COMMENTARY ON FIRST PETER
" 3:7Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered." (1 Pet 3:7, NKJV)
Why are such practical matters mentioned in the midst of lofty expositions of the Gospel of Christ? For some, they are too mundane to be considered. The reason for their mention relates to the purpose for the Gospel. It is to bring us into fellowship with God by announcing that a satisfactory atonement has been made for our sin and sinfulness. That fellowship takes place in the details of life itself. Eternal life is "knowing" God (John 17:3), and that is neither seasonal nor confined to a certain place. Concourse with the Lord takes place in the circumstances of life: i.e., subjects of governors, masters and subordinates, children and parents, and husbands and wives. These aspects of life are not divorced from intimacy with God and Christ. They actually become the context in which rich fellowship with the Father and Son are realized. While all of these earthly relationships are temporal, they are a sort of classroom in which we can experience Divine direction, tutelage, empowerment, and blessing. They are areas in which spiritual progress can be made.
HUSBANDS, DWELL WITH THEM IN UNDERSTANDING
" 7aHusbands, likewise, dwell with them [your wives] with understanding." NKJV The word "likewise" ties this exhortation to the general word, "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king" (v 17). Salvation elevates our associations with our peers, whether they be humanity in general, those in Christ Jesus, kings, or our spouses. Husbands are not excluded from mutual responsibilities and considerations. At no point will the Spirit allow us to think we are only the recipients of honor and respect. Husbands are obligated by the very nature of spiritual life to be respectful of their wives. As we will see, this directly correlates with their association with both God and Christ.
"Dwell with them." The word "dwell" means to reside together, fulfilling all of the responsibilities associated with that relationship. It is more than occupying the same residence. There is activity and interest involved. It is the same concept introduced in Ephesians 2:22. "In whom [Christ Jesus] ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." In the case of believers, they are molded together as a place for God to reside through the Spirit. There is purpose to the togetherness, mutual obligations are fulfilled, and God is glorified. So it is with godly husband. In dwelling with his wife, a purpose is served that brings glory to the Lord. He is a provider, sustainer, encourager, and protector of the wife. All of that is involved in dwelling with his wife.
When God created man and woman, His intention was spelled out. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Gen 2:24). Jesus enforced this word, commanding that men not seek to divide what God has joined together (Matt 19:5-6). Solomon mentioned rejoicing with the wife of our youth (Prov 5:18). Again he said, "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity" (Eccl 9:9). In the marital bond, troubles are halved, and joys are doubled. Although many have experienced heartbreak in marriage, that is not God's intentions. His design is to bring advantages by the union of a husband and wife. The husband is to acknowledge this by abiding with his wife in a God-honoring manner.
"In understanding." The Spirit is not calling for husbands to merely fulfill a responsibility. The KJV reads, "according to knowledge." This is understood to be a higher form of knowledge, and not a mere intellectual acquaintance with mutual obligations. To be sure, it is their duty to dwell with their wives, but their heart and mind must be in the matter. They are to abide with them in "an understanding way,"NASB or considerately. The text is not urging husbands to dwell with their wives in a cold and intellectual way, but in a manner involving the heart. Other versions read, "live considerately with your wives,"RSV "show consideration for your wives in your life together,"NRSV and "be considerate as you live with your wives."NIV
The ultimate example of this tender relationship is found in Christ and the church. In a very poignant way, the Spirit says, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" (Eph 5:25,28,29). "With understanding," or "considerately," involves selflessness. In such a relationship, the husband transfers the self concern for himself to the interests of his wife.
"In understanding" involves having a heavenly perspective of the situation. That is the sort of view that must dominate every human relationship. The "knowledge of God," which is integral to salvation (John 17:3; Jer 31:34), touches upon every aspect of life in this world. Our acquaintance with God (Job 22:21) will bring influences to bear upon our domestic lives. Many of us could do much better in this area, and must be encouraged to do so. If the Lord has told husbands to live with their wives in a considerate and thoughtful manner, it is sin not to do so. Here is an area where Satan can gain a foothold in our lives. He is to be resisted in faith when husbands are tempted to be inconsiderate, or allow less attentiveness to their wives than to their own persons. We will find that domestic life has a direct bearing and impact upon our walk with the Lord.
GIVING HONOR TO THE WIFE AS HEIRS TOGETHER
" 7b . . . giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life . . . " NKJV In approaching a text like this, we must take care not to use it to diagnose wives as being inferior to the husband. Should this imagination be entertained, it will not be possible to "give honor to the wife." The word "honor" is an unusually strong one. It means valuable, highly esteemed, giving dignity, and regarding the wife as precious and beyond price. It is said of a virtuous woman, "The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life"NKJV (Prov 31:11-12). Giving honor to the wife involves a recognition of that circumstance. The husband who honors his wife knows "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen 2:18a). He realizes that when God provided man with a wife, it was an appropriate provision-exactly what he needed. "I will make him a helper suitable for him"NASB (Gen 2:18b). The RSV reads "a helper fit for him." The NKJV reads, "comparable to him." Man was not provided a slave, but a helper-one to come along side of him and assist him in fulfilling the appointed will of the Lord. Honoring the wife involves a recognition of that fact. Honor is to be "given" to the wife. She is to be aware her husband honors her, and he is to speak honorably of her. This is seen in Christ's care for the church.
"The weaker vessel." Here is an expression that has become greatly distorted. The various versions do little to clarify what is intended. Nor, indeed, does a mere study of the word "weaker" yield the intended meaning. To assist us in seeing the intent of the Spirit, it is necessary to consider how the Lord spoke of the creation of man and woman. Together, they projected the image of God. From the standpoint of the Divine imagery in humanity, they are not two separate images, but a single one. "This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created" (Gen 5:1-2). "Man," or mankind, or humanity, does not consist of men only, but of men and women. That must be seen to comprehend this statement.
"Weaker" does not mean inferior, or to be despised. It is not a fleshly distinction, nor does it suggest women have a shorter life span. Nor, indeed, does it propound they fall apart more easily, or are less stable emotionally. On one occasion, Sarah stood strong when Abraham did not (Gen 21:9-12), and once Zipporah, wife of Moses, excelled him in discernment (Ex 4:24-26). "Weaker" involves something that appears to be weak, but actually is not. The word is used this way in 1 Corinthians 1:25. "The weakness of God is stronger than men." And again, "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Cor 1:27). Further, we learn from the members of the body of Christ, that what appears to be more feeble is nevertheless necessary. "Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary" (1 Cor 12:22).
This "weakness" is, in my understanding, the accentuation of certain Divine qualities within the woman: tenderness, compassion, mercy, and sensitivity. God did not reflect the total Divine image in man alone, but placed measures in both the man and women. It is not that these traits are exclusive to each of them. Rather certain ones are accented in both the man and the woman. Those within the woman are to be duly noted by the husband, and she is to be given honor because of it. This type of sensitivity is seen in the woman that ministered to Jesus (Mk 15:41), Mary Magdelene (Mk 16:9), the woman who poured the ointment upon Jesus (Matt 26:7), and the Syrophenician woman (Mk 7:26-30).
"Heirs together." Here is a most wonderful expression: "a fellow heir of the grace of life."NASB Some of this life pertains to this world, and some to the world to come-but both husband and wife are called to partake of them. There is an equality in Christ that is to be treasured, for in Him there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28). All of the benefits of salvation are available to the wife, and her husband is to honor her with that in mind. It makes a great difference how men treat their wives when they consider them a "joint heir of life." The spiritual life of the husband can be greatly enriched by the wife.
THAT YOUR PRAYERS BE NOT HINDERED
"7c . . . that your prayers may not be hindered." NKJV The importance of maintaining godly lives in marital relationships is confirmed in this text. This corroborates that life in Christ permeates every relationship of life in this world. Our harmony, or lack thereof, with the Lord in every area of life has a direct bearing upon how heaven regards us. In particular, the Spirit mentions the prayers of a husband. It is true, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). It is also true that the prayers of an inconsiderate husband are "hindered." They are "hindered" by the impact of his thoughtless treatment of his own wife. Whether in public or private, men are to pray "lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting" (1 Tim 2:8). If men despise the gifts given to them by God (of which a good wife is one-Prov 10:22), their prayers will, at the very least, be "hindered."
What does it mean for prayers to be "hindered?" It means they are frustrated, cut down, and not allowed to bring forth fruit! Take, for example, the prayers of Job's friends. God did not hear them because of their contentious spirit against Job. But of Job God said, "my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept" (Job 42:8). Again, showing the bearing that earthly relationships can have upon heavenly ones, Jesus said: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matt 5:23-24). Much more will the lack of honor for a "joint heir" of the grace of life make our prayers pointless and vain. If the prayers of husbands are not heard, due thought should be given to how they have honored their wives.
But this text is not limited to the husbands. The expression "your prayers" may also include the wives. Consider the possibilities of prayer that are open to a husband and wife that "agree." Remember the words of the Lord Jesus. "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt 18:19). What principle of thought is there that would exclude a husband and wife agreeing on a matter, and claiming this promise?
There is a priority here that must be seen. The fundamental relationship is not that of husband and wife, but of the individual with God. Notice the perspective that is powerfully developed. The purpose of the husband giving due honor to the wife, holding her in high regard, is not that the home may be peaceful-although that no doubt will result. It is not that they might set a good example to any children that may be present, although that is also involved. The real objective, however, is not to allow any hindering influence to come between ourselves and the Lord. Our prayers, for example, are not to be viewed as a mere perfunctory service. They are rather a means of bringing Divine influence to bear upon our lives in this world. We should not only fight against any tendency to neglect prayer, but see to it that our lives do not cause them to be "hindered."
Prayer requires calmness and peace within the soul. An agitated or inconsiderate soul cannot offer powerful prayers. It stands to reason that if the husband and wife are at peace with each other, their prayers will have more power. There is a time when husbands and wives may abstain from the normalities of marriage in order to give themselves to prayer and fasting. However, the Spirit very carefully words instruction on this matter. "Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control"NKJV (1 Cor 7:5). Notice the mutuality involved-"with consent." Behold the consideration-"for a time . . . come together again." There are times when special prayer and fasting take the precedence. But even then, care must be taken not to awaken undue temptation within each other.
We have considered a very powerful and practical text. It is quite possible for it to bring conviction upon the heart of husbands. But they must not despair, or stand in a pool of shame. Let them run quickly to the Savior for cleansing, and power to fulfill their role in life to the honor of the Lord who loved them and gave Himself for them.