Introduction to Part 4
God has a strategic goal to call, regenerate, sanctify, gather to Himself, and glorify a holy nation composed of people of every tribe and tongue. Every person in that holy nation undergoes a transformation of character to become a character likeness of Christ. This step-by-step process included election, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. Jesus life, death, and resurrection made it all possible. The benefits of Christ’s sacrifice are applied through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The time span necessary to complete the overall objective, or the transformation of any individual, is known only to God. He works all things, both good and bad, such that they contribute toward His goal.
Dealing With Confusion and Disorder
Fallen people (as all people are until they are redeemed) are prone to confusion and disorder and do not easily cooperate with one another. In order to limit confusion, to promote orderliness, and to allow complex tasks to be accomplished, God established a hierarchical authority structure on earth. In Matthew 28:18 Jesus says that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. Jesus is at the top of earth’s authority structure. He delegated authority to three God-ordained human institutions – the family, government, and the Church. By further delegation, authority is distributed throughout society. Use of authority is accountable to God.
God’s overall strategy requires divine intervention to accomplish certain tasks. These essential tasks are impossible from a human perspective. Necessary interventions are carried out by Christ and the Holy Spirit and include redemption, regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. These are pivotal tactics whose success is absolutely required for final victory.
Fitting into God’s Authority Structure
Discovering how we as individuals fit into God’s authority structure (authority positions can and do change) and willingly submitting to legitimate authority is an essential part of working with Christ for victory. When submitting to legitimate authority, we are to do so because of our allegiance to God and our desire to do our part in achieving victory.
“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”1 Peter 2:18-25
More on Appropriate Submission
In these verses Peter continues to discuss submission moving from the sphere of government to that of society. Many commentators compare the master/slave relationship of this passage to the modern employer/employee relationship. There is certainly some truth in this comparison and yet it most definitely is not a one to one comparison.
Slaves are bound to their masters by law. Slavery in Rome at the time of Peter’s writing was different from slavery experienced by Africans in America. First, Roman slaves came from many nations including Rome itself. Next, the slave population was as much as 40% of the total population. Many became slaves as a result of war. Some people voluntarily became slaves to acquire a home and food. Parents sometimes sold their children into slavery.
It has been pointed out by many historians that slaves in the ancient world constituted a specialized servant social class. Slaves included both menial laborers and highly trained people, such as scribes, accountants, skilled artisans, and physicians. It was not unusual for slaves to be more highly educated and more skilled than their masters. Masters could set their slaves free at any time. When set free, a freed slave usually took his master’s name and was granted the same social status as his former master.
With these thoughts in mind we can correctly apply Peter’s admonitions to today’s world. The analogy is to think in terms of legal obligations. When a believer finds themself under the legal authority of an employer or other contractual authority, they are to accept the responsibility assigned them, not demanding rights beyond contractual obligations. If mistreated, they are commended to bear the pain of unjust suffering, offering it to God. That said, it is difficult to find anything good to say about slavery or indentured servanthood. A believer should always do what is right, following the example of Christ. He committed no sin, deceived no one, and did not retaliate when unjustly oppressed. Yet no one has or will suffer as unjustly as Christ suffered. He entrusted His destiny to God who judges justly. Christ took our sins upon Himself and died on the cross that we might live for righteousness. Christ is our watchful shepherd.
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 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. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.1 Peter 3:1-6
Authority Structure Within the Family
To avoid confusion, to promote order, to establish accountability, and to provide a “tie-breaker” structure for times when agreement cannot be achieved between family members, God established an authority structure within the family. God delegates the husband to be the “head of the family.” He is accountable for the physical and spiritual well-being of his wife and children. If he and his wife cannot agree on a proposed direction for the family, he must make the decision and he is accountable to God for that decision.
The “likewise” (or in the same way) which begins this paragraph refers back to the example of Christ. As “head of the family” the husband is to follow the example of Christ.
As all believers are to be subject to government authorities, and servants to be subject to their masters, Peter, in verses 3:1-6 exhorts wives to be subject to their own husbands. In 3:7 he comments on the husband’s obligations to his wife.
Wives in particular and women in general in the ancient world were considered to belong to some man – her father until marriage and then to her husband. A woman had very few legal rights. Christ changed the status of women. “In Christ” women and men belong to God and are equal before Him, equal in salvation, heirs together of the grace of life.
In Christianity, wives (and all women) experienced an enormous increase in freedom. There remained limitations necessary for promoting order and accountability. Most limitations at the time were associated with the bearing and nurturing of children.
In these six verses Peter first implies that a wife’s submission to her husband involves being a godly wife no matter what the husband is like, even if he is an unbeliever. Being a godly wife means to be true to God and to be an example to both husband and children. The second comment is that a wife’s adornment should not be merely external. In other words don’t depend on external adornment to define who you are. Rather, a wife’s adornment should primarily be “the hidden person of a heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” This is not a condemnation of cosmetics and jewelry – it is a commendation and recognition of the importance of character. Character is more important than external beauty. A wife should never emphasize external beauty if it interferes with cultivating internal beauty of character.
Finally, Peter refers to great women of the Old Testament as examples of how wives whose hope was in God submitted to their own husbands. The wife of Proverbs 31 is a godly woman.
A Christian’s relationship to God’s ordained authority structure dominates this section of Peter’s letter. Jesus says in Matthew 28:18 that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. The family, governments, and the church were all ordained by God. He delegated appropriate authority to each of them. Each of these ordained entities further delegates authority until it extends throughout society. The way authority is applied on earth is far from perfect. God established the authority structure to lessen confusion and promote orderliness in the world, making life easier for His people. The delegated authority is carried out by sinful people and does not necessarily work the way God intended. In that way it is no different from all other human activities. We are a fallen, sinful race and it shows in all we do.
Why are Peter (and Paul) so concerned with a Christian’s overall obedience and in particular with submission to earthly authority? It has to do with God’s overall purpose. As pointed out, God intends through Christ to bring to Himself a huge number of people from every people group and tribe; people who have been transformed into new creatures; people who will be given a new kind of forever life. The essence of God’s life and our own biological life are radically different. Our present life is created biological life transmitted from generation to generation biologically. God’s life is not biological. His life is uncreated, non-physical, and eternal. While the ultimate origin of our biological life is God, He intends for each of us to ultimately share more directly in His eternal uncreated life.
The new life God gives to us comes directly from God to each of us through the process Paul calls being “in Christ.” The state of being a “new creature in Christ,” which Paul talks about, is ultimately not a simple extension of biological life. At glorification, we receive a radical change in the nature of our life. In Christ and through Him we are given this new life, a life that is free from sin and with no inclination to sin. The new glorified life is eternal like God’s life. Just what it will be like is more than we can currently understand. Christ intends for us to become as much like Him as it is possible for finite creatures to be.
The process of acquiring the new everlasting life free from sin and decay begins when we are regenerated during our present biological life. The process continues throughout our mortal life as we are progressively sanctified through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The transformation is not complete until our biological life dies. When we stand before God in Christ, He will glorify and perfect us. Our new kind of life comes directly from Christ who has been given the authority over life by the Father.
How should hope of the new life affect our present behavior? The vital issue about us is what kind of person are we becoming at the very core of our being? It’s not so much what we do or don’t do as it is how those things affect our core being. God’s rules and commandments are not arbitrary. They are designed to help our transformation into a new creature. The ministry of the Holy Spirit energizes and guides the process. We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as God works in us.
We do so by striving to do what God tells us we should do and by avoiding those things He tells us to not do. As we obey, our core being is gradually transformed toward a likeness of Christ. This is the necessary step for nourishing the new life that is developing in our innermost being. As we live, are we becoming more like Christ? That is the key question. The way we relate to authority and the extent of our obedience to Christ either speeds up or slows down the development of the new core of our being.
Peter’s comments about a wife’s submission to her own husband fit into this pattern of preparation for new life. A wife is to be a godly wife no matter what her husband is like. A husband and his wife are intended to make joint decisions, each offering their thoughts, and working for agreement. But, if agreement is not possible, the husband as head of the family must break the impasse as well as take accountability for the decision. In this manner confusion and argument is to be avoided. The husband is God’s designated head of the family and accountable for the family’s well being physically and spiritually.
“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[a] of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”1 Peter 3:7
Husband’s Responsibility to His Wife
Peter outlines a husband’s responsibility to his wife. In a few words he covers a lot of territory. Husbands are to live in an understanding way with their wives showing them honor. What does Peter mean? Integrating and interpreting the ideas from the instructions to both wives and husbands gives us something like the following.
- In marriage men and women are to mutually work out their differences. If a mutual conclusion cannot be reached by discussion, then to avoid destructive disagreement, there is the principle of submission. Husbands have been delegated the authority from God to function as the head of the family. In making final decisions, they are accountable to God for the use or abuse of that authority.
- “Head of family” authority is contingent and partial. The purpose of the “head of family” authority is to break ties when mutual agreement cannot be reached, to encourage family members to righteousness, to protect the innocent and weak within the family, to defend family members from aggression, and to provide for the general spiritual and physical well-being of each member of the family.
- The “head of family” authority must never be used to further unrighteousness or to harm any family member. If “head of family” authority is abused, it may become necessary for family members to disobey. “Head of family” authority is not dictatorial power.
- Within the context of “head of family” authority delegated to husbands by God, wives should submit to the authority God has assigned to her husband. It is the husband’s obligation to use his authority to nurture and protect his wife and their family. It is the wife’s obligation to cooperate with and encourage the proper exercise of that authority and if necessary to yield to her husband because he is the accountable one. Proper exercise of “head of family” authority enhances the nurture and protection of the family both spiritually and physically.
- “Head of family” authority and submission to it is a part of God’s design of a family. Submission does not imply that the wife is in any way inferior to her husband. Indeed husband and wife are “joint heirs” together with Christ.
- In salvation there is no advantage in being a Jew or being a male. Likewise, there is no disadvantage in being a Gentile or a female. All are saved by faith through grace. Submission, as Peter discusses it, has to do with order and authority structure, not with worth. Husbands and wives are to be partners helping each other in their God-given roles. They are not to be competitors.
- Paul likewise says in his letters that believers must first submit to Christ, then within the family, husband and wife submit to one another within their God-given roles.
- Husbands are called to minister to their wives as follows:
- To live or dwell with their wife (physical). This means
- providing for her needs
- making time to be with her
- protecting and nurturing her
- According to understanding or knowledge (intellectual). This means
- knowing your wife’s moods, feelings, needs, fears, hopes, …
- listening to your wife with your heart, sharing significant communication
- providing within the home a protective atmosphere of love such that husband and wife can disagree and still be happy together (speaking the truth in love, Ephesians 4:15)
- Showing honor (emotional). This means
- respect your wife’s feelings, thoughts, and desires
- set a proper loving, emotional and spiritual “temperature” in the home
- So that your prayers may not be hindered (spiritual). This means
- you are heirs together in Christ, behave accordingly, following Christ’s example
- the wife shows submission when appropriate, the husband consideration, and both submit to Christ
- To live or dwell with their wife (physical). This means
- Questions husband and wife should each consider
- Are we partners or competitors? Are we helping each other to become more Christ-like?
- Is our happiness together built on sound spiritual principles or are we more dependent on external physical things?
- Do we understand and appreciate each other more and more as time passes?
- Are we sensitive to one another’s feeling and ideas, or do we tend to take one another for-granted?
- Are we enriched because of our marriage or robbing one another of God’s blessing?
- God expects every husband to live with his wife in an understanding way, bestowing honor on her. Taking time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God’s will. It pleases God for us to do so.