“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, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” (1 Peter 3:1–2, NASB95)
Any passage taken out of context can be used to say things that God did not intend in His Word. A clue in these two (and the next several) verses that there is a context to consider is found in the very first words or word (depending upon the translation you are using). “In the same way” means that there is something said before that influences what follows. Some translations choose to begin the verse with the word “Wives,” but the real first word is the Greek word “homoios” which really means; in a like way. It might be translated likewise, equally, or moreover. It means that just as the previous group was to respond to those in leadership over them so are wives to respond to their husbands. In 2:13 we read, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority….” (1 Peter 2:13, NASB95) In verse 18 we read, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” (1 Peter 2:18, NASB95)
Then we have the rest of chapter 2, and with the linking word found here at the beginning of chapter 3 we see that the same principles of heart and action continue to apply.
Both of the relationships of chapter 2 and this one here in chapter 3 share a common focus, and that focus is who we are in Christ. Sure, there is an intermediary face, but the focus is our Lord who gave Himself for us and who holds us securely in His hands.
Marriage is an incredible relationship designed by God. It is He who designed one man and one woman coming together to be one. This is not man’s invention, but it is when man’s ways creep into marriage that it takes on the troubles that are experienced. Sin has this affect. It evidences itself in our passage today with the possibility that a husband may not be following the Lord, leaving his wife to face how to walk through their relationship in a way pleasing to the Lord. In each of the previous relationships there was the consideration that the one in the position of authority may not be using their authority properly or be following God at all. Here the wives are encouraged by Peter to respond to their husbands in those situations such that they speak volumes as they guard their hearts and chose their responses.
God has established an order to things, and in the home He determined that the husband is head over the wife as Christ is head over the church. This is what we read in Ephesians 5:22-24. But He also intended that the husband, as the head, is to love His wife as Christ does the church, giving himself for her, as we read in Ephesians 5:25-30. This is what makes marriage tick as husbands and wives learn to walk in the oneness intended by God. But this proper working takes purposeful attention. Paul ends chapter 5 with this instruction, “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.” (Ephesians 5:33, NASB95)
There is an ideal, but Peter is writing to wives walking through the non-ideal as he addresses the general response that we all are to have when we are placed in situations where those in authority over us are not operating obediently to the ways of our Lord. What Peter tells us is that in the home wives are to live in such a way that even if their husbands are disobedient to the word these husbands may be won or wooed back by the behavior of their wives, not by beating them down or disrespecting them by their attitudes, words or actions.
Peter wrote about wives setting the example in these times (as in all times) with their chaste and respectful behavior. Chaste is also translated pure, and its root is found in the same hagios (saints, holy ones, righteous ones) that is the identity of all believers. It is as they (and all of us) live holy lives that their spouse will hopefully see Christ in them and respond to His love through their actions. Respectful has the inherent meaning found in the previous headship roles spoken of earlier in Peter’s letter. It is the recognition that God has placed the husband as head over the wife. This means even if he is acting disobediently he is still to receive respect from her.
Peter spoke to the extreme power of responses when he pointed to the husband being won without a word as he observes his wife’s behavior. This does not mean that a wife can’t say a word in disagreement, but it may mean at some times after the words are said that she (or even he, if the table is turned) ceases to push the issue and waits on God to work. It also recognizes the truth that ultimately it is Christ to whom she (and all of us) is to submit, and the Holy Spirit needs to be trusted to work. Ultimately, we read that God has established a way of authority that reaches into every area of our lives over which He is the supreme authority. This is true even if it may be very uncomfortable at times.
But is there a difference between uncomfortable and unacceptable? This is a hard one to answer. Looking to the earlier passages, Scripture declares that we are to keep our conscience clear before God and that we should be seeking to glorify Him in all that we say and do. There may be times when a wife may respectfully have to disagree with her husband and not participate in an activity or practice. The focus here may be more on the response and the heart that drives that response. Peter tells us to guard our hearts, and to be constantly mindful of the example of our Lord as we set the example for others even in disagreement.
Jesus went to great lengths for us. He even suffered great abuse and laid down His life. Some take to understand that physical abuse is to be tolerated for the cause of winning their spouse to Christ. Abuse is against the law. It may need to be reported and separation may need to occur as a wife removes herself and her children from the home to protect them from harm. There is much more that could be said here. Should this be an issue, please seek help!