Holy Women Who Hoped in God

Mother’s Day

Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior. Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.

I would like to sum up last week’s message and make the transition to today’s message by telling you a story from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Escape from Giant Despair and Doubting Castle

The Pilgrim’s Progress is a story about how a man called Christian makes his way “through many dangers, toils, and snares” along the King’s highway to the Celestial City. It is an allegory of the Christian life, and it is tremendously helpful.

At one point along his way, Christian, and his faithful companion Hopeful, stray off of the King’s highway into By-Path Meadow. In this place they lose their way. And presently they meet a giant called Giant Despair. He overcomes them and drives them to his home called Doubting Castle, and throws them in a dark, stinking dungeon.

The next day, Giant Despair comes to them and in rage falls upon them and beats them half to death, leaving them to groan and cry in their distress. The next day Giant Despair comes and tells Christian and Hopeful that the only way to escape their miseries would be to “forthwith make an end of themselves, either with Knife, Halter, or Poison.”

When the Giant leaves the dungeon, Christian and Hopeful discuss this possibility, and Christian is of the mind that they should do it, he was so distressed. But Hopeful recalls the command of the Lord of the Country to which they are going, and how he had forbidden them to take anyone’s life.

Then he says (for as his name is, so is his heart),

Who knows but that God, who made the world, may cause Giant Despair to die, or that, at some time or other, he may forget to lock us in; or that he may in a short time have another of his fits before us, and may lose the use of his limbs? . . . My brother, let us be patient, and endure a while; the time may come that may give us a happy release; but let us not be our own murderers.

Later when Giant Despair comes back and finds that Christian and Hopeful have not taken their lives the way he suggested, he falls into a rage and takes them out to show them the bones of the pilgrims he had killed, and then drives them back again to their dungeon, beating them all the way.

That night the giant’s wife says that the reason they are holding on to life may be that “they live in hope that some will come to relieve them, or that they have pick-locks about them.” So Giant Despair says he will search them in the morning.

That night was Saturday, and at midnight Christian and Hopeful began to pray and continued in prayer till almost break of day. Then a wonderful thing happened. In John Bunyan’s own words,

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, brake out into this passionate speech: What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle. Then said Hopeful, That’s good news, good brother, pluck it out of thy bosom, and try.

Then Christian pulled it out of his bosom, and began to try at the dungeon door, whose bolt, as he turned the key, gave back, and the door flew open with ease, and Christian and Hopeful both came out. Then he went to the outward door that leads into the castle-yard, and with his key opened that door also. After, he went to the iron gate, for that must be opened too, but that lock went damnable hard, yet the key did open it. Then they thrust open the gate to make their escape with speed; but that gate as it opened made such a creaking, that it waked Giant Despair, who, hastily rising to pursue his prisoners, felt his limbs to fail, for his fits took him again, so that he could by no means go after them. Then they went on, and came to the King’s highway, and so were safe, because they were out of his jurisdiction.

There is only one escape from Giant Despair and Doubting Castle, namely, the endurance of hope and the key called Promise — that was last week’s message.

Christiana’s Pilgrimage

Now we make our transition to this week’s message. After Christian attains to the Celestial City, his wife, Christiana, sets out on her way to heaven. At first she and her four sons had refused to leave the City of Destruction. But then at last they too were converted and set out as pilgrims.

There is a terrific story of how her four sons and Mr. Great-heart and Mr. Honest destroy Doubting Castle and slay the Giant Despair. But we must pass over that and come quickly to the end of Christiana’s pilgrimage.

She has fought valiantly and has completed her course. As she and her company camp by the last river, she receives a letter from the Celestial City. It read,

Hail, good woman; I bring thee tidings that the Master calleth for thee, and expecteth that thou shouldst stand in his presence, in clothes of immortality, within these ten days.

With her heart full of hope in God, she gathers her sons, Matthew, Samuel, James, and Joseph, and tells them goodbye. She gives her few goods to the poor. She calls Mr. Valiant-for-truth and commends to him the care of her sons. And then, with great tenderness and strength, she summons Mr. Despondency and his daughter Much-afraid and encourages them with these words:

You ought with thankfulness for ever to remember your deliverance from the hands of Giant Despair . . . The effect of that mercy is, that you are brought with safety hither. Be ye watchful, and cast away fear; be sober, and hope to the end.

A Mother’s Day Message on Hope

And that brings us to our topic and our text for today, HOLY WOMEN WHO HOPED IN GOD, 1 Peter 3:1–6.

In 1 Peter 2:13–17, Peter admonishes us all to be subject, or submissive, for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as set by him. In other words, keep the speed limits, pay your taxes, and be respectful toward policemen and senators.

Then, following this theme, in 2:18–25, he addresses the servants in the church and admonishes them to be submissive to their masters with all respect, both to the kind and to the overbearing.

Then, in 3:1–6 he instructs the wives to be submissive to their husbands, and in verse 7 he instructs husbands to live considerately with their wives.

Finally, in this sequence of thoughts he tells the whole church to have unity and sympathy and love and tenderheartedness and humility toward one another, and not to return evil for evil (3:8–17).

Since today is Mother’s Day, we will focus our attention on the women in 3:1–6. And since we are in the middle of a series of messages on hope, we will go right to the root of things and begin by asking, “What is the root cause of a woman’s greatness in the eyes of God — the only eyes that matter?”

What Is the Root Cause of a Woman’s Greatness?

The answer is given in verse 5: “So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands.” Let’s focus on three things in this verse.

  1. First, these holy women hoped in God.
  2. Second, because they hoped in God, they adorned themselves in a certain way, namely, with a gentle and quiet spirit (we will see this in verses 3–4).
  3. Third, by hoping in God and adorning themselves with this spirit of tranquility, they were submissive to their husbands.

Because of these three things, Peter calls them “holy women.” Their spirit and their demeanor are distinct from the world and are precious in the sight of God (verse 4). And not only are they precious in God’s sight, but they are also powerful in the sight of unbelieving husbands. Peter’s desire is that women in his own day would follow the example of the holy women of old, and that they would win their husbands to Christ by their reverent and chaste behavior.

Let’s take these three things in verse 5 one at a time and look at them briefly.

1. Hoping in God

First, the holy women are called women who hoped in God. They had learned to preach to themselves the way the psalmist did in Psalm 42:5,

Why are you downcast, O my soul,
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God!
For I shall again praise him,
My help and my God.

Sarah’s Laughter and Hope

In Hebrews 11, you recall, faith is defined in verse 1 as the assurance of things hoped for. Then in verse 11 Sarah, one of the holy women of old, is given as an example:

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

In other words, Sarah hoped in God. She looked away from herself and her barrenness and her age and banked on God for the fulfillment of his promise that she would have a child and be the mother of many nations.

This didn’t come easy for Sarah. In fact, when she heard God make the promise to Abraham, she laughed to herself and did NOT believe (Genesis 18:12). But then God rebuked her for the laughter of unbelief, and said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14–15).

And the next thing we hear from Sarah is a word of exultation to God when Isaac is born. She says,

God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me . . . Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.

She gives God the glory for the child, and so we may assume, with the writer to the Hebrews, that God’s rebuke and the reminder that nothing is too hard for the Lord restored Sarah’s faith and caused her to hope in God.

So women who hope in God are women who look away from the troubles and miseries and obstacles of life that seem to make the future bleak, and they focus their attention on the sovereign power and love of God who rules in heaven and does on earth whatever he pleases.

Hope Drives Out Fear

1 Peter 3:6b shows us what that hope looks like in the stresses and threats of real life.

And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you.

The presence of hope drives out fear. The daughters of Sarah do not fear anything but displeasing God. Or to be more accurate, the daughters of Sarah fight the anxiety that rises in their hearts. They wage war on fear, and they defeat it with the promises of God.

They know that following Christ will mean suffering. But they believe the promises — like 1 Peter 3:14.

But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord.

Holy women who hope in God take this promise of blessing through suffering, and they fight fear with the faithfulness of God — “Sarah considered him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11). And then they do what Peter says in 4:19,

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.

They affirm the sovereign rule of God over their suffering and that they do not suffer apart from his will, and they rest their souls in the firm and omnipotent hands of a faithful Creator. They cast out fear and they hope in God. And so they prove to be the daughters of Sarah and heirs according to the promise.

2. Adorning Themselves in a Certain Way

The second thing that is said of the holy women in 1 Peter 3:5 is that they adorn themselves a certain way. The verse begins, “So [or, thus] the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves.” This adornment refers to the adornment in verses 3 and 4.

Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

Winning Husbands to Christ

Why does Peter even bring up the issue of clothes and hair style and jewelry? I think the context of verses 1 and 2 is the key. He has in view mainly women who are married to unbelieving husbands. They want to win their husbands to Christ. That is what Peter wants too. He says,

Likewise you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior.

Peter wants the Christian women to win their husbands by a life of reverence and purity expressed in a submissive attitude that honors him as the head of the home. And he warns them not to preach at him — “that they may be won without a word.”

Then comes verse 3 with its warning against making your adornment external instead of internal. So what I think Peter is doing is giving married women another warning about how not to win their husbands, namely, don’t think that you can win him with trendy hairstyles, or a better tan, or delicate jewelry, or clinging robes. You might in this way attract him to the bedroom, but probably not to God.

If you want to win him to God, your adornment is going to have to be a new woman within. The world can teach you how to win a man to yourself. But only the Scripture can teach you how to win him to God.

And we have seen two steps. First, hope in God and fear no man. Don’t put your hope in your husband; put your hope in God. (And to the single women I would say, don’t put your hope in getting a husband, put your hope in God. The only man worth getting is a man who wants to be second in your life not first.)

Then the second step is that when you have put your hope in God, his sovereignty takes away the pride in your heart, and his love takes away the fear in your heart, and what’s left in your heart is gentleness and quietness (or meekness and tranquility), as Peter says in verse 4. And that is the adornment you should pursue. The woman who adorns herself within with such a spirit, will know how to adorn herself without for the sake of the kingdom and for the salvation of her husband.

Esther Burr’s Hope and Meekness

There are countless women to serve as examples for us, both in the Scriptures and since those days. Esther was the second daughter of Jonathan Edwards — he had eight! She married Aaron Burr, who became President of Princeton College. She had learned her father’s piety and put her hope in God, not man.

Her journals were just published in 1984 and you can read there about her fight of faith. For example, in 1754 she gave birth to a little girl named Sarah and discovered that she had what they called a “crooked neck.” Esther humbled herself before God and wrote, “Perhaps God foresaw that we should be too proud of her, and so has sent this calamity to mortify us and her.”

Three years later on September 24, 1757, Esther’s husband died in the pursuit of his duties at the College. She does not gloss over her pain. She calls it a “deep wound.” And says that “God only can know and to him alone would I carry my complaint.” But then within two weeks she writes to her mother,

God has seemed sensibly near, in such a supporting and comfortable manner that I think I have never experienced the like . . . Request earnestly of the Lord that I may never . . . faint under this his severe stroke . . . O I am afraid I shall conduct myself so as to bring dishonour on . . . the religion which I profess.

What is the one thing that a woman who hopes in God fears? She fears bringing dishonor on God. She fears that she may fail to glorify God under the rod of his hard providence. And how does she quiet her heart in the midst of that fear? She preaches herself a sermon about the character of God. Esther Burr wrote,

At night when retired felt calmed with the thought that God would be Glorified . . . The ever blessed God will lose none of his glory, let men or Devils do their worst.

3. Hope Being Expressed in Submissiveness

That leaves one last step for us to take. Holy women hope in God. This hope yields a meek and tranquil spirit. And, finally, that spirit expresses itself in submissiveness. Verse 1 says, “Likewise you wives be submissive to your husbands.” And verse 5 says, “So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands.” So there are three steps on the way to pleasing God and winning an unbelieving husband.

  1. The first is to hope in God and fear no man.
  2. The second is to adorn yourself with the inner beauty of meekness and tranquility, which flow naturally from hoping in God and being rid of fear.
  3. And now the third, which flows freely from a meek and tranquil spirit, is to be submissive to your husband.

A Personal Illustration

Let me try to illustrate what I think submission is by referring to my own mother and father (and if we had time, I believe I could show from Scripture that this illustration is a biblical model not a merely cultural one).

I grew up in a home where my father was away for about two-thirds of each year. He is an evangelist. He held about 25 crusades each year ranging in length from one to three weeks. He would leave on Saturday, be gone for one to three weeks, and come home on Monday afternoon. I went to the Greenville airport hundreds of times. And some of the sweetest memories of my childhood are the smile of my father’s face as he came out of the plane and down the steps and almost ran across the runway to hug me.

This means that my sister and I were reared and trained mostly by my mother. She taught me almost everything practical that I know. She taught me how to cut the grass and keep a check book and ride a bike and drive a car and make notes for a speech and set the table and make pancakes. She paid the bills, handled repairs, cleaned house, cooked meals, helped me with my homework, took us to church, led us in devotions. She was superintendent of the Intermediate department at church, head of the community garden club, and tireless doer of good for others.

She was incredibly strong in her loneliness. The early sixties were the days in Greenville, SC, when civil rights were in the air. The church took a vote one Wednesday night on a resolution not to allow black people to worship in the church. When the vote was taken, she stood entirely alone in opposition. And when my sister was married in the church in 1963 and one of the ushers tried to seat some black friends of our family all alone in the balcony, my mother indignantly marched out of the sanctuary and sat them herself on the main floor with everyone else.

I have never known anyone quite like Ruth Piper. She seemed to me omni-competent and overflowing with love and energy.

But here is my point. When my father came home, my mother had the extraordinary ability and biblical wisdom and humility to honor him as the head of the home. She was, in the best sense of the word, submissive to him. It was an amazing thing to watch week after week as my father came and went. He went, and my mother ruled the whole house with a firm and competent and loving hand. And he came, and my mother deferred to his leadership.

Now it was he that prayed at the meals. Now it was he that led in devotions. Now it was he that drove us to worship, and watched over us in the pew, and answered our questions. My fear of disobedience shifted from my mother’s wrath to my father’s, for there, too, he took the lead.

But I never heard my father attack my mother or put her down in any way. They sang together and laughed together and put their heads together to bring each other up-to-date on the state of the family. It was a gift of God that I could never begin to pay for or earn.

And here is what I learned — a biblical truth before I knew it was in the Bible. There is no correlation between submission and incompetence. There is such a thing as masculine leadership that does not demean a wife. There is such a thing as submission that is not weak or mindless or manipulative.

It never entered my mind until I began to hear feminist rhetoric in the late sixties that this beautiful design in my home was somehow owing to anyone’s inferiority. It wasn’t. It was owing to this: my mother and my father put their hope in God and believed that obedience to his Word would create the best of all possible families — and it did. So I exhort you with all my heart this morning, consider these things with great seriousness and do not let the world squeeze you into its mold.