When your marriage is going well the rest of life seems better. You feel you can face anything because you know that you don’t have to face it alone. You work better, your health is better, and your attitude is certainly better.
On the other hand, when your marriage is struggling, it is hard to be productive, you don’t sleep well, you are anxious about the future, and you don’t seem to enjoy anything you are doing. These are times when you are very susceptible to the temptation to make reckless choices that complicate things even further.
Every one of us certainly knows of a “good marriage” that crumbled. You know people who are miserable in marriage. You know decent people who violated their marriage vows in ways you would have thought unimaginable.
We need help. God is going to give us some help this morning through the words of Peter. His counsel is simple and, if understood clearly, is quite revolutionary. If we listen and apply what we read here we can deepen, safeguard and in some cases even save our marriage, our families, our spiritual intimacy, and even our society.
Treading Carefully on Solid Ground
A barrier that exists in the text is the word “submit”. It is an inflammatory word in today’s culture. We must remember that the teaching on submission began in 2:13 and continues through the end of the book. The instruction to wives is ONE example of the submission principle. Peter gave the principle and now is applying it in different relationships.
Paul does the same thing. In Ephesians 5:21 we are given the general principle: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. This is followed by examples of this submission in wives, husbands, children, parents, slaves, slave owners (employers and employees). At its core, the commands to submit to various people is really a command to submit to and trust the Lord.
As I’ve talked to people over the years I have heard people explain their marriage problems with words such as,
He/she is not meeting my needs
I am not happy
I have fallen out of love
There is a common denominator in each of these reasons for seeking an end to marriage: the focus is on self. The Bible wants us to understand a focus on self in marriage will doom that marriage to failure or misery. When we are preoccupied with our needs we tend to view the other person as either a means to an end or an obstacle to the end we desire. That isn’t conducive to a good partnership. No person is capable of meeting our ever-changing needs.
The Bible encourages a marital love as a decision rather than an emotion. It is about giving rather than getting. Being self-less is not a matter of not caring about yourself; it is about being less preoccupied with yourself.
Do you love your children only when they do what you want? No. You understand that parental love takes the good with the bad. Are there times when your children exasperate you? Of course. When this happens do you sever your ties with your children? (Note: I did not ask if you were ever tempted to do so). You do not. Why? It is because we know that parenting is a commitment. There are great times and there are hard times; it is a package deal, it is a commitment.
In all our relationships Peter challenges us to be givers rather than takers. He encourages us to love sacrificially rather than selfishly. This is true for every relationship and it is even most vital in marriage.
A Word to the Wives
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
Be Committed to Your Husband. The word submissive is a strong word that evokes a reaction. Once again we must point out that the context of the words is “mutual submission”. Peter is not telling wives to be doormats. He is telling wives to be committed to their husbands. This doesn’t mean a woman should endure physical or verbal abuse. It does not mean that a wife should follow her husband into sinful activity. It does not mean a wife should never disagree with her husband. It does not mean she must never voice her opinion.
What is does involves is careful listening, working at understanding, and being soft. It means making time for your husbands. It means cheering them on and building them up. This is hard in a world when a wife may work outside the home and then have to come home and care for the family. Sometimes there is nothing left for the husband. Peter reminds wives to make time for “loving your husband”.
In Ephesians wives are told to “respect their husbands”. In the Love and Respect seminar Emerson Eggerich observes that men who feel respected are spurred on in their efforts. Those who feel diminished withdraw from the relationship. Simply put, ladies if you spotlight and celebrate you husband’s strengths you will see him come to life. If he hears you bragging about him rather than complaining about him he will be drawn to you. The opposite is also true. If a man feels he can’t do anything right; if all he hears about are the things he is doing wrong; if he feels like a relationship failure he will drift further and further away. Men may not show it but they crave the admiration of their wives. They are insecure. They want to be your “big strong man” (regardless of their stature).
So, wives are you encouraging your husband or pushing him away? Are you building him up or tearing him down? Are your spotlighting his strengths or broadcasting his weaknesses (often with sly comments on the side)? Are you stoking the fires of love or just complaining that it seems to be dying out?
Peter does not say wives are to do this if their husbands do their part. It is likely that Peter was talking to women who had come to trust in Christ but their husband had not come to faith. Peter did not tell them to leave the relationship, he told them to work hard to reveal and promote faith by the way they act toward their husband.
He argues that the best way to bring your husband to faith in Christ and to the kind of intimacy you desire in marriage is to be a godly wife. Once again, the key is consistency. A wife (or husband) who is “loving” only occasionally will get the same response we make to a teenager who is suddenly sweet. We ask, “What do you want?”
Focus on your Character More Than Your Appearance. Peter continues talking to wives,
3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
Peter is not telling women that they shouldn’t look nice. Every man loves to have an attractive spouse. However, Peter wants women to remember that true beauty comes from the heart more than from the make-up counter or the gym. Outward beauty will get you noticed (and perhaps desired) but inward beauty is what stimulates love.
Women are under enormous pressure today to meet unrealistic standards of appearance. Most women are more aware of their blemishes than their strengths. People have become consumed with outward beauty and adornment. Think about the time and money devoted to maintaining outward appearance. I believe Peter would ask the simple question: What are you doing to cultivate the inner beauty of the soul?
Peter talks about the “unfading beauty of a gentile and quiet spirit”. Perhaps the best way to understand this is to contrast it with its opposite: an aggressive, angry, and contentious spirit. We recognize these negative characteristics as “ugly behavior”. Gentleness and quietness break down barriers.
You might say, “No man is worth that kind of effort.” Don’t miss those last words of verse 4: “which is of great worth in God’s sight”. When woman are soft and gentle in their home (and with others in general) God sees them as beautiful. That should be sufficient motivation.
Put Your Hope in God.
5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear
This is another one of those passages that women hate. They say, “There is no way I am going to call that “bum” that lives in my house “Master” as if I was his slave!”
That’s not what Peter is saying. The term Master was a term of respect. Sarah supported her husband and spoke of him and to him with respect and honor. If you read the story of Abraham and Sarah you see that there were also times when Sarah confronted Abraham with things she didn’t like. She was not a doormat by any stretch of the imagination. However, she was supportive.
The key is that these women acted this way because “they put their hope in God”. They served the Lord, by loving their husbands. It takes real faith to devote yourself to a relationship when you don’t see any immediate evidence that your efforts are bearing fruit. It is tempting to “help God” by issuing threats, withdrawing physically, pouting and subtly undermining your husband. However, this is not trusting God . . . you are putting your trust in your manipulative techniques.
A Word to the Husbands
In the book of Ephesians Paul gave two verses of instruction to woman and nine verses to men on loving their wives in a sacrificial way. In first Peter women are given the more extensive instruction. However, to husbands the counsel is potent.
7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
Be considerate and understanding. One translation says a man needs to “know how to live with a woman.” That of course is easier said than done because women are wired differently than men are. Women are more complex. They can process a whole bunch more things at one time. They tend to feel things more deeply. Women tend to be more insecure about their appearance (perhaps because society has tied so much of their worth to their appearance). Women frequently confuse men. This is not an excuse, it a challenge to be addressed.
How do men learn to understand their wives? Chuck Swindoll writes,
It takes time. It takes listening. It takes paying attention, concentrating, praying for insight, seeking understanding. Most wives long for that. Some of them die longing for it. Few things give a woman more security than knowing that her husband really knows her. That’s what results in intimacy. That’s what turns romance into a deep, lifelong love. That’s what keeps her focused on and committed to you, longing to have you there, delighting in your presence, your words, and your listening ear.
Peter gives us some specific guidelines. Protect her and help her feel safe. When Peter says the wife is the weaker partner he does not mean they are weaker in terms of intellect, ability, or moral courage. He is talking in a purely anatomical sense. The skeletal and muscular make up of women is different from men.
Even here we must qualify our remarks. I can’t imagine having the strength to carry and then deliver a baby. I don’t know where women find the stamina to keep up with little children during the day.
Peter is encouraging men to take the role of “protector” towards their wives. A wife should feel that if she were to face a dangerous situation her husband would make every effort to protect her. She needs to know that he will defend her from those who would seek to take advantage of her, diminish her, or hurt her. It is his job to tenderly protect her, provide for her, and let her know that she is special to him.
Treat her as a spiritual equal. Peter says we need to see our wives as “joint heirs of the gracious gift of life”. Men and Women have equal value in God’s eyes and in the work of God’s kingdom. God created both male and female. One is not superior to the other. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our roles are to be the same in the church or the home but it does mean that our value is the same.
God does seem to encourage men to take a leadership role in the church and at home. To be honest, I’ve never been sure whether that was because He wired men to be better at this or whether God told men to lead because otherwise men would “just let their wives do it”. Either way, God’s directions to men to lead does not mean men are in any way superior to women; we are just different.
A husband must always honor his wife. To honor someone means to treat them with respect; to give them a high value. We honor them with our words and our actions. We must give attention to our wives in our schedules and in our hearts.
Men, let’s be honest with each other. When we were dating, we pursued our wife with gusto. We worked hard at being thoughtful. We made the effort to honor them. We wrote them notes, called them up, and couldn’t wait to spend time with them. Gary Smalley likens this to a hunt. He says when men get married they often act like the “hunt” is over. We have “bagged our wife” and now it is time to hunt for something else. We then “hunt” our career, our hobbies, or our amusements.
Peter’s words remind us that our wives may feel cheated because in a sense we “advertised” one thing and “delivered” something else. This sense of courtship needs to continue through the years of marriage. Perhaps we need to pursue the hunt to be a “good husband” in the same way we did the challenge of “getting a wife”. Look for ways to show honor and respect to your wife. Let her know how much she means to you not only with your words but by the time you spend with her. Help her to see that your relationship with her is more important than the other things in your life. Being a godly husband is a big commitment. Deal with it.
A Final Caution.
Peter concludes with these words: “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (v 7) A poor marriage will impact your spiritual life. If we cannot keep the relational commitment we declared to our wives, we will not be able to keep the greater commitment to our Lord. It is in marriage that we best learn what commitment really means. Men and Women please hear this: If you want to walk with God, work hard at your marriage. Do what He has called us to do.
This does not mean there will never be a divorce. Even when we work really hard and strive to be unselfish and giving, sometimes trust is violated. Sometimes one partner is abusive. Sometimes one of the partners pushes the other away. Divorce is regrettable, but it happens. We need to show compassion in such situations.
The message I think is this: sometimes people sabotage marriage by the things they do. Sometimes they do things that make it unsafe or impossible to continue on in the relationship. . . . don’t be THAT person. Instead, work hard at your marriage.
Read a book or attend a seminar on marriage every year. Keep reminding yourself of what it is you are supposed to be working toward. Keep the goal clear in your mind.
Make time to really talk to each other rather than simply sharing what is on the calendar. Carve out time for just the two of you.
Write notes to each other expressing your love and appreciation.
Brag about your mate to others. Sometimes brag in front of them.
Be on the lookout for ways to surprise each other like you used to do when you were dating.
Pray for each other daily.
Worship together weekly. We need God’s help to subdue the sinful and selfish tendencies of our life. Build your life together on your mutual commitment to Christ.
Celebrate your partners’ blessings and strengths and forgive and overlook the things that frustrate you. . . just like you would like your mate to do for you.
Marriage is tough today. We need a strong marriage to have strong families. We need strong families to have healthy children. We need healthy children to have healthy communities and a strong country. Peter also told us that the health of our marriage will impact the vitality of our relationship with God.
There is a lot riding on this. It deserves and demands our very best effort.