If you would, please open your Bibles with me to 1 Peter 3. We are going to resume our study in 1 Peter, and we’ll be starting into chapter 3 this morning. When you get there you will find the real reason why Mark had Joe Maggelet come and speak to our joint service a few weeks ago. The passage that you are opening to is that passage that deals with women and their submission to their husbands. I’m pretty sure that Mark looked ahead and thought, “This isn’t one that will make for good unity among our churches. J” So he called in Joe.
I doubt that was really on his mind. But this passage is one that, in theological terms, we call “a real doosie.” It is a passage of scripture that flies in the face of everything our culture declares to be true. No doubt, if I read and preach it correctly, I will be stepping on some toes. If I ever run for political office, this will certainly be dug up and become headline news. I’d be asked all sorts of questions and the world would have a heyday running my name into the mud over what is said here.
At the very least I expect there to be a number of nasty comments to come to my inbox when I post this on my website. I’m sure to be called things like a chauvinist, a patriarchal pig, and woman suppresser. I just know this isn’t going to sit well with a lot of people.
But even among people of our persuasion I’m sure that it is going to be a sensitive issue. The issue that we’re going to be addressing is a delicate one. Being that this is the case let us approach the text remembering that it is the holy and inspired word of God. It is not the whims of a man. And, as we read the passage, let us do so with all reverence and readiness of faith.
Let us read then, 1 Peter 3.1-6.
Maybe it was best that Mark had us take a break from first Peter when we did. Perhaps Providence had his hand in it all. I mean, what a great way to start the New Year. If you are the type that makes New Year’s resolutions, this might be a wonderful place to begin. You ladies may be saying that you want to start that diet or hit that treadmill. Or perhaps you’re making your annual vow to read through the Bible in a year. But how about using this text as the basis of one of your resolutions? That would be great, wouldn’t it? The first resolution can go like this, “Resolved, to call my husband ‘lord’ more this year!”
My wife and I have had fun thinking about this text this week. At different times she would start calling me ‘master’. And I tell you that has affected me. Even though it’s all been in jest, it has given me a different perspective on who I am as her husband. And I want to state that up front. This message is obviously designed to speak primarily to the ladies. But I do think that if we grasp what is said here it will affect the men too. When this principle of submission is practiced rightly—and if you start calling your man ‘lord,’ it will probably affect him greatly. It’s going to help your man recognize his role as the leader in the home.
But of course, all of it starts here. It starts with you ladies and understanding your own role.
Back in the book of Genesis we read that the fall radically skewed the structures of society. Life in the home was going radically changed. God said to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.” That line is a little difficult to interpret, but when you read it you know that it says life isn’t going to be easy. Where there was once peace and harmony, there’s now going to be a struggle. In that line you see that the battle of the sexes commenced right there.
And the fight of sanctification is drawn up along those lines. Your aim is to fight against that inclination. Your job to resist the urge, and—as it says here—to submit yourself to your husband.
And I want to suggest that the way you do this is through humility. I’m going to be talking about godly womanhood today. We’re going to be talking about submitting to your husband. But throughout this message I’m going to be talking about humility too. It is sort of a secondary theme that you’ll find here today. For you can’t have submission without humility. The essence of submission is that of humility. I mean, it should be obvious that you can’t have submission where you have pride. An arrogant person doesn’t submit. So as we talk today, be thinking about that ladies. And be thinking about how you can make that your New Year’s resolution. If you want godliness as a woman, then you’ll have to work on this. Because godly womanhood manifests itself in humble submission.
And as we consider this notion of submitting to your husband, we are going to do so under three headings. Peter begins by talking about the principle of submission. Then in verses 3-4 he talks about the practice of submission. And then he concludes in verses 5-6 by talking about our pattern for submission.
In the first verse Peter states the principle for us in simple and clear terms.
I. The principle [1-2]
He says, “Wives be subject to your husbands.” Now the word submit is the same word used regarding the slaves relations to their masters and citizens relations to their civil magistrates in the earlier verses. And it has the same force. Wives are to take a position of subordinates and they are to yield to their husbands, even as you yield to the governing officials of your state.
Now the rest of the verse makes it clear that Peter is speaking specifically to those ladies who whose husbands had not been converted. He goes on to say that your submission as a wife can be used of God to bring about their conversion.
I certainly do not want to gloss over that truth. This is a wonderful means of evangelism that we ought to take to heart. But what I want you to note here is that the Lord here commands obedience on the part of you ladies. It doesn’t matter what the spiritual estate of your husband is either. If you are married, then you ladies are obligated to fulfill your role as one who is in subjection to your husband.
God is here reminding you that He has established a structural order within the home that is fundamental to society. He has created man as the head of the household. And you, as his lady, are to give all due obedience to him.
Now this is a radical thing that I’m saying. This isn’t something that is common today. In the main, marriage is thought of as an equal partnership. It is considered a radical democracy where he has his vote and she has hers. But as you see here, that isn’t the case at all. The home is not a democracy. It is to be benevolent autocracy. As they used to say, the man is to be the king of his castle. He is to be the ruler in his home. And you ladies are to obey him as you would obey the Lord.
I don’t doubt that some of you even shiver at me using that word. That word, “obey,” is one we’re supposed to use with children, right? We’re not to use that in regards to relations between two adults, right? Oh, but we are! That’s the essence of submission! Submitting to your husband means obeying him and yielding to his authority. It means that when he makes a decision, and you don’t particularly care for it, you consent to follow his will.
And so you see why I say that this passage has to do with humility on the part of you ladies. This can be a tough nut to swallow, especially given our egalitarian day.
I don’t think that it is too much for me to say that your typical, mainstream evangelical home doesn’t acknowledge this to be true. I’m not even talking about the raging forces of feminism that are so prevalent in our culture today.
If you want to see pride, that is a good place to look. The feminist movement says, “I don’t care what God has said in his word. I do not recognize his authority over me. I am a free and autonomous individual. I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR.” If you want to understand pride, there it is. It’s the “What I say is what goes” mentality. I can get a job. I can be just as good as a man. I can exploit myself. Having this baby is my choice. You have that picture of the woman in the jumpsuit with the arms rolled up, flexing her muscles and saying, “We can do it.” There is pride just screaming its autonomy.
And as I said, that prideful feministic spirit that saturates our culture has seeped into most evangelical homes. So in any given Christian household you’ll see a milder, gentler (but no less stark) form of this egalitarian spirit. A wife will typically have no problem rebuffing her husband’s decisions. She may take money and spend it as she pleases. Or she may simply make use of her time in a certain way without the approval of her spouse.
But this is not the way it is to be. The principle that is laid down here say that you are to obey your husband in all matters that are biblically lawful. You are to demonstrate humility by bringing your life under his complete authority. The finances are his responsibility. So how the money is spent is his call. The same is true for the children. The way you raise them is his to determine. That’s the way it is for everything else, all the way down to where you spend your Christmas holiday. Everything that occurs within that house is a decision that is ultimately made by him.
Now certainly I don’t want you to think that his is a tyrannical dictatership. A loving husband is going to consult you on all these matters, and he will no doubt delegate a great deal of the decisions regarding household affairs to you. In other words, he’s going to rule over you with the utmost benevolence. And I think that is why Peter, right after addressing this issue, turns to the men and addresses their role as a husband. He knows that it can go to their head. And so he tempers it with those words. But the principle still stands: He has authority over you as your husband, and you are required to obey him.
I might add here that this is something that is supposed to be part and parcel with your wedding vows. It isn’t something you find much anymore because of the prideful influence of feminism. But in a Christian wedding the bride will pledge her humble submission to her husband publicly in the service. When you are married—if it is a distinctly Christian wedding, the minister will ask the bride to be,
"Will you have this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to live after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of marriage? And will you love him, comfort him, respect him and submit to him even as the church submits to Christ, and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live?
As I said, you don’t often find this as a part of the wedding service anymore. And that’s because it takes a great deal of humility to accept this teaching. Women today do not want to recognize the fact that men have authority over them. As I said, they want to be autonomous. They want to be equal in every way and a law unto themselves.
But godly women will accept this teaching. They will humble themselves before God by submitting themselves to the plain teaching of the Scriptures regarding their role as women. And, in doing so, they will pledge their undying love for their husbands by yielding to their husband’s authority.
I understand that the details of this need to be fleshed out. It’s important to ask, “What does submission look like in our day?” It is, after all, a rather foreign concept to our culture. I hope that you ladies take time to discuss it among yourselves. I think that it would be quite beneficial for you older ladies to give some examples on how you have come to apply the principle of submission. And the younger women would no doubt find it a good place to talk about where they struggle with submission.
I’d like to go into a lot of specifics, but there is one in particular to which Peter directs us. Peter could have gone in a lot of different directions, but he focuses in on one particular practice. And that is found in verses 3 and 4.
II. The practice
Right after he states this principle of humility and submissiveness in verses 1 and 2, he starts talking about a woman’s adornment in verses 3 and 4. He says that your adornment shouldn’t be consumed with how your hair looks or what you are wearing, but you should be more concerned with meekness and a quiet spirit.
In reading this you might think that Peter is jumping around a bit. First there’s this submission thing. Then he leaps over to deal with the dress code. And you might wonder, what’s the connection? You might not even think there is a connection. But don’t be fooled, these two things are very much interrelated.
It all goes back to the notion of humility and being devoted to your husband. A woman that is devoted to her husband and is lovingly submitting to him isn’t going to be overly consumed with looking all sexy when she is out and about.
This is not to say that she’s going to look like a hag. Obviously a woman who is submitting to her husband is going to try and look attractive for him. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if she doesn’t try to look good for him she’s sinning. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
But Peter’s concern here is that these ladies are trying to bring unwarranted attention to themselves. The way they did their hair and the clothes that they were wearing were designed to put the spotlight on them. So when she walks into a room everyone looks at her. She’s turning heads. She wants to be the envy of the ladies and she wants to be a turn on for other men.
Now you see how this practice opposes the principle of submission. What’s she is doing is relinquishing her man’s authority. She’s trying to show that she’s an individual, and maybe even hint at the fact that she is available. At the very least she’s giving the impression that she is.
And that, my friends, is pride.
Some of you might be waiting for me to say how long the skirt can be or how low the blouse can dip. But I’m not going to do that. What I want you to notice that this passage is about humility and submission. And whatever your practice may be when it comes to the way you look when you stand in front of the mirror is to be governed by that notion. And if it is, then that will certainly affect how you present yourself in public.
Think about the girls today. When they look into their closet in the morning, are they thinking, “What will help give the impression that I have a meek and quiet spirit?” Of course not. The length of their skirts and how tight it fits is governed by their vanity. The way they do their hair and the amount of make-up they put on is driven by their desire to be noticed. It’s all about their pride.
That’s not the way it is to be. Your attire is to be ruled by humility. Really, that’s all that modesty is. Modesty is that outward expression of that internal meekness. Modesty is simply dress that reflects a quiet spirit. And when that is your gauge, then you don’t need to have specific dictates when it comes to how long, how tight, how much, how low, or how little.
I might add that this is why I think that the other extreme of this debate is so silly. Without a regard for the context some go so far as to say, “I’m only concerned with inward beauty.” And they go around refusing anything that has to do with make-up, jewelry, or the styling of one’s hair. But that’s just as arrogant as well. It’s all about you and has nothing to do with your husband’s desires. Such a view doesn’t necessarily reflect humble submission either.
I’m pretty sure that surveys reveal that 99% of men prefer their wives to be physically attractive. So recognizing your husband’s authority means looking good for your husband, and that might mean putting on some make-up or picking out something appropriate to wear.
Again, I’m not going to be the fundamentalist preacher and say, “This is the benchmark and if you cross it you’re going to hell.” You cannot do that. To do so is to bind one’s conscience unlawfully. I’m here to tell you that this passage is helping you to put into place a proper practice of submission and humility. And that submissive humility will point you to, what I might call, elegant modesty. That is to say you are tastefully attractive.
I think that this is also confirmed by what we find in the last part of our passage for this morning. In verses 5 and 6 Peter outlines for us the pattern of humble submission.
He has stated the principle. He has given some insight into how this ought to be practiced. And in these verses he points us to the matriarchs of old and how they serve as patterns for you ladies today
III. The pattern
He says in verse 5, “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.”
Here you go. I think this solves the whole issue regarding the dress code. You remember that the Bible says that Sarah was a good looking lady. And in the book of Genesis we see how various men found her quite attractive. I’m doing some speculating here, but I don’t think that you get recommended to the Pharaoh’s court by doing your best not to look good. I think it is safe to assume that Sarah wasn’t against being fashionable or applying some perfumes now and then.
What’s more important to notice though, is that she wasn’t attempting to make herself appealing to other men. Whatever her décor might have been, her demeanor was that of humble submission to her man. That’s evidenced by the fact that she called her husband “lord.”
Sarah is a pattern for you in that she acknowledged that her husband had mastery over her. And the beautiful thing about it was that she wasn’t afraid to declare it publicly. She recognized that he was the leader of the household and she chose an apt word to describe him and his relationship to her.
Now ladies, if you want to go home today and follow the example of Sarah, you most certainly can do so. I assure you that this is certainly the way you can make your man feel like a man. When you sit down to dinner you can say, “Would my lord like some potatoes?” “Can I get my lord a drink?” “Is my lord going to take a nap this afternoon?”
I might be jesting a bit, but I do wonder if you are able to do such a thing? Would it be that awkward? If it is, perhaps that might be an indication that you have some work to do in this area of submission. If you cannot openly recognize your husband with that kind of terminology, it might be a sign that you really don’t acknowledge him to be your leader. It might be a signal that you are not submitting to him to the degree that you ought.
Elizabeth and I discussed this this week. I asked her about it and she said that calling me lord would be a little weird. Not that she doesn’t willingly submit, but because we don’t typically talk this way today. The word lord is usually reserved for reference to God. So there might be some semantics why you can’t bring yourself to say it. But think about it though. There might be something to it. It might be that if you can’t call him lord—it might be that it is a sign that you enjoy a bit of autonomy and that you consider yourself superior to Sarah.
After all, that’s what it means when it says that “you are her children if you do good.” If you are doing what the Bible commands you to do—if you are demonstrating the kind of humble submission that Sarah did, then you are one of her children.
We’ve all heard that song, “Father Abraham / Had several sons / Several sons had father Abraham.” Well, how do you get to be a child of Abraham? It is by faith in Jesus Christ. And you show you have faith in Jesus by following his word.
Well, how do you get to be a child of Sarah? It’s the same way. By faith in Jesus Christ. How do you show that faith? You obey his Word. So, when you in faith submit to your husband, you show that you are a Christian and a child of Sarah.
But if you can’t deem your husband as your lord, then obviously you are not her child. You think you are better than Sarah. You think that Sarah was some Neanderthal or a woman who was suppressed by her man. But you’ve risen above. You’ve evolved and cast off the chains of this patriarchal domination.
But let me assure you, my friends, that’s a dangerous place to be. When Paul says that you are her children if you do what is right, he’s saying that anyone who doesn’t do it is not a Christian. If you are not submitting to your husband as is taught by the Scripture—if you are not living by faith and receiving the plain teaching of the Bible, then you are outside the faith.
What Paul is saying here is that you show yourself to be a true Christian when you follow Sarah’s example. You show that true faith lives in you when you submit to your husband.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had opportunity to talk to some of you about this passage. We wondered together where the gospel was in this passage. And I tell you its right here. You have opportunity to become a child of Sarah. This passage shows clearly that God is a forgiving God and he willingly receives those who are repentant. This passage clearly is the antithesis of what you find back in the Garden of Eden. It shows that there is a way to be reconciled to God and a way to be forgiven of your sins. It is by becoming a child of Abraham and Sarah. It is by mimicking their faith. It is by believing what God has said in his word.
And that is where this passage ends. I want to be clear. This passage isn’t so much about submitting to your husband as it is about submitting to God. Submitting to your husband is just the way you show you are submitting to God. And that should be your New Year’s resolution. Resolved, to obey God in all that he says.
That’s where you will get your meek and quiet spirit. It isn’t something that comes naturally. But it begins when you humbly bow before God and say, “Thy will be done.” It comes when you say, “Lord, I understand that my culture says otherwise and my own heart wants to be a renegade individual. But I believe that you want me to be otherwise. You want me to see my husband as my lord and you want me to submit to his leadership. Help me to follow Sarah’s example and to be her child.”
When you make that sort of confession and make it your aim, then you are well on your way. Submission to your man won’t be easy, but you will have made great inroads when you’ve made that sort of submission to God.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.