“Woman, get in your place and stay there!” With these words in last week’s post I was preaching boldly to myself while some of my readers were startled. If you are a woman who has heard those words spoken without compassion and understanding, I apologise for setting a tone that may have alarmed you. I hope that in looking at the rest of the 1 Peter passage, we can clearly see that God’s desire for every woman is to hold her as a very precious daughter not to blast her as a worthless doormat. The goal of this post is to study God’s instructions to us as women so that we can grow in grace, not to arm ourselves with pointed ammunition to preach at our husbands. We need to preach the truth to ourselves. That’s why the content may seem one-sided. But be patient. A few words for the men are tacked on at the end (with my husband’s approval, of course!)
The Inner Twirl
From the time we are little girls, we women like to dress up and make ourselves feel like princesses. Remember twirling excitedly in that party dress or slipping on your first pair of high heels? Piercing our ears, puckering up for lippie, or painting our nails all point to our innate feminine desire to be pretty. But the lipstick soon wears off, the nail polish chips, and that party dress and shoes have long since gone to the Salvos or are hidden in the wardrobe with the silverfish. God tells us that only one kind of beauty lasts—“the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (1 Peter 3:4) When Peter instructs us “do not let your adorning be external” (v.3), he is not saying that we must not adorn ourselves externally (that would mean no hairdos, no jewelry and no clothes—scandalous!) Instead, these verses remind us where to concentrate our focus, on the “hidden person of the heart.” When our heavenly Father observes our beautiful inner person, He smiles with delight.
Hope Has Hands and Feet
To help us grasp the point he is making, Peter directs us to the example of Sarah, the wife of the patriarch Abraham. Imagine the huge adjustments she had to make when she packed her household goods on a caravan of camels, leaving behind those cosy city conveniences so that she and her husband could trek to a place that Abraham didn’t even know. Not only that, but when things weren’t working out so well, Abraham told her to pretend she was his sister in order to save his own skin. He seemed not to worry that the result was Sarah being scooped up into a foreign king’s harem! Peter says of Sarah that she hoped in God by submitting to her husband, obeying him, and calling him lord. “Submitting”, “obeying”, and “calling him lord (master)”—these are black and white terms to remind us of our position in the marriage. If it were not for the God-focus in this passage (she hoped in God), I would be tempted to pretend these verses are culturally specific and not meant for Aussie women of the 21st century. But as women of God, we demonstrate that our hope is in God (not ourselves or our culture) when we follow His mandates concerning our marriages. Biblical hope is a sure thing: “And hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) By submitting to this instruction, we are trusting in the “God of Jeshurun” who rides the heavens to help us. (Deut. 33:26) A woman’s gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth to Him who feels our deepest suffering in His scarred hands and feet. He will not abandon us for He Himself was abandoned on our behalf when He hung naked as our sin-bearer. When we choose to do what is right and don’t let fear block our faith, God is honoured by our responses.
Kez asked few questions after my last post that I want to answer since they raise issues rampant within our circles (Thanks, Kez!):
1) Couldn’t this post be very easily be applied in abusive situations? Isn’t that a huge danger, especially in a movement that has a serious track record of spousal abuse?
2) Can you help me understand how this approach is different from just sweeping problems under the carpet or pretending they don’t exist? Isn’t “trusting God” just a cop out if we should be reporting offenses to the leadership of the church or to the cops?
1. Abusive situations. Thankfully, we have the whole Bible and not just 1 Peter 3 to help us govern our actions in abusive situations. A believing wife with an abusive husband should never feel that she is alone in her endeavour to honour God in her marriage. If she is suffering alone and without practical and spiritual help from the church, the finger should be pointed at the failing local church not the suffering woman. The body of Christ should be functioning as her support group and providing her with biblical and practical counsel. People in the church family should be praying with her and for her. The men of the church should be reaching out to her husband and, when prompted by the Holy Spirit, confronting him about his sin. The church ought to have structures in place to deal with these painful situations. (That is the subject for another post. Perhaps some of you have ideas and experience on this topic.) In cases of violence or other criminal activity, the civil authorities (the police and the courts) are available and should be utilised. They too are God’s servants, his agents to punish those who do wrong (Romans 13:4). All of these actions can operate within the realm of faith. A woman who obeys God in her spirit towards her husband while availing herself of other God-ordained avenues of help shows that she trusts in God and is not afraid of the bullies. Her hope is in the Lord who has provided these ways of escape.
2. The “trusting God” cop out. I’ve answered the point about reporting offenses to the church leaders and to the police when necessary. But can “trusting God” be seen as a refusal to properly deal with the issues? In answer to that question, I want to refer to the use of the word “slacker” in my post. I deliberately used the word “slacker” so that we wouldn’t be in denial of the fact that we are all married to sinners. By embracing the reality of the text that “some do not obey the Word”, we become free to embrace the hope that this text offers if we respond in obedience and faith: “they may be won”. A wife whose inner person glows with gentleness and quietness because she hopes in God is not ostrich with her head in the sand. She is a women of incredible faith like Sarah.
Two Morsels for the Men
1. This passage is directed to wives and their own husbands. This is not a blanket statement of male superiority. Far from it! Just take a look at verse 7 and all temptation to arrogance will come crashing down. “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.” You are given a unique mission to treat your wife with gentle grace; otherwise, your prayers will reach the ceiling and no further. Your spiritual life hinges on the way you treat your wife.
2. Take a look another passage where husbands are given commands concerning their wives. Ephesians 5 tells a man to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. That’s a tall order! In my last post I mentioned that “because of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, we [wives] have the spiritual riches to revere our husbands as we should, whether we think they are worthy or not.” In marriage, worthiness is not the issue. If that were the case, all our marriages would end in strife. The issue is not worthiness but grace, poured out on our spouses because God has poured it out on us. When you love your wife sacrificially, you reflect the depth of your understanding of God’s grace to you. You love her not because she is lovable, but because God’s love has been showered abundantly on you. Therefore, the overflow of grace can bless your wife too.
Can you (husbands or wives) share how grace has made a difference in your marriage? Truly, grace is abundant for slackers too.