Of Lords and Ladies

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,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 of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:1-7

Hollyhock at the Sans Souci Gardens - on the outskirts of Berlin | August 2017

Hollyhock at the Sans Souci Gardens – on the outskirts of Berlin | August 2017

At the risk of meddling, and stirring up unnecessary controversy, let’s take on the issue of wives and husbands, and the proper manner in which each us supposed to relate to the other. Simply put, wives here are called to be subject to their husbands, and husbands are admonished to honor their wives. There is plenty of inflammatory power in these verses (“weaker vessel” or “submitting”), and they can become a stumbling block to the larger issue.

The larger issue is how our Christian faith informs all of our relationships, and attitudes toward God, others and life’s issues. If it does not – from marriage relationships to women’s and men’s issues, to the manner in which we comport ourselves in deference to the world’s value systems (think “politically-correct”) – then we have eviscerated the fullness of Jesus’ work and ignored the radically-different way in which he calls us to live.

Some might shy away from these verses; and indeed they are prone to misunderstanding and may incite out-of-hand rejection. But consider this: the basis for Peter’s admonition here is to express the profound difference Jesus makes when he dwells in the heart of a believer. We come to care more about our neighbor’s good than our own reputation. We grow to be more aware of the opportunities to pray for others than whether or not we are properly respected.

Notice here that Peter doesn’t say to the husband: Make certain your wife submits to you. He doesn’t even make his call to honor our wives dependent on their submission. He calls husbands to honor their wives because they are co-heirs with them of the grace of life. This is a call for husbands to honor their wives because they are not just possessions or chattel, they are heirs of eternal life the same as the husband.

Likewise he does not direct the wives to demand that their husbands honor them. He simply calls wives to a life of submission. This is not blind obeisance or gratuitous compliance; it amounts to being under the mission of God who has given his Son for our salvation, and wants all people to be saved – including stubborn, godless husbands!

It is lost on our modern minds how radical this is toward women – for the good! Women were too often treated without honor. They had no standing and would more often than not be denied an inheritance. Peter raises the bar for their proper place in the household of God. He calls for a perfect beauty in women and a godly strength in men that is worthy of all followers of Jesus.

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