God calls wives to trust him so much that they allow their husbands to take the lead. He calls husbands to trust him so much that they approach their wives in self-sacrificing love. If both men and women listen to God’s call, the result is usually a marriage in which the wife feels secure and cherished, and the husband feels supported and admired.
Peter also tells his readers to maintain an awareness of the significant differences between women and men. Those differences are reflections of the glory of God, and when we honor them, it brings variety and joy to our lives.
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Download 1 Peter Part 20
1 PETER #20. 1 PETER 3;1-7 PART C
We’ve already had two messages on this passage. We talked about what it means for wives to submit to their husbands, and also what it means for women to submit to the male leaders of their churches. We talked about the very significant example of Sarah from the Old Testament. If you haven’t read those first two messages on these verses, please do so, because they are very important. One short definition of submission (in this context) is that women make room for their husbands (or church leaders) to take spiritual responsibility for their homes and churches. The women entrust themselves ultimately to God, which makes it easier to allow flawed men to lead. They are trusting God, not men. Women should, while allowing the men to lead, encourage them, support them and use their gifts and abilities to assist that leadership.
Now, it’s time to talk about the part of men in all of this. Peter devotes just one short paragraph specifically to men, which we’ll get to in a minute. In the meantime, we have not only this letter, but also the entire Bible, and most Bible teachers agree that the most complete teaching in one place on this subject of male leadership and female submission comes from Ephesians 5:22-35
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.(Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Husbands are directed to love their wives as Christ loved the church. The word for love in this case means “self-sacrificing love.” Christ loved the church by literally dying for her. He gave his own life for her sake. This is the standard for how husbands should treat their wives.
Let’s get real about this for a moment. I know men who are pretty certain that they would physically give their lives to save their wives. They believe they would step in front of a bullet, or dive in front of a speeding car to knock her out of the way into safety. And they might, in fact, do such things, if it came down to it.
But self-sacrificing love is not just about the exceptionally rare cases that involve physically saving someone’s life. It means that you die to your own wishes in order to show your wife that she is loved. So, maybe you’ve had a rough day at work, and you’d really just like to put up your feet and watch TV and relax. But she’s had a rough day, too, and someone has to do the dishes. Maybe, in this case, dying for your wife means that you get out of your chair and do the dishes so that she doesn’t have to. Or, it might mean engaging her in meaningful conversation, even when you’re already worn out, or supporting her decision to go back to school even though you are worried about the money.
A lot of men I know are good at sacrificing themselves in mainly one specific way: working hard at their jobs. I’ve met many men who work long hours, and make sacrifices to climb the corporate ladder, all so that, as they might put it: “I can give her the life she deserves.” What they mean is, “buy her the things I think she wants.”
But a lot of women I know would be happy with a little less “stuff” and more meaningful time spent with their husbands. Many women are fully supported financially, but are barely on life support emotionally. Sometimes, for a man, dying for their wife might involve less success at work, and more time spent with their wives. It might mean less financial investment, and more emotional investment. Other men insist that their wives work, to do their part to support the family. Maybe for such men, self-sacrificing love means that you will give up some financial security in order to let her pursue a dream that doesn’t involve a career.
You see what I’m getting at? The way husbands are directed to love their wives means that we husbands should consider the needs of our wives at least as important as our own. When in doubt, maybe we should consider them more important. That’s not to say that a husband can never have a bad day, or that it is never appropriate for a wife to be self-sacrificial to her husband. But it means husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies, and indeed, their very selves. In fact, the standard is the way Jesus loves the church.
It is true that the Lord is asking a lot from women when he says that they should submit to their husbands, and also allow men to lead their churches. It requires a lot of trust in God (which is, I think the main, and most important reason for it). It is also true that the Lord is asking a lot from men when he says that they should love their wives even when it involves sacrificing their own comfort and their preferences, even to the point of dying for them. I hope you can see that if both men and women follow these teachings, the result will often be a marriage in which both the wife and husband feel honored and blessed.
When a husband loves his wife in this way, even if maybe he doesn’t do things exactly the way she might prefer, she should be able to say: “I know he loves me. I know, even when it’s not perfect, that he truly has my best interests in his heart.”
When a wife loves her husband and trusts God by encouraging and supporting her husband’s leadership, he should be able to say: “I know she has my back. Even when it’s not perfect, I can’t doubt that she’s with me, that she’ll stand up for me, and stick with me no matter what.”
Peter gives some specific additional information that is not found explicitly in other passages:
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.1 Peter 3:1-7
As it turns out, this passage has become more important in recent years than it was for quite some time. Because, you can see that Peter is telling his readers to remember that men and women are significantly different. He tells men to be understanding of women. This presupposes that there are differences which should be understood and taken into account when men and women relate.
Peter also writes that women are the “weaker vessel.” Though in our culture it has become almost impossible to say without being censured, there are significant biological differences between men and women, and also emotional and social differences. One of the biological facts is that men, on average, are physically stronger than women on average. Could we find some women who are stronger than some men? Of course. But the strongest human being in the world will always be a man, because men develop more muscle mass than women. It’s just a fact of life, confirmed many, many times by science. Most women will indeed be physically weaker than most men.
I think Peter has three main reasons for pointing this out. First, he wants men to avoid becoming physically rough or abusive with their wives. He wants men to use their strength to provide for and protect their wives, not scare, dominate or abuse them. In Peter’s day, this reminder that women are physically weaker would have shamed any man who used his strength to dominate women. It’s a bit like saying, “Only a coward would hurt a woman. Pick on someone your own size.”
Second, Peter is reminding men of the Christian principle of showing honor to one another. I think most people these days forget (if they ever knew), that physical strength was much more important before modern technology. Most women literally did not have the strength to plow a field, either on their own, or even with a team of horses or oxen. They didn’t have the strength to build a house made out of large stones, or logs, or to fight off wild animals or bandits. To whatever extent women could contribute to these activities, they wouldn’t be as effective as men.
In our culture today, we can lie to ourselves about sex differences. But without technology, in the time of the New Testament, such differences were on display every day. Almost anything a woman could do could also be done by men, but there were a lot of things men could do that women were simply not physically capable of doing. So there was a tendency to see women as less important than men. After all, what good were they? They couldn’t really farm, build, or fight with first century technology, certainly not as well as men. But Peter says, “Yes, they might be physically weaker, but you must honor them.”
Why? Why should men honor women when they can’t keep up with men physically? “Because,” says Peter, “they are coheirs with you in the grace and life of God.” This is one reason Peter earlier reminded everyone of Sarah. Sarah’s life proves that in God’s eyes, women are as important as men. So, Peter writes: “You men, honor women as equals in God’s eyes. God made Sarah equal to Abraham in his plan of salvation. He makes all women equal to men in the grace and life that we have in Jesus Christ.” This was hugely counter-cultural in the time of the New Testament. Christianity is almost single-handedly responsible for raising the status of women worldwide over the past several centuries.
Third, I believe that this text is here as a reminder for us today. Our culture has begun to tell lies about the nature of sex differences, claiming that they are minimal, and unimportant, or even nonexistent. But we can only say such things because technology has evened things out between men and women. Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact that technology and the modern economy have made it possible for either sex to do almost any job is generally a good thing. But this situation also allows us to forget, or even to distort, the truth about the differences between men and women.
In sports, however, we generally recognize the truth. Women don’t compete directly against men, because of the physical differences. The world’s best female tennis player was, for several years, Serena Williams. Talk show host David Letterman spoke to her in 2013, and suggested she might be better than some of the top-ranked men. Williams responded:
“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Williams said. “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”(https://www.good.is/sports/serena-williams-john-mcenroe accessed 6/29/22)
I’m not sure that Serena Williams could, or would, say such a thing in public today without being severely criticized by those who pretend that there is essentially no difference between men and women. However, neither the silence nor the censure can change the facts.
Peter tells men to be aware of sex differences, so that they can treat women well. In action movies for the past decade or more, it is common to see fight scenes between men and women, and normally, in such scenes, the women beat the men. I do agree that some exceptional women would be able to win a fight against unexceptional, or somewhat weaker men. But these movies implant the idea that fights between women and men are “fair fights.” They are not. A male-female fight is between a bigger, stronger, faster, more aggressive person and a smaller, slower, weaker, less aggressive person. That’s the truth, no matter what it looks like in a fictional movie. Peter tells us to get real: men need to be aware of the differences so that they can honor women, and not hurt them.
Both men and women should be aware of the differences, because God created both male and female, and he did so as a way to show the universe part of his glorious image. In other words, being female is part of the glory and image of God. Being male is part of the glory and image of God. When we disparage either male, or female, we disparage God. When we suggest they are unimportant, or interchangeable, we lose part of the beauty that God built into humanity.
At this point, I need to say something, obviously, about transgender folks. A trans person feels that the sex of their body does not reflect who they are on the inside. I believe that transgender people suffer real pain. As Christians, we need to recognize that the pain and struggle are real, and we ought to treat trans people as we ought to treat all people – with honor, love, compassion, and grace.
We also ought to deal with trans people, and all people, in truth. While having compassion, and being welcoming and accepting, we also need to hold onto the truth, which is that there is such a thing as male and female, and those things are biologically hardwired, because God made us that way.
It is not only the Bible that teaches us this. Modern science has made profoundly definitive discoveries about sex differences. Here are only a few of them: male brain tissue is intrinsically different from female brain tissue. Scientists can now discover the sex of an individual simply by looking at a sample of brain tissue, knowing nothing else about the person. Not only that, but female and male brains are organized differently.
Even at a young age, girls and boys literally see the world differently. Girls and women see color distinctions that men are incapable of perceiving. This is not because of socialization – it is the result of different nerve and brain pathways that are hard-wired by the time babies are born. Every step in every neural pathway from the retina to the brain is different between males and females.
Females have more sensitive hearing. This is simply fact. Also, the mechanisms for sensory perception, particularly pain, are different between females and males. To put it another way, men and women experience pain differently, at a cellular level.
Doctor Leonard Sax, a clinical child psychiatrist, puts it like this:
Girls and boys play differently. They learn differently. They fight differently. They see the world differently. They hear differently. When I started graduate school in 1980, most psychologists were insisting that those differences came about because parents raised girls and boys in different ways. Today we know that the truth is the other way around: parents raise girls and boys differently because girls and boys are so different from birth. Girls and boys behave differently because their brains are wired differently(Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. Broadway Books, NY, NY. 2006)
All these things affirm the view of the Bible. The differences between men and women are important. We can have compassion on those who struggle with their bodies, while at the same time, not compromising what we know to be true.
Let the Lord speak to you today!