Summary: Wives are not called to be slaves, and husbands have no business being bullies. Insecurity drives controlling behavior, which can lead to abuse.
“We do not submit to abuse” I Peter 3:1-8 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. By this time tomorrow, nearly 6,000 women will be victims of domestic violence. As a spiritual community we are called to respond. We live in a fallen world in a culture saturated with violence. Peter urges wives not to “give way to fear”, but many wives live in fear of their husbands, because of husbands twisting this very passage of Scripture.
So I think it’s important to clarify what Peter is advocating. The Apostle wants wives to respect the authority of their husbands in order to promote harmony within the family. What the text is not suggesting is for wives to become doormats. Submission is a voluntary action. It does not mean blind obedience, nor does it signify inferiority. Submission in marriage does not include disobeying God, defiling one’s conscience, or submitting to abuse. Keep in mind that Paul writes, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Harmony in marriage involves give and take. When a spouse simply gives in all the time in order to avoid conflict, resentment and bitterness are most often the result.
The context of Peter’s counsel is Christian wives married to pagan husbands. Under the Roman Empire, husbands had absolute control over their household. Peter is hoping that the respectable behavior of a godly wife may win over an unbelieving husband. In such times, when a woman joined a religion different from her husband, it was viewed as a disloyal act of insubordination. “How else will she rebel?” wondered her pagan husband. A pagan married to a Christian needed to see that his wife was pure by Roman standards even though she would not join him in the worship of his gods (Michaels). Peter urges wives to live above reproach, displaying purity, reverence, and inner beauty so that their faith may be seen and desired. He urges Christian wives to be models of gentleness, generosity, wisdom, and compassion. Fashion models may turn more heads, but Christian wives seek to turn hearts--to the Lord.
Peter points to the example of “holy women of the past”, then selects an unlikely example, Sarah. If you recall, Sarah often disagreed with her husband Abraham; she freely spoke out and expressed her opinion. She even scoffed at the suggestion that she would finally have a son. She was pretty feisty…yet Peter calls her an example of deference. This indicates that unquestioning submission isn’t what God has in mind. To be a “daughter of Sarah” doesn’t mean becoming a slave. Mutual respect is the goal, with husbands and wives working together as partners to face the challenges of family life.
Peter then brings up personal appearance. The Romans associated excessive makeup and conspicuous, extravagant dress with unfaithfulness and pagan fertility cults. Peter’s focus is inward; a person’s heart is the source of beauty. The Apostle is contrasting outward adornment with noble character. In the first century, even the non-Judeo-Christian society had a sense of what was modest and immodest (more than today’s culture).
Husbands are expected to be considerate and respectful of their wives. Godly husbands are to strive to meet their wives’ needs, utilize their giftedness and encourage their spiritual development. Husbands have no right being bullies. Unfortunately, we’re often more polite to the clerk at MacDonald’s than to our own family members. At home we let down our guard and think we’re justified in being downright uncivil.
In the military I served on family advocacy boards and received training in domestic violence. Abuse often stems from an insecure desire for power and control, which leads to bullying behavior. I recall an enlisted soldier who told his wife she wasn’t allowed on base (because there she might have access to other wives and social services). His goal was to keep her in the dark, totally dependent on him (the military has stopped using the term “dependents”). This soldier’s reason for keeping his wife “under wraps” was that she might become stronger than him, and grow more self-reliant. Ultimately his fear was that she might out-grow and desert him. He felt inadequate and unable to love or feel loved. So he took control.
Controlling behavior can take many forms: coercion, withholding money and information, isolation, threats, intimidation, ridicule, jealousy, claiming to know the only truth, accusing, damaging property, hurting pets, and so on. Eventually such insecurity can lead to physical abuse, and the false claim that the victim of abuse provoked and deserved it. Batterers often claim they are the victims. Abusers are both self-centered yet have low self-esteem.
In Nicaragua, a group of women gathered regularly for prayer. In the village a man was known to beat his son. So the prayer group decided to take action. Hearing shouts from the man’s house, they gathered outside and started banging on pots, making a lot of noise. The man rushed outside yelling, “What are you doing?” The women responded, “Stop beating your son!” The man yelled, “Get out of here--this is my son!” And the women answered back, “This is our community.”