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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — 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. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV
Peter now takes his message of submission into the inner sanctum of the home. And for us, as modern-day Christians, this message can have a certain archaic and painfully old-fashioned ring to it. But we must keep what Peter has written on this within the context of his letter and social setting of the day in which he wrote. First of all, the fact that Peter addressed women at all is not something we should miss. In the culture of his day, women often were considered inferior. They were expected to follow the religion of their husbands and were given little say in the matter. And yet, here is Peter addressing women who had placed their faith in Christ. He is speaking to them as a separate group and addressing their specific situation, providing them with insight into how they were supposed to live as believers when their husbands were not. He knew that they were going against the cultural norms of their day. Rather than worship the false gods of their husbands, these women had placed their faith in Christ and now found themselves in a delicate, if not dangerous, place.
It is important that we recognize that Peter is primarily addressing women who are married to unbelievers. His admonition to submit is applicable to all Christian women, whether their husbands are believers or not, but he seems to be putting a special emphasis on wives whose husbands do not share their faith. He says, “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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV). The idea of submission has a certain distasteful to many. And while we may not particularly like Peter’s command to submit to those in authority over us when it comes to the government or even the workplace, the idea of wives having to submit to their husbands has a particularly unattractive appeal to many today. But it is important to note that when Peter uses the Greek word hypotasso (“to submit”) he is speaking about a willing coming under another as part of God’s willed order. It has nothing to do with worth or value. It is not an admission of superiority or inferiority (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “hypotasso,” by Gerhard Delling, 8 (1972):44). It has everything to do with God’s divine plan and His children’s conduct and character. Ultimately, all of us are required to submit to someone and we are to see our submission as unto the Lord. Each of us answers to Him. God has ordained an order and a structure to the universe. And while the idea of wives having to be subject to their husbands may rub us the wrong way, it is important to remember that God has a method to His seeming madness.
When we live in this world according to God’s will, submitting to His plan for our lives, it not only pleases Him, but it gives living proof of the change that has taken place within us because of the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God. To expect a believing wife to submit to her unbelieving husband seems unfair and potentially stifling to her faith. But God says that her conduct could have a redemptive aspect to it. Christlike behavior can be a powerful force within our relationships. How we act as Christians can have a major influence on the lost with whom we come in contact. So Peter gives these women some insights into how their behavior can have a saving influence on their husbands. And he goes straight to the heart of the matter: “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” (1 Peter 3:4 ESV). Peter’s concern seems to be that women who had discovered their newfound freedom in Christ would allow their behavior to push their unbelieving husbands away from the faith. Believers must never forget that their salvation is not to be viewed in an individualistic way. The good news we have embraced is meant to be shared. Our faith is meant to be lived out among the lost. We are to be salt and light – agents of change and ministers of reconciliation, calling people to be made right with God. That is why the apostle Paul calls on believers to remain as they were when called by God. “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13 ESV). Our godly influence over the lost in our lives is a big part of God’s plan for our lives.
Much of what Peter says in these verses sounds out of touch with real life. It is counter-cultural and seems to go against the grain of societal expectations. But much of what God expects of us is revolutionary in nature. It is intended to set us apart and requires us to live differently than those around us. It is our ability to do good in the midst of the bad that surrounds us that gets the attention of the lost. Our joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the middle of the storm, contentment with little, hope in spite of heartache, and our ability to love when treated in unloving ways, that sets us apart.
Paul gives us each some wise words to consider. “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 ESV). How does God want to use you right where you are? Who has He placed in your life so that you might have a godly influence over them? Ultimately, our submission to God will lead us to submit to all those with whom we come in contact. We will gladly come under another in order that we might win them over to Christ by our actions.