Sermon preached on 1 Peter 3:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/29/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 3:1-7
Daughter of Sarah: Very Precious in the Sight of God
What is true beauty? This is a question that the world asks all the time. ABC even has a reality TV show where they try to find someone’s true inner beauty. And there are a number of popular sayings that raise this topic – what is true beauty? Beauty is only skin deep, is one of those sayings – it gets at the fact that we tend to think about beauty is something that is external. Yet by stating it that way, it challenges that notion at the same time. Another saying is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Applied to beauty, it’s saying, we ought not to presume someone’s beauty just by their outward appearances. Or another saying is, Pretty is, as pretty does.” That’s saying that someone’s actions can reflect their real beauty, more than physical looks. Our actions, of course, flow out of who we are in the insides. So, what is true beauty? The world at its best, does rightly recognize that it’s more than just out outward appearance. This passage agrees; that true beauty is that beauty of the heart. This passage even acknowledges that this kind of beauty can be noticed by the unbelieving world. And so we’ll study this today. But this passage goes beyond that even. It talks about what is beautiful in God’s sight. When talking about this inner beauty, verse 4 says this is very precious in the sigh of God. So, we’ll especially consider true beauty today according to God’s definition.
Today we’ll focus primarily on verses 1-6. This primarily addresses wives. Next week we’ll focus on verse 7, which addresses husbands. Our sermon today, will necessarily have a lot to say specifically to Christian wives. Next week’s a lot for Christian husbands. And yet there are principles we’ll deal with in both sermons that have application to all of us. So, let us be attentive to the whole counsel of God, even if sometimes it specifically addresses certain groups among us.
I’d like to begin today by looking at this passage’s teaching on a wife’s submission, in general. We’ll give a basic definition, and then think about this true inner beauty being described. Then after that, I’d like to spend some time reflecting on a specific case raised here – how this call for wives is still applicable even if you have an unbelieving husband. So, let’s dig in by starting with this basic call for a wife to submit to their husband. This call is given in verse 1. “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands.” Verse 5 again mentions this commendable behavior again, pointing to the godly women of old – they were submissive to their husbands. Verse 2 describes this even more generally; it talks about how husbands ought to be able to observes a wife’s chaste, or pure, conduct, accompanied by fear. The pure conduct is a bit more general than just submission; it shows that the wife is to demonstrate godly behavior in general before her husband, but it says this good behavior is to be accompanied with fear. This word fear has appeared multiple times in the last chapter. It’s not a fear of simple dread, put the kind of fear that acknowledges authority. In last chapter, Peter told us to fear God. He also said that slaves were to fear their masters. The idea was implied a bit in Peter’s discussion on the civil government. That we honor the government who can punish evil doers. And so Peter has been talking about all those authority structures in life. Here he brings it to the institution of marriage. In the marriage, the husband is to be the official leader in the unit, and the wives are to support that leadership.
Now, I am not unaware that this is not a popular idea in today’s world. Back then, this was a socially acceptable principle. Today, in our country, it is not so much. But this is where discipleship really finds meaning. Can we follow Christ and his Word on those areas we might not be predisposed to accept? Radical feminism has left its mark on our culture and on many of our hearts. The idea that a husband be the leader in a house maybe equally distasteful to both husband and wife. But let us hear what Scripture has to say about this. Let us not be quick to try to find some way to rationalize away the teachings of Scripture. Let us honestly hear them out and consider what God’s Word is teaching us on this subject. And so let me note that this passage is not in line with radical feminism. But it’s also not in line with male chauvinism either. It’s not a passage that would degrade women. In fact, this passage would have been a challenge to the culture at that time too, in different ways. It would have elevated women’s status. Just one example – the prevailing cultural expectation of that time was that wives would not have a religion different than their husbands, nor would they have friends outside of their husband’s circle of friends. This passage assumes that Christian wives of unbelieving husbands would buck that norm. So this passage would have challenged that culture too.
And so, we’ll talk more about the responsibilities of the husband to honor and love their wives next week. But let me just say that the biblical picture of the husband and wife relationship is to be a loving partnership that complements one another. A man and a wife have different strengths and weaknesses. Together they complement each other. And we see in Scripture that God has called the husband to a role of leadership in marriage. Scripture doesn’t say this should be a tyrannical leadership; no it says it should be a loving, sacrificial leadership. We’ll talk more about that next week. But understand that just because a wife is called to submit to that leadership, doesn’t mean that she is somehow subhuman compared to a man. Nor does that mean a woman is less valuable in the sight of God. No, our sermon’s title reflects that from verse 4; that the women of God are very precious in his sight. A functional submission doesn’t make you less inferior as a person. That’s true in all the relationships already mentioned. Citizens are not inferior as people to the governments leaders. Servants are not inferior as people to their earthly masters. Today, employers are not inferior as people to their employees. Jesus as the Son of God was not inferior as a person to God the Father when he submit himself to his Father’s will; that will which led him to the cross. In the same way, a women who submits to their husband is not inferior as a person. Women and men in the Lord are all equal in the sight of God.
And so this passage then puts this in terms of true beauty. This is verses 3 and 4 especially. Here the subject turns to something even deeper than just submission. It turns to the heart. A wife’s submission to her husband will come from a heart submit to the Lord. Verse 3 and 4 describe this with the contrast of outward beauty versus inward beauty. Verse 3 gives the negative – don’t let your adornment be outward: an extravagant hairstyle, expensive jewelry, the clothing you wear. This isn’t saying you are sinning per se if you wear something nice. But it’s getting at your focus; in what way will you look to make yourself beautiful. Women might want to spend hours in the bathroom getting made up. But this passage says that our real focus should be on our insides. That’s verse 4. Make your adorning be about that hidden person of the heart. This is talking about our souls. Our inner selves. Our spirit inside us. I like how Peter describes the incorruptible nature of this. Earlier in chapter 1 he talked about how Christians have an incorruptible inheritance reserved in heaven for us. Here he talks about that with regard to our souls. But just think of the contrast. Our physical beauty does fade over time. Our bodies do grow old. Physical beauty hits a certain point and then starts to fade. Just like a flower of the field. Not so with our souls. In fact, this is something we can keep growing in all our lives. All our lives, that hidden person of our hearts can grow more and more beautiful. Our souls can grow more quiet and gentle. We can think of ways that those adjectives especially apply to wives. Wives shouldn’t be brashly complaining about their husband’s leadership, for one example. And yet these are also adjectives that the Bible in different places uses of men too. Jesus himself called people to come to him, calling himself gentle and lowly in heart – same word for gentle (Matt 11:29). 1 Timothy 2:2 says we should look to live a quiet and peaceful life in this world – same word for quiet. And so, yes, wives can especially look to develop a quiet and gentle spirit – that is something you can reflect on this week. But there’s an application here to all of us as well, men and women, married and single, can take this point to heart. We should want our hidden souls to be growing in Christ. That will make a truly beautiful or handsome person. Beautiful ultimately in God’s sight as it say in verse 4. Even if our spouses or others don’t recognize this beauty, God sees it.
Given that this beauty is hidden, we might think that no one could see it but God. In some sense that may be true. And yet, this passage assumes that others can see it in some way. People can’t actually see our hearts, but they can see our hearts reflected in our actions. The example given here is that husbands can recognize it in their wife’s godly submission. Our inward adornment is only visible when it influences your actions and words. This is the kind of real beauty we should try to show forth. Peter doesn’t just tell us this. He gives us examples. He points to former women of God. The holy women of old showed this kind of beauty in how they submit to their husbands. Now, I don’t think Peter means that this is the only way a Christian wife can show their beauty. But it is certainly one way. And it’s a way that many a godly women of old showed it. They obeyed their husbands. Peter gives the specific example of Sarah. He simply points out that Sarah called Abraham, “Lord.” And I think this is such a wonderful person for him to choose. The New Testament repeatedly talks about how Christians have become sons of Abraham. Here he brings in Abraham’s wife. Christian women have become daughters of Sarah. We as Christians are sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, from a spiritual perspective. They had their hearts touched by God. We have too. This will affect our actions, even as it affected theirs too. For wives, this heart ought to express itself in a god-honoring submission to their husbands. This will please God, even if their husbands do not acknowledge it.
And that’s the point I’d like us to turn now to consider. To think about the husbands who are the recipient of this submission. Peter’s very clear in this passage. Wives are to submit to both Christian husbands and even non Christian ones. That’s the clear statement of verse 1. This is again following the same pattern for the other authority structures given in chapter 2. Citizens submit to civil governments, even non Christian ones. Slaves submit to masters, even non Christian ones. Wives submit to husbands, even if they are not Christians. This is part of our pilgrim theology that Peter’s been developing as he reviews all these relationships. These are all fundamental relationships in society. In each, a Christian might find themselves under a non-Christian authority. Even under a wicked authority. They are still called to live godly in that circumstance. That includes a biblical submission. In husband and wife relationships, a husband ought never to abuse that. Even the pagan moral philosophers back then said this; that a husband should properly treat his wife. But here Peter is addressing the wives. A wife’s submission isn’t dependent on the husband being a Christian, or even a good husband. Verse 1 makes that point about them not being a Christian. Verse 6 adds a little line at the end that makes this even more pointed. It says the wives are following Sarah’s example if they are doing what is right, and if they aren’t afraid with any terror. The NLT, a more interpretive translation, helps bring out the sense here for us. It translates verse 6 like this: “You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do.” This is the typical way commentators understand this. It’s acknowledging that the wives might have bad husbands. Not just non-Christian ones, but ones that are simply bad to them. Ones that might normally elicit a bit of terror in them. Specifically with a non Christian husband, he might persecute his wife because she is a Christian. But can a wife submit and do good to her husband, not trapped in terror, but act good to him in love? Even when he has failed her? That’s the call here.
This is again, Peter’s pilgrim theology coming out. It’s the same sort of thing we saw with the masters and servants in chapter 2. Servants are to submit to their masters, even if their masters treat them badly. The more general principle was put in 2:12, that we are to live honorably among unbelievers, that even if they slander us, they might ultimately see our good deeds and praise God. This pilgrim theology applies here to wives of unbelieving husbands too. The hope Peter gives us here is that the wives’ actions might be used by God to turn these unbelieving husbands to Christ. And so the same sort of theme is repeatedly being developed here by Peter. Here he applies it to wives.
Verse 1 says that such Christian wives might be able to win their husbands for Christ, without a word. This doesn’t mean that someone can become a believer in Christ without the Word. No, anytime someone comes to Christ, it’s going to involve the gospel being preached to that person at some point. But I think the idea here is that this unbelieving husband has heard the gospel at this point. He’s heard, and not believed it. Maybe the wife told him when she first became a believer. Maybe they were both told at the same time, and only she believed. Who knows? But you can imagine that there will come a point where there’s nothing further a wife can really say. The husband’s heard it and not received it. Peter says it’s not about your words at that point. It’s about your conduct. He says that in such circumstances a wife’s witness can be especially through her conduct. Live a godly live. Cultivate a beautiful soul in the Lord. Look to serve and love your husband.
I remember hearing one radio broadcast on this passage once. A caller called in asking what this might look like. The hosts described the effects on the unbelieving husband. They imagined a conversation he might have with his unbelieving friends. His friend might ask with a bit of disdain, “What’s it like being married to a Christian?” He might respond by saying something like, “You know what? Being married to a Christian is the best!” He then goes on to explain all the wonderful way she selflessly loves him and serves him and lives commendably. He might say how, “She never complains about my requests; she never talks bad about me behind my back; she even prays for me each night! Being married to a Christian is the best.” Hopefully that can result in the unbelieving husband wanting to be a better husband. We could understand that. But more importantly, hopefully it could result in him wanting to become a Christian himself. Peter believes it can.
And history attests that it has. That godly women of the faith have been used in this way to win their husbands for Christ. I think of one example many, many years ago. Saint Augustine of the early church wrote about his mother. His mother was a Christian; his father was not. In fact there’s a decent bit in church history recorded about the godly service of his mother. And so Augustine wrote about how his mother reached out to her husband. He wrote in a sort of prayer to God:
She served her husband as her master, and did all she could to win him for you, speaking to him of you by her conduct, by which you made her beautiful… Finally, when her husband was at the end of his earthly span, she gained him for you (Confessions, IX, 19-22).
Amen. Augustine’s father was won for Christ through his mother’s beautiful conduct. Others have too. God can use true beauty. Proverbs 31:30 “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (ESV).
As we talk about this call for true beauty, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind us all today about the source of this true beauty. When we think of the sort of beauty and submission it describes here, we can realize how tough this can be. It can be tough at times for a wife to joyfully submit to their husband, even if he’s a godly Christian who wisely leads her. How much harder it can be for her, when her husband is not so worthy of her submission. How difficult it would be to live this out by your own strength. And so let me remind us all where the source of this beauty comes from. It comes from above. It comes from Christ. It’s grace that will enable us to adorn ourselves in this way, because it is by grace, Christ is adorning us. Here two passages that describe this:
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Psalm 149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.
Both of these passages say that the Lord makes us truly beautiful. Beautiful with his salvation. That’s because Christ is the one who is able to change us from the inside out. As Christians, this took place initially when we first turned in faith. When we called upon Christ and the work he did for us on the cross, he placed his salvation upon our hearts. And yet, he is continuing to grow our hearts. And so the best way for wives to look to adorn themselves with a gentle and humble spirit, is by calling out to Christ. And this is true for all of us, wife or not. We keep coming to Christ who adorns our souls with salvation. This doesn’t mean we don’t endeavor to train our hearts. But we train our hearts with the things of Christ. By filling our hearts with his Word. By praying for our hearts. By fellowshipping with Christ in worship with the saints, where we all look for Christ to keep beautifying our souls. Christ is so very precious to us. As we are in Christ, God sees us as so very precious to him.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, as we close out this message today, let me offer some final application for us. Peter has been reminding us of various roles we’ll find ourselves in. Specifically in our relationships to others – we’ll find ourselves in certain roles. This passage reminds us that our proper role is not dependent on the actions of others. Wives can still submit to unbelieving husbands; and even to difficult Christians husbands that sin against you. We’ll talk about a husbands’ call to love their wives next week. Well, same thing: Husbands, you can sacrificially love unbelieving wives; and even difficult Christian wives that sin against you. The same idea is true for all of us, whether we are married or not. When everyone else around you is doing the wrong thing, when these wrong things are affecting you, you can still do the godly thing. You can still respond in a godly way, when everyone else is not. Even when that means trouble and trial for you. Even if it means suffering for you. Even if you are specifically persecuted because you were Christian or acted Christianly. We’ve all heard it or used it, the phrase: “Everyone else is doing it, so why can’t we.” That’s not the Christian calling. Christians are called her to do the right thing, even if others aren’t. But see how God can use this as a testimony to the unbelieving world around you. And recognize that it is Christ who can strengthen you to live this out.
For what we need is this true beauty we’ve discussed today. Saints, you are the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah. That calls us to follow in their footsteps. But moreso to follow in the footsteps of Christ. And yet ultimately it reminds us God’s gospel promise that we are a part of. Why do you think Scripture connects us with Abraham and Sarah? Because they are the Father and Mother of that great covenant of grace where God called out a people from this world to be different. To be pilgrims in this world. To be God’s people amidst a rebellious world. To be adorned no longer in worldly ways, but with the salvation of our God. For us to be the sons and daughters of God. To be his people in a dark world. The promise given to Abraham and Sarah ultimately was that he was send Christ, and in Christ save a people unto God. That is who we have become. We join with Sarah and Abraham as their descendants. Brothers and sisters alongside all who Christ has adorned with salvation. And so be encouraged that it is Christ who is at work in our lives to adorn us. He’s working true beauty in us. That God would see us as precious in his sight. We are precious in God’s sight. I remind us all today of this; but I especially commend this to you today, o Daughters of Sarah. You have been made precious in God’s sight. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.