The Inner Beauty of a Godly Wife
Passage: 1 Peter 3:1-4
This morning, we are going to study vv. 1–4, and then Lord willing, we will study vv. 5–7 next week.
As you hopefully noticed, vv. 1–6 continue the theme beginning in 2:13 of submission to authority. Peter now admonishes wives to submit to their husbands. Before we dive into this text, I’d like to make a couple of qualifiers. First, I generally appreciate the hearty “amens” that some of you men will give while I preach, but you probably want to be careful about when you “amen” today because you might just get elbowed. I’ll try to offer up a couple of hangers that you can amen strongly and score some points, but just be careful this morning. A second qualifier is that this text is obviously addressed to wives; therefore, the primary applications are for women and especially women who are married. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us can check out. There is actually quite a bit for the rest of us in this passage, and so I hope we will all listen up to what God has for us this morning.
There are three challenges or commands I’d like us to see from vv. 1–4 this morning. The first command is that…
Wives must submit to their husbands (v. 1a).
This command is closely linked to 2:13–25 by the word “likewise” and also by the fact that 2:13, 2:18, and 3:1 all begin with the same command to submit. Therefore, a wife’s submission to her husband parallels our obligation to the government and a slave’s obligation to his master in at least some ways. We’ll talk in a moment about the parallels, but it is important to note a couple of differences. First and foremost, government and slavery were not apart of God’s original, perfect design; whereas, marriage was. God did not ordain human government until after the Flood. In Genesis 9:6, God instituted capital punishment and by implication government in order to combat sin. And God never instituted slavery. It is a human creation that is a result of sin and life in a sin-cursed world. But marriage is different. God instituted marriage and submission in marriage on the sixth day of creation. Therefore, submission in marriage is part of God’s perfect design. Now, it’s true that in the hands of sinners, submission in marriage has frequently been abused. Sadly, many men have used their authority to physically and emotionally abuse their wives, and v. 7 is going to address this abuse very pointedly. But these abuses are the result of sin, not of the God-ordained ideas of headship, authority, and submission. We know this because there is headship and submission within the Trinity. Jesus spoke often of his obligation to obey the Father, and it was always a point of joy, not of grief because the Father is a perfect authority, and the Son is perfectly submissive. In light of that, we should not bemoan submission in marriage; rather, we should strive to fulfill it according to God’s perfect design. A second difference between marriage and the other roles Peter mentions is that there is a fundamental equality and obligation for nurturing in marriage; whereas the government and slavery do not have such obligations. Next week, we will see in v. 7 that a husband can’t think of himself as a general, an employer, or a sheriff. So if marriage is different in some senses from the other structures in this text, how is it similar? The first parallel is that a wife’s submission to her husband is ultimately rooted in her submission to God. Peter is going to highlight several times the Godward attitude that must drive submission in marriage just like it must drive every type of submission for a Christian. A second and closely related parallel is that submission in marriage is not rooted in the character of the husband. Peter is going to tell wives to submit even to unbelieving husbands, just as he told us to obey both good and evil governments and masters. Again, we’ll talk about this more as we go. And so Peter commands wives to submit to their husbands out of submission to God and regardless of the character flaws of the husband.
Ladies who are married, I want to urge you to take to heart God’s command in this verse. Your husband is a God-ordained authority in your life. I know he isn’t perfect. Sometimes he is inconsiderate, lazy, irresponsible, messy, gutless, and foolish. But God commands you to submit to him. Do you honor him as a God-ordained authority? Do you honor his desires for your home, your finances, and the discipline of your children, or do you smile and nod and then do what you want to do? Would your husband say that you respect him and his decisions and that you are committed to following him and supporting him? Maybe your response is that “I would if he would lead or if he was more godly or if he was kinder.” But if that’s your response, then what you are really saying is that God failed gave me the wrong husband. You aren’t just dishonoring your husband; you are rejecting God’s will, and you need to see how wicked that is. Trust God’s will, obey his will, and follow the lead of your husband.
The first command is that wives must submit to their husbands. The second command is…
Win lost husbands through a godly life (vv. 1b–2).
Grammatically, this section continues to unfold the command to submit. Peter anticipated a significant objection some of his married readers may raise against his command to submit. What do we di if our husbands are unbelievers? These men “do not obey the Word.” In other words, these men refuse God’s command for all people to repent and believe. Most of these women probably came to Christ after they were married, though it’s possible that in a culture of arranged marriages that some had been married to unbelievers against their wishes. This kind of arrangement would have been terribly difficult for Christian wives because women didn’t have the rights and freedoms in Greco-Roman culture that they have in ours. Plutarch was a Greek historian during the first century, and listen to what he had to say about a wife’s duties. “A wife should not acquire her own friends, but should make her husband’s friends her own. The gods are the first and most significant friends. For this reason, it is proper for a wife to recognize only those gods whom her husband worships and to shut the door to superstitious cults and strange superstitions.” A wife was expected to follow the religion of her husband; therefore, when a lady became a Christian and wanted to go to church or refused to attend pagan ceremonies with her husband, it would not have gone over well. Imagine the struggle some of these ladies felt. When they went to church, they were treated as people, they were loved, and they were taught that God is the ultimate authority in our lives. Then they went home to unbelieving husbands who were not characterized by the fruit of the Spirit and did not acknowledge God. They did not respect or love their wives, and these ladies didn’t know how to respond. Some felt despair and believed their husbands would never believe. Others may have been tempted to stop submitting to their husbands, and the very bold among them may have wanted to divorce their husbands because of their unbelief. But Peter rejects all of these responses. These wives must continue to submit to some very imperfect men, and they must continue to believe in God’s power to save their husbands.
Peter articulates a very interesting strategy for reaching these men with the gospel. He challenges wives to win their husbands to Christ, not primarily through argumentation or constant pleading (or nagging), but through godly conduct. It is important to note that when Peter says these men could be won “without a word,” he is not saying they could be saved without ever hearing the gospel. The Scriptures consistently teach that there is a particular content to the gospel that someone must hear and embrace in order to be saved. Therefore, these husbands needed to hear the gospel, but what should these women do if they have shared the gospel and pleaded with their husbands to be saved, but they do not respond? Peter recognized that there comes a point when articulating the gospel over and over loses its impact, and we need to shift to a different strategy. When we are trying to reach a close relative or friend, Peter says that an effective strategy is to demonstrate the reality and power of the gospel through how you live. Peter tells these women in v. 2 to win their husbands by their “chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” As has been the case throughout the book, this fear is not directed toward the husband or any other human power but to God. Peter again teaches that God is our ultimate authority; therefore, Peter was not advocating for wives to obey their husbands blindly if they demanded that they disobey God. No, we must always choose God when human authorities conflict with him. And so Peter commands these women to fear the Lord, and out of love and reverence for him, they were to be known for “chaste conduct.” This is pure, holy conduct. And so Peter challenges wives to attract their husbands to Christ through godly living that demonstrates the transforming work of the gospel. They were to show their husbands through their submission, their love, their joy, and their faithfulness, that they weren’t joining some odd cult or running from their authority. No, they had become Christians because God is the Lord, and he is not like us. He is pure and good. These women were to model the character of God so that their husbands would be won to God.
What a beautiful picture of submission. Rather than reacting to the sins of their husbands or nagging them about the gospel, Peter tells these ladies to simply live their faith with purity and meekness, and to trust God to save their husbands and to care for them. There is a lot of wisdom here for dealing with any unjust authority. Don’t respond to an evil authority by resisting and demeaning them. Rather, consistently live your faith, and as you do so, your testimony can be a powerful evangelistic tool. Peter is hopeful that a godly life can be a powerful tool to attract people to Christ. I want to park here for second because we tend to forget this side of evangelism. I’ve heard many believers over the years talk about their burden to reach close friends and family, and they will talk and talk about the need to share the gospel but rarely talk about their testimony. Certainly we need to share the gospel, but their comes a point when people have heard it, and more than we need to just keep sharing it over and over, we need to live it and pray for God to work. Don’t minimize the significance of this. God can use your testimony. But of course this is only true if we have a strong testimony. This can be difficult because if anyone sees our faults, it’s our immediate family. Do your spouse, your children, and your parents see the character of God in how you live at home? Do they see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? I brought this up a few weeks ago in 2:12, but if you can’t be consistently godly before people, then you better be careful about talking big of your faith. People aren’t stupid, and they can’t stand a hypocrite. Now, I’m not saying you have to be perfect because no one is, and no one expects you to be perfect. When you sin, be humble enough to admit it and ask forgiveness. Frankly, that might go further than anything else. And then show people that you really do love God and that are really committed to pleasing him. A godly testimony is a powerful evangelistic tool.
Peter challenges these wives to win lost husbands through a godly life. The third command is to…
Make godly character your most noticeable quality (vv. 3–4).
In vv. 3–4 Peter expands on the godly testimony he advocates in v. 2, and calls on the wives of unbelieving husbands, but really all women to make their testimony their most outstanding quality. Peter makes his point by contrasting a negative focus from a godly focus. Verse 3 describes…
Negative Example—Emphasis on Outer Adornment (v. 3):
Peter mentions three ways that women make themselves physically attractive. First, he mentions, “arranging (i.e., braiding) the hair.” This is not a reference to simple braids like girls wear today but to elaborate, over-the-top hair styling that was common among the upper classes. Next, he mentions gold or fine jewelry. There’s probably never been a culture where women didn’t love fine jewelry. Third, he mentions “fine apparel.” This is a reference to elaborate, showy clothes. Ladies, I’ll put you at ease right now and say, that Peter is not saying these things are necessarily problematic. He is not saying that a woman can never have a nice hairstyle, wear fine jewelry, or have nice clothes. He is not saying women shouldn’t care for themselves or condemning beauty. Rather, Peter condemns a vain value system that is consumed with physical beauty and with drawing attention to physical beauty. I think we’ve all been around this kind of woman, and we certainly see them in the world’s entertainment industry. They care for their bodies and do themselves up for the sole purpose of attracting attention. Their goal is that when they walk into the room, everyone will notice. Sometimes they use their sexuality to attract the attention of men, but oftentimes they are just as concerned to win the style and beauty battle with the other women. It’s this immodest heart attitude that Peter primarily condemns. Peter challenges wives not to win their husbands primarily through their physical appearance. They must be careful that their most outstanding quality is not their appearance.
Instead, v. 4 offers a…
Positive Example—Emphasis on Godly Character (v. 4):
There is a powerful irony to this first statement. The most outstanding, noticeable beauty of a godly women should not be her visible beauty but instead her “hidden heart,” which permeates every part of her life. This statement is the center of vv. 3–4. Peter challenges wives and by extension all Christian women to work intentionally toward making sure that a godly heart, which ultimately points attention to the glory of God, is their most outstanding, noticeable quality. Ladies, your goal in how you dress, in how you carry yourself, and in how you speak with others must be to point attention to your Savior by modeling him before people. Your goal should be that when people meet you, they aren’t primarily impressed with your beauty, style, sexuality, wit, or any other such thing. No your goal should be that they see the beauty of Christ in you. What does this beauty look like? Peter mentions that it is characterized by a “gentle and quiet spirit.” Again, we’ve probably all observed the opposite of this—a woman who pushes herself into the center of attention through not only her appearance but also through a pushy and loud personality. She is forceful in demanding her way, and she always wants to be the loudest voice. She is always going to make certain you know she is there. In contrast, Peter admonishes women to be known for a “gentle and quiet spirit.” These terms picture a woman who is peaceful and deferential. She supports her husband and is focused on lifting him up rather than supplanting him. I want to emphasize that Peter is not saying godly women cower in the corner and never do anything. The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is very strong and industrious, but she is also a team player who loves and supports her husband.
The content of these two verses is sorely needed today because modesty among women in both appearance and heart are not valued in our day. On the one hand, our culture has an insatiable appetite for sexuality that drives style. Women are encouraged to dress in a way that will grab the perverted eyes of men and that will also place them on a pedestal before other women. And ladies, you need to see the wickedness of this value system. If your appearance attracts more attention to your body than to your heart, it is wrong. Ask yourself, what values drive how I present myself? Do I dress with goal of being the center of attention? If so, you are immodest even if everything is covered. As well, younger ladies don’t be naïve about how your dress affects men. Talk to your husband, your dad, or a godly older man and ask him if your appearance brings attention to godliness or if it pulls men’s eyes toward sexual features. And parents, be intentional about teaching your daughters the importance of modesty. Teach them to display their hearts, and teach them practical things like how to sit, how to walk, and how to dress. Ladies, guard your appearance, but these verses are also clear that modesty goes beyond just appearance. It is also about having a gentle and quiet spirit. Again, this is under major attack in our society. Women are encouraged to be loud and boisterous and to grab attention through being forward and flirtatious. But Peter says to let your godly character do its own talking. Be a person of humility.
You must do so because while our culture belittles such things, Peter states that they are “incorruptible” and “very precious in the sight of God.” “Incorruptible” points to the fact that a godly heart has lasting value. This is significant because outer beauty will fade. No one stays young forever, but while our bodies loose their beauty over time, godliness only grows creating a more and more beautiful heart. And such a heart is precious to God. It pleases him. And so ladies, I want to urge you to find your joy in this kind of acceptance. Sadly, so many ladies and even young girls give their hearts to trying to please people with their appearance, and sadly they never find any joy there. Don’t waste your heart chasing the approval of fickle people; instead, rest in the approval of God who knows you truly, and who loves you perfectly. And for us men, if a godly heart is what pleases God, it ought to be what we value also and what we encourage in the ladies around us. We live in a world that is constantly setting perfectly sculpted and physically beautiful women, and the world knows how to tug at our flesh. Guys, we’ve got to see the wickedness of loving this kind of perverted sexuality and the ultimate emptiness it has. Men, if you are taking pleasure in the ungodly values described in v. 3, it is sin. It is wicked. It will destroy your heart and your family, and it will leave you empty. Don’t buy the world’s lies; instead, discipline yourself to love what God loves. I praise the Lord today that God has given me a beautiful wife, but that more than she is beautiful on the outside, she has a heart of godliness. And many of you ought to praise the Lord today that he has given you the same incredible gift. You have a wife that is far more precious than the shell of a woman who appears on T.V. or a magazine. Let’s never forget what is truly precious, and finally, let’s be sure to teach our boys to value what is precious. Teenagers and young adult men, the world is selling you a lie when they tell you that sexuality will satisfy your heart. A godly woman who loves God and has deep godly character will bring you far more joy than a flimsy beauty queen every will. Don’t buy the lie.
These four verses have presented three incredibly counter-cultural challenges. Wives must submit to their husbands, they must win unbelieving husbands through a godly life, and they must make godly character their most noticeable quality. These things may be strange in our day, but they flow from the perfect wisdom and goodness of God. Praise the Lord that we can glean from his knowledge and love.