1 Peter 3
Sunday, October 9, 2022
Gender is a hot topic these days. We live in a society where there is much flexibility in how someone chooses to live their life, irrespective of cultural norms or the directives of our creator (let’s stick to what Peter writes about in his letter). Misogyny and radical feminism are two ways in which humans have messed up what was designed to be a tremendous blessing from God.
There is a lot to unpack here as Peter begins by addressing wives. In reading the text and then looking at commentaries it appears that foremost in Peter’s mind is a woman who has come to a saving faith in Jesus but is married to a man who does not share that faith (though we can gain something from this even if we’re not in that demographic).
The way that societies functioned, specifically the society that Peter would be writing to, did not offer much in the way of opportunity for a woman to exert influence over her husband. Her options may be quite limited in what her husband allowed her to do or permitted her to go. Where a husband and father who came to faith would be expected (even simply allowed) to bring his family along with him to religious functions, the same could not be said for the wife.
So how is a woman to minister to her unbelieving husband? How does she influence him intentionally in a way to bring him into the body of Christ? Nagging is probably not the most effective way to do this, in fact it might have the opposite effect; rather, the solution that Peter proposes is to allow the gospel of Jesus (i.e., the gospel of the Kingdom) to radically influence your way of living. Being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14) is not just something that you are to be for people whom you may be unfamiliar with, even more importantly it is something you are to be with those who you are most intimate with. Living a life that bears the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) and exemplifies Jesus’ beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11; Luke 6:20-26) will make you a more desirable (and influential) person.
Obviously, there is no way to guarantee that an unbelieving spouse will come to faith, but by being holistically attractive (not just externally, but internally as well) you will have a far better chance to influence them than if you were to try to get by on physical attraction (I don’t even know how that would really work) but be ugly on the inside.
Peter addresses the ladies in verses 1-6, but he shifts gears in verse 7 and speaks to husbands. He says to “live with your wives in an understanding way” (ESV), literally living with her “according to knowledge” as opposed to living with her in “sheer thoughtlessness” as the Expositor’s Bible Commentary puts it. I can speak from experience, it is very easy to do what I want and expect my wife to pick up the slack, but that is not the way that Peter instructs husbands to operate. Instead of living in a way that could breed resentment and other problems (infidelity?), husbands are commanded to live in a thoughtful way.
Husbands are instructed to honor their wives as “the weaker vessel.” Huh? What does that mean? There are different ways to look at this… Societally women were weaker (we’ve already considered the lack of influence), typically women are weaker in physical strength (I can think of a few ladies that could probably wipe the floor with their husbands in a fight), and sometimes women are more emotionally fragile (have a wider range of feelings?) than men. The word for weaker (ἀσθενεστέρῳ) can be translated with lots of nuance, but one big take away from this is that women are not inferior to men. Whatever Peter is getting at with the idea of the wife being a weaker vessel, something is very clear: we are co-heirs of all the benefits that come with accepting Jesus and believing in the kingdom message. As objects of God’s salvation there is no distinction between male and female, just as there is no distinction between Jew or Greek. While husbands and wives may be called to different roles in their relationship and even in their roles in the church, this is not because of a lack of capability, this is the function that God has laid out. Husbands and wives are to minister to one another and to minister to others. We can use our marriages as an example and an opportunity in ministry. Authentic Christianity has done more to liberate women from misogyny and oppression than any other organization ever has; that being said, it has not changed the fact that men and women are different. We have equality in standing before God, we have equality in salvation, we ought to have equality in rights, but we are still different and that is a blessing. As the church is a body with many parts, the one flesh that we become in marriage takes into account our uniqueness as individuals and the differences in our physiology. We are to be reliant on one another (do not read as co-dependency), and we are responsible to one another to meet the needs that we have as image bearers of God and the uniqueness that we have as men and women.
To those of us who are married: We should evaluate where we are at in living as Peter instructs. Hopefully you are married to a fellow believer who you can discuss this passage with and commit to one another to implement these tactics in your union. If married to a non-believer, behave in a way that is intentional in living the gospel out to them.
To those of you who are engaged or hope to be married one day: Look for a spouse who takes scripture seriously and is willing to change their behavior to conform to what scripture dictates, both in their life as an individual and the way that they approach relationships.
For those of you who are called to a life of singleness (or just end up that way) or those of you who know someone who fits that description: I believe that the behaviors that the relational and internal things that Peter speaks of here will be beneficial in building authentic relationships that help navigate the potential challenges that a life of singleness may bring.