and Christ-centered so that their actions alone, even without saying another word concerning the gospel, which the husbands have not believed, will win them over. It is the submission of the wife, because of Christ, which is expected to bring about the conversion. The message has been heard and understood, and to nag about it to the husband will only drive him further away. Therefore, to live out the message as a submissive wife is the expected remedy to the matter.

This takes the reader right back to the end of Chapter 2 where Christ submitted Himself to the righteous judgment set before Him. The time for His ministry of words had ended, and the time for His silent submission had come. This is the thought Peter is conveying to the wife. As Solomon says –

“A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:7

Peter’s words here have come under attack as authoritative for modern believing women. As an example, Charles Ellicott says –

“Whether this imposes for all time upon Christian wives as complete a submission towards their husbands as is here enjoined might perhaps be questioned, because the special reason for the command in this place was to allay suspicions engendered by the boldness with which Christianity proclaimed the freedom of the individual. St. Peter has just been giving injunctions for absolute submission, even to injustice, on the part of slaves; and the progress of Christianity has abolished slavery altogether. The measure of the Christian wife’s submission may safely be left to her own enlightened conscience, guided by other passages of the New Testament not written, like this, for a special emergency.”

Ellicott’s words are without merit and, in fact, contain several falsehoods. Slavery has not been abolished. It is an ongoing part of the world, even if it was abolished in his nation by Christians. It is also true that all Christians are slaves to righteousness and slaves to God (Romans 6:18-22). Secondly, the submission of the wife is not “left to her own enlightened conscience.” It was ordained by God at the beginning. Peter will cite the submission of Sarah to her husband in a few verses, and Paul continues with the thought in his epistle. The submission of the wife is never “left to her own enlightened conscience” in Scripture.

Further, if the words of Paul and Peter are not prescriptive, then they would not be included in the epistles which govern relations within the body of believers. It is not up to individuals to determine which verses of the church age epistles apply to the church and which do not. Peter’s words are in accord with Paul’s, and they are prescriptive. It is not a right of Christians to shop for their doctrine, but they are to accept the word, which is clear and without ambiguity, as it is written, and they are to comply with it.

Life application: Rather than putting women down, as has so often been proclaimed by liberal theologians and female activists, this verse is actually placing them in a high and exalted position. No one, no matter how bad their theology on Jesus may be, diminishes the high position God places on servanthood and servant leadership. In fact, it is one of the greatest aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

But suddenly the attitude is changed when the role of women is mentioned. It is as if they are saying, “How dare those chauvinistic apostles tell women to be submissive to their husbands?” Peter and Paul, in particular, are treated as if they are women abusers and that they should be dismissed because of their culturally biased attitude towards women. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

As just noted, servants are to be examples to their masters for several reasons –

1) That the name of Jesus won’t be brought into disgrace;

2) That unbelievers will see their behavior and possibly come to be saved by it;

3) That the order of things, which has been established by God, will be maintained – something beneficial to all.

Peter says the same concepts that apply in other hierarchies also apply in familial relationships. To fight against what has been ordained by God in the family structure is no different than fighting against His will for us in the larger society. Don’t ever feel women are being given anything but a high and exalted position in the workings of God. What He has ordained is proper, fitting, and honoring to each – male and female alike.

Heavenly Father, help us to fully appreciate the glorious role that Jesus filled as both a Servant of God and as the Head of the church. Help us likewise to fulfill the role ordained for each of us – as men and women of God, chosen for Your glorious purposes. May we do as You would have us do and thus bring glory to You in the sight of all. Amen.

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