The first thing that jumps out is that Peter says six times more to wives than husbands. It is a matter of inspiration, not inequality. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul devotes three verses to wives, nine verses to husbands. Regardless, the gravity of a text is to be measured by its content and context, not verse count numbers.
Paul and Peter had different agendas. Paul wrote to Christian couples, instructing husbands and wives to mirror the relationship between Christ and the church. Peter exhorted Christians to live with hope in a hostile society. Hostile opposition may come from civil authorities, workplace leaders, or family members. The counsel in verses 1-6 was specifically for believing wives married to unbelieving husbands.
In the culture of the text, a wife followed her husband’s religion. It was rare that a Christian man found himself married to an unbelieving woman. 1 Peter 3:7 assumes the addressed husbands have believing wives. If a husband was married to an unbelieving wife, he remained the head of the home. He was not in the same position as a woman married to an unbelieving man. Thus, Peter says less to husbands than to wives. It is significant that Peter gives any instructions to husbands.
- His teaching to citizens says nothing to governors.
- His teaching to servants says nothing to masters.
But after instructing wives to submit to their own husbands, Peter clarifies that submission does not mean husbands may treat wives like property. 1 Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The Lord has designed the family so that the husband is the head of his wife. The Lord who designed male headship defines male headship. How should male headship be practiced? 1 Peter 3:7 answers: God commands Christian husbands to live with their wives in love.
- Like Paul, Peter’s instructions include servants and masters, wives and husbands.
- Unlike Paul, Peter’s instructions do not include children and parents.
Why did Peter omit children? Peter did not write what Peter wanted to write. The Lord did not direct Peter to address children. But there is a lesson in the silence. What Peter says to husbands is for children. Children should be raised in a home where a husband loves his wife. The word “love” is not used in this verse. But it paints a picture of a loving husband. Here are three ways Christian husbands can lead their homes in love.
Know Your Wife.
Verse 7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way.” The verse calls for marital cohabitation: “live with your wives.” Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Marriage establishes a new family household. A husband’s relationship with his wife is his most important human relationship. He is to cleave to his wife in the covenant of companionship.
A husband is to live with his wife as housemates, roommates, and bedmates. Yet it is more sharing an address, eating meals together, splitting mortgage payments. The command implies physical and sexual intimacy. Daniel Doriani wrote: “It tears the fabric of a marriage when husband and wife deprive each other of physical love.” But more than sex is involved here.
“Homemaker” is often used for a wife’s work in the home. Husbands are also to be homemakers. How does a husband make a home for his wife? He is to live with his wife in an understanding way. The KJV reads: “according to knowledge” – not pride, lust, or fear. A married couple can live together and be strangers. It is the husband’s responsibility to ensure that is not the case. He is to live with his wife according to knowledge.
“Can a man understand women?” you ask. No. But that is not his responsibility. He only needs to understand his wife. Learning one woman takes a lifetime. You will never learn by juggling multiple women. A husband should be a lifelong learner of his wife. The command includes any knowledge – general or specific – that teaches you how to love your wife better. It starts with a biblical understanding of marriage.
You have thoughts about women, marriage, and family. How did you develop those thoughts? Academics, upbringing, experience, observation, and media influence our thoughts. Your way of thinking needs to be sanctified by the renewal of your mind. Let the word of God shape your worldview.
To live with your wife according to knowledge requires that you understand God’s word. But you also need to understand your wife. This involves more than superficial knowledge. More than her favorite foods, places, or brands, know your wife’s moods, views, strengths, needs, fears, hurts, and goals. You can only attain this knowledge by living with your wife in an understanding way. Her parents, girlfriends, and colleagues cannot teach you to know your wife. You must study your wife for yourself. It does not require intense research.
- Spend time.
- Listen carefully.
- Pay attention.
- Show concern.
- Get involved.
- Practice chivalry.
- Encourage her.
Genesis 2:18 says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 1 Peter 3:7 urges husbands to be his wife’s helper. You have heard of “women’s intuition.” No one talks about men’s intuition. Brothers, let’s change that! The word “husband” was used for one who cultivated a field. Cultivation is the husband’s ministry to his wife. The first thing Lemuel says about an excellent wife is about her husband. Proverbs 31:11-12 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.” You are blessed when you build up your wife!
Honor Your Wife.
1 Peter 2:17 begins, “Honor everyone.” It ends, “Honor the emperor.” Now 1 Peter 3:7 instructs husbands to honor their wives. Matthew Henry described it as “giving due respect to her, and maintaining her authority, protecting her person, supporting her credit, delighting in her conversation, affording her a handsome maintenance, and placing a due trust and confidence in her.” Proverbs 31:28-29 says, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all!’” Your words and deeds should honor your wife for two reasons.
Honor your physical differences. Verse 7 instructs husbands to show “honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” Peter does not specify in what way women are weaker than men. But we can rule out several wrong conclusions. Women are not weaker intellectually. We live in a country where women are more educated than men. Women are not weaker emotionally. Women may express their feelings more than men. But that is not a sign of weakness. Being emotional is not being effeminate. Women are not weaker spiritually. The following clause of this verse makes it clear that husbands and wives are heirs together of the grace of life in Christ.
The most natural and necessary way to read this statement is that women are generally weaker than men physically. With exceptions, men are physically stronger than women. “Vessel” is used metaphorically in scripture for humanity or the body. “Weaker” is comparative. Men and women are frail, finite, and fated. But the woman is the “weaker vessel.” Note that Peter uses “woman,” not “wives.” “Woman” means “the feminine one.”God created women femininely. God created men masculinely.
- Surgery can change a person’s anatomy.
- Surgery cannot change a person’s identity.
The government can rewrite civil law. It cannot erase biblical truth. The word of God says God created them male and female. Marriage is also God’s idea. The Lord established marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman. In that covenant relationship, the husband is to honor his wife as the weaker vessel.
1 Peter 3:7 teaches men to practice chivalry. But let me limit my application to one issue: Under no circumstances should a husband put his hands on his wife to harm her. You do not prove your manhood by threatening, bullying, or abusing a woman. Keep your hands off her! Colossians 3:19 says, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” There is truth in this statement. But to embrace this as a rule of life is to deny that people can change. That is not a position Christians can adopt. The Christian faith is all about life transformation. However, believe a man the first time he is violent toward you. Proverbs 19:19 says, “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.”
Honor your spiritual equality. Verse 7 says wives “are heirs with you of the grace of life.” Men and women were created to be gloriously different. Yet Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Man and woman are mutually created in God’s image. The Fall into sin initiated the battle of the sexes. But no shots are fired at the foot of the cross. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Without stuttering, the New Testament teaches male headship in the home and the church. Many professing Christians oppose this teaching. They cannot deny the plain reading of scripture. But they undermine it with worldly arguments. It is claimed that male headship is unjust and unfair to women. Equality of person does not require equity of role. God the Son is coeternal, coexistent, and coequal with God the Father. Yet God the Son submits to the will of God the Father. Wives are to submit to their husbands. But submission does not make men superior or women inferior. Husbands and wives are co-heirs of the grace of life.
Husbands should honor their wives as sisters in Christ. It is important for families to go to church together. It is also important to organize church so that families are together in worship, not segregated in age-graded or gender-based ministry programs. Husbands need to sit under the word with their wives to remember they are heirs together of the grace of life.
- You are saved by grace.
- You are sanctified by grace.
- You are strengthened by grace.
- You are servants by grace.
- You are secure by grace.
Peter appeals to husbands to love their wives based on our common salvation. We are heirs of the grace of life. We are also heirs of the gift of life. Ecclesiastes 9:9 say, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.” Solomon concluded that all of life is vanity. You live and work and die. Yet he asserts this vain life becomes meaningful if you love your wife. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”
Pray for Your Wife.
1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” The closing clause of this verse is a warning that assumes husbands are praying men. Your prayer life should be strong enough that you are threatened by your prayers being hindered.
- Loving husbands pray for their wives.
- Loving husbands pray with their wives.
The motto of the Christian home was, “A family that prays together stays together.” The motto of the contemporary home is, “Live. Love. Laugh.” Living, loving, and laughing do not hold a family together. Prayer holds a family together.
1 Corinthians 7:5 says, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Prayer is so vital to marriage that it is the only reason scripture gives for a husband and wife not having sex. But not even prayer should be an ongoing excuse to withhold sex.
Sex seals and strengthens the marriage covenant. If a husband and wife go more than two weeks without having sex, you invite Satan to attack your marriage. To keep the enemy from taking advantage of your lack of self-control, a couple needs to be together on their knees and in their bed.
1 Peter 3:7 clarifies the mystery of unanswered prayer. If you do not love, know, and honor your wife, it will hinder your prayers. A friend of mine and I looked for a loophole in this verse. We discovered that “hindered” means “hindered.” It means to cut off or chop down. It was a military term that described soldiers cutting off a road to prevent the enemy from advancing. Satan’s forces scheme to hinder your prayers. Are you doing the enemy’s work for him?
Do not read this verse superstitiously. A marital disagreement does not cut you off from God. But you cannot ignore your wife and expect God to hear you. Charles Bigg said, “The sighs of the injured wife come between the husband’s prayers and God’s hearing.” How you treat your wife can hinder the practice of prayer.
- You will find it hard to pray to God for your wife.
- You will find it hard to pray to God with your wife.
How you treat your wife can hinder the power of prayer. You may maintain your routines of prayer. But your prayers will lose their spiritual potency if you do not love your wife. J.W. Jowett wrote, “His conduct should be the helpmeet of his prayers. There has to be no discord between the one and the other. The spirit of his supplications is to be found in his behavior.”
Do you desire to build your prayer life? Scripture shows married men how to become more prayerful that it does not offer anyone else. 1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”