Exercise Submission’s Power

Explore the Bible Series

April 1, 2007


Lesson Passage: I Peter 3:1-12


Introduction: In the previous lesson we considered Peter’s counsel about the relationships between believers and non-Christian social institutions. In particular, the apostle addressed how Christians should properly relate to the civil government and the master/slave dynamic.  Chapter Three continues the same general theme by observing the unique circumstances surrounding Christian wives who were married to unconverted men.  We may infer that these women married their spouses prior to embracing Christianity; then after their conversion, these women faced the complex problems of being unequally yoked to lost husbands.


The Greco-Roman world did not generally regard women highly.  In some ways, the culture viewed women as vastly inferior to men.  There were, of course, some exceptions to the rule.  New Testament scholar Wayne Meeks observed that some patrician women help property and served as important patrons for the arts and public works programs.  In Palestine, Jesus and the disciples enjoyed the financial support of women of mean, and the Lord clearly held his female followers with gracious esteem.  Despite these exceptions, the general plight of women was quite dismal.  The Christian message liberated women, and, no doubt some misunderstood and abused their newfound liberty. Peter sought to help these women to balance their freedom in Christ with the appropriate honor of their husbands.  Again, the text’s main concern centers on the relationship between saved women and their unconverted husbands.


Notice that Peter did not encourage these ladies to assert their liberty in Christ, nor did he allow them to divorce their husbands.  Instead, the apostle directed the women to behave in a manner that would glorify the Lord and win their husbands to saving faith in Christ.  Peter worked from the general to the specific.  The first phrase in the paragraph reminded believers that wives should submit to their husbands, but the text moves to a very specific application of the general principle.  The conversion of these wives did not suspend the general directive to be submissive to their spouses. 


The Epistle of I Peter concludes this section (2:13-3:12) with a series of practical admonitions that summarize the apostle’s principles (3:8-12).  The text alludes to Old Testament passages to buttress the call to holy living.









Lesson Outline:


I.                   Directions for Christian Women Married to Unconverted Husbands (3:1-7)

A.    Connection to the previous directives (v. 1a): The term “likewise” acts as a bridge between the present theme and the directives given to Christian citizens (2:13-17) and servants (2:18-25). 

B.     A general principle stated (v. 1b): “Wives, be submissive to your own husbands.”  This view of marriage, of course, is not unique to the writings of peter. Notice that the text does not assert the inferiority of women, nor does it claim that all women should submit themselves to all men.  The text is very clear that women should submit to their own husbands.

C.     A specific application (vv. 1c-2): “…even if some do not believe”: Here the passage makes a specific application of the general principle that Christians should honor all people (2:17).  Peter enjoins his female readers, especially women married to unbelieving husbands, to submit to their husbands. This concept of marital submission, of course, seems alien to the mindset of Twenty-first Century Americans. The command does not empower men to abuse their wives; rather, it serves as a special, pointed application of the directive that Christians should defer to one another (Ephesians 5:17).  Peter’s counsel had an evangelistic motive, “…without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe their chaste behavior…”  Then, I Peter provides practical advice for living by this principle.

1.      The adornment of heart (vv. 3-4): In all probability, some of the churches of Asia Minor had wealthy members who expressed their social status by wearing extravagant clothing.  Peter called his readers to wear modest adornment that reflected a modest heart.  Of course, Peter did not mean that women (or men for that matter) should appear sloven or ugly; rather, he acknowledged the radiant inner beauty of holy Christian character.  In particular, Peter encouraged these women to foster a gentle, quiet spirit.  This gracious attitude, according to Peter, pleases the Lord

2.      The example of Old Testament saints (vv. 5-6): The text uses Sarah as an example of the kind of gentleness that honors the Lord.  Verse Six records that Sarah called Abraham “Lord.”  Modern women may recoil from this remark, but it simply means that Sarah honored and affirmed her husband.  Every man wants to be a hero to someone, and a good husband flourish in an atmosphere of affirmation from the most important person in his life.  The point is, Christian women cannot nag their husbands into godliness.  If they are won, they will come to Christ in an environment of honor, love, and affirmation.  Needless to say, husbands should afford their wives the same kind of honor.

3.      Directives for husbands (v. 7): “Understanding” refers to Christian insight, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity.  Peter called wives the “weaker vessels”, and this phrase requires special interpretive care.  This term may depict the woman’s inferior social standing in Greco-Roman culture; or, it could refer to the husband’s physical prowess.  Whatever the case, this term cannot reflect the woman’s inferior spiritual status.  The Scriptures are clear about the quality of men and women before God.


II.                General Directions for Christian Living (vv. 8-12)

A.    Five Imperatives (vv. 8-9): The word “finally” draws this section to a conclusion. Peter used four adjectives that carry the force of imperatives. The translations, in order to preserve something of the flavor of the Greek construction, supply the verb “be.”

1.      “be of one mind”: Denotes a unity of thought that binds together the people of God.

2.      “be compassionate”: We get the English word “sympathy” from this Greek term.  It reflects he ability to enter into the feelings of others; that is, it carries the notion of entering into the joy and sorrow of another person.

3.      “love as brothers”: This word describes a deep, familial love that, though tested, stands up under the constraints of time and experience.

4.      “be tenderhearted”: Peter encouraged his readers to be tenderhearted and compassionate.  This is the opposite of callous hardheartedness.

5.      “be courteous”: This word has the idea of humility or lowliness of mind.  Peter expanded on this idea of courtesy by reminding his readers to avoid vengefulness and abusive speech.  On the contrary, the apostle admonished the churches to returning blessing to their enemies.


                Conclusion: Peter rounded out this section by alluding to Old Testament passages that buttress his points.  Please read Psalm 34:12-16 and Psalm 37:27.