Subjection in 1 Peter 2. 11 to 5. 11 – Part 4

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The other human institution discussed in the passage is marriage, 3. 1-7. Often disregarded in our day, it is, nevertheless, enjoined in Scripture, where there are many exhortations to govern relationships between husbands and wives. Such is this paragraph. It speaks of

The Reasons for Submission, vv. 1, 2

Firstly we have Sceptical partners, and in that context, The sanctity of marriage, v. 1, “be in subjection to your own husbands”. Modern views of marriage are not new. They are, in a sense, quite like the views current in the time of the writing of the Epistle, especially in the Roman empire—though the easy legalizing of divorce in our day may be new. This was, therefore, a timely reminder of the contrast between God’s will in human affairs and the infectious practices around. It is a matter of wives with their “own” husbands.

The problems of marriage, v.1, “that, if any obey not the word”. The phrase and the context suggest a believing wife and an unbelieving husband, presumably making for a difficult marriage. The passage may, and probably does, speak of a wife saved after her marriage, but there is no word to authorise an unequal yoke. Nor is there, here, a word to encourage separation, divorce or any change of state. But it does enjoin a quiet, submissive attitude, even to an unreasonable husband. Then the paragraph speaks of

Sagacious pleading, v.1, “that … they may without the word be won by the conversation (behaviour) of the wives”. What, then, has a wife to do in such conditions? She might preach, be in danger of “nagging” and make matters worse. Her aim is, admittedly, the winning of her husband. She may not leave him, she need not, perhaps should not, preach at him, nor should she go about in sullen silence, even under the guise of submission. That is the main point of the word, that “he may without the word be won” by her behaviour. In short, she should be a good wife and live before him a life calculated to influence him for good and for God. The paragraph speaks, too, of

Seemly piety, v.2, “whilst they behold your chaste conversation (behaviour) coupled with fear”. Within the bounds of the married state, her behaviour ought to be such as will give no offence and, indeed, commend herself and her faith to her husband. But such behaviour has to be “coupled with fear”. Clearly it is not fear in the sense of terror, since the passage later warns against such, v.6, but the fear of respect, as we understand the expression “fear God”. That is to say, she should shrink from every violation or neglect of duty, as a servant should fear his master, 2. 18. The passage then describes

The Manner of Submission, vv. 3, 4

Vain adornment, v.3, “whose adorning let it not be that of outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel”. We have used the word “vain” in the sense of failing in its object. Outward adornment is the way that nature would suggest to appeal to a difficult husband, but the passage prescribes another and better way.

There is no encouragement to carelessness or dowdiness, nor is there any to high fashion—nothing outward, in fact, which makes the women prominent or outstanding. Then it speaks of

Vital attitudes. Three matters are mentioned:

An inward adornment, v.4, “but let it be the hidden man of the heart”. Paul makes much of “outward” and “inward”, 2 Cor. 4. 16, and links them with what is “seen” and “temporal”, and the “unseen” and “eternal”. Clearly, it is more important, to be rather than appear to be. What a person is will certainly manifest itself. The other point is that mere conformity will not, of itself, stand the test of time.

An incorruptible ornament, v.4, “that which is not corruptible”. Peter has already spoken of “corruptible things, as silver and gold” and he clearly implies that outward adornment of person and dress is of a similar nature. The ornamentation he commends will not decay, but will improve and develop with the passing of time.

An inconspicuous ornament, v.4, “even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit”. It is called a “meek … spirit”; such a spirit is prepared to accept undeserved insults and injuries. It is not so much to be humble as to be submissive; not simply to take the lowly place as to accept it when it is given. It is largely a matter of reaction, and finds its supreme illustration, though it is not named, in 2. 23. It is called a “quiet spirit”. One can imagine the tendency of a wife to become overwrought with the burdens of the household and family plus the behaviour of an unsympathetic husband—all inclined to make the spirit restless and encourage an urge to “hit back”. But it is ornament indeed not to be provoked by such pressures—it is just then that calm is so valuable. The linking of two adjectives here reminds us of that other expression used about the Lord Jesus, “the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. The way in which He accepted the situation in the garden and in which He restored the ear of the high priest’s servant beautifully illustrates the expression. Then the passage speaks of

A valuable asset, v.4, “which is in the sight of God of great price”. Men put their own suspect values upon moral qualities and upon outward adorning, but a man of discernment will recognize what is of real worth. The important thing, however, is God’s estimation, and there is no doubt of His assessment. But why does this passage stress His valuation and not man’s, since one of the main objects of the exhortation is the winning of the unbelieving husbands? Is it not that He will protect and honour what is of value to Him, and will not allow it to be devalued?

The Encouragements to Submission, vv. 5, 6

They are found in:

The examples of lowliness, v.5, “after this manner … the holy women”. The example of Old Testament women was, evidently, of great value to Jewish women readers of the letter. They had, and still have, a great influence on the minds of their successors, though they are often unnamed and often in a relatively lowly place. The passage mentions

The age in which they lived, v.5, “in the old time”. In the context, the expression clearly refers to previous dispensations, and naturally takes the mind to those books of Jewish history, the Old Testament.

The approval of their behaviour, v.5, “after this manner” they “adorned themselves”. The Old Testament tells of many women, and shows them to be capable of unusual depths of evil, e.g. Jezebel and Athaliah, and of great holiness. Those women who had such good influence on their more prominent husbands and sons are called by this lovely generic name “the holy women”.

The assurance of their faith, v.5, “who trusted in God”. This was an integral aspect of their holiness, and was, indeed, their primary concern which put all else in place. The expression and idea is used in 1 Timothy 5. 5, “a widow indeed”, who bereft of all else finds her all in God, with her heart engaged in supplications and prayers, presumably on behalf of others.

The adornment they wore, v.5, “after this manner … adorned themselves” — that is, with a “meek and quiet spirit”. Among these women there was no hint of a spirit of self-assertion which so marks some women of today. It is a mark of Jezebel that she painted her eyes and adorned her head, 2 Kings 9. 30. But those holy women, e.g. the wives of the patriarchs, have this testimony that “after this manner, they adorned themselves”.

The attitude they adopted, v.5, “being in subjection unto their own husbands”. Leadership belongs naturally to men, a lesson which Eve might profitably have accepted. But that same Jezebel led Ahab, “Jezebel his wife incited him”, 1 Kings 21. 25 marg. Godly women, on the other hand, accepted the leadership of their husbands and, neither overtly nor covertly, did they seek to assume that place.

The evidence in language, v.6, “even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”. Note that She obeyed him. Some women of today sometimes object to the word “obey” in the marriage service. But quoted in this context of submission to husbands is a specially chosen woman who obeyed her husband. We might ask, “is there a limit to obedience?”, and Scripture indicates the answer, “No limit save the will of God”. We read that “Abraham took Sarai his wife”, and there was, apparently, no question of her refusing to go, Gen. 12. 5. He had no difficulty about asking her to prepare a meal for his unexpected visitors, 18. 6, while he went to fetch meat, 18. 7, unlike his nephew Lot and, presumably, his wife, 19. 3. Possibly he was, betimes, a bit unreasonable; clearly she made mistakes, 16. 1-6; 18. 12, but characteristically, Scripture gives her this commendation that she “obeyed Abraham”.

She called him lord. We get the impression that she was a strong woman, from the evidence of her pioneering work with Abram, Gen. 11. 31, from her mistaken advice to him, 16. 1-4, and from her subsequent treatment of Hagar, 16. 5-6; 21. 10. On the other hand, there is evidence of weakness in Abraham, 12. 10; 20. 2. Nevertheless, she called him lord, an allusion, no doubt to Genesis 18. 12, but, presumably, characteristic of her married life, thus recognizing her subject and becoming place.

The expression in likeness. If Peter’s readers behaved thus, they would be:

Like them in character, v.6, “whose daughters ye are”. It is elementary that the word “children” is used in Scripture to denote relationship, the word “sons”—and, presumably, “daughters”—to denote likeness. We think of the phrase in 2 Corinthians 6. 18, “ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty”. The Jews took great pride in their ancestor Abraham, John 8. 33, and so would their womenfolks take pride in his wife Sarah. So it would be a great honour to be classified as daughters of Sarah.

Like them in behaviour, v.6, “as long as ye do well”—that is, in these matters of “chaste conversation” and submission.

Like them in motivation, v.6, “and are not afraid with any amazement”. This Epistle is anxious to stress that, while we act in a proper spirit of fear, we are not to be moved by unhealthy fear. The behaviour of godly women has not to be governed by terror either of their husbands or of the consequences of right actions but, in the complex of sound motives, by a healthy fear of hurting their husbands, or their interests, or of displeasing God.

The Reciprocal of Submission, v.7

The passage describes:

Similar circumstances, “Likewise, ye husbands”. The word “likewise” introduces us to the other side of the coin, and to circumstances similar to what we have just been describing. It speaks of husbands who may have unbelieving, difficult wives, a situation no less unlikely than the other. Once again, there is no encouragement in the passage to change conditions by separation or divorce, nor, of course, to enter into an unequal yoke.

Spiritual certainty, “dwell with them according to knowledge”. The habit, in modern times and in the time of the Epistle, is to allow an unsatisfactory marriage to founder, as though all that matters is the happiness and satisfaction it brings to the partners. But, says Peter, you as a believer—or as a Jew, indeed—know that God has an interest in it, and has made marriage an ordinance for men and has hedged that ordinance about with many words of wisdom. Even though it may be difficult to do so, “dwell with them”, therefore, according to the knowledge of His will and intentions.

Seemly consideration, “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel”. “Battered wives” is a phrase in our vocabulary that describes a condition which has, perhaps, always existed, and certainly does exist in our modern society. So many men clearly take advantage of this weakness, which has neither will nor ability to resist. It is difficult to believe that the practice exists among believers, but is it possible that something of the spirit exists there? In some cases, wives are made to act like the slaves of husbands, while they should occupy a place of honour, though not of headship, in the household. Her weaker constitution, says Peter, should be respected and given the support of her husband. “Covering the altar of the Lord with tears”, Mai. 2. 13, might be one serious result of the wrong attitude of husbands to wives.

Shared conditions, “as heirs together of the grace of life”. There seems to be no need to restrict the scope of this expression to blessings of a spiritual nature. All that life offers of the blessings of God, all that married life brings, all the graces of spiritual life, belong alike to husband and wife. The husband has no privileges or rights which his wife cannot share and enjoy. There is a sphere for each in the home, and that situation should be mutually acceptable. There may, for instance, be good reason for the husband to attend the gatherings of the Lord’s people, and good reason for the wife to stay at home, but such reasons should be recognized and accepted by both partners.

Salutary consequences, “that your prayers be not hindered”. It is argued that mutual prayers are intended here, and that counter argues the idea of the saved and unsaved status of husband and wife. However, in a well-regulated but mixed household, it is quite possible that the unsaved partner would take part in family devotions. It is assumed, moreover, that the difficulty arises from the use of the plural “prayers”—but that may mean family or individual prayers. Certainly, oppression or friction will hinder mutual prayers—that needs no explanation. But note the spirit in which prayer should be made. “When ye stand praying, forgive … that your Father … may forgive you your trespasses”, Mark 11. 25; in the context of the pattern of prayer, “if ye forgive not … neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”, Matt. 6. 15. A household in which there is disharmony will naturally introduce a spirit in which it will be difficult to pray. Only in an atmosphere of harmony will prayer be spontaneous and easy.

May the Lord help us to fulfil to His glory our part in all of these relationships—as loyal subjects, as lowly servants and as loving spouses.

(Conclusion of series)

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