Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:1–6)
That’s where we’ll stop.
Displaying Christ in Relationships
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1).
Now notice first, back in 1 Peter 2:12, he had said, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles.” This husband is one of those unbelieving Gentiles. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
And then he gives submission to state as an example. He gives slaves submitting to masters as an example. He gives wives an example. He gives husbands that example, and in 1 Peter 3:8, says, “Now all of you,” and he says the same thing.
What is the same thing? He wants us all in our relationships to live as to display Christ in a way that we could win people to Christ. That’s what’s going on in this. The reason he chose what he chose to say about wives here is because it’s fitting in the big paradigm of the letter.
This is a letter about how to be an exile in a marriage, a sojourner in a marriage with an unbelieving partner. You’re an alien and an exile in the marriage. Now how do you do that? Or if you are a Christian servant, you’re an alien in exile with a master. Or if you’re in America, you’re an alien in exile with the government. How do you do that? How do you submit and not submit? How do you do that? That’s what this letter is about.
Wives’ Conduct and Fear in Marriage
So, “wives, be subject to your husbands.” That’s a starting place. “So that even if some do not obey the word” — and I’ve got a bunch of texts that warrant why I think that means he’s an unbeliever, not just a disobedient believer — “they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” I doubt that he intends this “without a word” here to be absolute. That would be a strange marriage if they didn’t talk, or since he could never be converted if he didn’t know she was a Christian, then it would be strange if she had never said so or explained why she was leaving on Sunday morning so early.
“By the conduct of their wives when they see your” — you might’ve heard me call that reverent pure. That word right there is en phobos — in fear — and I don’t think it means fear of the husband because he says a few verses later, “Don’t fear anything that’s frightening. Nothing.” That’s what makes you so winsome here is that you are fearless as a woman.
I think it means in the fear of God because that’s what he said back in 1 Peter 1:15. Live your exile in fear, knowing that you were ransomed with such a high-value treasure. It would be horrific to cast scorn on that treasure and a fearful thing to spit on God’s Son. Yes, it would be fearful.
So she does not want to bring any reproach upon her Savior, and therefore there is a fear and trembling to all Christian life as we try to live out our obedience. So he sees her pure conduct. He sees how she is being humbled by her relation to God.
Adorning, Modesty, and the Beauty of a Gentle Spirit
What’s the deal with adorning? Why even bring that up? “Don’t let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, putting on gold jewelry, the clothing that you wear” (1 Peter 3:3).
Now what if somebody — this will be a good final exam question in 1 Peter, and all those guys in my 1 Peter class are here, I presume — to ask, suppose somebody quotes this text to say that women should not braid their hair and shouldn’t wear any gold jewelry because it says so in the Bible. How would you respond to that person? That’d be a good final exam question. How would you respond to that person? Don’t give me your opinion. I want to know what the text implies, what do you see in the text that would help you respond like that? You might put, “Well, I agree with him.” You might say that.
What I’d be looking for on that question is coming to terms with this right here. She’s not to wear clothes? You see what that implies? “Don’t let your adorning be clothing.” You’ve got to wear clothing. So what would that mean? “Don’t let your adorning be clothing.” Well, whatever that means. This is probably the same thing.
This is probably the same thing. In other words, there’s a way to wear clothing to try to knock your husband and the neighbors dead — knock them dead with the way you dress. Don’t use clothing like that and therefore don’t use gold jewelry like that and don’t use braiding of hair like that. Her whole mindset is, “I don’t use my clothes, my jewelry, or my hair to try to get my husband saved.”
Peter is saying, “Give your energy to a beauty that God regards as stunning.” I mean, it’s amazing that he says this quiet and gentle spirit is very precious to God. I mean that’s going to be one of the most amazing statements in the universe. That something is precious to God, precious to God. I want to be precious to God. I want to say things that are precious to God. I want heart dispositions that are precious to God. You can’t have this, women. I want this. You better not leave men out of this, God. That’s the way I feel when I read this. She gets to do something that God regards as precious, almighty, all universe upholding God, looks down and sees that is awesome, that’s precious, I love that.
“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart, the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3–4). This is how the holy women who hoped in God — there’s the great key to womanhood and manhood. We have common denominators in our sexuality, and they bear fruit that are distinct in femininity and masculinity. But a lot of common denominators, this would be one of them: the holy women hoped in God, which is why they do not fear anything that is frightening.
So they adorn themselves with this spirit because they’re rooted by hope in God. A woman who has put her hope firmly in God and not her husband as her idol: “He may not believe. I don’t know if he’ll believe, but my hope is in God. God is my final treasure and my ultimate value. I would love to have a husband who is with me, but if not, my hope is in God.” And the freedom that gives to stay there with him, which it won’t be easy probably, and to pray for him and long for him and not become bitter at him is rooted right there, hope in God.
Understanding Biblical Submission
So they adorn themselves with that spirit and hope and thus they submitted to their husbands as Sarah and choose Sarah as an example here obeyed Abraham uses the word obey, calling him Lord. Now, what strikes me about that allusion to Sarah is that there were a few events in Sarah and Abraham’s life that were stunning acts of submission at great risk, and he doesn’t use them. You remember they went down to Egypt, and Abraham says, “Tell him you’re my sister.”
Well, what a jerk. He is going to take her into the harem, and only God’s interposition keeps her from sex happening between her and the Pharaoh. God steps in, stops it. That was submission. And Peter doesn’t refer to that. What is he referring to? So what you do, what you do is you go back, and you get out your concordance and you look up the word Lord, where’d she call him Lord? Because he says she called him Lord, and that’s what he’s picking up on. Well, it occurs in one place. She simply, it says she laughs and says, “My Lord.”
It is an offhand reference to him as a respectful title, my Lord. And it’s not calculated. This is what makes it significant I think, she’s not even thinking about making a statement about this word like, “I call Abraham Lord.” This is a passing comment about my Lord will do this or that, my Lord will do this or that. Which suggests to me that one of the reasons Sarah is such a remarkable example here is that this calling of him as Lord is instinctual to her. It’s not calculated, it’s just what she does. She’s deferential to her husband. Her bent is to show him respect. Her bent is to show him honor. She doesn’t have to work at it when she’s just casually talking. She talks in a way that honors him and respects him and builds him up rather than tearing him down, and she complies with his directions.
You are her children if you do good. And do not fear anything that is frightening. What’s that amount to a humanly inexplicable combination of dependent meekness and fearless courage. And the reason I say a humanly inexplicable one is because that’s what’s going to wake him up. That’s the point. In other words, I can’t explain you.
On the one hand, you seem meek and quiet and deferential and respectful, and on the other hand, you’re as bold as a lion. Nothing frightens you. Those don’t go together in women in Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia. Women are either lion-like and pushy and harsh and brash and mean and bitter and hard, or women are pansies. “I wonder if anybody will pick it up.”
And Peter says, “That’s not the way you are!” So I think long reflection on what submission means in a woman is pretty different than what a lot of people think it means. What is it not? I’m going to do this real quick and take a break. It’s not agreeing on everything like his unbelief can’t be. If they agreed on everything, she’d be an unbeliever. It’s not leaving the brain at the altar because she’s thinking for herself.
She just made the most important decision in the universe. “I will follow Jesus. He’s not. I am.” That’s independent thinking of a massive kind, the biggest kind. Not avoiding effort to influence or change him. So submission does not mean avoiding effort to influence him. She’s trying to convert him. That’s the point of the paragraph: “Convert your husband. Change him.” That’s the goal.
Not putting his will before Christ. So submission doesn’t mean putting the will of the husband before Christ because Christ is her Lord and that’s what makes her a Christian and him not. Not getting all her spiritual strength from him. He doesn’t have any to give; you can’t say submission means getting your primary spiritual dosage from your husband. There isn’t any dosage coming from this guy, and it doesn’t mean acting in fear.
So that’s what some of the things that submission is not. So what is it? Here’s my attempt, and I wrote a little book about this. Biblical submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership under Christ’s and to help carry it through according to her gifts.