What’s an Exile to Do? Husbands, Live a Holy Married Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter continues to exhort us Christian exiles from his “Survival Manual” as he works his way through God’s marriage ordinance in 1 Pet 3:1-7. Having addressed Christian wives (many with non-Christian husbands) in 3:1-6, Peter moves on to address briefly Christian husbands married to a Christian wife in 3:7. While still endorsing the household as “the center that shaped the world” with the husband’s place as one of head-stewardship (from which authority derives) and the wife’s place as one of submission, Peter takes on his culture’s expectation that a husband should both sympathize with and marginalize his wife. To husbands, then, the Apostle declares, “Live together with your wife, as I do my own (1 Cor 9:5), knowing and honoring her as both different from you and equal with you (3:7a). Here’s what I mean.”

“First, know and honor her as the weaker vessel (3:7b). No, it’s not what the ancient philosophers were thinking: she’s not intellectually, psychologically, and morally inferior to you. We did just mention the history of Sarah and Abraham (3:6), right? Sarah makes my point. We know the history of creation too. We read there that, as vessels fashioned by the Divine Craftsman-Physician (Gen 2:7, 22), both husband and wife have creaturely weakness, but her vulnerability as the female differs from yours. She’s weaker in that she’s ordinarily physically and maybe socioeconomically more vulnerable than you. But even those vulnerabilities aren’t where she’s most at risk. No, most importantly, she’s spiritually more vulnerable than you, husband. Again, we do know the history of the fall (cf. 1 Pet 5:8-9; Gen 3:1-13) and the pre-flood world (cf. 1 Pet 3:20; cf. 2 Pet 2:5; 3:4-6; Gen 5:28–6:12), don’t we? Because we do, we need to remain alert to the continuing threat that the devil poses in this world. His tactic is still what it was in the beginning: to go after the wife first to get to the husband himself. So, gents, reckon with the fact that your wife—your ally and companion in marriage—is a high-value, priority target, not a mere collateral casualty, in the devil’s war plan. Mindful of that reality, be vigilant in your resistance to his tactic, shoring her up with spiritual resources and remembering that, whatever the devil’s strength or your wife’s weakness, God’s omnipotence is able to overrule them both (5:6-7). Live together with your wife, then, knowing and honoring her as more vulnerable than you.”

“Second,” the Apostle says to husbands, “know and honor your wife, not just as different from you, but as equal with you: she’s an heir with you of the grace of life (3:7c), as Sarah was with Abraham. Together, you’re destined to inherit the resurrection life to come (1:3). Esteem her highly, then, in the way you think about her, talk to her, and act toward her. Like you, she’s one of God’s children. She has all the promises, liberties, and privileges of those born of Him (1:23). Like you, she’s under God’s fatherly care and bears His name. She has the Spirit of Christ and is a co-heir with Christ in glory. So, know and honor your wife as equal with you: yes, she’s submitted herself to you, but she’s submitted herself to Christ first as you have, and you’re both destined for eternal glory in Him (5:10).”

“One last thing,” Peter says: “don’t forget that your conduct toward your wife affects your own communion with God (3:7d). Husbands, if you’ve ever sensed that God’s not listening to your prayers, examine your relationship with your wife. You live together with your wife before your Lord, and He inspects the way you live even your married life. His face has always been set against those who do evil, whether Christians or non-Christians (3:12c). The ears of your Lord are open to your prayers (3:7d, 12b) that you might break any abusive patterns of speaking evil and doing evil in which you’re involved (cf. 3:10-11). So, husbands, know and honor your wife for all that she is. And never forget that you’re accountable to God for your words and deeds toward her.”

As God’s exiles, the Apostle commands Christian husbands to live lives of moral excellence. One of a husband’s duties is to respect God’s marriage ordinance by stepping forward to take his place responsibly within it. The reason for this is that, for Peter, the household is the basic unit of an ordered Christian life, and that a husband’s place in the household is one of head-stewardship, while a wife’s place is one of submission. Yet, once more, in issuing this directive, the Apostle makes it clear that he’s not just parroting and endorsing the marriage and family values of the ancient world. As his handling of God’s ordinances of civil government and labor (2:13-20) makes clear, he has a larger agenda. It’s an agenda in which we Christians are to be conformed to the example of Christ (2:21-25), following His path of obedience from suffering to glory, as we take our places within God’s ordinances. With specific reference to marriage, then, Peter again engages critically with his culture’s expectations, and the result is a reformation of conventional conceptions of a husband’s authority. While he continues to affirm that the positions of husband and wife are not interchangeable, he frames the husband’s authority within limits defined first by his obedience to God and the example of Christ. Clearly, his commands give a husband no right to adopt authoritarian dispositions and behaviors that marginalize or otherwise abuse his wife. A husband has a stewardship (responsibilities) to God and to his wife that he is not to abdicate; he has gifts and graces the benefits of which he is not to deny to her (or the church). Thus, a husband who’s a bully or a wimp before his wife will find no place in a rightly ordered Christian marriage. Rather, says Peter, “husbands, live together with your wife, knowing and honoring her as both different from you and equal with you. And don’t forget: doing the good that God requires of you in marriage will illustrate the holiness that He expects in every aspect of your life.”[i]

[i] The commentary by Joel B. Green, 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2007) was most helpful in developing this post.