As he continues to apply his exhortation to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (2:11), Peter addresses the realm of the home. Specifically, he addresses the way that believing wives should behave toward their unbelieving husbands (3:1–6) and then, more briefly, the way that believing husbands should respond to their wives—whether believing or unbelieving.
Peter knew of women in the church(es) to which he was writing whose husbands were not only unbelievers, but vocal opponents of the faith. They were “speaking against” their wives “as evildoers” (2:12), looking for justification to reject the gospel and slander the young Christian community. Christian wives were tempted to respond in an unhelpful way as “the passions of the flesh” rose within them. Peter exhorted them differently.
There may be no greater pain that faithfully following Christ when the person closest to you, whom you love more than anyone else in the world, opposes your devotion. This pain may be exacerbated as you see other families in the church faithfully serving God together while you long and pray for the same thing. As you wait for God to answer your prayers, you may be tempted to take matters into your own hands by allowing “the passions of the flesh” to overtake you. Knowing this temptation, Peter exhorted the believing wives in Asia Minor to respond in three ways to their scornful husbands.
First, he exhorted these wives to “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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (vv. 1–2). The wife of an unbelieving husband might find it difficult to respect a man who speaks of her as an evildoer. She might think that it would be easier to respect a believing man. She might find justification to disrespect him because of his opposition to gospel truth. Peter would not allow that. He argued that there is power in respectful submission because it models the gospel.
He was not directly discouraging believing wives from sharing the gospel with their unbelieving husbands but he knew that sharing the gospel might invite unbearable tension into the marriage. He therefore exhorted believing wives to modelthe gospel by respectfully submitting to their husbands. Their behaviour might speak louder than their words and, in time, create space for gospel conversations.
Wives, do you model the beauty of Christ’s submission by your respectful submission, even to a husband who is a vocal opponent of your faith?
Second, Peter exhorted these wives to display the true, inner nature of Christian beauty (vv. 3–4). A wife in a difficult marriage might try to win her husband’s favour by appealing to him physically. But Peter exhorted, “Do not let your adorning be external … 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.” External beauty is temporary and fading, but the beauty of “a gentle and quiet spirit” is imperishable. Christian wives should strive to display the Christlike fruit of the Spirit, which is harder work, but bears better fruit, than external beauty.
Wives, are you working hard to display Christlikeness to your husband, even if he is a vocal opponent of your faith?
Third, Peter exhorted believing wives to emulate godly examples: “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (vv. 5–6). Rather than looking to the first century Kardashians, he wanted his readers to emulate godly role models.
Wives, do you emulate godly examples in your marriage? Are you looking to Scripture, to church history, and to godly wives in your own church to help you model “a gentle and quiet spirit”?
It is not easy to model godliness to a husband who openly scorns your faith. The easy way out is to give into “the passions of the flesh” and to respond in kind. Peter calls for a different way—for a response that models the gospel.
Perhaps you are not a wife with an unbelieving husband. There may be someone else in your life who mocks your faith. How will you respond? Will you give into “the passions of your flesh, which wage war against your soul” or will you model “a quiet and gentle spirit” so that you might “without a word” win those who so openly oppose you?