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God is with you - Part 18

1 Peter 3v1-7

Wives and Husbands, Part 1

14th July 2017

In my church we tend to preach scripture systematically, going through one book at a time. In churches where that doesn't happen, some passages are selected less often than others, and this one is not selected very often at all:

1 Peter 3v1-7
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. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, 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. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. 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.

It was difficult for my generation to receive the teaching in this passage but for my children's generation it's extremely difficult to believe a word of it. But those of us who love the Lord and the holy Scriptures must accept that these words are there because God put them there. They must be worthy of our attention, and they must be teaching us something important. This is not the sort of teaching that we can wave away and say, "it was true then but it's not true now" because if it was ever true then it's still true, and if it's false now then it was false then. It's not a cultural thing; it's about the nature of marriage.

As so often, there are two equal and opposite errors we can fall into. Some of us just pretend this passage isn't there, which it to tell God we're not really interested in what He has to say. Others make such a legalistic interpretation of it that everybody's life becomes miserable. And because some people have taught this passage as if it says that the husband has the right to boss his wife around, it's understandable that some people shy away from these verses. But these verses do not teach "Husbands boss your wives around". It says:

1 Peter 3v1a
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands

I think this means, wives have an attitude that wants your husband to lead.

I think we could put together a case that biblically the husband is supposed to be the head of the household, as they used to say in my father's generation, not so much in mine, and not at all in my children's. There is something biblical about male leadership in the house, but for your husband to be your leader is not the same as for your husband to be your commanding officer. Your husband is not there to tell you what to do. He's not there to lay down the law. He's not there to insist on his own way. But so many otherwise reasonably sound Christian teachers have made the enormous mistake of thinking that these verses teach that husbands have every right to make their wives do whatever they want, which is an utter travesty of the words of this passage.

Actually, it tells husbands:

1 Peter 3v7a
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, ands treat them with respect

And that is not at all compatible with ordering them about.

Here's a parallel, just in case it helps. As pastor of my church I'm called to lead, but I'm not called to boss the church members around, and they wouldn't put up with it if I tried. It's the same in the home.

If I'm right, Peter is saying want your husband to lead - try to see things his way. But if your husband is asking you to do something that is unbiblical, evil, cruel, illegal, or just plain bonkers, then don't do it. That should be obvious, but it hasn't always been obvious in evangelical churches.

Your husband is not your commanding officer. He's supposed to be that tender, caring, considerate leader that nurtures you and encourages you. And, actually, most of the Christian women I know would like a husband like that. They'd like a caring, considerate and thoughtful husband, who says, "Darling, I've been thinking about this, and I think the best thing is that. What do you think?" And if you have a husband like that, there's a fair chance that you'll think what he says through, pray it through, and realise that what he said is not such a bad idea, most of the time.

Ephesians Chapter 5 teaches us to submit to each other, so it's not as if Peter is asking a wife to do anything that we don't all do all the time. I hope we submit to each other. But there's a reason why this teaching is there. It's particularly for wives, and particularly for wives of non-Christian husbands. There is a submission of one to another, which we should all be involved in, but there's a particular submission of the wife to the husband, which is not allowing him to dominate you, not allowing him to give you terrible advice and insist you take it. But there is something here.

If you were the Christian wife of a non-Christian husband in that part of the world, in the first century, your husband would expect you to go to the pagan temples in your city, to worship the false gods that he worshipped. But because our submission to each other, and to our husbands, and to our governments, and to our pastors, and to everybody else, is constrained by our submission to God, a Christian wife of a non-Christian Roman husband couldn't go to the pagan temples. The true God utterly forbids us to worship false gods. So submit to your husband, but not in everything.

Suppose your husband really wants you to worship Jupiter or Neptune or somebody. You really can't. You have to worship Jesus, with a different group of people in a different place. In this regard you're not submitting to your husband, but when you get home, be the nicest wife you can be.

If you're a Christian and he isn't, if you read the Bible and he doesn't, then sometimes you really won't see things the same. You've got to do what's right, and that has priority over what your husband says. But an attitude that wants him to lead, that wants to appreciate him and respect him, and go his way when it's not insane to do so, is a reasonable way of attempting to heal the fact that you cannot come with him to the pagan temple.

And some of us are in a situation where some our husbands will want us to do things which, in all Christian conscience, we cannot do. So don't. Your obedience to God is more important than your obedience to your husband. But when you can, try to go along because that will make him happy. I think that's what Peter's saying.

More next time.