For almost twenty-five years, these words have been my marching orders:
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, when they see your respectful and pure conduct (1 Peter 3:1–2).
Many a teary-eyed night I’ve wrestled with those words. Their heat has tested my faith. At times I’ve been carried in the strength that comes with the commands of God. But for too many years, I’ve wandered down dangerous paths and sat down to pout about my plight.
One of the more dangerous paths I’ve wandered down looks like the right way, filtered through the American prosperity gospel glasses I sometimes wear. It’s a path that allures with self-gratifying promises. It’s a poisoned wood that feeds my flesh and leads to delirious destruction. It says if I do all the right things, God will be pleased with me and my husband will believe. I’ve flexed my flesh and schemed of ways to get my husband to see if I’m right about God.
Maybe I should invite him to that seminar. Get him to read this book. Take him to that movie. Get him to go to that “get your best life now” church. Maybe if I dress sexier he’ll believe. Maybe if I just bend a little to his idols.
Down this path I’ve lugged a heavy yoke on weak shoulders and vainly strove under demands to do what only God can do. It’s a lying path.
A Cost and a Reward
The Spirit’s message to wives in 1 Peter 3 is not a formula that guarantees you can make a believer out of your unbelieving husband. Rather it’s a God-glorifying vision for living that defies our logic. Christ blazed this trail displaying its cost and reward. The cost: The very thing (godly living) that may win your husband to Christ may also cause him to leave you and reject Christ (1 Cor. 7). The reward: The joy of sharing in Christ’s sufferings temporarily and the glory of being with Him forever (1 Peter 4:13).
So 1 Peter 3 is not a prosperity gospel message that says if you do the right things God will be happy, save your husband, and give you a happy marriage. And it's not a promise that will keep your marriage together either. But it is a call on all wives to live a certain kind of life—a winsome life. It’s a call to live a hope-filled life that suffers well through the pain that comes in any marriage.
Our culture has this idea that marriage is a sitcom romance, a bucket-list item to achieve before death, a way to fulfill our dreams. But Christ has another idea about marriage. That it's a temporary shadow of something eternally true—Christ and His Church. It's not something to cling to; it's something to live through and grow in, living out the commands now written on the believers' heart: love God and love your neighbor.
Let It Go!
The message in 1 Peter 3 for wives to put themselves willingly in a position under their husband's leadership and live a fearless life with a heart fixed on Christ, steadied and full of hope in God, is a message to do what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7. Stop clinging to things that are passing away!
From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29–31).
The apostle Paul says, “Live like you have no wife.” The picture for wives here is to live like you have no husband. But if you’re married, you do have a husband, and so this is not a command from Paul to abandon him. It's a command to think a certain way about your marriage. It's a command to let go of the attempt to squeeze eternal life out of the empty vessel of marriage.
A Place of Freedom
Marriage cannot fulfill the thirst in our souls for satisfaction, which only comes from unity with Christ. In Christ, in marriage, living like you’re not married is not freedom to sin or to abandon the marriage because it's hard. It's not freedom to do evil, cover-up evil, or ignore evil. It's freedom to serve in love.
It is from a place of freedom that wives are called to submit themselves to their husbands, not a place of oppression, sexism, or an idolatrous view of marriage. It’s important here to shine light on abuse in marriage. God’s Word is never a chain to bind a wife to her abusive husband. Using the message of Christian submission to support abuse of power is an evil that God sees and calls to be exposed and brought to justice. It’s from a place of freedom God calls us to submit to others, not a place of oppression.
The message of 1 Peter to all Christians is this: Submit yourselves to others as free people, whether they are believers in Christ or not. But don't use your freedom to sin; instead use it to win others to Christ. And it's from that place of freedom that Peter is calling wives to live lives that may draw their husbands to Christ. Even if they don't believe. But also if they do.
The Aroma of Christ
Wives, Christ is leading us to live in such a way that our husbands may smell Christ as death and reject us. Or they may smell the aroma of life in Christ and be won (2 Cor. 2:15–16). May the Lord do it! But the Bible makes no promises on this. In fact, Paul leaves us with a question, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?” (1 Cor. 7:16).
We don’t know. But we do know God is using the shadow of our marriages to grow us up and bloom from our lives the scent of the freedom of life in Christ for His glory and our good. The path Christ is leading us down doesn’t lie with empty promises. It is a path through death, but it leads to resurrection. Christ is worth it