One of my daughters recently came across a video clip which illustrated the principle of chivalry. A small boy, perhaps three or four years old, shows three areas in which men can be chivalrous to women. In a rather humorous way the little child shows that being chivalrous means opening doors for ladies, taking out the garbage and fending off dangerous beasts. I’m not sure if the clip was prepared simply to be humorous but it certainly illustrates a principle that is long dead in westernised culture.
A church member recently told me of a man who politely opened the car door for a woman. Indignantly, she said, “I hope you didn’t do that because I’m a woman!” To which he replied, “No, I did it because I’m a gentleman.” As the only man in a family of seven, it is clearly my job to take out the garbage and to take care of any pests that might be found around the house!
As we have noted in previous studies, there is much confusion in the world today with regard to gender related issues. There is much frustration concerning the roles of men and women in the world. I am convinced that one major reason for this confusion is failing husbands and fathers. The pendulum seems to have swung from unbiblical chauvinism to unbiblical feminism in the western world. Both unbiblical extremes have been the result of failed male leadership.
If fathers and husbands would embrace biblical activism and repent of selfish pacifism, gender issues would be a small blip on the cultural screen. Passive husbands and fathers produce a confused and eventually corrupt society (as do controlling fathers and husbands).
As noted, the solution to this problem is obedient men, obedient fathers and husbands. Specifically, fathers and husbands who are obedient to the biblical injunction of 1 Peter 3:7. Obedience to this precept would eliminate much that is a problem today: the ease of divorce, domineering wives, wife abuse, an over-abundance of mothers in the marketplace and, consequently, an over-abundance of day-care centres, promiscuity amongst children and absent parents, etc.
In our previous study of gender issues we asked the question, “What’s a woman to do?” We asked this question with regard to three specific issues:
- What’s a woman to do when she wants to worship?
- What’s a woman to do when she wants to witness?
- What’s a woman to do when she wants to work?
It seems, at least in our own church, that I may have created confusion in my answer to the third question, “What’s a woman to do when she wants to work?” My initial answer to that question was, “God bless her: go for it!” We noted that men and women are both commanded to work for the furtherance of God’s kingdom and thus there is no problem with a woman “working.” However, the question becomes far more involved for we must eventually ask, “What’s a woman to do when she wants to work outside the home?” Does the Bible expect wives to stay at home, or does it permit them to enter the marketplace?
We noted that, if a woman is to work in the marketplace, she is to do so with the same emphasis as a man in the marketplace: she is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We asked and answered questions pertaining to single women in the workplace, to married women without children in the workplace, and to mothers in the workplace. In each case, we noted that the first priority is working for the kingdom, whether that means in or outside of the home.
Of course, in each of these cases there are further considerations to be taken in mind. For instance, an unmarried woman may actually be in a better position in some ways to fill the biblical concept of vocation than even a married man. The married man in the workplace is concerned about putting food on the table for his family; a single woman does not have this primary concern. In the case of married women and mothers the consideration of the family must be taken up. The Bible makes it clear that a wife’s priority is her husband, that a mother’s priority is her family. If her out-of-home work takes her priority away from her family she is not fulfilling her biblical mandate. The wife or mother must first be about her Father’s business in the home; if she has the time and energy to then carry this outside of the home she has God’s blessing.
We noted that, in a fallen world, there are temporary situations in which even a mother might have to enter the marketplace but that temporary measure can be overcome.
The worst thing that any church can do is to have a clear polarisation between those women who work in the home and those who work outside the home. Just because a wife stays at home doesn’t mean that she is behaving biblically. Titus 2:5 emphasises that women are to be “keepers at home” but the emphasis here is not on “at home,” but rather on “keepers” (or “workers”). If a wife stays home watching soap operas all day she is not fulfilling God’s plan for her: she must be actively involved in what God wants her to be involved in.
The goal in our previous study was to lay down some biblical principles whereby Christian husbands and wives can assess the need and the wisdom for the wife to work outside of the home. No, the Bible does not explicitly forbid a woman from working outside of the home; it does lay down certain principles that must be obeyed when considering outside work as an option. When the biblical principles are all considered I am convinced that there will be relatively few women in the workplace.
Once I had dealt with the issue in our own church it was brought to my attention that I had perhaps given some the impression that it is always and in all cases acceptable for a woman to work outside of the home. This is by no means the impression that I intended to give. I certainly do not believe that the Bible gives a carte blanch license for women to work outside of the home.
1 Peter 3:7 lays down several principles to help us determine whether or not our daughters and wives should be working in the marketplace. In fact, a proper consideration of this verse will bring us down on the side of caution when it comes to this matter. Peter here lays the responsibility upon husbands to understand their wives, to care for and protect them. I would submit that when a Christian husband looks at the marketplace in light of 1 Peter 3:7 he will be very careful of sending his wife into it.
Yes, men can show chivalry by opening doors, fending off wild beasts and taking out the garbage, but the husband’s biblical responsibility is far more involved than that.
Our text for this study opens with the word “likewise.” This word, which means “in the same way,” is important, for it ties what Peter is about to say to what he has just said. The larger context takes us back to the previous chapter:
11Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
(1 Peter 2:11-12)
Peter’s mandate for the church here is that our conduct (“conversation”) should be honourable (“honest”) before a watching world (“the Gentiles”). Though the world will certainly slander the church (“speak against you as evildoers”) we must live in such a way that our “good works” leave no room for the slander to be true. Peter continues to illustrate what such “good works” look like.
He first addresses the Christian’s attitude toward government (2:13-25). The Christian is to “submit…to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” This command is amazing in light of Peter’s own situation when he wrote. Peter wrote during the reign of the tyrant Nero. When the apostle wrote, Nero was exercising vicious persecution against the church. No Christian had any respect for the man Nero; yet Peter commanded his readers to submit to him by virtue of his position. God had placed Nero as head of the Roman Empire and the church was to recognise and submit to his God-given authority.
The apostle moves onto a second area of “good works”–the submission of a wife to her husband (3:1-6). “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” Notice that Christian wives are expected to submit to their husbands whether they are believers or not. Thus, Peter opens this section with the word “likewise.” “In the same way that all Christians are to submit to the government,” he writes, “so must all Christian wives submit to their husbands.” It would not always be easy but it was expected by God nonetheless.
Now we come to Peter’s third injunction to “good works.” Again, he begins with “likewise.” “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (3:7). In the same way that all Christians are to obey God by submitting to the government, and in the same way that all Christian wives are to obey God by submitting to their husbands, so are all Christian husbands to submit to God by dwelling with their wives according to knowledge and by giving honour to them.
Peter’s fourth exhortation is that all believers submit to one another (3:8-22). This is done by our attitude and behaviour toward one another:
8Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
(1 Peter 3:8-9)
Thus, the overall context is that of the church bringing glory to God before a watching world by her “good works.” Notice how God-centred the entire passage is: “glorify God” (2:12), “for the Lord’s sake” (2:13), “so is the will of God” (2:15), “as the servants of God” (2:16), “fear God” (2:17), “conscience toward God” (2:19), “acceptable with God” (2:20), “follow [Christ’s] steps” (2:21), “to him that judgeth righteously” (2:23), “live unto righteousness” (2:24) and “to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” (2:25).
From this entire section we conclude several things. First, a God-centred marriage requires effort. This is true because the Christian marriage is on display before a watching world. The world would love to see us fall and thus have reason to reproach Christ: we must give no room for this. God lays certain expectations upon Christian spouses, which must be obeyed to His glory.
Second, we see that once the husband is won to Christ it is his responsibility to help his wife to be godly. In the same way that Christ washes His bride with the water of the Word so is the Christian husband to ensure that his wife grows in holiness (Ephesians 5:25-27). Again, this lays an enormous weight of responsibility upon Christian husbands.
Third, we learn that the goal in all of this is the furtherance of God’s kingdom. In all things, we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. This is what the Christian marriage is all about.
I have done pre-marital counselling with every couple I have ever married and I am happy to continue counselling Christian couples in their marriage. Rarely, however, do I counsel unbelievers for very long concerning their marriage. My goal in counselling unbelievers in their marriage is clear: that they would come to faith. Marriage is a picture of Christ and His church and the “successful” marriage will always recognise this. Since unbelievers have no inclination to obey Christ it is pointless to counsel them for very long. In essence, marriage counselling is really only for believers.
And so we see the expectation of the Christian marriage. The weight of responsibility in Scripture is upon the husband. He is to ensure that his wife grows in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. She is to submit willingly to him in the fear of God. This brings us to the specific commands that Peter lays upon Christian husbands in 3:7.
As noted, the verse begins with “likewise.” Thus, Peter says to husbands, “For the glory of God, submit to your assignment. Like everything I have just said, it won’t be easy. Nevertheless, it is expected. Be an active husband!” This really is the gender issue of our day: passive husbands. If husbands would actively obey their God-given assignment there would be far less gender issues to grapple with. Peter highlights two fundamental commands that husbands are to actively obey.
Consider Her Intimately
Men often joke that it is impossible to figure out women. For the Christian husband, however, that is something of a copout, for Peter writes, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge.” The English Standard Version states it this way, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” The Greek word translated “dwell” (or “live” in the esv) is often used in the Septuagint to speak of the physical relationship between man and wife. It speaks of intimate knowledge. Thus, Peter’s command is that husbands live intimately with their wives.
Now, how does a husband live with his wife intimately? Obviously, he must spend time with her. The husband is to do more than share a bed with his wife. Yes, he must share a bed with his wife, but intimate living involves a whole lot more.
This intimate living must be “according to knowledge.” That is, the husband is to be knowledgeable and understanding of his wife. He is to figure her out! Edmund Clowney said it this way, “Knowledge of God distinguishes Christian love from pagan lust. The ‘saving knowledge’ enables the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”
One area in which men are often passive is the area of communication. Rarely do husbands initiate conversation: that is normally left up to the wife. Yet if Christ initiated communication with His bride, ought Christian men not to be active in communication with their wives? Christian men must know their wives: their fears, their strengths, their weaknesses, etc. And husbands must take the initiative in this communication. My wife recently shared with me an area in which she is weak. I had been so “thick” that I hadn’t even noticed; it was good for me to hear it. Sadly, I ought to have noticed and taken the initiative.
Christian husband, do you know your wife’s strengths and weaknesses? Do you know where she is vulnerable? Do you know what pressures she will face in the marketplace? Do you know whether or not she can handle these pressures? Do you know whether she really wants to work, or whether you want her to work?
Shortly after we were married, my father secured a job for my wife at IBM. It paid well and included several benefits that would have been useful to us. I was just entering the ministry and so it was tempting for her to take the job. However, we first sat down to discuss it. We spoke about her working hours, the pressures she would face, and various other issues. By the end of the discussion, we called my dad and, thanking him, turned down the offer. The more we spoke about it the more we realised that it would not be the best thing for my wife or our marriage to accept the offer.
Christian husbands must know their wives. This applies not only in the marketplace but in every area of life. Remember, there are many men in the marketplace who are willing to dwell with your wife according to knowledge! Be sure, therefore, that you are doing so, in order that she might not have to seek that kind of intimacy elsewhere.
Care for Her Intensely
Peter also charges Christian husbands to be “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life.” If the first command calls for a comprehensive understanding, then the second command calls for a conscientious understanding. That is, the husband must fully engage his responsibility.
To give honour to the wife means to “highly esteem” her. The husband must care for his wife intensely. He must see her as precious to him and he must therefore honour her. Two reasons are given for this intense care.
She is Weaker
First, the husband must care for his wife intensely because she is weaker. Peter speaks of the wife as “the weaker vessel.” In the original, the definite article (“the”) is absent, which means we could well translate the phrase “a weaker vessel.” This is important, for the wife is the weaker vessel to her husband; she is not the weaker vessel to every Joe on the street. The wife may in fact be very strong, but the husband should be stronger.
Once more, this places a great weight of responsibility upon the husband’s shoulders. I pray every day that my daughters will marry strong men one day. I train my daughters to be strong in the faith so that it will take a really strong man to lead them. And I am to be the same way with my wife. I have always considered my wife to be a strong woman; that places a great responsibility upon me to make sure that I am strong enough to lead her biblically.
The question is, in what way is the wife “the weaker vessel”? It is not primarily that she is physiologically impaired. We can point to many women who are physically stronger than many men. Instead, the wife is “weaker” in the sense that she is precious and delicate, and the husband ought to treat her as such. If my young children ask me for some water, I do not present it to them in the best cutlery we have. Rather, I find the cheapest, unbreakable cup we have and pour them their water. People treat their fine china with great care; so ought husbands to treat their wives. The wife is a precious gift from God to the husband and he ought to care for her as a prized vessel.
Your wife is a weaker vessel in that she is your responsibility. She is a weaker vessel in that you are to protect her. Your wife is the object of conquest by the unscrupulous and you must do all you can to guard her. Since your wife left the authority of her father when you married her she is, in one sense, vulnerable and needs you to be an active authority in her life. She is a weaker vessel in that God has commanded her to submit to you. And, by virtue of the fall, she is a weaker vessel in that she is tempted to rule you, which you cannot allow. It is not easy for your wife to submit and you must actively help her in this responsibility.
This verse assumes the active spiritual strength of the husband. It assumes that he is a knight in shining armour to his wife, that he is her warrior. If you are fulfilling this role then you have a sobering question to ask yourself, “Why would I be so keen to expose her to temptation, apostasy, weariness and wickedness in the marketplace?” If your wife cannot handle these things then you must be a man and guard her from them! If she is going into the marketplace, make sure that you know her employer. Make sure that her employer knows that you are her primary human authority and that he or she has no right to usurp that.
She is a Worshipper
The second reason that the husband must intensely care for his wife is because the two are “heirs together of the grace of life.” This can be a confusing statement and there are at least two possible interpretations of it.
First, some have suggested that a procreative connotation is here intended. Thus, “the heirs together of the grace of life” speaks of the husband and wife bearing children. Second, however, and perhaps more favourable, is the suggestion that a new creation connotation is intended. That is, “heirs together of the grace of life” speaks of the mutual belief of husband and wife; as Clowney has said it, “the mutuality of their relationship.” That is, both husband and wife worship God; both are believers.
As noted, I favour the second interpretation but, either way, the emphasis is upon the husband intently leading, protecting, providing and cherishing his wife. He is to honour her with the highest esteem as his sister in Christ. Many years ago I was privileged to attend a Keith Green concert. I vividly recall him speaking at the concert about his marriage, stating that the most helpful thing that he and his wife had ever realised is that they are first and foremost brother and sister in Christ. How true! Yes, marriage is recognised by God, but only “till death do us part.” The brother-sister relationship, however, will last throughout all eternity.
Since your wife is also your sister in Christ, guard her heart! Help her walk with Christ! Help her fulfil her highest biblical calling, which is to be a wife and a mother! Do nothing that would detour her from this calling. Actively and intensely disciple her in the Lord Jesus Christ! Do not place her in any situation that would be spiritually dangerous for her. Do not be selfish about your lifestyle, insisting that she must work so that you can have more. Do not bother her with your selfish ambitions. Do not conform her to the world; rather, help her to be transformed by the renewing of her mind. If husbands would take this mandate seriously then I am convinced the marketplace would have far less women.
Again, we must be cautious here. In the same way that we cannot place a carte blanch admission on women in the workplace, neither can we place a blanket negation on it. The principles that Scripture lays out must be actively and honestly applied to each individual circumstance. As one teacher’s manual I consulted said, “It is the Christian man’s awesome responsibility to protect the faith of his wife.” Thus, he must maintain this consideration when deciding on whether or not she should work in the marketplace.
A dreadful consequence awaits the husband who does not treat his wife in a biblical manner: “that your prayers be not hindered.” It is interesting that this consequence is applied specifically to the husband, not to the wife. As Biggs has noted, if the husband does not treat his wife properly, “the sighs of the injured wife come between the husband’s prayers and God’s hearing.”
God will either hear the husband’s prayers or the wife’s sighs. The word “hindered” here means “to cut into.” The pain of the mistreated wife cuts into the prayers of the passive husband. You will notice that we are back to square one now. The Christian home is meant to be focused on the extension of God’s kingdom. Only as husbands and fathers lead actively will the home become an extension of God’s kingdom, which will in turn extend the kingdom in this world. One author has summarised this verse nicely:
The Christian husband should let all his living together with his wife be informed and guided by a proper awareness of her condition in relation to himself both in nature and grace. One the one hand, naturally, he should recognize her more limited physical powers as a woman, and should give her corresponding consideration and protection. Only so will he render her due honour and be worthy of her marital confidence and devotion. On the other hand, spiritually, he should also recognize their full equality as fellow-sharers in the grace of God, and in His gift to them both of eternal life. He should, therefore, live with her as a man fully aware that, in addition to the natural enjoyment of one another, they are, as Christians, called together to a spiritual fellowship with God and Christ, a sphere in which his wife is not weaker or inferior, but a joint-heir. Only if this delicately balanced fellowship between husband and wife is thus properly maintained will their union reach its true Christian fulfilment. For such a partnership is meant to be specially fruitful, not only physically in having children, but also spiritually in praying together and in seeing prayer answered.
It is interesting to note that the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is a busy woman. One almost tires reading the chapter! She appears to be one who has the family’s finances on her heart and her husband trusts her to be a good steward of those finances. In fact, 31:11-12 seems to indicate that she adds to the family coffers. She presumably enters the marketplace to secure wool and flax, from which she produces goods to sell back in the marketplace (31:13). She is hardworking to secure food for her household (31:14-15). She is involved in the real estate industry for the purpose of contributing to the family table (31:16). According to 31:17-18 she is industrious and profit savvy. Why? Presumably for the purpose of adding to the gain of the household so that they might have extra to give to the poor (31:20). She prepares clothing for her household (31:21) and is again seen as industrious as she takes responsibility to clothe herself in a beautiful and dignified manner (31:22). She supplies the local industries with belts and the community with her handmade garments (31:23-24). Amongst other things (31:26-31), this results in a financially secure future for her family (31:25). In short, she is busy and properly productive (31:27), far too much so to waste her time with idle gossip (31:26). But although she is seen in the marketplace, she never settles there.
In stark contrast, her husband is seen to be sitting in the marketplace (31:23). He is the one who daily, and for lengthy periods of time, interacts in the marketplace. That is not the responsibility of the virtuous woman but of her husband. It seems that the less time the woman spends in the marketplace the better! In fact, women are never depicted in Scripture as settled in the marketplace. Lydia was a “seller of purple” (Acts 16:14) but the text does not actually indicate that she did so for long periods of time in the marketplace. When women are seen in the marketplace, it is in order for them to do their work for the sake of the family, not to boost the profits of the company or to make a name for themselves.
I found it interesting to search for the word “marketplace” in the Bible. The word is not found often but, when it is, it usually carries negative connotations. Matthew 20:3 speaks of men “standing idle in the marketplace.” Idleness is Scripture is never used in a complimentary manner. Fickle children are seen to be playing in the marketplace (Luke 7:32), much like fickle adults in the marketplace today! Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace where they were beaten and cast into prison (Acts 16:19-25). The Pharisees loved the marketplace for that is where they received their greatest salutations (Mark 12:38). Interestingly, even the Pharisees recognised the filth of the marketplace, for they washed after being there (Mark 7:4). Acts 17:16-21 speaks thus of the marketplace, “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” As you can see, the marketplace is not pictured in Scripture in a flattering manner! Sadly, many of these same attitudes are prevalent in today’s marketplace also.
Now, some may object that we cannot apply the biblical marketplace to today’s business world. After all, the marketplace in Scripture was agrarian, which is very different to our metropolitan marketplaces today. I agree: but that just strengthens my conviction. If the marketplace in Bible days was not a safe place for a woman to be, how much more is it dangerous for her to be there today! The biblical picture is clear: the marketplace is bad news for the spiritual, moral, emotional and even physical health of our wives. As husbands, then, we would do well to be careful before glibly giving permission for our wives to enter such a danger zone! Yes, wives can be active in the marketplace and even profit from it, but they rarely should settle there.
The husband’s responsibility is not to cut off his wife from the world but rather to protect her from the many dangers of the world. No, you cannot prove biblically that it is always wrong for a woman to work outside of the home; we must, however, honestly assess the biblical principles before making our decisions in this regard.
Christian man, your responsibility is to lovingly and actively lead in such a way that your family will seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Will sending your wife (or your daughters) into the marketplace fulfil this? If so, God bless you: go for it! If not, put an end to it right now before you do any more damage.