THE OBEDIENCE AND ADORNMENT OF CHRISTIAN WIVES
A practical exposition of 1 Peter 3. 1-6.
Two of the choicest gifts the Lord Jesus Christ bestows on those whom he calls to be his ministers are a heart to sympathize with His people in their trials, and an ability to apply His word to their various states of need. It is because the Apostle Peter possessed both of these gifts in such large measure, that his First Epistle has always been a favourite with tried Christians. How clearly the “Apostle to the circumcision” understood the difficulties facing “the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”, and with what skill he brings the word of God to bear upon them. Even when Peter is dealing with the precepts governing the Christian life, he exhibits the same understanding of the local situation, the obstacles standing in the way of obedience, and the way in which those obstacles should be removed.
As we considered the Apostle’s teaching for Christian husbands in a previous article*, we shall now look at what he has to say to Christian wives. There are two main ways in which his teaching, found in the first six verses of 1 Peter Chapter 3, is of value to Christian wives today. Firstly, it provides them with an antidote against the teaching and practices of the world. These are days of great difficulty for Christian wives. Mainly as a result of the atheistic materialism which has increasingly characterized life in twentieth-century Britain, the Christian wife is having to face a situation very different from that which confronted Christian wives a hundred years ago. The era of “the emergence of woman”, as it is sometimes called, has introduced great changes in a wife’s attitude to herself, her husband, the bearing of children and her home. Many women who hailed its arrival as the long-awaited day of “liberation”, have learnt to undervalue home ties and despise home duties, and there is every reason to believe that the leaven is active in evangelical churches professing the doctrines of grace. While some of the issues involved are beyond the scope of the present article, the writer hopes that what he has written will remind Christian wives of their responsibilities towards their husbands, and encourage them in the path of obedience
Secondly, the ApostleÂ’s teaching contains a cordial for Christian wives whose husbands are unconverted Only those Christians who have experienced the trial of living with unconverted relatives can appreciate the difficulties facing wives in this position. In addition to the pressures already mentioned, the Christian wife who is married to an unconverted husband, has to live, day after day, week after week, with a man whose habits, interest and conversation are carnal, and consequently exercise a benumbing influence on her own spiritual life. The temptations which come to such wives are legion. As we shall see, the Apostle was no stranger to such a situation; he clearly understood it, and obviously had such wives in mind when he penned, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the words which we shall now study
1. Being in Subjection.
If we are really to understand the Apostle’s teaching in this passage, we must begin where he begins, i.e. with the need for subjection. “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands” (verse 1). As the Christian wife often receives only a caricature of the subject these days, it may be a help if we open up the two main ingredients of subjection:Â—
(a) Recognition of her husband’s headship.
In the marriage union, as in every other department of life, recognition of authority must precede obedience. Unless the Christian wife recognizes that God has made her husband her earthly “head”, she is not likely to respect him and obey him as such. The origin of the husband’s headship must be traced back to the fall of man in Eden, when Eve was assured by God that, as a result of the part she had played in tempting Adam, “. . thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3. 16). But this appointment was not an arbitary act on God’s part, made without respect to the needs of the wife. Mercy was mixed with that judgement. Just as it is a blessing for the sons of Adam to have to eat bread by the sweat of their brows, so it is a blessing for the daughters of Adam to be under the rule of their husbands. This point is brought out even more clearly in Ephesians 5. 23, where Paul likens the husband’s headship over the wife to Christ’s headship over the church, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the saviour of the body.” As the church derives every temporal and spiritual blessing from her heavenly Head, so the Christian wife derives many temporal and spiritual blessings from her earthly “head”. The Christian wife who has a true partner will find that God has provided her with a husband, companion, counsellor, bread winner and protector. Are we, then, to abandon the scriptural teaching of the husband’s headship, and begin to claim, like the world, that the “days of subjection are past”? Despite its present popularity, the world’s teaching on this point has nothing to offer the Christian wife.
(b) Sincere submission to her husband.
The second ingredient of true Christian subjection is sincere submission. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord . . . Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5. 22, 24). The real secret of this submission is to see that it forms a very real part of a Christian wife’s obedience to her Saviour. We emphasize just two features of this submission at this point, i.e. the need for the wife to make her husband’s needs her first priority, and to obey his will. With things being as they are today, it is so easy for a Christian wife to lose sight of her husband’s needs and the fact that she alone can meet them. And yet both of these points are established by Genesis 2. 18, where we are told that God created a wife for Adam because “It is not good that the man should be alone.” But a Christian wife may reject the
whole idea of “working wives” and “following one’s career after marriage” (as the world puts it), and yet be equally guilty of neglecting her husband. A Christian wife can become so taken up with “church work” that her husband is relegated to a secondary place in her life. Much good would be done if some Christians stopped applauding those wives who are ever busying themselves in “outreach” (as they call it) to the neglect of their husbands and children, and gave them a little Scriptural counsel. Oh, that word “evangelism”: it does cover a multitude of sins!
The other feature of submission that needs to be underlined today is obedience to the husband’s will. Now this requirement does not reduce the Christian wife to a “mouse-in-the-corner” who must hardly speak a word. But it is one thing for a wife to have her “say”, and quite another thing for her to always have her “way”. Nothing is further removed from sincere obedience than the practice of certain professing Christian wives of mounting a kind of campaign to get their own way after all. What sometimes happens in such cases? Why, to escape from continual agitation, the husband surrenders his better judgement to that of his wife, and then takes a hasty step which both parties subsequently regret. Christians can learn much from what is happening in worldly families today, but that instruction comes in the form of a warning. By its increasing number of separations, divorces and “motel-homes” – where husband and wife only meet to sleep and park the car overnight – the world is proclaiming that its much-vaunted substitutes for the gospel have failed. True subjection by the Christian wife supports her husband, strengthens her marriage, and presents a striking contrast to the behaviour of the worldling. The fact that ungodly people only take notice of professing Christians who are essentially different to themselves will become clear as we consider the Apostle’s next point.
2. When the husband is not a Christian.
We have now reached the place where we see the Apostle’s heart and skill more clearly. Having exhorted Christian wives to be subject to their husbands, Peter then adds “. . . that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” (verses 1 & 2). His words are designed to encourage the Christian wife whose husband is unconverted. Clearly, then, it is no new experience for a Christian wife to find herself in this trying situation. The writer recalls the contact he had some years ago, while serving with the Royal Air Force abroad, with a Christian lady whose husband was unconverted. In that particular case, the lady’s trial was aggravated by the fact that her husband was an officer in the British Army, and therefore expected to take part in the social life of the Officers’ Mess. Her husband never attended an evangelical meeting, and always made himself scarce when a Christian entered his house. It is not easy for a Christian wife to reconcile herself to
being subject to an ungodly husband. Time and again she is tempted to do what worldly wives do in similar situations – either separate from her husband or become a rebel in her own home. And when these temptations have been rejected, unbelief often arises in her heart to give credence to Satan’s suggestion that the conversation of her husband is impossible. What a cordial the Apostle’s words contain for all Christian wives in such a position. Far from encouraging them to cause trouble, or despair of their husband’s conversion, Peter assures them that God is often pleased to use the “chaste conversation coupled with fear” of a godly wife to “win” those husbands who “obey not the word”. Ah, there are times when the practised word reaches hearts that are closed to the preached word. A holy life is still the best advertisement for the gospel of Christ.
3. The True Adornment of a Christian Wife.
When we come to verses 3 and 4, we must not make the mistake of thinking that the Apostle is just digressing to testify against loud clothing. His purpose is to reveal the soil in which the beautiful flower of subjection grows. Peter tells us two things about a wife’s true adornment.
(a) It is not outward.
Let us look at the negative side first. “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.” (verse 3). The Apostle’s description of false adornment, drawn no doubt from what he saw around him in that godless age, is particularly valuable to Christian wives living in Great Britain today. When was there a time when women paid so much attention to outward adornment? Look at the proliferation of ladies’ hairdressing salons, the increase in the jewellery trade, and the great variety of shops and magazines devoted to women’s fashions. The abundance of the supply testifies to the abundance of the demand! The Apostle’s words remind us that, however much this outward adornment may be coveted and admired by the world, it is of no value in the sight of God. It bespeaks a proud heart that seeks to draw attention to self, a mind set upon earthly things, and is often accompanied by a bold, unbecoming spirit before men.
(b) It is inward.
How encouraging to the Christian wife is the Apostle’s description of the positive side of her true adornment. “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” (verse 4). The true adornment of a Christian wife is inward and spiritual, the “meek and quiet spirit” not being natural reticence, but a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the heart. Notice, too, that Peter makes a point of stressing that this ornament “is in the sight of God of great price.” Oh, how different are God’s values to those of the world! Never mind, then, if the world makes much noise about its corruptible ornaments, and despises the inward, incorruptible ornaments of
the Christian. Here is a word from God to assure every godly wife that her concern for this spiritual adornment is correct, and a sign that she is learning of Him who is “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11. 29). Only where there is the rich soil of Christian
meekness, will we see the beautiful flower of subjection flourishing.
4. The Spiritual Ancestry of a Christian Wife.
At first sight, it may appear strange that Peter should close his exhortation by reminding Christian wives that godly women have always adorned themselves in this way, and been subject to their husbands. “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands.” (verse 4). It is only when we consider the situation in which the Apostle’s first readers were placed that we see the wisdom of his method. We learn from Chapter 1 verse 1 that the Christians to whom he addressed this Epistle were “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”. In other words, they were living in lands dominated by paganism, and consequently surrounded by pagan people. How encouraging it must have been for those Christian wives to be reminded that Christian women have always behaved in the way they believed the Lord was teaching them to behave. And is there not encouragement here for Christian wives living in the cities, towns and villages of Great Britain today, who often feel isolated, and sometimes wonder whether they are right after all? Notice, too, that Peter assures them that even Sarah herself “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (verse 6). But why mention Sarah? Because these Christian wives were Hebrew Christians, and consequently exposed to the ridicule and criticisms of other Jews who, notwithstanding all their enmity against Christ and true godliness, boasted of being Abraham’s seed. How encouraging it must have been for these Christian wives to be assured that Sarah herself had obeyed her husband in these ways. Perhaps this point may strengthen a Christian wife reading this article, who finds herself being criticized by other wives who claim to be children of God and yet show neither love for Christ nor love for godliness.
Alas, there are times when a truly godly wife can feel isolated in evangelical congregations.
We shall notice in closing, that the Apostle’s final word is a searching one “… whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” (verse 6). It is only those who follow Sarah in the practice of subjection, but not in the unbelief she displayed when the promise of Isaac’s birth was given, who can claim to be her spiritual descendants. And the fruits of practical obedience are not to be underestimated. The Christian wife who is truly subject to her husband strengthens her own marriage, draws attention to the grace of Christ, and sets a fine example to the younger women in the church.
P. D. Johnson
* See Vol. 6. No. 4. Page 156