COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 3:1 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, 2when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3Do not let your adornment be merely outward; arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel; 4rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. 5For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror." (1 Pet 3:1-6, NKJV)
The word of God is quick, or living, and powerful, probing the heart and discovering its thoughts and intents (Heb 4:12). It moves across both time and culture, and views life from a heavenly perspective. Because of this, there are some remarkably practical sections in Scripture. They deal with the details of life, and are intensely personal and serious. One such passage is before us. The Spirit has addressed those under government. He has mentioned political government. The relationship of masters to servants has been mentioned. Now He comes to domestic interrelation. He is elaborating on the matter of committing ourselves to God, and accepting our station in life with faith and peace. The matter of our relationship to God is primary in all of these considerations. For this reason, the people of God will be able to accept them joyfully, without fear of oppression.
WIVES, BE SUBMISSIVE IN THE SAME WAY
" 2:23 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,2when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear." NKJV At the very outset of this text, I want to point out that the Spirit is not speaking to husbands about their wives. All believers are to devote themselves to developing godly traits in their own persons, not seeking to develop them in others, while neglecting their own responsibilities before God.
The words "likewise," or "in the same way,"NASB mean, in the same way as subjects to kings (2:13-14), servants to masters (2:18-19), and Jesus to God (2:22-23). Everyone is subordinate to someone. That is the way the Lord has placed us in this world. No soul is free of responsibility. Children are subject to parents (Eph 6:1), and even the holy angels are subject to God (Psa 103:20). Every personality is to accept the role in which God has placed them, and to do so without rejecting that place and seeking their own interests.
This passage is not to become the source of contention among the people of God. The Scriptures speak to this matter too clearly for there to be any question about it. Wives are to be submissive to their own husbands. This is a submission that is to be done in respect of the Lord. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph 5:22). It is a way of serving and honoring the Lord. The relationship is also mirrored in the church, and is to be respected. "Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing" (Eph 5:24).
To be submissive is to be subordinate, or willingly in subjection. It is not the business of the husband to subdue the wife, but for the wife to yield her will, even as Jesus did to the will of God. This is one of the results of the original sin. God said to Eve, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" NIV (Gen 3:16). The relationship considered, therefore, is one of Divine appointment, and is not to be questioned.
As with all earthly relationships, subordination does not allow for the transgression of God's law. When the King, governor, master, or husband demands conduct that requires disobedience to God, the subordinate is to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
The Spirit adds a dimension here that reveals how closely God is aligned with those who honor His appointments. If a wife has an unbelieving husband, she is not to withhold her subjection as though it no longer was binding upon her. Instead, she is to consider that through her holy life, her husband may be won over "without the word." In such a case, she becomes "the epistle of Christ . . . written . . . by the Spirit of the living God" (2 Cor 3:3). The power of a transformed life is to be considered. It cannot be hidden, any more than men can hide a city set upon a hill (Matt 5:14). This is not a guarantee that the unbelieving husband will be won over to Christ. However, the wife in such a circumstance is to hear the words of the Spirit. "For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband?" (1 Cor 7:16). This is an opportunity where God can work, and is to be so regarded. Wayward husbands are better drawn by holy conduct than nagging words.
"Without the word" does not mean the Gospel will play no role in the husband coming to Christ. It rather means that he will be drawn into interest by beholding his wife.
Holy behavior is a context in which the Holy Spirit works. This is seen in the words, "While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear." Chaste conversation is spiritual and moral purity-lives that are above reproach and not tainted by the world. It should not be necessary to say this type of life is to be found in all believers, not only wives of unbelieving husbands. The holy life is also "coupled with fear," or the utmost respect for God and His will. This is a fear that is obvious. It is apparent to the beholder that the individual has a high regard for the Lord of glory, yielding to His will even in the most unfavorable of circumstances.
Holy living "adorns the doctrine" (Tit 2:10), proving it to be from God. Many a person has been turned away from the doctrine by beholding waywardness in the ones professing it. This passage has a great deal of relevance for our time.
SPIRITUAL APPROACH TO ADORNMENT
" 3Do not let your adornment be merely outward; arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel; 4rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God." NKJV This is an elaboration on the conduct of the wife that results in the husband being "won without a word." The language, however, is not confined to the relationship of husband and wife, as will become apparent in the fourth verse.
The Spirit is not outlining a law for how women appear, but showing where the focus of attention is to be placed. Nor, indeed, are the things mentioned prohibited for women, as some have taught. However, when any of these things become the primary means of adornment, the heart and mind are not discerning.
"Adornment" means "well arranged," decoration, or embellishment-the thing that makes the individual attractive. The text assumes the value of attractiveness, but unveils to us the superior way for that to be accomplished. The Spirit mentions three areas of consideration: the hair, jewelry, and apparel. In each case, excessiveness is the point. Elsewhere, the woman's hair is said to be her "glory," or sign of dignity (1 Cor 11:15). Abraham's servant gave Isaac's prospective wife a golden ring weighing about ½ ounce, and two gold bracelets weighing about four ounces (Gen 24:22). The virtuous woman is depicted as having clothing of "silk and purple" (Prov 31:22). Of themselves, none of these things are sinful. However, when they are thought to be the source of true beauty, they have become a distraction. The unbelieving husband is not won by such apparel. This text is instruction in wearing "modest apparel." Paul gives similar instruction in First Timothy. "I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness" (2:9-10). Modest, or proper, clothing is in harmony with the profession of godliness, and does not detract from it. No honor is brought to Christ by clothing that clashes with a profession of godliness.
The Spirit takes us to the heart of the matter. It is the relationship with the Lord that is to be cultured, so that the "hidden person of the heart" is characterized by a beauty that does not fade or diminish. The "hidden person of the heart" is the "inward man" (Rom 7:22; 2 Cor 4:16). It is where the Holy Spirit resides (Eph 3:16), and where the Law of God has been written (Heb 10:16). Above all else, this is the part that is to be cultured, nurtured, and adorned with the graces of the Spirit.
The aspects of adornment are worthy of special note: "a gentle (meek) and quiet spirit." These are not common traits, even among believers-but they should be. These are "adornment," something that must be put on. They are described as "incorruptible beauty," or an attractiveness that does not wane with age.
Gentleness is a Divine quality, and much to be coveted. It is a virtue that makes the individual "great" (Psa 18:5). It is the oppositive of being abrasive and harmful. It is also humility that refuses to thrust self into the limelight. It is also a mild disposition, seen most fully in Jesus: i.e., "I am meek and lowly in heart . . . my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt 11:29). Gentleness, or meekness, refuses to inflict willful pain upon others.
To have a "quiet spirit" is to be in a state of spiritual calmness. The presence of this precious quality brings strength, and is always accompanied by confidence (Isa 30:15). The "quiet" person knows the Lord is present, and thus does not fear what man will do (Heb 13:5-6). With deliberation, believers are to "study to be quiet" (1 Thess 4:11), to be calm and without agitation within. The fact that this is a considerable accomplishment accounts for it being "in the sight of God of great price."
Laboring to possess a gentle and quiet spirit may appear to put the wife at a disadvantage. At least, that is how the flesh thinks. But it does not, for it puts the Lord on the side of the godly woman. The wife who seeks to adorn herself with such inward beauty gains the greatest advantage in every way.
THE EXAMPLE OF WOMEN OF OLD
" 5For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror." NKJV As is characteristic of the Spirit, He presses the teaching so as to make flesh most uncomfortable. He will give no honor to the opinions of men who kick against the teaching of the Lord. Thus He summons saints of old to our consideration.
The Lord does not draw our attention to the great women of the world, but to those who "trusted in God." As simplistic as this may appear, the people of God must refrain from viewing the unregenerate as their ultimate examples. If they want notable patterns or models, let them find them among those who have placed their trust in the Lord. In this case, we are reminded of "the holy women." What a refreshing term! Not only, therefore, does God employ "holy men" (2 Pet 1:21), but "holy women" as well. In my opinion, the adoption of such language in the average church would transform its concept of ladies' meetings and fellowships. Our world stands in need of some "holy women."
Ponder some of the "holy women" of old. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Ruth, Hannah, Jochebed, Miriam, Abigail, and Debra. Of particular note is the phrase, "being submissive to their own husbands." Like the virtuous woman of Proverbs thirty-one, their husbands trusted safely in them, were made more known because of them, and praised them (vs 11,23,28). They were all noted for the faith, gentleness, and quietness. Their faith in God made them great, affecting their whole persons. They depended upon the Lord, and brought great honor to His name. Since Christ's entrance into the world, there have also been some great and unforgettable women. Elizabeth, Mary, Dorcas, Anna, Lydia, Priscilla, Phebe, Lois, and Eunice. These are established examples for young ladies to consider and follow.
But of them all, we are called to consider Sarah, because she is the mother of the faithful. She "obeyed Abraham," going with him from Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan (Gen 12:5), down into Egypt (Gen 12:10-14), and even into the land of the Philistines (Gen 20:1-2). This did not mean she was Abraham's slave, for on one occasion God directed Abraham, "in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice" (Gen 21:12). It does mean her general manner was to obey her husband.
The Spirit then refers to Sarah calling Abraham "lord." The reference is no doubt to Genesis 18:12, where Sarah questioned her ability to have Isaac. "Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?" This was not disrespect for Abraham, but the eruption of unbelief. Still, even in that outburst, she had the highest regard for her husband. The text shows that Sarah believed what God had said to Eve, "Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16). "Rule" does not mean ruthlessness or abuse, but responsibility and care.
To be a "daughter" of Sarah is to be in a most noble lineage! Here is a critical note. The relation of godly wives to Sarah is not in slavish and heartless obedience to their husbands. "You have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear."NASB Doing what is right involves submitting to the husband. It also involves inward adornment, which is especially precious to God. A submissive wife who has not cultured her inward person has gained no advantage, and is not a daughter of Sarah. A woman who has adorned her inward person will do what the text directs, and will be blessed of God for it. For all believers--women and men--doing right is never wrong, and doing wrong is never right! To put it another way, God will never bless the wrongdoer, and will never ignore the one who does right.
When the wife is "not afraid with any terror" or amazementKJV, she is not afraid of being put at a disadvantage by obeying the Lord. God will not abandon her in her obedience, nor will her husband gain undue advantage over her because of it. This is a very sensitive text, and is not to be the subject of strong controversy and the making of harsh rules. It is addressed to wives. God leaves it in their hands, and so must we.