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1 Peter 3:1-7




Wives, in the same way be submissive to your 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 … For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They were submissive to their own husbands, 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.


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. (verses 1-2, 5-7)

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There is no question as to the general teaching of this passage. But there are several words and phrases that today we find troublesome, indeed offensive.


First, the general teaching. Wives and husbands, get along together! Live in a mutually compatible, loving partnership. The wife’s duty to submit, and the husband’s to respect, ultimately both put the interests of the partner first, rather than one’s own. Live that out. In so doing, honour the Lord, live in reverence for him, and in him put your hope.


I know this is a rather free commentary, but I think it captures the essence.


Now, to the difficult words and phrases, each of which attaches to wives. “Be submissive,” Peter commands. We’ve already encountered this word earlier when Peter urged, “Submit yourselves” to government authorities (1 Peter 2:13). Submission is not a concept any of us readily embrace, but it is clearly seen as a Christian virtue, not just for wives, but for all believers. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” Paul says (Ephesians 5:21). It requires humility and deference to others – just like Jesus himself demonstrated when he washed his disciples’ feet; indeed, when he went to the cross.


It’s helpful to note that Peter in this case is writing specifically to wives who have unbelieving husbands – this is different from Paul’s instructions to Christian couples in Ephesians 5. The expected standard of the day was for women to fully adopt the religious affiliation of their husbands. So, these wives, as followers of Christ, were already outside the norm – they were, in a sense, being insubordinate to their unbelieving husbands by being faithful to Christ. All the more reason, then, out of that same faithfulness to Christ, for them to embrace Christ’s own attitude of humility, living in deference toward their husbands in other areas of life.


Another difficulty arises with the example of Sarah. We’re told that she “obeyed Abraham and called him lord.” This is the only place the word “obey” is used of a wife in the New Testament, and it’s certainly the only place the word “lord” is used of a husband. We shouldn’t allow these words to stretch the husband-wife relationship to an extreme, making it like a slave-master relationship (where the word “obey” is consistently used). Sarah’s example is meant to illustrate a true attitude of submissiveness, rather than a heavy-handed hierarchy within marriage.


And, of course, it’s balanced by the command to the husband to “be considerate” and treat his wife with “respect” – or, as Paul says, speaking to all Christians, “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Husbands, act like that toward your wife.


But Peter adds a qualifying phrase that creates further offense in our day – he specifies that the husband should show respect to his wife “as the weaker partner.” The phrase doesn’t, however, need to be offensive. It implies a difference in physical strength, rather than moral, intellectual, or otherwise. But even in a case where the wife is physically stronger, the husband isn’t off the hook! He is to extend full consideration and respect to his wife.


One final word. When one member of the marriage uses a passage like this to demand beneficial behaviour from their spouse, things are sure to go wrong. But when each focuses on their own part of the command (“be submissive” or “be considerate … treat them with respect”), the Lord is honoured, and the marriage is blessed. May it be.

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O Lord, I lift my sights to all the marriages in my circle of family, friends, church – bless them with this mutual giving and receiving. May you be honoured. Amen.

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Pray:

If you are married, pray for yourself, that you would fulfill the command that this passage places on you. Pray for your spouse, that they would be blessed by your part.

If you are single, pray for married couples around you – focus on one or two – pray for the Lord to strengthen each partner to live in humility and respect.

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Photo by freestocks on Unsplash


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