Relationships between the sexes are a mine field these days. For good reasons, we are being asked to rethink our assumptions, to reconsider our ways. Women are refusing to accept being ‘just a body’ or someone who is assumed to be less or inferior. For good reason, they are demanding that men who use and abuse be held accountable for their actions. The noise of the battle can make real and honest dialogue difficult. Some men are responding with a retreat into a kind of masculinity that cripples emotion, that robs them of tender connection with their wives and daughters. Making marriage work well, a challenge from the dawn of time, has become more difficult as we negotiate our way into a world of equals. What is right? How do we do this?
There is wisdom from God, words that Peter wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit, that cannot be disregarded. Ah, they are often fought over, mangled in the process of interpretation, even outright refused as a vestige of a patriarchal world. If we drag our wounds and assumptions to this passage we will miss the truth that will guide us. Let’s see what the Spirit says to us.
“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:1-8, NIV)
There are three words that shape that whole passage – ‘submissive, considerate, and harmony.’ None works well without the other! We do these things imperfectly and often come to the tragic and wrong conclusion that the Word is flawed. No, we are.
This passage says nothing about inferiority of women. Wives are not ‘put down’ by the passage, they are invited to let their husbands lead, to care. “Submission” is often read as requiring a wife to take whatever he dishes out simply because her husband is given the leadership role in their home. Peter, in reality, asks that a wife become strong enough to support their husbands, to become his wisest counselor, to develop the kind of character that makes her a person of beauty from the inside out. The key phrase to understanding this is that they ‘put their hope in God.’ All Christians, male and female, learn from Jesus that asserting Self is not His way. Is it hard to trust God to defend us? We know the answer to that question.
The Spirit calls on husbands to live considerately. The Authorized (KJV) says “dwell with her according to knowledge.” In other words, take the time to really get to know her, to understand her, to love her in a way that shows real delight. God, the Holy Spirit, tells the Christian husband that his wife stands alongside of him as an equal partner of eternal life, as a child of the Heavenly Father. Woe to the husband who does not treat his wife as one who is beloved of God. God will hold him accountable for cruelty, for selfish ways, for treating his wife unjustly.
And, both husband and wife are taught to ‘live in harmony.’ Do you know the difference between unison and harmony? God does not ask husbands and wives to sing the same note! That seems to be ideal today and it makes for all kinds of problems for us. We are told to sing harmony, to find that note that is the perfect complement to our spouse. A choir singing in unison can make beautiful music, but oh the amazing sound that comes from harmonious notes.
Is this an easy word? No, and I’m sure some readers will take issue with it (and me). My late wife and I spent many years working out the harmony of marriage. When we did it well, a thing of rich reward and true beauty flourished in which we both enjoyed security, love, and our best lives. When we fought, struggling with each other for what we thought we were owed, there was misery. God, the Spirit, led us, blessed us, taught us, forgave us, and we loved to the day that she went home to her Father in Heaven.
Now here is a word from the Word.
“Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.
None of this going off and doing your own thing.
And cultivate thankfulness.
Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house.
Give it plenty of room in your lives.
Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.
And sing, sing your hearts out to God!
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.” (Colossians 3:15-17, The Message)