Living as Husband and Wife, Part 3 (1 Peter 3:1-7)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn me in your Bibles to 1 Peter 3:1-7 once again this morning. This will be the third and final sermon from this passage about the relationship between husband and wife. If you do not have a Bible with you today, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 1015. Let’s go ahead and read the whole passage together this morning before we focus in on verse 7 for the rest of today.

1 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, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 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. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 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 ESV)

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about something called “toxic masculinity”—which is a term often used to explain the many reasons why women have been abused and treated in inappropriate and harmful ways by men. Now, while no one can or should deny that far too many women have been and continue to be treated in inappropriate, harmful, and even violent ways by men, we also ought to understand that from a biblical perspective the term “toxic masculinity” is an oxymoron. And this is particularly true when the term is used to describe the inappropriate treatment of women by men. It is an oxymoron because there is nothing toxic or harmful about the type of masculinity presented in the Bible. The truth is, genuine, biblical masculinity is always caring and protective toward women—and this particularly true of a husband’s treatment of his wife.

Now, we have all heard and enjoyed the jokes about the significant differences between men and women. We’ve all heard that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We have all heard that men are like waffles and women are like spaghetti. And all of us men know the difficulties we often have trying to understand women. And, unfortunately, this difficulty does not go away when we say our vows and put on a wedding ring. Lara and I just celebrated our nineteenth anniversary this summer, and I am still not sure I understand her much more than I did the day we got married. If I understand anything better, it is probably just a better understanding that I don’t understand.

So, it would be tempting for me to say, “Well, I have tried for 19 years now to understand this woman without making much progress. I still struggle to pick up on what she is feeling in the moment. I still struggle to anticipate how she is going to respond to things I say or do. I still struggle to understand what she is trying to tell me a good bit of the time. And my lack of understanding always seems to get me in trouble. So, I guess this is just how it is going to be. I guess I will never understand her and maybe I shouldn’t even try.”

If I am being honest, I have probably felt that way from time to time. And I have probably been guilty of joking with other husbands about how complicated our wives are to understand. But, the truth is, I am not so sure that it is any more complicated for husbands to understand their wives than it is for wives to understand their husbands. Let’s be honest, men. We figure out and solve all sorts of difficult problems at work. I mean we are living in Huntsville, AL for crying out loud. If we can figure out how to send rockets into space and men to the moon, we likely have what it takes to understand our wives better than most of us do. So the problem is not ability; the problem is willingness and commitment. And so the question is: Are we willing to take the time and to put forth the effort to understand our wives so that we can treat them in ways that build them up and help them become the most faithful followers of Jesus that they can be. In case you didn’t know, that is our mission as husbands. Yes, our mission as husbands is to help our wives become the most faithful followers of Jesus that they can be. And no one said it was going to be easy, but work that is worth doing is hardly ever easy.

Now, if you are still struggling to believe, or don’t want to admit, that it is possible to understand your wife in this sort of way, I would like to direct your attention to our passage for today where Peter gives us, as husbands, two commands concerning how we ought to treat our wives, followed by two reasons we ought to listen to what he says.

Command #1: Live with your Wife in an Understanding Way

And the first command—and how I know it is possible for us to understand our wives—is Peter’s command to live with our wives in an understanding way. Do you see that at the beginning of verse 7?

Now, it would not make any sense for Peter, or the Bible, to instruct us to live with our wives in an understanding way if it were not possible for us to so, right? Do you agree with that? Obviously, Peter—who was married by the way—believed that husbands could indeed understand their wives to the degree necessary to have happy and godly marriages. If he didn’t believe it, he wouldn’t have said it.

But at the same time, those of us who have been married for any amount of time know that it is hard. If men didn’t struggle to understand their wives, there wouldn’t be all the jokes and all the books and all the counseling. And I could fill a sermon up today with a lot of that stuff, but instead, I want to begin by making it very clear that it is possible, husbands, for us to understand our wives if we are willing to put in the effort. It is possible to obey Peter’s instruction to “live with your wives in an understanding way,” or else he would not have commanded us to do so. So, let’s throw that notion out the window right now, and get serious about being obedient to God here. Okay? The truth is, it is possible for us to understand our wives or the Bible wouldn’t tell us to do so.

Alright, so now that we are serious, how then do we go about living with our wives in an understanding way? How do we obey Peter’s command here?

Understand What the Bible Says

Well, if we are going to live with our wives in an understanding way, the first thing we need to do is understand what the Bible says about women and about wives. Again, we take the time to study all sorts of things at work and even all sorts of things related to our hobbies, don’t we? But how much time do you spend reading the Bible so that you can better understand your wife?

If I want to understand something about my car and why it is making a particular noise, does it make more sense for me to try to figure it out on my own or to contact the manufacturer? If I want to understand the inner workings of the HVAC unit in my home and why a certain part works in the way it does, does it make more sense for me to try to figure it out on my own, or to contact the manufacturer? While we men hate to ask for help and would prefer to figure things out on our own, deep down we all know that the people who designed the things we are trying to understand—whether it be a car, an air conditioner, a computer, or even our wives—knows a lot better than we do about the inner workings of the thing we are trying to understand. So brothers, if you want to understand your wife, and live with her in an understanding way, the first place you need to turn is to the One who made her. You need to take some time and embark on a study of God’s Word, seeking out and learning what God has said in that book about the woman you love. Look, if you don’t want to do that with your car, that’s fine. If you don’t want to do that with your HVAC unit, that’s fine. If you don’t want to do that with your computer, that’s fine. But, men, we are talking about your wives here—the most precious possession that you have. If you mess up your car, so what. If you mess up your A/C, so what. If you mess up your computer, go buy another one. But this is your wife. She deserves your best effort. Don’t wing it. Learn about her from the One who knows her best. That is the place to start.

Understand What She Says

But next to God, the person who knows your wife best is your wife. So in addition to understanding what God has to say about your wife, you need to listen to what your wife has to say about herself. You see, the truth is, every person on this planet is unique and put together by God in a special way. And so, while the Bible is the best place to start if we want to live with our wives in an understanding way, we are also going to have to give time and attention to listening to what our wives tell us about themselves.

Again, how closely do we pay attention to the customer at work when they are describing their needs and the next project they have coming up? How closely do we pay attention to all the details our buddy is giving us about some random project he is working on at home or about a technique he used to catch that big fish? The truth is, men, we are capable of parsing through and understanding a lot of detail when we are interested. The problem for us as husbands, if we are honest, is that we are often more interested in our work and our hobbies than we are in understanding our wives. I’m not saying we care more about our work and our hobbies than we do our wives. But I am saying we are often more interested in paying attention to the details of those things than we are in paying attention to the details our wives give us about themselves by what they say and by what they do.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, this is not a 15-minute conversation that you have in one afternoon. You are not going to go home today and say, “So, tell me everything I need to know about you,” and walk away from that conversation with this problem solved. The truth is, this is a lifetime endeavor. The truth is, your wife is complicated—she is a human being created in God’s image, you better believe she is complicated! And she is not a computer that is always going to work the way it was designed to work. She is a human being with complex processes going on in her mind and in her body, and those processes are always changing. Yes, apart from God, she is the most complicated thing you will ever attempt to understand—please don’t hear me saying that she is not, that would be degrading to her. But your wife, as complex as she is, is a precious treasure given to you by God. And you ought to spend as much time listening to what she has to say about herself as you do listening to customers and experts in your field and your buddies and so forth.

Listen, I know that it is difficult to understand what they are trying to say sometimes—I am married too. But come on, guys, I know you. You are a smart group of people who understand all sorts of complicated stuff. I’ve sat in conversations with you where I am lost in less than 2 minutes. Yes, she’s hard to understand, but so is a lot of the other stuff you have figured out in this world. So commit yourself to the task. Listen to God’s Word; listen to her. And I guarantee that this time next year you will understand her better than you do now. Again, Peter wouldn’t give us this command to live with our wives in an understanding way if it were not possible. You can do this. It might be hard, but it’s not impossible.

Command #2: Show Honor To Your Wife

So, husbands, the first command Peter has for you in this verse is to live with your wife in an understanding way. And the second command he gives you in this verse is to show honor to your wife as the weaker vessel. Do you see that in verse 7? He says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” Now, before I get into what it means to show honor to our wives, I need to explain what Peter means when he describes women “as the weaker vessel.”

So, I agree with the ESV Study Bible when it says that “Peter is probably thinking of the general truth that men are physically stronger than women and may be tempted to threaten their wives through physical or verbal abuse.”1 Now this is a general truth—there are certainly women who are stronger than many men. But, it is true that God designed the male body in such a way that generally speaking it would be stronger than the female body. This is why we don’t have men and women competing against each other in athletic competitions. We don’t do that because we recognize that, in general, men have a genetic advantage over women when it comes to strength.

But unfortunately, men have sometimes used this genetic advantage in inappropriate and even abusive ways. And so, while it probably goes without saying, the purpose of a husband’s strength is to protect his wife, not to use it to threaten or abuse her. In fact, that is one of the ways we honor our wives as the “weaker vessel”—but more on that in a minute. The thing I want you to understand before I move on, is that “weaker” doesn’t mean less valuable. In fact, it often means more valuable. For example, the china in your wife’s china cabinet is much more valuable than your aluminum baseball bat. And your iPhone is much more valuable than that leftover brick laying in your backyard. A million-dollar Stradivarius violin is much more valuable than a 2×4 sitting in the back of your truck. And it is in that sense that we ought to think of and care for our wives.

Now, I know it is not popular today—I know that the notion of a woman needing the care and protection of her husband is seen as chauvinistic and outdated. But, we can’t get around the fact that protection and provision are part of what it means for husbands (who are generally stronger) to honor their wives (who are generally weaker). There’s no doubt that women are capable of a lot more than what men have previously assumed—and they are proving it all the time. But there’s also no getting around the fact that God designed men and women differently—it is not that one is better or one is worse, they are just different. And it is asinine how many people today are pretending like this isn’t the case. And again, it is not the Christian worldview that says women are inferior because they are not as physically capable as men. It is a secular worldview that is promoting that sort of thinking without even realizing it by claiming that there are no real differences between men and women. It is the secular worldview that is trying to make women like men, and are, therefore, indirectly saying that there is something wrong with the way God made women.

But showing honor for your wife goes much further than providing protection. The dictionary definition of honor is: “high respect; great esteem.” So, men, our wives deserve our respect, and they deserve our esteem. If we are going to show honor to anyone in this world, it ought to be our wives. And this will affect the way we talk to them and the way we talk about them. They ought to be treated like the guest of honor everywhere we go. We ought to place them on a pedestal so that everyone in our lives knows what we think about them. And the person who ought to know it the most is our wife.

Think for a minute about the most honorable person you have ever known—whether you knew them personally or not. Yes, who is the most honorable person you have observed in your lifetime? And men, I want you to be honest with yourself for a minute when I ask you this. Do you treat and talk to your wife in the same way you would treat and talk to that person if you got to spend a day with them? Yes, do you show your wife the same honor and respect that you would show that person if they walked into this room. For real, when your wife walks into the room, does she receive the same honor and respect from you that this random person who you have likely never met would receive?

Now, guys, I’m digging myself deep in here, because I am an utter failure at this too. And everything I say can and will be used against me later today. But it doesn’t change the fact that all of this is true. This is how we ought to treat our wives—not just politely the way we treat everyone else, but with honor and dignity and respect. Now that might mean different things to different people, and you can work that out for yourselves. But, in my opinion, our wives ought to be opening fewer doors for themselves. They ought to be hearing less abrasive and sarcastic and offensive talk. They ought to feel cherished by us and protected as a result. Yes, in many ways, they ought to feel like royalty when they are around us. And that is, in fact, what Peter is going to tell us about them next.

Reason #1: They are Heirs of God’s Kingdom

Yes, the first reason Peter says we ought to live with our wives in an understanding way and show honor to them as the weaker vessel in the marriage is that they are coheirs with us of the “grace of life”—or coheirs with us in God’s gift of eternal life. In other words, as believers in Jesus Christ, their inheritance is equal with ours. They too are heirs of God and will reign with Jesus in his kingdom for all eternity. Yes, brothers, they are, heavenly royalty. You are married to a queen. They are part of the royal priesthood that Peter spoke of in the previous chapter. And for that reason, they deserve the time and effort it takes for us to understand them. For that reason, they deserve to be treated with honor, dignity, and respect by their husbands. Yes, as heavenly royalty, they deserve it.

And listen, this is very different than the submission that Peter tells them to show us. That submission is not about what we deserve; it is about following God’s established order for the home. Remember, Peter told wives to submit to the leadership of even non-Christian husbands as far as they could. But here, the honor is deserved. Our wives deserve to be treated honorably because they are heirs in the family of God and royalty in Jesus’s coming kingdom. When you look at your wife, brothers, that is what Peter wants you to see. He wants you to see them clothed with the garments of a heavenly queen. And he wants you to treat them accordingly. Is that clear?

Reason #2: For Unhindered Prayers

Now the second reason Peter says that we ought to live with our wives in an understanding way and show honor to them as the weaker vessel in the marriage is that when we do not, our prayers to God will be hindered. Did you catch that? When we do not live with our wives in an understanding way, and when we do not show honor and respect to them, our prayers will be hindered. Do you see it at the end of this verse? This is pretty serious business. God is telling us that if we do not live with our wives in an understanding way, and if we do not show them the honor they deserve as his heirs, he will not hear our prayers. Yes, they will be obstructed by the sinful behavior we are exhibiting toward our wives.

Look down with me to verse 12. Notice what it says. It says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” In other words, don’t treat your wife like garbage and expect God to answer your prayers. Is that clear? You are wasting your breath if you are not showing your wife respect while expecting God to listen to you. Clearly, God is very serious about this.

Conclusion

Now, before I conclude, I want to point out that neither of the two reasons that Peter gives us for living with our wives in an understanding way and showing honor to them as the weaker vessel in the marriage has anything to do with our personal happiness. No, the reasons he gives us have nothing to do with the whole “happy wife, happy life” stuff. Instead, we make the effort to understand our wives and treat them honorably because they are heirs of God and because by not doing so we will hinder our prayers.

But at the same time, I am also pretty confident, that if we would start taking the time to understand what the Bible says about our wives and what our wives have to say about themselves—about their desires and feelings and concerns and hopes and dreams. And if we would start going out of the way to show honor to our wives in the way we would show honor to earthly royalty, I can almost assure you that there would be more happiness and less bickering in your marriage. I can almost guarantee you that your wife would be happier and you would be happier too.

I know that I have a lot of work to do in this area. Again, this is not about love as much as it is effort. Lara knows I love her. But I also know that I haven’t made the effort to really understand her the way I could have and the way I should have. And I also know that I haven’t made the effort to treat her with the honor she deserves as an heir of God and as a royal figure in Christ’s coming kingdom. And I suspect that many of you men here today are in the same boat.

Well, thankfully, God has spoken clearly to us this morning. Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit convicting us where we need to be convicted. Thankfully God is patient and forgiving. Thankfully our wives are too—particularly when they are under the influence of the Holy Spirit as well. And thankfully, we can go from here today and live differently. We can live in ways that not only honor and respect our wives, but in ways that draw others to Jesus Christ as they see us doing so.

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  1. Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), paragraph 24241. ↩︎