Dwell with Knowledge
Passage: 1 Peter 3:7
I’m excited about dedicating a whole sermon to v. 7 this morning. I’m sure the ladies are excited for me to finally get after the men as well. There is a lot we can learn from this verse about healthy marriages, and I’m thankful for how the Lord has used it my life this week. But this verse also brilliantly confronts two ungodly and, ironically, widely divergent views of womanhood which are popular today. On the one hand, one of the highest priorities on the liberal agenda is to eliminate as many distinctions as possible between men and women—in the workplace, in child rearing, and in other cultural norms. They want to eliminate dress distinctions. They especially want equality in the workplace even when the obvious physical differences between men and women make this impractical. They want women in combat, to be firemen, and to play in the NFL. They are offended when a man holds a door open for a lady or lets her go first. On the other hand, there has never been a day in our culture where there has been a more open and bold flaunting of women’s sexuality than there is in ours. Many women do everything they can to flaunt their sexuality. They dress and they behave in order to attract a very different kind of attention. And so while one group is trying to hide gender distinctions, the other is highlighting them as much as possible. And most men have bought into one or both of these perspectives. Some treat women as if we are all the same and don’t show them a special respect. They make all of their guy sounds around them, they don’t protect them, and they don’t do any of the gentleman type things that used to be so common. On the flip side, many men have also bought into the other picture of women. They view girls as little more than something pleasant to look at or as a challenge to be conquered. As a result, our society is plagued with all sorts of awful abuses against women. And so as our culture has moved further and further from a biblical worldview, its view of women has diverged down two opposite paths, but our text this morning calls all men but especially husbands back to a biblical responsibility toward their wives and ultimately all women. I trust that the Lord will use his Word this morning to realign our thoughts and ultimately our actions with his truth.
There are three sections to this verse that I’d like to summarize with three commands. First…
Compensate for her weakness.
Before we dive into this command, there are a couple of interpretive questions we need to address. First, v. 7 begins with “likewise,” and so in what sense does v. 7 parallel what has come before? In particular, is Peter saying that husbands “likewise” need to submit to their wives continuing the patter of submission that began in 2:13? I’m confident this is not the case because Peter never tells husbands to submit to their wives; instead, he gives them a unique set of commands. As well, the Bible never teaches that the husband must submit to his wife. For him to imply that here would be to go against the creation order and the consistent teaching of Scripture. Because of that, it’s best to see “likewise” as indicating a loose connection. The idea is “likewise husbands, you also have responsibilities toward your wives.” A second interpretive question is where to place the phrase “as to the weaker vessel.” The NKJ places it with the second command regarding honor, but this doesn’t reflect the original word order. In the Greek this phrase most naturally complements the first command. Therefore, I believe it’s best to read the verse as “dwell with them with understanding as with the weaker vessel, giving honor to the wife as being heirs together of the grace of life.” The difference in meaning isn’t significant, but I wanted to mention this since I intend to deal with the phrase “as the weaker vessel” with the first command. Those things being said, let’s consider the command to husbands that they must compensate for their wives’ weakness.
The basis for this command is the fact that…
The woman is the weaker vessel.
Peter does not specify exactly in what sense the woman is weaker; therefore, we could speculate about a variety of meanings. We might think he means women are weaker mentally and emotionally, but the Scriptures never teach this, and that’s not what we see if we look around us. There are just as many smart women as there are men. And while women tend to be more emotional than men, I don’t think it’s fair to say they are weaker. The number of women who faithfully raise their kids while the father is a complete loser is pretty clear evidence that men are not emotionally stronger. Therefore, the primary idea is that men are physically stronger than women. In Peter’s day no one would question this fact, but it is worth emphasizing in our day. God made men and women differently. Of course, there are exceptions, but there’s a simple reason why we have men’s and women’s sports but not men’s and women’s spelling bees. If you’ve ever watched men and women compete side by side in the same sport, the difference is obvious. Rather than pretending these differences don’t exist, we need to acknowledge that women are physically weaker and account for this. I believe that Peter also had in mind that that women are weaker within the marriage relationship in the sense that they have a lower position of authority. The fact that the husband has the final say puts the wife in a vulnerable position, as the husband can potentially abuse his authority.
The woman is the weaker vessel. So what should the man do about this? Peter commands him to…
Dwell with her with understanding.
This is a broad command about how a husband is to function in the marriage relationship. He is to live with his wife based on a strong knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge involves several things. Primarily, he is to live with her in light of her physical weakness and her lower position in the marriage, but the command extends to any type of knowledge that would help him care for his wife better and contributes to a healthier relationship. Peter commands husbands to cultivate a healthy understanding of their wives’ spiritual and emotional strengths and weaknesses, their fears and concerns, and their passions and goals. He is to live with her in light of this knowledge. He is to support her strengths and compensate for her weakness. The husband is not to use his physical strength and position of authority to take advantage of his wife or to get what he wants. Instead, he is to use this power compassionately to serve her and to build a strong relationship.
There are so many important implications we can take from this command. First, Peter clearly rejects our cultures attempts to minimize the differences between men and women. We are different physically and emotionally and because of that, the Scriptures teach that men and women flourish in different roles. First Timothy 5:8 states that the husband is responsible to provide, and Titus 2:4–5 teach that the wife is primarily responsible to manage the home. That doesn’t mean they can’t share these responsibilities, but they each have a primary calling. And we must not cave into the pressure of our culture on these things. The Bible is clear, and experience proves that the home functions best when we honor these roles. There’s a reason that almost every culture in human history has assumed them. They work because that’s how God made us. And so men use your strength to serve. Use your physical strength for good. You better never use your physical strength to intimidate a lady or to abuse her physically, emotionally or sexually. These are filthy abuses of power. Instead, protect women, and take every opportunity to relieve them of physically strenuous work. Young men, learn to be gentlemen. Take every opportunity to help a lady carry her things or to open a door for her, and show initiative in taking on physically demanding tasks. Now of course that side of the command appeals to our gruff sense of manly strength, but where this command becomes very uncomfortable is in the part about knowledge. In particular, building a compassionate knowledge of your wife’s thoughts might sound terribly painful for you because most guys aren’t naturally inclined to share their deepest thoughts and cares or to listen patiently to someone else’s. We are doers, and we quickly get impatient listening to problems. We’d much rather talk about fixing them. And that’s exactly why Peter brings this. This command demonstrates that the basic challenges of marriage have always been the same. Men have always struggled to build knowledge of their wives that they can use to better serve them. Husbands, do you take intentional steps to cultivate this kind of discussion? Is your wife comfortable sharing her deepest thoughts with you? Do you know what spiritual struggles she is enduring? Do you know what she loves and what she fears? And then what are you doing with that knowledge? You may think that some of her concerns are strange. Why is she afraid of a bug? Why does she care so much that the curtains match the furniture? But do you mock these cares, or do you kill the bug? Of course some of her cares are much more significant. Do you do everything you can to show understanding, to let her talk, and to help bear the burden? Are you sensitive to her emotions, and do you respond with patience and grace? Those things may not be natural for you, but do you love your wife enough to do something uncomfortable? And ultimately, are you willing to obey God because God commands you to live with your wife according to knowledge. If your marriage is cold, and you are using your strength as a man selfishly, then you are rebelling against God. Men, God has blessed us with physical strength and authority in the home. But we’ve got to decide what we will do with this strength. Will we selfishly use it for ourselves, or will we use it to serve our wives and all women?
Compensate for her weakness. The second command for husbands is to…
Honor her equality.
Peter begins his charge to husbands by noting that there are very real differences between men and women, but he then notes that these differences do not mean one is better than the other. Rather…
We are equal heirs of God’s grace.
Peter tells the husband in the second half of this verse that he and his wife are “heirs together of the grace of life.” This is a reference to salvation. When someone becomes a Christian, they receive new life, and this is a gift of God’s grace. And Peter says that men and women are equal recipients of this gracious gift of God. God does not give more favor to one gender over the other. Galatians 3:28 states that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This does not mean that there are no differences between these groups because the NT repeatedly upholds the role distinctions between men and women; that were established in creation. Rather the point is that God’s grace is without distinction. God loves men and women equally. It’s worth noting how radical this would have been in Peter’s day. No one in Greco-Roman culture was saying that men and women are equal. A man’s wife was considered to be his property. He could have as many wives as he wanted, and he could divorce them and dispose of them basically whenever he wanted. But Peter teaches that men and women are equal in the sight of God. And so don’t ever buy the argument that submission in marriage implies that men are superior or that it is demeaning to women. Peter didn’t see any contradiction between complementing Sarah for calling Abraham “lord” and then stating that men and women are equal before God and neither should we. It’s simply an absurd argument that no one holds consistently. Does anyone think that the President is more human than a private in the army or that the supervisor at work is more human than the janitor? Authority structures don’t dictate the value of a life; they are simply a practical help for providing order.
Since men and women are equal before God, Peter challenges husbands to…
Honor women accordingly.
The concept of honor is pretty simple to understand. If you honor someone, you don’t treat him or her as common or ordinary. Instead you hold that person in high regard, and you treat him or her as special. God commands husbands to honor their wives. Rather than treating them as second-class citizens to be used for their own selfish interests and pleasures, they were to give them the respect that would be due to an equal. But ultimately, this honor wasn’t rooted in the fact that she is my equal but in the fact that God has honored her by giving his Son for her life and by extending his grace to her.
So what does this mean for us? First of all, this principle completely eradicates the sex-driven view of women that often prevails in our society. The truth of the matter is that many men view women with little more respect than they do a nice car. It’s valuable but only for what it can do for me and for the happiness it can bring. This perverted and selfish mentality is what drives the adult entertainment industry. When a man looks at pornography, he is not looking at her with honor as an equal before God. He is looking at her with a disgusting selfishness and sense of superiority. God hates that sort of degrading mentality. If you are tolerating this kind of sin, then understand it is wicked and get rid of it. But understand as well that you can have the same wicked mentality toward any woman. When you look at girls with a perverted lust for the sake of personal pleasure, you are not looking at them as God does. Particularly if they are Christian girls, you are not looking at them as “fellow heirs of the grace of life.” There is no love in that look or in those thoughts. You don’t respect that girl, or give her honor. For the single young men, I’m not telling you to stop being attracted to girls, and I’m especially not telling husbands to stop being attracted to your wives. The Bible is clear that physical attraction is God’s design, but it is only good in its rightful place. When you look at a woman, you need to see someone who is created in the image of God, and you need to see someone that God loved so much that he gave his Son to die for her. She is a person, and if you and her are both Christians, then she is a sister in Christ. This command also confronts the sinful tendency we can have as men to think we are superior. It’s very easy for men to begin to think that because they are paying the bills, maybe have a prominent position at work, are physically stronger, and are the authority in the home that they are better than their wives. They may not be bold enough to say it but it shows in their actions. They do what they’re going to do without consulting their wives because, “I earned the money.” Or maybe he holds it over his wife’s head that she is spending the money that he makes. But when we think this way, we are not modeling the character of Christ because Jesus never used his authority or position to lord it over others or to get what he wanted. He used it to serve. Follow his example. Use your position and gifts to serve your wife, and find your joy in her happiness, not in indulging your desires. Finally, this command should challenge us to honor our wives and all godly women as precious and valuable. Proverbs 31:10 states, “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” Men we need to honor godly women, and we should not treat a godly woman like one of the boys. This is especially important for the teenage boys and young men among us. Respect woman, and encourage young ladies to be ladies. Guys, we shouldn’t be surprised when we treat women as ordinary and then they act that way. I’m not saying a godly woman has to be stiff and cold, or that she can’t play contact sports or ever relax. But as men we need to cultivate a respect and care for women that honors their dignity and recognizes them as equal recipients of God’s grace.
And so in this verse, Peter gives two commands to husbands that have significance for all men. Compensate for her weakness and honor her equality. He then concludes with a sobering warning that I’d like to summarize with a third challenge.
Understand your accountability to God.
Peter warns husbands that they must obey these two commands because otherwise their prayers will be hindered. What does that mean? To fully understand this statement, we need to remember that there are two aspects to my relationship with God—a judicial perspective and a practical perspective. Judicially, once I am saved, I stand in the righteousness of Christ, and when God looks at me, he does not see my sin. He only sees Christ’s perfect life. I stand in grace, and this never changes. My judicial standing is the foundation of my faith. But the NT also speaks often of our obligation to please God and warns of the danger of failing to do so. That’s what Peter is doing here. These warnings assume that there is a practical side to my relationship with God where God can be pleased or not pleased with me depending on my obedience to his will. In this particular instance, Peter warns that God is displeased and will not hear the prayers of a husband who refuses to obey the biblical model of marriage. A man cannot mistreat or neglect his wife and then assume that everything is okay between him and God. This warning adds tremendous weight to the commands in v. 7. It lets us know that Peter is doing more here than giving marriage advice that will relieve tension in your home or get your wife off your back. This is about more than my happiness; ultimately, God gives these commands because this is what he demands of Christian men.
Men, I want to urge you to let that sink in. It’s very sobering to think of trying to pray and having God turn his back on me and not be there to listen or grant grace. But that’s exactly what Peter says is true if you do not obey God’s commands in this verse. Sometimes, obeying these commands is uncomfortable. You aren’t good at having open conversation, and it’s very uncomfortable. Maybe your life is very stressful, and you don’t feel like you have any energy left at the end of the day to invest in your wife. Maybe you are trapped in a perverted mindset about women, and you have bought the world’s excuse that all men look at pornography. Men, if you are tolerating these kinds of attitudes, it ultimately doesn’t matter how legitimate they feel to you, God says they are wrong, and God is not pleased with you. When you pray he does not listen. And so I want to urge you to commit yourself before God to obey what he has commanded, and I want to urge you to ask for your wife’s forgiveness and then talk about what you need to change. Even if you think you are doing well, ask your wife what she thinks. Ask her how you can do better at living these commands.
As we wrap up this section on marriage, I want to urge all of us who are married to see your marriage as a tremendous gift that reflects God’s perfect design and as a tremendous opportunity to model the love of our Savior to the world and your own family. And then do the hard work that’s necessary to make it an accurate picture of God’s love. If you are struggling, I hope that you will get help. I’d love to talk with you about how to grow your marriage, and there are many other godly couples in our church that could also be a tremendous help. Take advantage of these resources. Finally, this verse mentions that Christian husbands and wives are recipients of the grace of life, and this grace provides the opportunity to pray and enjoy a relationship with God. If anyone is here who isn’t sure that they have received this grace or wants to have a relationship with God, then I’d love to talk with you afterwards about how you can receive this grace.