Just a concluding word on wives here. What is the wife’s aim then? How can we summarize and say it? And I would put it like this: To magnify God’s superior worth. By “superior” there, I mean especially superior to her husband. God’s superior worth by hoping in him. Holy women who hoped in God. By hoping in him above the husband and by showing that this results in a life that is more husband-honoring than if he were her idol.
Glorifying God in 1 Peter
That’s what I think this text is saying. This is about her and God living as exiles with a husband who is at home in this world when she’s not. And that is what the whole book is about.
Peter is showing in this letter how to glorify God as an exile in an unsympathetic world or marriage. New affections, especially hope — which runs right through this letter. “Hope fully on the grace” that is coming to you (1 Peter 1:13) give rise to new conduct (1 Peter 1:14–15) that doesn’t accord with ignorance but knowledge, which is both humbly ready to submit to proper authority (1 Peter 2:13, 18; 3:1) — runs right through all these illustrations. We all should be humbly ready to submit to proper authority and boldly free as slaves of God.
Remember what it said when it’s talking about government? It said, “Submit to every human institution,” and then it said, “Live as people who are free.” Only don’t use your freedom as a coverup for sin. In other words, you’re submitting for the Lord’s sake to this institution, not because the institution is God.
God is God. You are free. That person is — neither husband nor state nor parent or anybody — is your master. God is your master, and you are ordering yourself under appropriate institutions ordained by God to manifest the freedom that you have from God to voluntarily submit, fearing nothing. So, boldly free as slaves of God, not man (1 Peter 2:16) with courage to suffer doing right if that should be God’s will (1 Peter 1:19–20; 4:19), and thus displaying the superior excellencies of God and leading people to glorify him (1 Peter 2:12; 3:1).
That’s the point of the book and how it fleshes out in all these different paragraphs, especially right here with regard to wives.
Husbands Live With Wives According to Knowledge
So, here we are at the husbands. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives,” and I translated it literally “according to knowledge, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
So, the basic statement is “live with them according to knowledge.” “Knowledge of what?” would be a good question to ask. And the quickest answer would be:
- knowledge of what honor is
- knowledge of what woman is and this woman in particular
- knowledge of what vessels are
- knowledge of what weaker means
- knowledge of what heirs mean
- knowledge of what grace is
- knowledge of what life is
- knowledge of what prayers are
- and knowledge of how they get hindered
That’s what you need to know. So, you don’t have to go groping like, “Oh, I need to read a book on psychology to figure out what ‘according to knowledge’ means.” Well, that might help. It might. There’s lots to be learned outside the Bible. That’s why you have a college. It’s not just a Bible college, but this is a good place to start knowing those kinds of things.
Huge in my understanding of 1 Peter is 1 Peter 1:14 here: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,” which is the opposite of knowledge. So, he tells the husbands live with her according to knowledge, and the flip side of that would be “live according to the passions of your former ignorance.”
Passions Follow Knowledge
So, what marks a Christian is that once we lived in ignorance. We were in darkness. We didn’t know what side was up in the universe. We were oblivious to God and salvation and cross and Holy Spirit and obedience and word of God and true kinds of love and sanctification. The whole world of Christianity was ignorant — ignorance to us. And then we get born again and eyes opened and knowledge starts to flood our minds about things. And this ignorance is former.
It’s former. You don’t have that anymore, and it changes passions. This is how I understand the Christian life. The mind is dark. It doesn’t know God. The Holy Spirit moves, new birth happens, spiritual eyes open. God is glorious. Passions happen. That’s how you know you’re alive. How do you know a baby’s alive? “Wah, wah, wah! I’m thirsty! I want a drink!”
We just got a new baby in our basement this afternoon. The Soukups had a baby, so a baby moved in. So, I’m expecting to hear some “wah, wah, wah.” Here’s the very young cry, and that means two things: “I’m hungry” or “I’m dirty.” It might mean other things like “I’ve got colic.”
But passions follow knowledge according to Peter, and you can just argue all day long. “Yeah, but there’s a big distance between my head and my heart.” Well, yes, there is, but that’s not going to contradict this book. This book says when ignorance becomes former, new passions happen. And the main one is hope. Hope. Hope fully.
Christian Husbands and Wives as Fellow Heirs
The big “therefore” at the beginning of 1 Peter 1:13 — after he’s talked about the inheritance and God keeping us and keeping it and it being stunningly glorious and satisfying, imperishable, unfading, undefiled — he says, “Therefore, using your mind, girding up the loins of your mind, hope fully!” He commands us. Feel hope big, feel it big. If you don’t feel it, we’ll come back to what you do if you don’t feel it.
So, when he says to husbands, “Live with your wives according to knowledge” (1 Peter 3:7), I’m hearing all that. You’ve got new knowledge, husbands. You know about the grace of life. You know that is massive, and you know that male or female, faith in Jesus makes one an heir of that “grace of life” — that eternal life. I think that’s eternal life.
And therefore, when you wake up in the morning beside her, one of your first thoughts should be, “She lives, a queen of heaven. I don’t care what she’s done. I don’t care how many problems there are.” If she’s a believer (great believer, struggling believer) your thought should be, “She’s going to inherit the universe with me.”
That’s what it says in the Bible. I didn’t make that up. That’s 1 Corinthians 3:21. Why do you boast in men? All things are yours, whether Paul’s or Cephas’ or the world or life or death, things present, things to come. All are yours and you are Christ, and Christ is God’s. The world, she inherits the world for starters. Then there’s galaxies for her playground. So, it is a big deal to know a few things about Christian women and that’s one of them.
What Is ‘Vessel’?
Why is she called a vessel? Odd word — we don’t use that today. “Showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” Both the woman and the man have sexual organs that are vessels and are called vessels in the surrounding, and even I think probably in the New Testament. A man’s vessel is a sexual organ. I don’t think that’s it here. I wouldn’t be ashamed of it if it were.
The reason I don’t think it works here is that she’s called weaker, which means he’s one, too. So, he’s probably not thinking of vagina. Okay, just lay that one aside, though that could be used that way. He’s one, she’s one. He’s a vessel, she’s a vessel, and she’s the weaker one. And if I broaden out to say, “Well, what would incline him to use that language?”
A vessel contains something more important than itself usually. Wine in a jug, or I drink tea, and my wife makes tea in a big two-quart thing in the fridge, and I get it. I don’t give a rip what that vessel is. I just want the tea. I mean, most vessels are containing things that are more important than themselves.
And so — let’s see, where did I put it? Here in 1 Peter 4:11: “Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies — in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
“Serving by the strength that God supplies” means that the way to think about yourself, male or female, is that I am a receptacle of power when I’m serving others. So, when I serve them, they will give God the glory, not me. So, I’m an instrument in a hand, or I’m a vessel contained. And then we have this, as you might think from Paul: “But we have this treasure in vessels” — they’re usually translated “jars” or something like that. It’s the same word as here in 1 Peter. “We have this treasure” — and that’s the glory of the gospel — “in vessels of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
So, the point of calling ourselves vessels here is that it draws attention to the fact that we’re just clay and the content is glorious. Christians are clay vessels, and the content of a Christian is God, the Holy Spirit, or the gospel and is very, very glorious. So, I suspect that he’s simply drawing attention to the fact that we, vessels, are in ourselves nothing and God is everything.
Women Are Weaker Vessels
Then the question becomes, Why is she called weaker? I think if Peter were here, he’d look at me and say, “Why would you even ask that? She’s weaker. Women are weaker.” I think that’s what he’d say. The simplest way to say it is, Are there any events in the Olympics where men and women compete with each other? I was trying to think this afternoon. Are there any? Why? Why aren’t there any events in the Summer Olympics or the Winter Olympics where men and women compete with each other? Why not?
It’s got to just be glaringly offensive to feminists. And the answer is right there. They’re the weaker vessel. Now, to be fair, every one of those women in every event in the Olympics could beat me in every event — no exceptions. Every event. So, one must always, of course, think on any given point who you’re dealing with.
But Peter wouldn’t hear that and say, “Oh, I didn’t think of that. I didn’t think that there might be a stronger woman than John Piper,” or Peter for that matter. I think it’s just a general statement that that’s the way God made us. But here’s the point. That’s just kind of a throwaway given. And of course, in our culture with just every movie trying to prove that women can kick butt as well as men, which is really sad.
We can’t get ourselves into the skin of first-century people who would’ve regarded that as really strange. What’s remarkable here is that the response that he gives to this is honor. If you contemplate the woman as the weaker container of the glory of God, your main response, husband, is honor.
Honor That Corresponds with Women
Honor, and I believe, and it’s very controversial and very difficult to put into words, that there is unique honor that goes back and forth between a husband and a wife — unique to the kind of dignities and the kind of strengths and weaknesses that we all have. And this kind of honor, I would suggest, shows itself in things like this. You will not be harsh with her. You may rough it up with the guys bumping each other and talking dirty, but you don’t do that with her. You don’t do that.
There is an honor that corresponds with the woman, and it’s not harsh. Rather, the positive side, it’s tender, it’s gentle, it’s protective. I think it is written on a man’s God-given soul when he hasn’t suppressed it by sin and the media to feel like he ought to protect his wife no matter what, and that he ought to be gentle and kind with her and that he ought to provide for her.
There may be all kinds of reasons why some of those can’t happen if he’s disabled, for example. But I’m just saying written on a man’s soul is a kind of honoring here that takes its key from the woman as the weaker vessel by God’s design, so that his honor is especially “I’m there for you, always, no question, and I will never put you forward. If there’s a loud noise downstairs, I will never say, ‘Hey, we’re 50/50 in this marriage. Your turn. Go find out who’s down there.’”
I love to mock that. I do. I love to mock that because there’s so many people talking about that kind of marriage and they have been for forty years. I tend to use bad language when I think about it. That’s evil. This 50/50 stuff. “We just split it right down in the middle and you vacuum half, I vacuum half, you wash half, I wash half, you do this and this.”
Or, let’s get real, competency-based. That’s what most say. Let her do what she’s best at doing. So, she’s got the black belt in karate, send her down. Some noise downstairs and jiggling around, there’s a burglar down there, send her down. Damn that thought to hell because the issue is not competency.
The issue is, Do I have a masculine soul that responds with honor towards this woman in a way that makes her my treasure, my fellow heir of the grace of life, whom I will stand up for, I will protect? And if that burglar takes me out, she might take him out. But I’m going down first, which leads me to have all kinds of opinions about women in combat and boxing and wrestling and all kinds of stuff that I’m very opinionated about and get myself in big trouble if I go public with them. But I don’t care anymore, I’m an old man. Who cares what people think about John Piper anymore?
What else? And do all that men. Know her, know your Bible, know the kinds of things that characterize her, particularly in her in general, and know what this honor looks like. Give your life to that and do it in such a way that she feels honored and magnified as a treasured fellow, heir of the grace of life. Do all that so that your prayers may not be hindered.
What in the world does that mean? I’m not sure. I can think of three different meanings.
1. Where two or three agree, God answers prayer or is present. The two agree. Did I write that down? I don’t think so. “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).
So, if there’s a breach in the marriage, it’s hard for the two to hold each other’s hands, agree in the Holy Spirit, and go hard after something together. It’s just not going to happen. If he’s dishonoring her and she’s feeling belittled or neglected or not treasured, she may sit there, she may hold his hand, but that text is not being fulfilled. “If two agree on something and they ask God.”
So, maybe prayers hindered means they don’t get answers because the husband and wife can’t even agree what to ask or whether to ask together because the breach has grown deep because he’s not honoring her.
2. Or it might mean that in general, sin — and he would be living in sin if he did not honor her and live with her according to knowledge — sin disinclines a person to pray. You’re living in sin, you don’t feel like praying. Prayer is just hard to do. It robs us of assurance if we’re living in sin. And if you don’t have assurance, you go to God to pray, “He is even listening? I’m so out of sync with his will. Why would he even pay attention?”
3. Or it might mean (this is the way I’ve tended to take it from Noël and me) that it is very hard to even come together in prayer if you are living disobediently toward each other. Let’s just take the husband. If he’s dishonoring her in some way, if he’s not living with her according to knowledge, but in the old ignorant way, then I know from experience the pattern that we have of praying together before we go to bed is the barometer of our marriage.
If you, all you young marriage, this is what you should be doing. Form a habit of praying together before you go to bed. It’s not a law, just a good idea. So, the last thing you do before you go to bed, take one minute or two and kneel down by your bed if you’re okay with that. I think that’s a great thing to do. And the husband should be leading in all this. He’d say, “Let’s pray.” And you say, “Lord, thank you for your help today and give us a good night’s rest and help Karsten, Ben, and Abraham, Barnabas, and Talitha.” Can get a little long if you start getting into all the grandchildren and then you go to bed.
And if you’re not living together in knowledge and according to knowledge and in honor, you do not want to kneel down together. That’s just about emotionally impossible, right? Maybe with just a few exceptions in our life, and Noël and I have plenty of problems, we have never let those problems stop us from doing that.
Heads Lead in Prayer
Here’s the way it works. So, if there’s ice in the air, if there’s an unresolved issue, I don’t know a way forward, time will work it out. I don’t know. It’s just not good right now. It’s time to go to bed. Nobody feels like praying. I kneel down. I’m the man. This is what men do.
They go ahead. To be the head means to go ahead. You go ahead. You kneel down. And if she’s willing, and Noël has always been willing, she has kneeled down beside me and there’s this long silence. She never initiates the prayer. I always do that. She waits for me.
And I may say, “You want to pray tonight,” or, “Let’s both pray tonight,” or whatever but she waits for me. And we may go three minutes. That’s a long time. And I say, “God, we don’t feel like praying and I’m sorry. Help us. Amen.” That’s it. You’re done. That’s important. That’s lousy. That’s lousy. Lousy prayer. It’s just glorious. It’s right. It’s what you need to do. It’s the way you tend to garden. Sun’s hot, the garden needs some tanning. Go out, pull up some weeds. I don’t like to pull up weeds. Well, you want some cabbage in a few months, go out there and pull up the weeds. That’s what it is.\