The Silent Preaching of a Godly Wife (1 Pet 3:1c)

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The Silent Preaching of a Godly Wife

1 Peter 3:1c–The quiet witness of a wife to an unsaved husband

Someone once told me that life is like a deck of cards–when you’re in love it’s hearts . . . when you’re engaged it’s diamonds . . . when you’re married it’s clubs . . . and when you die it’s spades.  It’s true, being in love is hearts, and being engaged is diamonds, and when you die it is spades–or at least a backhoe.  But does marriage have to be clubs?

Open to 1 Peter 3 and take your outline and follow along.  Read with me verse 1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.”

Peter says God intends for marriage to be, 1 Peter 3:7, the grace of life, one of the main ways you experience God’s grace on this planet.  Marriage done God’s way, for God’s glory, empowered by God’s Spirit, is supposed to be the hot fudge on the sundae, the sprinkles on your donut, the sugar in your iced tea . . . the best there is.

But Peter also says marriage will not be free from difficulty.  And in chapter 3, the apostle is focusing on the domestic problems Christianity inevitably produces.  It was unavoidable–one marriage partner would be born again while the other spouse remained untouched by the Gospel.  This created complex troubles, especially for Christian wives who were married to non-Christian husbands.

Some of you have wondered why Peter took six verses to instruct the wives, and only one verse to instruct the husbands.  I have . . . it’s not that men are more teachable–not at all–but simply, the wife’s position was far more difficult than the husband’s.  If a husband became a Christian back then, he’d automatically bring his wife with him into the church, and there’d be no problem.  But if a wife became a Christian while her husband did not, she was taking a step which was unprecedented in her culture and traumatic to her home.

In every sphere of society 2,000 years ago, women had no rights at all.  Under Jewish law, a woman was a thing, an object, a possession–she was no better than sheep.  (It’s no wonder some ladies are named Baaaarbara.)  A wife was literally owned by her husband in exactly the same way as he owned a flock of goats, Naaaaancy.  She could not leave him, although he could dismiss her for anything.  So for a wife to change her religion while her husband did not was unthinkable.

In Greek culture, the duty of a wife was “to remain indoors and be obedient to her husband.”  It was the sign of a good woman that she see as little, hear as little, and ask as little as possible.  Wives were seen not heard.  She had no type of independent existence and no opportunity to express her mind.  And her husband could divorce her over any whim, as long as he returned her dowry.  That was Greek.

Under Roman law, a woman had no rights at all.  She was to remain forever a child.  When she was under her father, she was the “patria potestas” in the father’s power, which gave the father the right to kill his daughter if he chose to . . . go clean your room!  When she married, she was no better off, in that her husband also had the authority of life and death.  A wife was entirely subject to her husband and completely at his mercy.

Listen to these examples:

A Roman named Cata wrote that if you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you could kill her with impunity without a trial.  Roman matrons were prohibited from drinking wine–one Roman Egnatious beat his wife to death when he discovered she was sneaking some wine.  Another Roman husband Sulpicius dismissed his wife because she appeared in the streets without a veil.  Antistius divorced his wife because he saw her secretly speaking to a freed woman in public.  Publius divorced his wife because she went to the public games—“No sports for you!’

The whole attitude in Rome was that no woman would dare make any decision for herself.  So can you imagine the problems of a wife who became a believer while her husband remained a pagan worshiping ancestral gods?  It’s almost impossible for us to fully comprehend what life must have been like for a wife who was brave enough to turn to Christ.

So now God, the One who gave us life and for many here new life—God, who is the One who designed marriage, says in verse 1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives.”

So here are some Christians living on the edge of the Black Sea, under suspicion, experiencing rejection, trying to follow Christ, so Peter says to Christian wives . . .

#1  Submit to your own husbands like Christ submitted


In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands.  In what way are wives to submit to their own husbands?  Peter just told us in verses 21-25.  In the same way Jesus submitted to suffering and unfair treatment, you wives submit to husbands.  Read verses 21-23, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

So with a heart to imitate Christ, with a desire to please God, with a passion to glorify God by putting His attribute of submission on display, God says, present tense–submit continually, 24/7, on happy days, even on hormone days, plus the middle voice says act upon yourself, to submit yourself to your own husband . . . not to every man, but to the husband who is privately yours–your own man.

And just as Jesus struggled under the treatment of unbelievers, so wives are to submit, even if your husband is a non-Christian.  Submission is calling wives to rank themselves under their husbands’ authority and follow his leadership in every way but sin.  We don’t like the “S” word today—submission.  Of course unbelievers think submission is chauvinistic.  But even to believers in our area, who go to churches where they dance around the roles in marriage, submission is labeled as Neanderthal.  UGGGH woman,  submit!

Many picture womanly submission in terms of a caveman holding a club and dragging a woman around by her hair.  Some see those who might promote the submission of wives as regressing back to the Dark Ages.  The word submission can hardly be used on campus or at work without huge misunderstanding and strong disdain.

Yet Christians know submission is an attribute of God–as Christ who is God and one with God also submits to the Father’s headship.  And submission is a biblical word, repeatedly directed toward wives for their own husbands, but also children to parents, men to bosses, and Christians toward elders, police and government.

Some feminists say submission is supposed to be mutual, but one of the big problems with that view is the word submission means to be obedient to an authority.  Right here in this passage, Peter says at the end of verses 5 and 6, “being submissive to their own husbands;  just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”

In the previous context of 1 Peter 2:13, Christians are subject to government, and 1 Peter 2:18, slaves are subject to masters, and now 1 Peter 3:1, wives are subject to husbands.  Never are those roles reversed.  Never is the government to submit to Christians, or masters to slaves, or husbands to wives.

But never forget, there are different kinds of authority/submission relationships.  The husband/wife relationship is not a boss/employee, a general/soldier or slave/master relationship.  The husband/wife relationship is a love relationship, the most intimate of all human relationships.  It is bound by an eternal vow and intimate consummation, where two adults are united as one.  Within this union, one partner lovingly takes the lead, and the other willingly supports that lead.

Just like the trinity, there is oneness, yet there is also authority submission–both are necessary and must be in balance for a marriage to experience the grace of life.  Marriages with too much oneness become wife-controlled; marriages with too much authority submission become husband-controlled.  Only marriages that balance both the oneness and the authority submission of the trinity become Christ-controlled.

True marital submission does not mean a wife is inferior, or passive, or surrendering all independent thought.  Biblical submission does not mean a wife’s creativity, gifts or individuality is stifled by her husband.  The genuine submissive role does not imply oppression, enabling sin or worst of all, it does not mean a wife lives with a physically abusive husband. No, but she is to submit to everything but sin.  Her submission is a continual attitude, mandatory action, and spiritual obedience before her God, where she brings God glory, imitates Christ, and obeys the Word of God by supporting and following her husband’s leadership in their marriage and in their home.    What if a husband is unsaved?  Peter also adds this in verse 1b.

#2  Submit even if your husband is in rebellion to God

Wife, submit even if your husband is not a Christian (verse 1b), “so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word.”  Non-Christian husbands are described here as those who are present tense, continually 24/7, as a way-of-life, disobedient to the Word of God, the Bible.  Unbelievers and make-believers both have lifestyles that do not obey the Scripture.

Hear me–you do not obey the scripture to become a Christian, you rely completely on Christ through dependently given faith, believing He died for your sin on the cross and rose from the dead.  But once you’re born again, you’re given a heart that wants to obey God in everything, and that new heart will show itself in a lifestyle that seeks to obey the commands of the Bible.

Delayed obedience or partial obedience is disobedience.  You don’t pick and choose when you obey or what you’ll obey–Christians have a heart to obey all Christ’s commands all the time, including forgiving those who’ve offended you, not grumbling, faithfully attending worship, not pouting, manipulating but giving, serving, loving, even being regularly intimate with your spouse.

You see, by describing the non-Christian husband here as one who is disobedient to the Word, the Holy Spirit is describing all Christians and especially the wives of unsaved husbands as obedient to the Word.  It is only those wives who are obedient to the Word of God who are submissive to Christ.  It is only wives who are submissive to Christ who can be submissive to their husbands.  Plus, it’s only those wives who are obedient to the Word of God whom God will use to possibly lead their unsaved husbands to the Gospel of Christ.

So if a wife becomes a Christian and her husband does not, or if she marries a so-called Christian who turns out not to be saved, or she disobeys God’s Word and marries a non-believer, what does she do?  Verse 1 (in the ESV), “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, [NOTICE] they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.”  We have now arrived at the last phrase of verse 1.

#3  Continue hoping for your husband’s salvation


They may be won without a word.”  You gotta love Peter’s word choice here–that those unsaved husbands might be won rather than lost.  This is where we get the idea of soul-winning, evangelism, sharing and showing the good news of Christ, declaring and displaying the Gospel–how sinners like you and me can be made right with God now and enjoy His presence forever.

The Greek word won here in verse 1 is the exact word Paul uses five times in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might WIN more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to WIN Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might WIN those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might WIN those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might WIN the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”

“Win” here is that some might get saved, and Peter desires wives to behave in a certain way so that lost husbands might get saved.  Back to 1 Peter 3:1c, using the future tense in the verb, they “may be won”, Peter wants Christian wives to continue hoping in the future, that they might be the instrument God uses to win their husbands to Christ.  God offers hope here, not a guarantee, but genuine hope.  Because the Bible is God-breathed, and every word is inspired, we know Peter using a passive voice in the verb, they “may be won”, is reminding us God is the one who must save the husband.

Unsaved wives can be a tool in God’s hands, and what Peter instructs wives to do in this passage is describing how they can be a really effective tool in God’s hands.  But the passive voice of the verb, they “may be won”, tells us the wife can’t save the husband, the husband can’t save himself, but God must save him.  Passive means it’s done to the husband by God.  So just as 1 Peter 3:5 tells us Godly women put their hope in God, so Christian wives of unsaved so-called, maybe Christian husbands must put their hope in God.

Peter invested chapter 1 through chapter 2:12 reminding us that God is the author of salvation. Only God chooses–God causes Christians to be born again, God changes people to be obedient to Christ, so put your hope in God to save those who are lost.  Put your hope in Christ to transform a disobedient husband into an obedient heart-driven Christ-follower.

First Peter 1 even told you to keep your eyes off your hurts that may come being married to a non-Christian, but keep your eyes on Christ.  Keep praying, keep hoping, keep trusting in God, as the wife of an unsaved husband–keep your walk with God fresh, and your hope in God on fire.  Your union with Christ is stronger, higher and more intimate than your union with your husband.  Your husband does not complete you, you are complete in Christ.  Your husband is not your closest companion, Christ is.

The focus of this verse and this passage, is not how to change your husband, it is what a wife can do to be an agent for change.  The focus is on the behavior of the believer–what should they do?

First  Refuse to make talking your witness–they may be won without a word

Actions speak louder than words–show me the money.  Talk is cheap.  You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Unsaved husbands are to be won without a word.  Peter uses a play on words–the husband who is disobedient to the Word of God is going to be won without a spoken word.  Stop lippin’ and start livin’.  Stop sharing and start showing.

In other words, become a silent preacher–through the loveliness of your behavior, have him rethink his beliefs.  Through the beauty of your conduct, have him notice Christ.  Through the fragrance of your manners, let him see your Master.  Win them to Christ without a lot of words.  Refuse to make talking your witness.  Peter here is shouting at you–are you listening?

Some of you have forgotten what Peter just said about Jesus.  First Peter 2:23 (NAS),  “And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”  Peter makes a powerful point–Jesus didn’t use talk in the midst of His suffering.  And Peter says in verse 21 that this was to be an example for to us to follow–stop speaking and start showing. . . conduct over communication . . . lifestyle over lecture.  He did not revile in return–while suffering, He uttered no threats.

The rest of the passage, verses 2-6 loudly shouts for you to be quiet, to use behavior, internals and character as your stronger witness.  Become a silent preacher.  Refuse to make talking your witness. The only exception to the no speech rule is Sarah’s example in verse 6, “Just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”

The only example of a wife speaking in these verses is Sarah expressing words of profound respect to Abraham–she called him lord.  Ephesians 5:33 (NAS) reminds a wife, “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”  A wife will say, “He’s supposed to love me, then I will respect him.”  But God says, “You respect Him because I love you and have shed my love abroad in your heart” (Romans 5:5).

A wife will say, “He is so hurtful and unrespectable.”  But even though you don’t have to respect all the choices he makes, or words he says, or actions he takes, you can respect his God-appointed position as your head.  So if words do come, they need to be saturated with respect.  Plus, in order to respond to the Gospel, the actual truth of putting your faith in Christ, dying for our sins, being buried then raised from the dead as the only way anyone ever can be right with God now, and be with Him in heaven forever must be shared.  At some point he will need to graciously, lovingly hear the gospel.  But your ongoing witness to an unsaved husband, or a relative you are trying to reach, or a friend who knows you well will not be nagging to turn to Christ, but loving them.

This goal is not passive, it is active.  Submission does not mean a wife does nothing–it means the opposite.  She is going to war in order to win her husband to Christ.  Too many Christian wives with weak or unbelieving husbands remain passive and join pity parties with those who will participate, and the most active thing they do is ask for prayer, which is usually a way for them to complain about just how bad he is.  But God calls Christian wives to take the offensive, lovingly attack their husband and take them captive for Christ.

When you attack another to bring him to Christ, the bullets are kindness and the bombs are love.  So many wives do the opposite, and this is what Peter is telling you not to do.  Don’t nag or plead with husbands to become Christians–don’t complain about the values driving their unsaved behavior.  Don’t refuse to forgive your unsaved husband for the actions that those enslaved to sin do.  Never seek revenge.  Those harsh words only succeed in further alienating them.  Such tactics are forbidden in these verses.  This passage clearly says without a word from the wife.

To preach at your husband day after day will not win him to Christ–to turn up the volume on the Christian radio station when he comes home is only another way of disobeying God’s Word, and so is scattering Gospel tracts all over the house so he has to move them in order to sit down.  Refuse to make all forms of talking your witness–so what do I do?

Second  Pursue Godly behavior as your primary witness

Verse 1c  They may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives–God wants your conduct to point to Christ.  Minimize the witness of your words and maximize the witness of your ways.  The Greek word behavior in “by the behavior of their wives”, comes from a word that originally meant “to move about; turning about”–the idea is to watch someone’s movements with understanding.

It’s the watching them behave in a way that causes you to be curious as to why they behave that way–why are they turning about in this manner?  Plus the Greek word “behavior” has a conversion and attention feel to it.  You are living in such a radical Christ-like way that your husband notices and is attracted to your manner of living.  God commands your conduct to be converting.

And included in the translation of the Greek word for “behavior” is a wife’s demeanor.  The very way you carry yourself, your facial expressions, eyes brightening when you see your husband, smiling, teasing, esteeming, encouraging and loving.  Peter loves this word “behavior”.  Look at how he uses it in 1 Peter:

1 Peter 1:15 (NAS) “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.”

1 Peter 2:12 (NAS) “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

1 Peter 3:2 (NAS) “As they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”

1 Peter 3:16 (NAS) “And keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

Peter says in Chapter 3:1 that actions speak louder than words.  And excellent actions, good deeds, respectful conduct, and good demeanor are a powerful witness to an unsaved spouse or anyone else.  When you tell a guy or gal you only want to be friends and they say, “Okay,”–that is not their answer, it is how they behave that tells you what they really think.

Never forget as a Christian woman looking for that elusive godly man–a single guy who makes all kinds of promises, says all kinds of lovey words and gives you expensive gifts has not proven His love for you.  His love is proven if He is willing to give you up in order to pursue Christ.  He has not proven His love for you until you know in a hundred different small ways that He loves Christ more than you.  Only when you are convinced that He will lead you like Christ through God’s Word in every decision do you actually know He loves you the way Christ expects Him to with his behavior in order to be worthy of you.

And wives of unsaved husbands, it will be how you live with your husband that God uses as a tool to win your husband to Christ.  Consider three ways to turn your husband’s head toward Christ:

1) Enjoyment–Part of respecting your husband is learning what he delights in and enjoying those things with him.  Sports, hunting, surfing, fishing, exercising–ask the Lord to change your heart, and seek to participate in what he loves.

Jean and I are in our 50’s–this last vacation she gets a wetsuit, grabs a body board, and to my surprise goes out in the surf with me and takes some waves—that’s right–she is a wicked wahine–a surfer chick.  Never before–I can’t describe to you how much that meant to me–and I can only imagine what that might mean to an unsaved husband, especially after she was washing machined twice and later still went out with me:  enjoyment!

2) Passion–Intimacy is important in a marriage, and a crucial way a wife shows her husband her love.  And God is not shy about a woman’s duty to her husband in this area.  First Corinthians 7:2–4 (NAS) “But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.  The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”

God just commanded you four times to take care of your husband.  To disobey is sin.  For the unequally yoked wife, if you change this area from a duty to a delight in your marriage, it will be a powerful witness in the life of an unsaved husband.

3) Serving–The greatest among you is the servant, and the greatest witness is a servant. Saying, “How can I help you dear?”, cooking his favorite meals, anticipating needs, humbling yourself to do the lowly tasks are ways for behavior to be a witness.

Jesus gives the Christian wife this simple truth.  Be a great wife to your unsaved husband.  In fact, apart from sin, become the woman that every man dreams about to your husband.  But what kind of behavior will really make a difference?  For the answer to that, you have to come back next week.

ONE–Where are you looking?  When Peter walked on water, he did fine till he took his eyes off Christ and looked at the stormy sea.  You will do fine if you keep your eyes on Christ and not your circumstances, unsaved husband or trials.  Remember Godly women, verse 5, hope in God.  They don’t hope in their husbands, their money, their future husband, their looks, or lack thereof–they hope in God.

The secret to flourishing in difficult relationships is not to get your strength from those relationships, but from God.  Hope in God.  Look to God for the love, security and joy you long for–then you will have strength for others, believer or unbeliever.

TWO–How are you growing?  You are not responsible for your husband, you are responsible for you–your husband is God’s job, not yours.  That goes for husbands to wives and girlfriends to boyfriends, but you need to grow, and Peter’s focus in these verses is internal.  And the only way that happens is to be in God’s Word, prayer, silence, fasting, memorizing, study, applying the Word by the power of the Spirit.  You can only do that if you’re not caught up in a bunch of externals, overactivity, or worldly pursuits.

THREE–Who are you honoring?  At the movies today, the credits run at the end–not long ago, the credits used to run at the beginning of a movie.  In your marriage, in your parenting, in your friendships, and singles in your relationships–give credit at the beginning, all the way through, and at the end.  Make sure all your efforts are for Him.

If any relationship does not smell of Christ’s presence, if He is not served, loved, cherished, talked about, thought about–then that relationship is not for Him, and will not be blessed by Him.  Maybe that means you’re not His in the first place–let’s pray.

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.