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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God uses the marriage relationships of pilgrim believers for his glory
Text:1 Peter 3:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 37

Psalm 19:3 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 1

Hymn 51

Psalm 93

Scripture reading: 1 Peter 3

Text: 1 Peter 3:1-7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in our Lord Jesus,

They’d seen each other once in a while, here or there.  But they’d seldom talked.  So, you can imagine that there was some uncertainty when Agnes walked down the aisle to the altar to be married to Patrick.  Their parents had arranged the wedding.  They lived in small native villages in Canada.  Pat was from Fort Babine and Agnes was from Fort St. James.  Two young people growing up in quite different communities.  Their parents had bartered and schemed and put them together in marriage.  They did so expecting that they would grow to love each other.  This happened about 60 years ago.  It doesn’t happen like that anymore up there.  

It’s so different from what we see as being normal for marriage.  In our circles, a young couple meets, falls in love, and then decides to get married.  But there is nothing explicitly biblical about that order.  Culture plays an important role in setting our attitudes and actions with respect to marriage.  But for believers, we need to look beyond our culture.  We need to reckon with who God is, what he has done, and who we really are as a result.  Because of all the Triune God has done for us, we’re strangers in the world.  Because of the gospel, we’re pilgrims, aliens, resident exiles.  We’re living in a land that’s not really our own.  And that’s also going to affect our marriages.

The message of our text has to do with marriage.  And it comes in direct connection with the idea that we’re aliens and strangers in the world.  There’s a direct connection between verses 11 and 12 of chapter 2 and our text.  When 2:12 says we’re to live good lives in this world, then verse 13 goes on to tell us what that will look like as believers interact with their government.  2:18 and following tells us what that will look like with believing servants and how they relate to their masters.  Then comes chapter 3 and our text.  Here we find what it means to live good lives in this world when it comes to marriage.  And the whole point is that God will use these ways of living to bring glory to himself.  So, I preach God’s Word with this theme:  God uses the marriage relationships of pilgrim believers for his glory

We'll consider:

1.  The submission of Christian wives

2.  The consideration and respect of Christian husbands

Our text contains a whole series of commands and implied commands.  When you have a text like this, it’s so easy to become legalistic.  To be a good Christian and to measure up, you have to do all these things.  That’s why it’s important that we read this text in its context.  All these commands and implied commands in our text flow out of who we are in Christ.  Our identity is shaped by the gospel of grace – the fact that we were graciously ransomed with the precious blood of Christ shed on the cross.  God’s gracious work for us and in us is laid out in chapters 1 and 2 of 1 Peter.  We are who we are because of God’s grace.  As we go through our text today, we can’t afford to forget about that.  We need to remind ourselves that we’re talking about our sanctification – the process of becoming more and more like Christ.  We’re talking here about our thankfulness.  We’re talking about showing our love for God, the one who first loved us.  We’re talking about being who we are in Christ and because of Christ. 

Keeping that in mind, our text is first addressed to married women.  But that doesn’t mean the single women here can just let their minds drift for the next while.  Some of what the Spirit says here is relevant to all women, not just the married ones.   It’s relevant for women, young and old, who want to get married.  It’s relevant for women who are content to be single.  It’s relevant also for the widows among us. 

However, the main command speaks especially to married women.  It comes in the first verse:  “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands…”  The word “likewise” is not meant to equate wives with servants – those words simply indicate that Peter is writing to different groups of people.  In other words, I gave a command regarding submission to the servants, now I have something for the wives. 

Let’s first of all define this submission that Peter’s writing about.  The word used there means that somebody renounces his or her own will for the will of somebody else.  In the case of Christian wives, it means they give up what they want for what their husbands want.  They bring their wills into line with that of their husband.  Not other husbands, just their own husband.  As long as what their husbands want is not contrary to Scripture, Christian wives submit to their husbands.  I’m going to have more to say about husbands in a few moments, but for now please note that a Christian husband should never ask or expect his wife to do something ungodly.  Also, a wise Christian husband is going to want his wife’s input – he’ll listen to her point of view.  But as long as he is within the framework of God’s will, she should submit.  This is reflected in what the bride promises in our Form for Marriage, “Do you promise to love and obey him?”  And in the duties of the wife, we read:  “Bride, you shall love your husband and be subject to him, as the Church is subject to Christ.  Accept his guidance and assist him in all good things.”

That kind of submission isn’t easy to accept, especially in a culture which has been strongly influenced by feminist thinking.   We have to follow Scripture rather than our culture.  God says that this outward submission grows out of an inner beauty that can never be destroyed.  When a woman is a believer, when the Triune God has been working in her life, there’s something going on inside which brings a woman back to God’s original purpose.  This is reflected in verses 3 and 4.  God says that a believing wife – and here is a place where we can extend the teaching to all women – God says a godly woman shouldn’t be making a priority out of outward adornment.  God doesn’t forbid having braided hair, wearing jewelry and fine clothes – but he does say that these shouldn’t be a priority.  The most important thing for a godly woman should be what lives in her heart.  Think of what the Spirit says in Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”  

Godly beauty begins with the inner self, with cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit.  Those words “gentle and quiet” – let’s look at them closer for a minute.  Gentle can also be translated as “meek,” but don’t confuse it with being weak.  The word refers to a humble and gentle attitude that expresses itself in patient submissiveness.   One commentator puts it this way, “It is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power.  It is a balance born in strength of character.”  The other word is “quiet.”  It means exactly that, though it’s referring to what’s going on inside.  It’s not saying a woman can’t talk or that she can’t have a voice.  Taken together, Peter is saying that God values a woman who has a peaceful, gentle, and quiet inner life.  This woman is not like men who are naturally competitive, trying to get ahead.  This kind of woman isn’t always putting herself forward.  Instead, she has a peace about her and that peace is the internal source of outward submission. 

Other outward behaviours are connected with this submission.  Peter mentions a couple in verse 2.  First, he talks about the purity of the lives of Christian women.  That means their lives are outwardly free from anything that would make them appear dirty and defiled.  In this way, there’s also a connection with verse 3 and what it says about outward adornment.  So, for instance, we need to dress every day in such a way that it appears that we’re Christian women.  Of course, there may be plenty of unbelieving women who dress modestly and if you looked at them you might think they’re believers.  But the reverse should never hold true.  Nobody should look at us, look at the way we’re dressed, and then later be surprised to find out we’re a Christian.  In the way we dress, too, we often have to be counter-cultural.  For the sake of modesty, we sometimes have to go against the styles and fashions popular in our culture. 

The second thing Peter mentions in verse 2 is the respectfulness of the lives of Christian wives.  The respectfulness being spoken of there is in reference to God.  Christian women fear God, which means they highly revere and respect God, and it shows with the way they live.

To drive the point home, Peter uses a pattern and an example.  The pattern is given in verse 5.  He speaks of the holy women of the past – a reference to godly women in the Old Testament, women who hoped and trusted in God and in his promises.   These godly women made themselves beautiful, not so much with outward things, but with that gentle and quiet spirit mentioned in verse 4.  By that means, they were able to submit to their husbands.  They could renounce their own wills and follow their husbands. 

This is where Peter uses the example of Sarah with Abraham.  The reference is specifically to Genesis 18:12.  In that passage, Sarah was talking to herself about the promise that she would have a son in the next year.  She said, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”  This wasn’t just one historical event in her life, rather it’s used here to show Sarah’s constant attitude towards her husband.  She always considered herself to be in submission to him.  And that’s the principle we need to hold on to here.  It’s not that Christian wives have to call their husbands “lord.”  The principle is to be submissive, how that looks can vary according to place, time and culture.  The important thing is that Christian women submit to and obey their husbands. 

Peter wants the believers to whom he’s writing to see themselves as God’s Israel.  He tells them the church is the continuation of Old Testament Israel.  And he does it here too when he tells the Christian women that they’ll be Sarah’s daughters if they do what is right and do not give way to fear.  What kind of fear is Peter talking about?  Well, this epistle came to people living in a world where the wife was always expected to take on the religion of her husband.  Among Peter’s readers were a good number of women who didn’t have Christian husbands.  For them, fear could lead them away from their faith.  Fear could lead them back to captivity and slavery to sin.  Peter encourages them to do what’s right.  And, by the way, this also explains why there are so many verses here dealing with the wives, and only one dealing with husbands.  Believing women were in a much more difficult position and needed that much more encouragement. 

And keeping that in mind, we can see the two end results if Christian wives live this way.  The first result is in verse 1, “So that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives…”  God wants to use believing women to bring about conversion in the lives of others, especially in their unbelieving husbands, if there are any.  You might be tempted to think this is by and large irrelevant.  But even in the church, there are hypocrites.  There are people who wear a mask.  Who go to church each Sunday and just keep up appearances.  Their wives know who they are.  Their wives know that their husbands are probably not really Christians, or maybe just barely so.  So, if there any such in the congregation, let these words be an encouragement to you.  Don’t nag your husband, don’t preach at him.  Let your purity and reverence of life be the message he needs to hear.    

The second result connects with verse 12 of chapter 2.  Unbelievers will see your good life and give glory to God on the day of visitation.  In other words, God will use your life, your marriage, to reach out to unbelievers so they will come to faith and when that happens, there will be more glory for God. 

And that’s what this is all about!  Living as a Christian wife, or woman in general, is about living for God’s glory, out of thankfulness and love for what he’s done for you in Christ. 

Before we move on to the next point, I just want to add one thing about submission.  It’s not in our text.  But I think it’s important to mention it.  Submission is not about allowing yourself to be abused.  I assure you that it’s not God’s will for you to be in an abusive relationship of any kind.  You do not have to submit to a spouse who hurts you.  An abusive spouse is breaking the marriage covenant.  In such a case, you need to find a way to stay safe and get out.  I want to be clear about that, because too often abusive men will use the biblical teaching about submission to continue their abuse.  In such cases, they’re also abusing the Scriptures for their own evil purposes.  God will judge this wickedness.  Instead of being abusive, Christian husbands have a responsibility to be considerate and respectful of their wives. 

What I said at the beginning of the first point applies here too.  First of all about all this being the fruit of our salvation and not in any way its root.  And then second of all, about who this applies to.  This applies in some measure to single men as well as to husbands.  In other words, if you’ve got your mind on getting married, now is the time to start treating women in your life in the way that’s described in our text.  There are some general principles here that affect how we relate not only with our wives or perhaps future wives, but with all women. 

The main command in verse 7 is “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way…”  Translated literally, it says, “live with them according to knowledge.”  Knowledge.  We need knowledge to be Christian men.  The knowledge that’s meant is two-fold:  first and most important of all, the knowledge we have of God’s Word.  And second, the knowledge we have about women – things we can observe about them, things that make them different from us. 

Connected with that is the command to treat them with respect.  Notice that the Bible never, ever says, “Husbands, get your wives to submit to you.”  Men, if you’re ever tempted to tell your wife to submit to you, just don’t.  That’s what the pagan Greek and Roman writers in the time of the New Testament would say in their manuals for family life.  They told men to crack the whip and get their wives in line.  But God doesn’t want you to do that.  Instead, if you’re expecting submission, you need to show respect first.  Bryan Chapell writes about a woman who said, “I understand why so many women struggle with what the Bible says about submission, but I have never struggled with submitting to my husband because he lets me know how much he respects me.”  That’s how it’s done.   God commands us to respect the women in our lives.  That means showing them honour – we can do that in different ways:  with our words, with our thoughts, with our actions.  I’m not going to go into the details of how we do that – I think we should be able to figure that out on our own.  The basic principle is that Christian husbands put their wives up on a pedestal and nobody, absolutely nobody else, takes the place of this woman.   She’s totally held in honour and esteem.  The words of Proverbs 31:29 should often be on the lips of Christian husbands:  “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”  When was the last time you said that or something like it to your wife? 

The Holy Spirit gives two reasons why husbands should be respectful towards their wives.  First off, we have to be considerate of the way they were created.  They were created to be physically weaker than men.  For instance, it’s no secret that women generally lack the upper body strength that men have.  She has a physical vulnerability men don’t have.  The wise husband considers the biological differences between himself and his wife in their relationship.  And so, as the stronger of the two marriage partners, the husband takes on the heavier physical burdens, he protects his wife and provides for her according to her needs.  He certainly never uses his greater strength to take advantage of her or to abuse her in any way.  A man who does that is violating his essential obligation in marriage to protect and provide for his wife.  That’s wicked and sinful.     

The second reason why Christian husbands are expected to be respectful towards their wives is that they are joint heirs of the gracious gift of life.  They’re equal partners with us in the grace of God in Christ, that grace which leads to eternal life.  Though functionally they’re different, in essence our wives are equal partners with us in Christ.  This calls for us to respect them, not simply as our wives, but as sisters in the Lord.  They’re equal members of the body of Christ and as such deserve equal respect. 

And when Christian husbands show this kind of respect, when Christian men in general show this consideration and respect to women, there are two results.  The first is at the end of verse 7:  so that nothing will hinder your prayers.  When we don’t show respect for our wives, and for women in general, our prayers will be up against the ceiling.  They’ll never reach God.  If you want to know why, consider what the Spirit says in James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”  Now turn that around, “The prayer of an unrighteous person is….weak and ineffective.”  Unrighteous men don’t respect their wives nor do they respect women in general.  Unrighteous men regard women as stupid, as objects for pleasure, as child care workers, and otherwise as a nuisance.  Unrighteous men believe it’s okay to make disrespectful and sexist comments about women and to women.  But believing men are going to be going against the flow of their culture on all these things too.  Brothers, we have to better than our culture.  We have to follow God’s Word.  So we’re going to be respecting their wives, respecting women, and this will show the fruit of a heart that’s right with God through Jesus Christ.  And prayer will be effective.  And we know that an important part of prayer is the glory it brings to God.  So, the way we relate to our wives, the way we relate to women, ultimately does something for the honour of our Creator.  If we’re relating the way we were created to, then God’s glory is being amplified, also through our prayers.  But if we’re not, well, we’re just like everybody else, robbing God. 

So, the first result is the glory of God through our prayers.  The second result, just like what we heard with the wives, is in 2:12.  It’s that unbelievers will see how we relate to our wives and they will give glory to God on the day of visitation.  When God uses our godly marriages to bring unbelievers to faith and repentance, then once again the glory for God’s name gets piled up higher and higher.  Our marriages are instruments in God’s hand. 

It’s no big secret that marriage as an institution is under attack.  It’s been that way for a long time.  That gives us all the more reason to keep going back to the Scriptures.  It’s important that we stay grounded in our identity in Christ.  Because when we see ourselves as being in Christ, this will affect our marriages.  Then our marriages will also be a witness to the people around us who don’t believe.  People will see we’re different, that we don’t really fit in.  For some, God may use this to bring them to himself in faith.  And the result will be the reason why we were created in the first place.  It’s also the reason why we’re a new creation in Christ:  all so that God will more and more be lifted up in this world.  AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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