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. (ESV)
Peter begins with “Likewise, wives.” Likewise what? Peter has been writing to these exiles live their lives in such a way so that the world will see their good deeds and glorify God for what they are doing (2:12). Peter told them to yield to every human authority (2:13), honor everyone (2:17), and to yield to our masters who are over us (2:18). The theme has been to live our lives with such conduct so as to win people over to God (2:15). Therefore, Peter is commanding wives to yield also, and this is what verse 1 says. Wives are to be subject to their own husbands. Wives are to yield to their husbands.
Different Behavior (1-2)
Lifestyle evangelism carries itself even into the home. Our holy conduct is not simply when we are outside of our homes, but remains inside the home as well. Verse 1 pictures the scenario where a wife who has a husband who is not obedient to God’s word. Peter’s instruction is to win the husband over by your conduct. Wives, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. You are going to be a wife unlike any wife found in the world. You are not going to be a nag or a pest. You are simply going to continue your godly conduct regardless of how he acts. Wives, you cannot excuse yourself from acting in righteousness and yielding just because he is not acting the way he ought. Just because he does not act like a Christian does not mean you cannot act like a Christian. In fact, it is all the more important that in act in a godly way in your marriage relationship.
Peter goes on to say husbands will be won over “when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” I believe it is a terrible decision for a wife to waiver in her faith when a husband is weak or unbelieving. If he does not want to obey the Lord, wives, you need to obey the Lord. If he does not want to go to church, you need to go to church. If he does not want to serve, you need to still serve. You can be respectful and yielding while maintaining pure conduct. But your husband will not be won over if they do not see God as a priority in your life and do not see your respectful and pure conduct in how they are treated. Wives are to do good for the Lord and do good for the husbands, even if he is not a believer.
Different Focus (3-4)
Not only will wives have a different behavior as Christian wives, but they will also have a different focus. Peter says not to focus on the externals only. Wives, your beauty should not only be what you look like, but also who you are spiritually. Your beauty comes from the heart, revealing the quiet and gentle spirit. Your heart is very valuable to God and having the character of quietness and gentleness is very precious to God. The word translated “gentleness” is the Greek word prautes which is commonly described as strength under control. It is a trait used of Jesus (Matthew 11:29) and is commanded of all Christians (Matthew 5:5). The EBC says, “Gentleness” (prautes) describes the person who is so much in control of himself that he is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics , IV, 5, 1-4), just like Moses, who is praised for being the gentlest or meekest among his contemporaries (Num 12:3).
Now this text has been taken to an extreme. Some think this is saying wives are not to focus on their outward beauty at all. This cannot be what the text is saying otherwise Peter is telling wives not to wear clothing. Notice that the sentence has a “not, but” construction, indicating that it is an ellipsis. This means that there is an implied “only” in the teaching. Wives, your adorning should not only be the external (hair, jewelry, clothing), but also the adorning of the internal. Wives, it is not a sin to look nice and dress well. In fact, this is an important part of marriage. Spouses, you did not attract to each other by looking as terrible and nasty as you possibly could. Try to look good for each other. But understand that your greatest beauty comes from your godliness. The world emphasizes so much on the external that it is easy for wives to forget what is most important. Husbands, you can help by pointing out that we think our spouses are beautiful, especially because of who they are. Wives, look nice but don’t forget what is very precious in God’s sight.
Different Life Model (5-6)
Holy women in the past who placed their hope in God also adorned themselves inside and out. They clothed themselves with the yielding attitude that Peter has been commanding all Christians to have. Sarah is then used as an example of this godly, yielding attitude. Sarah is to be a model for the life of the Christian wife. Now this text is also often misunderstood. Peter is not commanding wives to call their husbands, “lord” or “master.” Peter is asking us to learn from the example of Sarah, calling Abraham “lord.”
Peter is describing the culture of a lost era where wives showed respect to their husbands by calling them “lord” or “master.” It was not an unusual expression like it is today. For example, when Jesus addresses his mother as “woman” in John 2:4, we think Jesus is being rude or impolite. Jesus was not, for we fail to understand the language of the culture. Jesus followed the custom of the day. So it was also the custom of the day for wives to call their husbands “lord.” In fact, the Jews of the first century saw Sarah’s language in Genesis 18:12 as evidence of the proper respectful attitude toward the husband. That is clearly not our custom today. The point that we learn is that Sarah spoke with respect to Abraham. Sarah showed a yielding spirit in her conversation with Abraham. This fits what the apostle Paul also taught:
So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:33; NLT)
By doing good you are children of Sarah. Even if your husband is not a believer, you are still heirs of the promise if you remain godly and faithful. Verse 6 reminds us that this yielding places the wife in a vulnerable position. She is trusting her husband to act in her best interest. But Peter says that she should not fear anything. She is yielding for the sake of Christ. Do not fear. Do what is right. Live godly. Have a quiet and gentle spirit. Yield, not out of fear or social position, but out of obedience to Christ.
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. (3:7; ESV)
This is another misunderstood and tortured text. But let us clear away the false teachings here and get to the heart of the matter. First, notice the word “likewise.” Likewise, what? Go back to 1 Peter 2:13, 2:18, and 3:1 and notice that the theme is yielding. Husbands are to likewise yield. How? Yield by living with your wives in an understanding way. Husbands, this is certainly a call for living with your wives and treating your wives in an understanding, considerate way. Husbands, you cannot be harsh with your wives. You cannot order her around. You cannot tell her what to do. You are not to act like you are the boss. No one told you that you are the boss. God told the wives to yield to the husband’s headship. But God did not tell you husbands to act like a head. You are to yield by living with your wives in an understanding way.
The middle part of the verse also teaches husbands how to yield to their wives. Yield by showing honor to her as a weaker vessel. Carefully read those words a few times. Does the text say that she is a weaker vessel? No, I think some of the translations do a disservice by rendering the text to sound that way. We know that a woman is not weaker spiritually. Some have typically argued that she is weaker physically. But what does her physical weakness have to do with the point Peter is making? What does that have to do with living with her in an understanding way? It is better to understand the text the way the ESV renders the verse. Husbands are to show the wife honor as a weaker vessel. That is, she is to be treated as a prized, valuable possession. She is not to be treated as a common vessel, but as a vessel that is delicate and fragile. The text does not say she is fragile. It says you treat her that way.
The best example I can use of this is the Tony Gwynn signed baseball. He was the best baseball player for play for the San Diego Padres. He is in the baseball Hall of Fame and is beloved by the San Diego fan base. Do we treat that baseball like a common baseball? No, it is in a special container sitting on the shelf. The baseball is not fragile, but we are treating and honoring it as delicate and fragile because it is valuable to us and important to us. Show her honor like a precious, delicate vessel. Treat her with respect. She is not inferior. In fact, Peter goes on to make that very point. She is a fellow heir of the grace of life. Treat her as equal in this pursuit of serving God. She is an heir with you, not a slave under you.
Let’s not miss the last part of the teaching: so that your prayers may not be hindered. Husbands, when you are not treating your wives with honor, when you are not living with her in compassion and in an understanding way, and when you do not show her honor as a fellow heir with you, your prayers are blocked. God is not listening to you. Let me say it another way: you do not have a relationship with God. Don’t think that you can treat your wife as a slave and still be in a relationship with God. Don’t think that you boss her around, command her, mistreat her, or make demands of her and think that you are not separated from God. Do not think that you can be harsh with your wife and not be in sin. Show her honor and kindness.
- Show respect in your actions and words
- Let your beauty be the inward, not just the outward
- Reflect a gentle and quiet spirit through your pure conduct
- Show compassion and understanding to your wife
- Show honor as a prized, valuable possession
- Treat her as an equal heir in your spiritual walk, so your prayers are not blocked