Hard Words to Women from I Peter

If I write another women’s Bible study, I think I’ll do it on I Peter. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I am burdened that we usually teach the passages that deal with women submitting, respecting, or generally being quiet out of context with the Scripture in which they are presented. My study of Ephesians transformed my attitude toward Paul’s instructions to wives in Ephesians 5. There Paul teaches this fully in the context of a very long, fleshed out exposition of all the benefits Christ has purchased for us on the cross. Then he presents what it looks like when men and women who are IN CHRIST and being conformed to the image of God apply the gospel to their marriage.

Like Paul, Peter presents controversial words to women in I Peter 3:1-2.

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.

For many in conservative Christianity, this instruction to women basically boils down to something along the lines of “sit down and shut up.” That’s because it’s repeatedly taught out of context of the entire message of I Peter – which again is about the gospel and what it looks like for all of us, men and women, to be like Christ.

Before we flesh out I Peter 2 and 3, let’s consider the reality of the need for these instructions. We all know that husbands sin. Every last one of them. We sin, and they sin. And just as we don’t always recognize our sin, they often don’t recognize theirs. (Let me give an important disclaimer—I do not intend to deal with issues of sexual or physical abuse or those involving illegal behavior. I may do that in another post, but for today, when you read my thoughts, please don’t put them in that context.)

Throughout my life experiences, I’ve noted two particular types of reactions to a husband’s real or perceived sins among Christian women. And I willingly confess, sometimes the person I’m observing is myself.

The first reaction goes something like this—“my husband just made a terrible decision. He is stupid, self-centered, and needs my input to correct his error. I notice small things everyday that others wouldn’t notice that reflect his ineptness.”


“If my husband ever does sin, please don’t bring it to my attention. I must pretend I didn’t notice it. The only way I can be a helper in my home is if I ignore and deny that my husband may be wrong about something. If I acknowledge his sin to myself, my whole world starts to crumble around me.”

These two reactions may seem like polar opposites, but in many ways the root of each is the same—fear and unbelief in God’s trustworthiness. The first one is obvious in its unbelief. This wife doesn’t love her husband and doesn’t trust her God. You probably know this woman. Heck, you may even BE this woman. She is unable to give her husband the benefit of the doubt. She is obviously manipulative and distrustful of anything that doesn’t have her completely in control.

The 2nd example is a bit more deceptive, and I’d like to park on this reaction for a bit. Women who react like #2 are usually good Christian women who are involved in their church and committed to their obligations at home. Their husbands likely have a good reputation within and without the church. Women in this situation can feel threatened when they become aware of a sin issue in their husband’s life. They don’t know what to do with their husband’s sin. So they say nothing. They do nothing. And they think they are obeying I Peter 3:1-2 by doing so.

My experience is that Christian teaching from the Bible on the roles of men and women in the home often falls off the jetway when it gets to this issue. Consider again I Peter 3:1-2, but this time in context.

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.

Here are three observations on this verse in context.

1) The instruction is not to ignore sin. It is actually quite the opposite. The whole premise of the verse is that the wife is well aware of her husband’s disobedience to the word. In fact, I submit to you that if your husband is in sin, one of the worst things you can do to him and those affected by his sin is stick your head in the sand and ignore it.

2) There is something very powerful about a calm reaction by a wife to a very serious problem in her husband. There is a response that does not rely on words but nevertheless influences others powerfully towards repentance and righteousness. Most of us don’t really believe this—we don’t grasp that God has methods that are much more powerful for change than the ones we normally use (primarily our words). We don’t understand that shutting our mouths in the context that Peter presents it can be MORE POWERFUL than opening it.

3) Most importantly, this verse begins with the phrase “in the same way.” For those familiar with this instruction to wives, have you read the previous verses? The last verses in the previous chapter are all about Christ’s example. And the instruction to wives is to respond “in the same way” that He did.

21 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,


23 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;

24and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

25For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. 3:1 In the same way, you wives ….

Suddenly, reading this in context, this instruction to wives takes on new meaning. This isn’t “shut up and stop nagging.” The command is to deal with your husband’s sin the way Christ deals with yours.

Here are some practical things that come to mind as I meditate on how Christ dealt with sin and therefore how we should respond to our husband’s. First, if my husband sins against me, I do not return it in kind. I entrust myself to Him who judges righteously. Nowhere does this say I do not acknowledge that I was sinned against. But there is a way to communicate the truth of his sin that is not manipulative but instead is reflective of the character of Christ—chaste and respectful.

Second, if my husband sins against someone else, I still respond with grace—with grace toward my husband (acknowledging his sin but influencing him toward repentance with respect rather than manipulation) and grace toward those he sinned against (in particular, acknowledging the truth of what was done to them and looking for respectful, non-manipulative ways to aid in reconciliation between the parties—Abigail in the OT is an example of this).

Finally, lest this seem like sexist instructions to wives, I remind you that the example Peter gives us is NOT a woman. It’s Jesus Christ Himself. Peter gives a particular application to wives, but the larger context of these instructions transcends gender and role–for we are all, male and female, called to be conformed to the image of Christ. We are all called to return grace for evil—noting that this never means that we sweep sin under the carpet. The goal is always to rightly deal with sin—to reconcile, to make things right, to repair the harm we (or our husbands) have done to others. But it is the goodness of God that draws any of us to repentance. Wives, don’t underestimate the power of grace-filled, purposeful silence. According to Peter, it is potentially much more influential than words. Grace is the most powerful influence toward authentic repentance ever known. But it’s not grace if you don’t acknowledge the sin in the first place. Wives, that is just self-delusion, and it doesn’t help anyone.

2 Responses to Hard Words to Women from I Peter

  1. kellycowan January 25, 2010 at 10:03 pm #

    one of my favorite posts in a while. i have a marriage journal going on two years where i have been recording what the Lord has been working on in regards to my heart-roots with issues in me as a wife. this is a big one. mainly because my sin baits of being understood, being treated justly, and having my expectations met largely become more important than being who the Spirit is asking me to be in the moment. i am thankful for another good word to reveal yet more clarity on this for me.

  2. Amy G January 29, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    Wendy. Wow. And thanks. I don't remember if we've talked about my parents at all, but it's like this is about my mom.

    Thanks for being willing to be a vessel of God's truth.