Sermon Text

Doing family to the Glory of God

1 Peter 3:1-7

“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands”. I wonder how you feel when you read that. I imagine that for some of us this afternoon it’s an immediate blocker. Or if not a blocker, a source of serious embarrassment.

I don’t want my non-Christian colleague to read that part of the Bible. I mean it sounds so very outdated. Oppressive, dangerous even. I wouldn’t want my unbelieving friends to know I believe that.

But here’s the thing. Peter tells his readers this because he believes it will make the gospel more appealing.

Take a look at 2:11. Verses 1-7 of chapter 3 are part of a much longer section of Peter’s letter which begins in 2:11, where Peter sets out his purpose. Look at that:


“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  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.”

That’s what this whole section of Peter’s letter is about. Living such good lives in the world that unbelievers put their trust in Jesus.

But what we need to understand is that gospel attractive lives do not conform to the expectations of our culture. Remember v.11 of chapter 2. We are foreigners and exiles. We live in Manchester – one of the most secular cities in the world – but we don’t belong here. No - v. 9 of chapter 2:

“We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” and our purpose is “to declare God’s praises”.

That’s the context that frames these verses. And it’s the main point Peter wants to make in the passage we’re looking at today. Live in a way that wins people for the gospel.

Live in a way that wins people for the gospel – 2: 12, 15; 3:1

Take a look at who Peter is addressing in these verses:

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

He’s talking to Christian wives – and primarily he’s got in mind women who are married to unbelievers.

You’ve probably heard the famous line that’s often attributed to Francis of Assisi:

“Preach the word at all times. Use words if necessary.”

Now, as it happens, good old St Francis never said that. But is it basically what Peter’s saying here? Christian wives, win your husbands for Jesus by living such good lives that they “catch” Christianity like people catch a cold!

Well, no, not all.

We’re told in v. 1 that the husbands here don’t believe or more literally that they “disobey the Word” – they are disobedient to Jesus.

That means that they’ve heard about Him. You can’t disobey something you don’t know. So they must have heard the good news about Jesus.

Most probably they’d heard it from their wives who were brimming over with excitement about their newfound Saviour but their enthusiasm was met by blank looks from their other halves.

A bit of context might help here.

In Greco-Roman society, wives were expected to worship the same gods as their husbands.

Listen to the words of Plutarch, a Greek writer living at the time of this letter:

“A wife ought not to make friends of her own, but to enjoy her husband's friends in common with him. The gods are the first and most important friends. Wherefore it is becoming for a wife to worship and to know only the gods that her husband believes in.”

For the husband, it was shameful for his wife to desert his gods.  He would have been a laughing stock in his neighbourhood and at work: “Look at how poorly he manages his household! He’s such a weak husband” It was humiliating!

And the wife had tried. She’d told him the gospel time and again but he’s rejected it. And so Peter says:

“Now let your actions do the talking”!

Show him in your purity of life – v. 2; and your reverence for God – that the gospel really works.

I think that’s a message some of us might need to hear this afternoon.

I grew up in a non-Christian home and when I got saved at the age of 18 - I was desperate to share Jesus with my parents and sisters. And that was right.

But it’s easy – especially with those we really love – to vomit the gospel on them and then adopt a Spanish Inquisition approach to evangelism. Reciting the gospel to them again and again – in the hope that our incessant repetition will somehow win them for Christ.

But that’s wrong. Sometimes we need to let our actions do the talking.

That might be true for you when you visit your non-Christian parents this summer break.

I think it might be something that those of us who are parents need to hear. Most of us are desperate to see our children make professions of faith but we mustn’t think that will happen because of our constant nagging of them to trust in Jesus. We need to let our lives do the talking.

The same is true when you head out with non-Christian friends later this evening. Or into the office tomorrow morning.

But let me add a caveat here. This letting your life do the talking only kicks in once you’ve shared the gospel – once your friends and family have heard and disobeyed the word – the good news of Jesus.

In truth, I fear that the problem for many of us, myself included, is not that we have said too much, but that we have said too little: in our workplaces, our homes, with our neighbours.

We need to proclaim the good news of Jesus. We need to give people the opportunity to disbelieve it, and then we need to live in a way that wins people to the gospel.

Submit to your husbands in a way that wins people for the gospel – 3:1-6

So what does that look like in marriage - the main focus of our passage this afternoon? Well – v. 1 - it will mean wives submitting themselves to their husbands.

Now it’s important to say at the outset that this instruction isn’t merely a cultural statement – made in the 1st century but no longer applicable today.

Elsewhere in the Bible this principle of submission in marriage is rooted in creation itself’ so it’s as applicable today as it was when it was first spoken.

Now, I’m conscious that this might be deeply offensive to some of you this afternoon. The fact that the Bible says this makes it really hard for you to believe the Bible is true or has legitimacy.  

Before we get into the detail of what submission means in this context, can I say that it’s actually really good to have things in the Bible which we don’t like – which we find hard to accept.

Because, if we didn’t, it would be impossible to have a personal relationship with God.

Tim Keller illustrates the point really well using the film The Stepford Wives. Have you seen it?

It’s about a group of men in Stepford Connecticut who decide they want really beautiful wives but don’t like the way they talk back to them. And so they put microchips in their heads and turn them into robots. So all they ever do is say “yes dear, yes dear, yes dear” and so are perfect wives.

But the problem is they don’t have a personal relationship with their wives anymore, because you don’t have a personal relationship with someone who always says “yes dear, yes dear, yes dear”.

You only have a personal relationship with someone who can contradict you, who can argue with you and who can change your mind. Otherwise you have a robotic friend or a robotic wife. You have a Stepford wife.

And you see if I only believe the parts of the Bible that don’t offend me, that don’t go against my feelings then I’ve got a Stepford God.

I’ve got a God who will never offend me or contradict me. But I’ve got no personal relationship with him. I simply have a God of my own creation.

But a God that our heart has created cannot help our hearts when we’re guilty.

You see when we feel guilty, we need a God who we haven’t created to say, “you’re forgiven”. When we feel worthless, we need a God we haven’t created to say, “you are loved”. And only if you have a God who you know is real, who is speaking to you through the Bible, not a robotic God that you have cobbled together, can God say to you, “listen to me not your heart”.

So it’s good that we find parts of the Bible that we struggle with.

But what does it mean for wives to submit to their husbands? Does it mean that they become Stepford Wives thus ending any personal relationship with them? Well no, not at all.

You see, submission is different to obedience. It involves obedience – Sarah’s example of submission in v. 6 includes her obeying Abraham - but I think it’s more than that.

You see obedience can be compelled – robots like the Stepford Wives obey their masters; children obey their parents. But submission is different – it is voluntary.

The reference to Sarah obeying Abraham is actually really interesting here. It almost certainly refers to Genesis 18 – that’s the only place in the Bible where Sarah calls Abraham “lord” – which was simply a term of respect much like our word “husband” which comes from the Norse for “master of the house”.

Genesis 18 is where the 3 angels visit Abraham to tell him that he’s going to have a son within a year. And Sarah just laughs and says: “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

Do you see what’s happening? She says it to herself - not to Abraham. She’s reminding herself to respect her husband. That’s submission - it’s voluntary – it’s a decision.

It’s not Stepford.

Wives can discuss things with their husbands, they’re free to disagree, to seek to persuade, vigorously so. But submission means that ultimately they respect their husbands and follow their lead in the relationship.

But isn’t that demeaning? Doesn’t submission mean that women are somehow inferior?

Well, only if Jesus was. Look again at v. 1:

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands.”

“In the same way”. In the same way as what? Well it refers back to vv. 21-25 of chapter 2.

In the same way as Jesus submitted himself to the Roman authorities. In the same way as he submitted himself to the will of God the Father, so submit yourself to your husbands.

We have a really confused understanding of greatness. We think greatness is to be found in self-assertiveness - in standing on our rights. But Jesus showed that true greatness is found in foregoing rights, in submitting to others.

And he showed that submission does not mean inferiority. Jesus is equal with God the Father and yet he entrusted himself into his Father’s hands: 2:23.

In the same way, wives are equal with their husbands – v. 7 of chapter 3 makes that absolutely clear - they are co-heirs – and yet they submit to their husbands in their marriage.

Wives, you have an amazing privilege. In submitting to your husbands you get to model Christ to them.

Verses 3-4 fill out submission a bit more. Peter contrasts two kinds of beauty.

There’s outward beauty: good looks, fine hair, Cartier necklaces, Gucci dresses. That’s the sort of beauty society is fixated with.

Our society elevates looks over expertise. That’s why today’s celebrities are actors and models rather than scientists and engineers. It’s why you’re much more likely to find Holly Willoughby on a TV show than your local GP.

But we’re not to pursue that kind of beauty. Rather the beauty we’re to pursue is the beauty of the inner self – beauty that never fades. The beauty – v. 4 – of “a gentle and quiet spirit”.

Now again, this doesn’t mean that wives are to be silent. It’s really important to say that. In fact the words used here are not even distinctively feminine. In 1 Timothy 2:2 all Christians are called to quietness and submission. And Jesus describes himself as gentle and humble in heart. Christian wives are called to follow their Saviour. And if they do – v. 4 – it is of great worth in God’s sight.

Why? Because in submitting to their husbands – useless though we often are – Christian wives show that they are really putting their trust in God – trusting that His Word is good and right. Just as Jesus did in Gethsemane as he contemplated the cross and said to the Father: “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Can I speak to the Christian men here who are not yet married? If you’re looking for a wife, what are you looking for? Do you want a trophy wife – someone who looks good on your arm? Well that’s fine. But 50 years from now she won’t look so good.

Unlike a woman who wants to submit and model Christ to you. She’ll be beautiful from the day you marry her to the day you die.

And can I speak to the Christian women too? Don’t get sucked in by the media and advertising. It’s fine to have nice clothes and to make yourself look beautiful. But make sure you don’t spend more time and money on that than on cultivating your inner beauty. Because it’s that beauty which lasts.

And be careful when thinking about who you’re going to marry. It’s easy to think “Well I like this guy because of this and this and this. And the rest I’ll change.” But you can’t do that. When you marry, you need to marry someone you can trust and submit to in all the major decisions in life: in decisions about where to live, where to work, how to raise children, how many children to have, where to go to church, how to spend your money.

And given how hard that will be in normal circumstances, how could you even think about marrying someone who isn’t a Christian? Someone who doesn’t share with you the most fundamental love in your life.

And it’s worth adding at this point that there are limits to submission. We submit first to God not to our husbands. Peter was writing to women who’d already made that stand – who’d already decided to worship the God of the Bible rather than the gods of their husbands. And it will also mean standing up against domestic violence– we’ll come back to that in a moment.

But in other situations, Christian wives are called to submit to their husbands and, as they do, they’ll win people for Christ.

Let me tell you about Rose. Rose was the leader of the youth group I was in when I first started going to church as a non-Christian. She’d become a Christian several years before I met her and she was desperate for her husband, Nick, to believe. And so Rose set about loving him like she’d never loved him before; respecting him like she’d never respected him before. I had the privilege of seeing that worked out as I visited their house most Sundays after church. And bit by bit, Nick started attending church, and attending our youth group and within a couple of years he’d become a Christian. What made him look more into Christianity? It was the transformation he’d seen in his wife and in their marriage.

Verses 1-6 are controversial – they are.

Say vv.1-6 and people will be shocked.
Live them out and people will see that it is beautiful.

Honour your wives in a way that wins people for the gospel – 3:7

Peter turns to address husbands in v. 7. He gives them just one verse – not because his command is any less demanding but because it can be put more succinctly. Look at v. 7:

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives.”

More literally it says: live with your wives according to “knowledge”: knowledge of God and knowledge of your wives.

And notice how that phrase recurs: “In the same way” – referring back to vv. 21-25 again.

So how is Christ a model for Christian husbands?

Well surely it’s in his example of self-sacrificial love on the cross.

Jesus lived on earth with knowledge. He knew God – his exacting standards of holiness and justice. And he knew us – our sin and rebellion, and the just punishment that we deserved.

And that drove him to the cross to die in our place – taking the punishment we deserved. That’s the heart of Christianity.

And, in the same self-sacrificial way, Christian husbands are called to lay down their lives for their wives.

That means, v. 7, treating them with respect as the weaker partner.

Now again that’s a provocative phrase.

Let’s be clear about what it doesn’t mean. It does not mean that women are morally or intellectually inferior to men. It doesn’t mean that they are naïve; stupid or not as good at business as men.

What it does mean is that men, by-and-large, are physically stronger than women. And that most men can, if they wish, impose their will by force on women.

And that is borne out by the statistics. According to the 2018 British Crime Survey, women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence as men. On average, two women a week are killed by a violent partner or ex-partner.

Men exploit and abuse women. It’s a statistical fact. And it corresponds exactly with what the Bible says about what human beings are like since sin entered the world.

But that’s not the way things should be among Christians. There is no room – none at all – for brutality in marriage. None at all.

In a group this size, some of us will have been a victim of abuse either in the past or even ongoing. Let me just say that if that’s you, then you don’t need to remain silent. People will be here are the front after the service to chat with you. Help is available.

Husbands, treat your wives with respect. They are joint heirs with you – v. 7 - equal in Christ.

And that means you are to love them graciously and self-sacrificially. You are to honour them by setting aside your own preferences for theirs. Loving them as Christ has loved us. That’s a huge call on our lives, men.

Can I be clear, these duties in vv. 1-7 are not reciprocal. It’s not like you only need to submit to your husband if he loves you self-sacrificially and you only need to honour your wife if she submits to you. Not at all.

Listen, if you’re here this morning thinking – I’m so pleased my wife is hearing this – she really needs to learn about submission; you need to snap out of it.

Husbands, you’re to respect and honour your wives – putting their needs ahead of your own – whether they’re submitting to you or not. Win their submission with your love.

And wives, love and submit to your husbands, whether they’ve grasped v. 7 or not. Win them with your submission.

Paul Tripp has written an excellent book on marriage called “What did you expect”. I really recommend it. And one of the really helpful things he says in it is this: “The biggest problem in your marriage is you!”

And that’s true. We usually think the problem in our marriage lies with our spouse and we think everything would be fine if only we could change them. But in truth, we’re all sinners who need to change. And that change needs to start with us. The biggest problem in your marriage is you.

Healthy marriages win people for the Gospel. Therefore follow Christ in your marriage.

Wives submit to your husbands. Husbands honour your wives.

Say these words people will be shocked.
Live these words and they'll see that the gospel is beautiful.

Let’s pray