Good morning everyone. This morning we will be reading from 1 Peter 3:1-7.
The Greco-Roman world that Peter and the original readers of this letter lived in was different in many ways. This was a society where government and religion were deeply entwined and the emperor, was worshipped. This was an economy in which slavery played a huge role in the normal functioning of society. And it was very much a man’s world. A patriarchal society. In that world, where it was a given that the wife would be the same religion as the husband, what happens when a married woman comes to faith in Jesus? She’s born again. She has a new God-given identity. She’s a beloved daughter of the King. She’s an heir to eternal life in Jesus Christ. How should she live with her pagan husband? Should she continue to live with him at all?
Because of the change that faith in Jesus brings about there are these points of conflict when the world interacts with the church. How should we handle these moments of culture-clash? We looked at how Christians should respond to government and how Christian slaves should conduct themselves in relation to their masters last week. To sum it up, we respond with grace, goodness, and courage. We submit. That doesn’t mean that we can’t speak out against injustice, but however we respond to the world it must be a gracious response. We can’t abandon grace, because we depend on grace. We have received the grace of God and so we must be gracious.
We are called to submit. Now, that sounds like a terrible word to our ears because we’ve got it into our heads that being submissive means being less. We think that submission is for lesser people and we want to be equal at least, so there is no place for submission. But being submissive doesn’t mean being a lesser person. Jesus submitted. God himself! He submitted to the incarnation, God Almighty taking on human frailty. He submitted to his parents. Luke’s gospel says that when Jesus was a child, he was obedient to his parents (Luke 2:51). Imagine God doing chores. Was he any less God during that time? No! Jesus also submitted to the cross and suffered for our salvation. The cross is the heart of our faith. If you want to know about God – God the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, Creator and Sustainer of the universe – our religion says to look at the cross. A naked man dying a horrible death at the hands of the state. Was he any less God? No!
Submission doesn’t mean being less. So, when Peter tells wives to be submissive to their husbands, he’s not telling them to be less, or that they are less. He’s instructing them on how to work within the patriarchal culture of the day so that God is glorified through their goodness. They are not to react to the false religion of their husbands by fighting them or leaving them, but with grace. And they do this so that God will be glorified in their gracious response and the man may be won over to Christ. This submission isn’t just resignation it is mission, it is tactical. We disrupt evil and shine light in the darkness by being gracious people in a grace-less world.
Note also that Peter says that the wives are to be submissive to their own husbands. Not to husbands in general or men in general. The Bible does not teach that women must be submissive to men in general. Peter’s words are instructions for wives on how to be faithful, missional Christians in the context of the existing relationships that they have.
In the inevitable culture-clashes that come with living in this world while belonging to heaven we must ensure that grace is our response. Grace and goodness and courage are how we must stand out. Although this was a quite different culture, it does seem like some things never change. The women of Peter’s day had their own beauty industry to deal with. This society had unrealistic beauty standards just like modern Ireland does. Back in the ancient Greco-Roman world elaborate hairstyles were the big thing and so women spent a lot of time and effort on making their hair very fancy. Peter instructs these Christian women to instead focus on cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit. He’s not talking about being some mousey little character that never speaks up. Gentleness is not weakness; it is strength under control. A quiet spirit doesn’t mean someone who never speaks up, but someone who is at peace, someone whose trust in God is evident by their ability to rest in God’s care.
What about the men?
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.
(1 Peter 3:7)
It’s a smaller statement but it’s packed! Firstly, Peter says that husbands are to act “in the same way”. This is continuing what Peter began in the previous chapter. First, he called on all Christians to submit to the governing authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17), then he called on slaves to submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18-21), then at the beginning of today’s passage he says “in the same way” when instructing wives to submit to their husbands, and here he continues his instruction to husbands with that phrase again, “in the same way”.
A healthy marriage is not one partner bullying and bossing someone around (that’s abuse, and you need to get to safety if you are being bullied or abused in your relationship). It’s a partnership and that involves mutual submission and deferring to each other. Peter’s reference to the woman as the weaker partner isn’t any commentary on the worth or character of women, but the simple reality that women are usually smaller, less physically strong and face disadvantages in a patriarchal society. This isn’t to be exploited by men so that they can bully or intimidate their wives – that is a terrible sin! – a good Christian husband will treat his wife with respect. Husbands and wives, men and women, are on an equal footing before God. Peter reminds the husbands that their wives are also heirs – just as they themselves are – of the gracious gift of life that comes to us through Jesus. It’s not just the sons who are heirs, but the daughters too. Men and women are equally blessed by God’s grace. Peter warns husbands that if they do not treat their wives with respect their prayers will be hindered. Husbands, God may not listen to your prayers if you do not treat your wife with respect.
Whether it’s in our interactions with governing authorities, employers, or in the home, Christians are called to always be gracious. Doing so shows our gentleness and our quiet spirit. It shows that we trust the one who is truly in charge. It shows that, unlike the world, we do not believe that submission and service is demeaning because our best revelation of God comes through his own submission. Jesus stooped down to be amongst us and even die for us. We’ve been shown the strength of gentleness and submission. We needn’t fear that submission makes us any less because God almighty walked this path.
Lord help us to trust you enough so that we’re not always trying to assert ourselves. Let us be happy to yield to each other out of love and respect. Help us, Lord, to think more highly of others than of ourselves. Give us that faith and contentment in you that we need for this.
Lord, our country continues to suffer through increasing cases of a deadly virus. Please help us to adhere to the government guidelines, both as an act of submission to governing authorities and also as an act of love and submission to our neighbours. Help us to be careful for each other’s sake.
Bless those who are fighting on the front lines against this virus and to provide the services we need. Heal them, protect them, bless them we pray.
We pray for a reduction in cases and for the defeat of this virus so that we can do the things that we so miss once again. We look forward with hope to the day when we will gather again and sing your praises.
In Jesus’ name we pray,