In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior (1 Peter 3:1-2).
The apostle’s instruction in these two verses boils down to this:
Wives who love and respect contemptible husbands demonstrate Christ-like grace.
Wives are subject to husbands. This is not so much a command as a statement of fact. Men and women are equal in terms of dignity and value, but God has assigned them differing roles in the family. The husband is the head and authority over the wife. Again, that is not the way it should be, that is the way it is. A husband who fails to act as his wife’s authority is like a king who fails to act as ruler. He may be a bad king, a weak king, or a negligent king, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is king.
In 2:18, Peter instructed Christian slaves to submit to their masters even when they are unjust and harsh. Here he instructs believing wives to submit to unbelieving husbands (“disobedient to the word”), an equally challenging situation. The goal is to win him to Christ, and her primary method of evangelism is her own devotion to Christ.
“Without a word” does not mean that she should refrain from proclaiming the good news to her husband. It means that the most influential instrument she has with which to play the sweetest Song is her life of faith and obedience. As she serves Christ, he will notice. As she submits to Christ she will submit to him, which he will also notice. Basically, the best way for her to convict her rebellious husband is to model gracious, compliant behavior, to be a fantastic wife without being preachy.
Your adornment must not be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:3-4).
Now Peter switches to all wives. He says that a godly wife does not dress fancy and get all done up while acting smarmy or nit-picky, or always carping about her husband’s failures. Peter is not giving her license to let her appearance go the way of an old, vacant barn, either. But her most appealing qualities will be her character, not her curves, for the simple fact that external beauty is not what distinguishes Christian wives from unbelieving wives.
One qualification is in order. A “quiet and gentle spirit” is not identical to a “quiet and gentle mouth.” I have known (and you have, too, no doubt) women who were reticent and soft-spoken outside the home, but inside was another story. If you asked their husbands if these “quiet” wives were gentle and respectful to them, the honest answer would be a resounding no! Conversely, there are women who speak in anything but whispered tones and yet their delightful service to their husbands is obvious to all, especially to their man.
A wife’s gentle and quiet spirit toward her husband is described as “precious in the sight of God.” The Bible rarely speaks of something being precious or valuable to God, so when a thing is specifically pointed out as such, we ought to sit up and take notice. This characteristic is of great worth in the divine heart. It sparkles more dazzlingly on a woman than the most expensive jewels. Wife, do not miss this. You can be a unique treasure to God.
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear (1 Peter 3:5-6).
In the Bible we find many “precious” women who graciously blessed their boneheaded husbands. Their trust was in God, not their spouses. For example, Sarah submitted to Abraham. (The actual word Peter used was “obeyed” [Gk. hupakouo], thereby equating submission and obedience.) She even referred to him as “lord” or “master.” Although the one place in the Old Testament which records Sarah calling Abraham lord (Gen. 18:12) is not a clear example of her submission to him, when the entire account of their marriage is considered, her faithful yielding to his desires becomes manifest to all. On not one but two occasions, Abraham presented Sarah as his sister to a foreign king, a move that placed her in the clear and present danger of being violated sexually. Yet nowhere do we find Sarah criticizing Abraham, or harboring bitterness toward him, or withholding herself from him, or speaking ill of him to others in reaction to his treacherous behavior. She was not afraid. She submitted to her lord Abraham because she had full trust in her Lord God.
Sarah was only given one biological child, Isaac, and yet she was given a multitude of spiritual daughters—those who submit to their husbands, in faithful obedience to God, even when their husband becomes harsh, negligent, or untrustworthy.
(I do not believe that a wife should continue to live with an abusive husband, but such scenarios are beyond the scope of this post. If you are in that situation, please seek pastoral help.)
- Wife, when your husband sins, how do you handle it? Talk about it.
- Wife, describe for him what you understand a “gentle and quiet spirit” to be and to look like.
- Husband, describe examples of how she manifests this kind of spirit, and how she doesn’t.
- Wife, explain how a greater trust in God would enable you to submit to him even if he makes choices you disagree with.