#SaturdayDevotion: Submission, Equality and Reciprocity (1 Peter 3:1-12)
Date: 21st November
This passage can be difficult to read in these modern times. Verses 1 to 6 instruct wives to submit to their husbands. In today’s world of individuality and self-determination, this can initially feel like a backward step for women’s rights. Let us try to understand what Peter is telling us. The context for this passage is the early church. People were becoming new believers at times separately from their families. Some marriages would have a spouse who became a Christian whilst the other spouse had not. Peter was giving advice to women who had become Christians, without their husbands having already accepted the new faith. In the Jewish culture at the time women had no rights in comparison to men. Women were essentially owned by their fathers and then by their husbands. Wives who became Christians before their husbands were therefore in a difficult position. If a husband became a Christian, he would automatically take his wife and children into the church with him. A wife however, had no such power. This was a very real domestic problem. What should a woman in this position do?
Peter advised women to submit to their “own husband”. This does not mean that women should be subjugated to men throughout society. Peter was providing women in a specific marital situation with advice on how to keep the peace in the house and how to hopefully bring their husbands into the Christian faith. He encouraged women to behave in a manner that is good and pure, that there may be no criticism of their new faith. He warned against pride or distraction from God. He also encouraged women in this situation to do what is right and not to give way to fear. I imagine that many women may have become discouraged and fearful when facing the completely unprecedented challenge of having their own faith, which was different to their husbands. Peter was acknowledging that women could choose their own faith and have confidence in their hope in God. This may have been the first time that this was acknowledged in this culture.
Peter then gave another unprecedented instruction in verse 7. He introduced the concept of reciprocity in marriage between a husband and wife. Remember that in this culture, a wife had no rights at all and was owned by her husband who could treat her however he wished. She had no say in anything. Peter instructed husbands that in the same way (as he had instructed wives), they should be considerate as they live with their wives and treat them with respect. He reminded husbands that their wives are physically weaker. This was a society with no household equipment, very limited legal protection for women, arguably no health or childcare services. Peter gave husbands the responsibility to look after their wives with care and respect. He reminded husbands that women are co-heirs (equal heirs) of the gracious gift of life (the eternal kingdom of God). Women and men are equal spiritual heirs in God’s plan. Peter warned husbands to behave in a considerate and respectful manner so that nothing would hinder their prayers to God. This is how important the instruction is. If you do not treat your wife well, you will damage your relationship with God.
Now, the potentially tricky issue of submission in a marriage. God’s plan for Christian households is for there to be love, unity, consideration, peace and order. Have you experienced a family where there is strife or lack of respect? It is likely that there will be very little peace or security. God has established the structure of authority in a family with the father as the head. Being the head does not mean being a bully and having your way all the time. Quite the opposite. Have any of you ever been in leadership?
You will probably have realized that good leadership requires sacrifice and a willingness to serve others. In 1 Ephesians 5: 21 – 33, a marriage is compared to the sacrificial relationship between Christ and the church. Verse 21 starts by instructing all parties in a Christian household to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ. Christ submitted himself to God’s will in order to die on the Cross to save us. In turn, we submit ourselves to Christ when we accept his sacrifice. Using this comparison, wives are instructed to submit to their own husbands and husbands are instructed to love their wives sacrificially, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. Husbands are instructed to love their wives, to feed and care for them as their own bodies. The Bible therefore provided some groundbreaking marital advice! Husbands are instructed to look after their wives sacrificially, to treat them with consideration and respect and love them like they love themselves. Wives are therefore advised that they can have full confidence in their husbands’ decision making and submit to their husbands’ decisions, provided that they do not dishonour God. These are instructions for Christian households, where both parties in the marriage are in full obedience to God.
1 Peter 3: 8-12 wraps this lesson up by instructing all Christians to be united and to love one another. We are told to be like-minded, sympathetic, compassionate and humble. Unity is the key instruction in these scriptures. We should not repay evil with evil or insult with insult (in other words, do not fight), but instead to repay evil with blessing because this is what we are called for; to bless people. We are promised a blessed inheritance. We must turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue this (instead of division and strife). We are reassured that God will always keep watch over us and his ears are attentive to our prayers, but he will turn his face away from us if we do evil. In summary, these scriptures provide us with instructions on how to live well with our spouses, families and church fellowship. Some of this teaching can be very challenging, but we can trust in God’s wisdom and in His perfect plan.
Spend some time in prayer as you meditate on this scripture. Pray with someone if you can. Ask God to help you and the people in your fellowship to show a greater measure of love, respect and compassion towards each other. Pray for greater unity and understanding. Pray that God may use you and the people in your fellowship to bless others. If you are married, spend some time praying (together with your spouse if possible), for God’s protection, peace, grace and blessing over your marriage and household. Ask Him to show you areas in your marriage that may need further prayer, understanding, thought and effort.