It is good to remember that men and women are very different, but totally equal… Especially in the context of marriage!
Pastor Mark Driscoll says it best:
“We believe that men and women are equal. One is not better than the other or more loved by God than the other. Men and women equally bear the image of God… That being said, the Bible also teaches that men and women have complementary roles (Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Genesis 2). In some ways this is like a left and right hand that are similar but different and that work together with one hand taking the lead.”
I want to tackle a “challenging” but important chunk of scripture regarding marital success.
“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 of the grace of life [she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life], so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
The weaker vessel? It is easy to read that passage and focus solely on those three words. The word “weaker” has become a demeaning word in our culture, especially applied to women, given our nation’s discriminative attitude and behavior towards woman’s rights in history (and still today, if we’re being honest). But the intent of this word is far from meaning inadequate, defective, or substandard. No… in this context Peter is discussing Godly marriages and the upmost importance of loving and honoring one another. The word “weaker” here probably means “delicate” and is referring to physical attributes. As Driscoll puts it: “I want to be emphatically clear that the Bible is here speaking about physical weakness only. Women are not spiritually, morally, emotionally, or mentally weaker.” If I did not view my wife as more delicate, I might lack gentleness in the way I treat her, I might not be intentional about protecting her and keeping her safe. We need to lock the door at night. We need to hold her hand in public. We must position ourselves physically so that we can keep her out of harm’s way and protect her if there is dangerous situation. My wife’s delicate heart requires sensitive and careful handling and I must be tactful, skillful, and highly sensitive in order to show her the honor she is due. Wrestle with the word “weaker” if you must, but this is not the focus of this passage. The audience intended for this passage is “husbands.”
I love how the New Living Translation puts it: “she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life.” For far too long “the church” as a whole has used scriptures like this one to patronize and devalue women. It is evil to use the Word to slander, demean, or shame another human being; we see proof of this in Satan’s consistent distortion and twisting of scripture throughout the Bible. The main point is, Peter is imploring the men of his context (and men today) to honor and lead our wives! He is calling men to step up and take responsibility over their marriage. Do not lose the imperative truths in this scripture by assuming that Peter’s intent was to insult women.
Check out the beginning of this passage… “Likewise, husbands…” This word “likewise” means “similarly.”
Similar to what? Let’s look at the preceding passage:
“In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News [are disobedient to the Word], your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2).
Accept authority? Are you just focusing on the submission of women? Are you insinuating that your marriage will be successful if women would just do everything their husbands say? (If this is your attitude towards this passage… I would ask that you prayerfully consider meeting with a couple with a Christ-centered marriage who have been together for decades, and gleaning wisdom from them regarding this).
On the contrary! Men and women are charged with the duty of being Christ-like. What is meant by this passage is that when husbands fail to obey scripture in their marriage, the wife’s example of consistency, godliness, and purity will speak volumes even when no words are uttered. The intended audience for this passage is “wives.” I can not tell you the number of times I have acted in ways that are in opposition to God’s Word and my wife has shown me perfect Grace. In the moment, her example of wisdom and mercy allowed me to see gently that my attitude and actions were misaligned and that I was being disobedient to the Word.
In the same way Peter charges men to honor and take ownership over the way they treat their spouse in their role as husband, so is he instructing wives to take responsibility over the way they live out this role. He is wisely stating that there are shared duties here and that in order for marriage to work, but both spouses must take responsibility over their lives and roles in the relationship.
But check out the beginning of this passage… “In the same way, you wives…”
In the same way as what? Prior to Peter’s instructions to husbands or wives, he makes this statement:
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21).
We are working backwards through this text, but the order in which Peter gives instruction regarding marriage in these passages is:
1. Husbands and wives, Christ must be the example you use to love and serve your spouse.
2. Wives, live Godly, pure and reverent lives as you serve your husband and allow him to lead your family.
3. Husbands, you must learn to love, honor, and protect your wife and as you grow in Christ-likeness, view her as spiritually equal and full of immeasurable value.
Peter is showing the importance of Christ-likeness and that this should be our first priority in the way we conduct our role as husband and wife.
In their book “Love and War,” John and Staci Eldredge write: “The greatest gift you can give your marriage is for you to develop a real relationship with Jesus Christ…. The secret to happiness is this: God is the love you are longing for.” There is a popular perspective that the point of getting married is for my happiness, and that our spouse’s primary duty is to give us the happiness we “deserve”. This attitude will lead to great disappointment. The truth is, to quote the Eldredge’s again: “The number one thing that gets in the way is your way.”
This does not mean that we are forbidden to have preferences or likes and dislikes… But there is a stubborn/selfish attitude that we can adopt in our marriage that causes feelings of entitlement which leads to anger and complaining when we don’t get our way. Don’t be so immovable and self-focused that you neglect your spouse and somehow expect them to bring you joy and make you feel loved and respected. We need a culture-wide perspective shift! “This begins to happen when we shift the focus of our energy from needing the other person to change to asking God, how do I need to change? What would happen in your relationship if you could both make the shift from “changing you” to “changing me”?” Seek to really know your spouse. Listen. Seek to understand how your behavior and attitude is effecting the health of your marriage. Forgive. Have the courage to admit your mistakes and work intentionally to change them. Communicate your expectations clearly to your spouse, create shared meaning and vision together regarding every issue… you are on the same team.
We have to choose to be selfless and to serve our spouse and put their needs before our own. If we can learn how to truly and practically do this, we will end up being loved in a way we never imagined… we will have the fulfilling and joy-filled marriage we long for.