The Power of a Submissive Wife | 1 Peter 3:1-6

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  • The Power of a Submissive Wife | 1 Peter 3:1-6
  • A culture war broke out in the Roman Empire. Christians were “on the wrong side of history.” An “cancel culture” maligned Christians who refused to fit in. Many Christians would be martyred during the persecution that was soon to come. Peter wrote this letter to encourage the church the stand firm in this spiritual warfare. His counsel was offensive, not defensive. 1 Peter is not a survival guide. It is a battle plan. The apostle was more concerned about their witness than their welfare. 

    1 Peter 2:12 says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” How do you live honorably before the watching world? Be submissive. 

    • 1 Peter 2:13-17 instructs all to submit to civil authorities. 
    • 1 Peter 2:18-25 instructs servants to submit to their masters. 
    • 1 Peter 3:1-6 instructs wives to submit to their husbands. 

    Growing up in church, I did not hear messages on marriage. Pastors regularly teach on family matters these days. But address this important topic from the wrong perspective. The New Testament does not teach us how to have a happy, fulfilling, or successful marriage. It teaches how to be a Christian mate. It is not about you and your mate. It is about you and the Lord. As a married Christian, you must please the Lord, regardless of how your mate feels about you or the Lord. Focus on your character and your mate’s needs. 

    Peter’s instructions about marriage will not benefit you if you are not a Christian. They will not make sense to you. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” How are things between you and the Lord Jesus Christ? 

    This passage is addressed to Christians. Yet they needed marriage counseling. There are no perfect marriages. Sinful people cannot produce perfect families. But you can live with your mate in a manner that pleases the Lord. Verse 7 instructs husbands how to be Christian mates. Verses 1-6 instruct wives how to be Christian mates: God commands Christian wives to be submissive to their husbands. If you are unmarried, these instructions are still relevant. You need to know what Acts 20:27 calls “the whole counsel of God.” You need to know what the Lord expects of Christian mates. You need to know how to pray for married couples in the church. 1 Peter 3:1-6 teaches how to experience the power of a submissive wife. 

    Embrace the Duty of Submission. 

    Submission is a bad word in our culture and the church. But it is a biblical word. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Colossians 3:18 says, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord.” Titus 2:5 says older women should teach younger women “to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” 1 Peter 3:1 says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands.” 

    “Be subject” translates a military term that describes a soldier’s submission to his commanding officer. That an officer outranks you does not mean he is inherently superior. Likewise, submission does not mean husbands are better than their wives. God has ordered the home that the husband is the head, and the wife is the heart. Anything without a head is dead. Anything with more than one head is a monster. Divine order brings divine blessing. 

    Peter does not instruct women to submit to men. He instructs wives to submit to their own husbands. The language emphasizes the mutual, reciprocal, and complementary nature of marriage. A wife is not property to be used, mistreated, or discarded at the husband’s discretion. He belongs to her just as much as she belongs to him. It is within this covenant of companionship that wives are to submit to their husbands. 

    This exhortation to married women is a warning to single women. It is not God’s will to use dating, courtship, or engagement to practice or prove submissiveness. Robbie Castleman calls it “emotional fornication” to make investments in relationships that are greater than the commitment can sustain. If you are serious, get married. Don’t play house! 1 Corinthians 7:34 says, “And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.”  

    Brothers, do not usurp God God’s authority over that woman’s life to know whether she can be submissive. If she permits you to occupy a place before marriage that gets in the way of her relationship with God, she has already demonstrated a heart of rebellion. A person who will sin with you before marriage will sin against you after marriage. Wives are to submit to their own husbands. 

    • It does not mean that you are to be a doormat. 
    • It does not mean you cannot have your own opinions. 
    • It does not mean you do not contribute to the relationship.

    You must willingly follow your husband’s leadership. “But I am a better decision-maker than my husband,” you claim. Well, your good decision-making led you to marry a man who is not a good decision-maker. Don’t look for loopholes to disobey God’s word. What if a husband tells his wife to do something immoral or illegal? The wife must not submit to commands to sin. The council commanded the apostles not to speak in the name of Jesus. Acts 5:29 reports: “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”  

    Practice the Influence of Submission.

    To reject this instruction is to reject the authority of scripture. If we cannot reject it, we weaken it with explanations, rationalizations, and qualifications. Peter strengthens the call to submission by addressing the worst-case scenario: What if your husband is not a Christian? 

    The Philippian jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:31 records the answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” A man who came to Christ brought his family to Christ. It was not that way when a woman came to Christ. A wife practiced her husband’s religion. To reject her husband’s god was viewed as rebellion against her husband. If a wife was saved before her husband, what was she to do? It was a greater dilemma in a hostile society. 

    1 Peter 3:1 says, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word.” The gospel is not an invitation to receive. It is a command to obey. To disobey the word is to be an unbeliever. These were not men who never heard the gospel. They heard the word and refused to believe in spiritual rebellion. Yet wives were to submit to their husbands that “they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” 

    This text does not teach how to have a satisfying marriage. It teaches how to reach an unbelieving mate for Christ. Peter says you can win your husband to Christ without a word. 1 Peter 1:23 says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” A lost person cannot be saved without the word. What if will not listen?

    • Don’t drag him to church against his will. 
    • Don’t force sermons down his throat. 
    • Don’t nag, lecture, or criticize.  

    Actions speak louder than words. Confirm the word with your life when you cannot proclaim the word with your lips. “Conduct” is a key term in 1 Peter. It is the priority of his evangelistic strategy. Get them to hear the gospel by letting them see the gospel. Verse 2 says wives can win their husbands “when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” “Respectful” translates the Greek word for “fear.” It refers to the fear of God. The fear of God is demonstrated in respect for your husband. Respect him out of reverence for Christ. “Pure” reinforces that submission does not mean you follow your husband into sin. A godly wife avoids moral defilement for her and her husband’s sake. As you wait for an opportunity to witness to your husband, make sure your conduct does not contradict your witness. 

    Adorn the Beauty of Submission.

    In verses 3-4, Peter admonishes wives to win their husbands by their lives, not their looks. Do not confuse glamor with beauty. 

    The Glamor of External Adornment. Verse 3 says, “Do not let your adorning be external.” Peter does not rebuke a woman adorning herself. He admonishes that it should not be external. Society is image-conscious. Women feel pressure to fit an image more than men. Peter gives three examples of worldly glamor: “the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.” Peter is not saying Christian women should not braid their hair or wear gold jewelry. To draw that conclusion requires that you also read the text to forbid wearing clothes. 

    1 Peter 3:3 is a practical application of Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The cultural trend was the dress ostentatiously. Peter’s call to modesty was countercultural. There is nothing wrong with a Christian woman looking good. But do not dress in a way that promotes worldliness, materialism, or sensuality. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 says, “Likewise, also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” 

    The Beauty of Internal Adornment. Verse 4 says, “But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” The repeated use of the word “adorning” affirms that Peter is not taking issue with women beautifying themselves. His concern is that women prioritize internal over external beauty.

    Internal beauty is imperishable. Our culture is fixated on youthfulness. Mothers would prefer to be mistaken as their daughter’s sister. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” Father Time does not do cosmetic surgeries. 1 Peter 1:4 says we have been born again “to an inheritance that is imperishable.” 1 Peter 3:4 says inner beauty is “imperishable.” Pick a wife based on what she will look like fifty years from now. 

    Internal beauty is spiritual. The imperishable beauty of the inner person of the heart consists of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” True beauty is a matter of the spirit, not the flesh. “Gentle” is used in Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek.” In Matthew 11:29, Jesus says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” True beauty is also “quiet.” You cannot tell if a woman is beautiful until she speaks. She has a “quiet spirit” that is not loud and boisterous. Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” 

    Internal beauty is valuable. Inner beauty will not win you social media followers. But verse 4 says, “In God’s sight it is very precious.” You can be rich in the world’s sight but cheap in God’s sight. Matthew 16:26 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Life is more than your self-esteem when you look into the mirror. Life is more than the opinion of men toward your posts and pictures. Live, speak, and dress in a way that is precious in the sight of God. 

    Follow the Examples of Submission. 

    Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” Be careful of the “social influencers.” You cannot live a godly life following bad examples. Who are the godly examples in your life? 

    Be Like the Holy Women. Peter was not a chauvinistic man writing in a patriarchal society. This is timeless truth. Verse 5 says, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.” Why did they do it? They “hoped in God.” How you dress reflects where your hope lies. Worldly women say, “If you got it, flaunt it.” Women who hope in God are not driven by their physical appearance. Likewise, holy women submitted to their husbands. With this statement, Peter comes full circle. Holy women submit to their husbands. Adrian Rogers said it well: “You cannot be over the things that God wants you to be over until you learn to be under those things that God has set over you.”

    Be a Daughter of Sarah. Verse 6 records a specific illustration: “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” Read the adventures of Abraham in Genesis. Sarah was no doormat. She followed Abraham when he was wrong and right. Abraham followed Sarah’s advice, for better and worse. She even called him “lord.” Genesis 18:12 is the only reference to this. Sarah’s sarcastic language is respectful toward Abraham when it is disrespectful toward God. Verse 6 says, “And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 

    • Abraham is the father of the faithful. 
    • Sarah is the mother of the obedient. 

    You are Sarah’s children if you do good. 1 Peter 2:15 says, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” You are also Sarah’s children if you “do not fear anything that is frightening.” Holy women are not exempt from experiencing frightening things in life. But those who hope in God have no reason to be afraid. 

    Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” Isaiah 40:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Hebrews 13:6 says, “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.