1 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 behavior of their wives, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. 7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
For an assignment in one of my classes this semester, I has the opportunity to dive into the Scripture found in 1 Peter 3:1-7. This passage, written by Peter and addressed to husbands and wives, gives specific commands to those who are married. If you are unmarried person like myself, it is understandable that it is difficult to internalize the instructions, yet I was still able to glean many nuggets of wisdom that I believe will help better prepare me for the day that I become a wife! It was a very interesting text to exegete (interpret and explain the text through careful, objective analysis), and I thought I'd share some of what I've learned!
Many believe that this set of instructions was originally written strictly to wives of men who were not Christians, but I have come to learn that they really apply to all women who are in the role of wife.
This passage often gets a lot of flack for the "controversial "use of the word submit, likely due to the fact that many people take it out of context and don't really understand what it meant in the time it was written nor what it means to apply it today. Peter understood, however, how crucial it was to address Christ-believing wives and encourage them in that their obedience to their husbands is so much more powerful that just the use of their words. Wives were then and are still now encouraged to submit to their husbands because of the influence that their behavior can have on them, even having the potential to lead them to Christ if they do not believe. The important distinction to make, then, with the use of the word "submit" in this verse is that it does not imply inferiority or an admission that one is "intrinsically superior." It does imply that obedience is what true submission looks like: it is the agreement from a wife to be obedient to her husband's leading.
The demeanor of a wife, then, is what is going to overpower her words, and Peter suggests purity and reverence as the central qualities that a wife should obtain. This means that purity, or freedom from moral contamination, and reverence, or deep respect for God, should be the most desired qualities in a wife, and the most fought for qualities by a wife. Women are to revere - or fear - God, and this deep reverence and obedience to God then becomes her source of motivation to submit to her husband. Another important distinction to make here is that women should not fear their husbands, but rather let their fear of God drive their behavior and respect toward their husbands, letting their lifestyle "do the talking for them." For those of us who are unmarried, we can practice an attitude of submission now by doing so fully to God - who should always be first - as well as by spending intentional time praying for the man who may one day be your husband.
[Side note: one big question that this section brings up for me is what about the woman whose husband uses his authority as a weapon against her vulnerability as a woman...? I hope with everything in me that Christian women truly know and trust the men that they are planning to marry by investing genuine time, energy, and love during the dating and engagement seasons. As for the wife who comes to Christ after she is married and whose husband is not a believer, I hope that I will one day have the wisdom to address that situation with true discernment.]
In verse 3, there is the distinct contrast between the insignificance of external beauty and the importance or internal beauty, clarifying the transcendent truth that what you wear or what you look like is never as important as the state of your heart. Peter strongly addresses that the undue concern for external appearance reveals a preoccupation with the superficial and material, stating that a woman who claims to believe in Christ yet becomes caught up in the craze of fancy things misses what real beauty is all about! The real beauty of a Christian wife has very little to do with outward adornment and everything to do with her demeanor. Virtue is the most imperishable form of "clothing" a woman can put on as it is what the Lord truly looks at, for while humans look at the outward appearance, He looks into our hearts (1 Samuel 16). The inner self of a Christian woman, then, should be a spirit of both gentleness and peace. This adornment is the most elegant apparel one can wear because it shows that one has been truly transformed from the inside out by the Spirit and grace of God. The promise that we, as women, need to claim is that it is the inner beauty of the heart that God sees as truly valuable, which means that we must be constantly and intentionally cultivating hearts of joy, authenticity, compassion, and grace.
Another thing that Peter touches on when instructing his female readers is that they should make it a priority have godly examples of other wives and women that they can look to. These godly examples should be "holy women," set apart by their complete hope and trust in God and consequent submissive attitudes and demeanor toward their husbands. The prime example that Peter uses is Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who placed herself under her husband's leadership. She accepted his decisions and honored his judgments, and so it is suggested that wives should also do what is right by submitting to and obeying their husbands. It is very interesting that Sarah is used as the prime model of submission considering that she was the one who encouraged her husband to sleep with another woman in order to have children since she was barren (oops!), yet it also shows that all of us, no matter how godly, make mistakes and fall victim to sin. What a beautiful example of the grace that God so freely gives us! Therefore, we are her daughters if we do what is required of us as wives and are not intimidated by - and most certainly do not come to resent - our husband's authority.
Peter also writes to his male readers who are married in verse 7, stating that the consideration required of husbands to their wives should match her submission to his leadership. Husbands are called to respect their wives as the physically weaker partner with the knowledge that both have been redeemed through the blood of Christ and are thus co-heirs of the gracious gift of eternal life (Galatians 3:28). Peter notes that before God, husband and wife are equal, and so failure to keep this relationship loving would injure one's relationship with God, including the hinderance of prayers. That is why husbands are to both honor and delight in their wives, that they may take heart knowing that their prayers will gain a hearing with God. As marriage is truly the closest human relationship, it must be carefully cherished and nurtured if the husband and wife wish for a close relationship with God!
Spending so much time studying this passage has taught me that both husbands and wives are given specific commands that they must follow in their marriage relationship. It is not only here in 1 Peter 3 that instructions are given to husbands and wives; additional instructions can be found in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. I have learned that Christian wives are called to something that is not going to always be easy. The word submission often has quite the negative connotation attached to it, and yet it is exactly what Christian wives are called to do. What this passage teaches me about myself is that the job of a Christian wife – as well as a Christian husband – is not an easy or natural one. Rather, this very important relationship requires constant obedience and an abundance of self-sacrificial love.
I consider 1 Peter 3:3-4 a direct command that all women should follow: letting their inner selves be what displays their beauty, knowing that their outward appearance is insignificant in comparison to the beauty of their hearts. Therefore, I strive to let my love for the Lord, which manifests itself deeply in my heart, be the true beauty that shows on the surface over the way that I look and the way that I dress.
If/when I am married, I plan to obey the commands in this passage given to Christian wives: to submit to my husband’s authority, to strive for both purity and reverence in my life, to allow my inner beauty to radiate above my appearance, and to follow the example set forth by other godly women, like Sarah. I pray, too, that my future husband will take seriously the instructions in verse 7, so that his prayers may not be hindered as he honors and delights in me as his wife!