Sermon preached on 1 Peter 3:7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 6/5/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 3:7
“Heirs Together of the Grace of Life”
Today we are going to talk about honoring women. Most specifically we’ll be talking about how husbands are to honor their wives. But, certainly, there is an application in general for men to honor women. This, can be a bit of a hot topic today, of course. The world has some notions of this – you might think of the concept of chivalry – that’s somewhat similar to what’s described here. And yet, some women today want that from a man. Others reject it because they think it belittles women in some way. But whatever notions on this subject you might already have based on our culture around us, let us see what Scripture has to say about the subject. In what way does this passage call men to honor women, and especially husbands to honor their wives?
You’ll notice that verse 7 begins with the word “likewise.” This connects us with the context of 1 Peter. Let me remind you that Peter has been talking about varying human relationships. He talked about our relationships as citizens to the government. He talked about the relationship between masters and servants. And just last week we talked about the role of a wife unto her husband. Today we consider the relationship from the opposite direction. Last week called for a wife’s biblical submission to her husband. This week’s passage calls for a husband to live with understanding to his wife, and to show her honor. It also warns of the consequences for a husband not doing this.
So here’s how we’ll tackle this passage for today. We’ll break this verse up into three parts, and go in the order given here. We’ll consider first how husbands are to live with their wives according to a certain knowledge. Second, we’ll talk about the command for husbands to give honor to their wives. Third, we’ll consider the warning, “That your prayers may not be hindered.”
And so let’s begin with this first point and phrase in the sentence. Our pew Bibles translate it as, “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding.” If you scan a few different English translations, you can get various digested forms of this opening command. One of the more digested translations is the NIV, which says to be considerate as you live with your wife. I think that’s too digested, frankly. For this phrase, I particularly like how the KJV translates it. It’s by far the most wooden translation among the major translations, but it really gets at the core of it. The KJV says, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge.” “According to knowledge.” That’s the literal language in the Greek. I can understand how the NIV can interpret that as being considerate. But, the specific point of Peter here is that husbands are to live with their wives informed with knowledge.
If we stopped right there, we could acknowledge this in a general sense. Generally speaking, you should live with your spouse in knowledge. A husband should live in a way that knows and understands their wife; he should really endeavor to know his wife and her passions and emotions. And yet, this verse isn’t talking about this knowledge in a general sense. No, Peter goes on to inform us what kind of knowledge he has in mind. There are two pieces of knowledge that he gives us about our wives in this verse. One, he says that they are weaker vessels, and two he says that they are heirs together of the grace of life. And so Peter is saying that how husbands live with their wives should be informed with this knowledge. Husbands should live with their wives in a way that understands their weaknesses. And Husbands should live with their wives in a way that recognizes their high privilege in Christ – a privilege they equally share with them. Well, if husbands are going to live with this knowledge toward their wives, let’s make sure we understand what Peter’s actually getting at.
Let’s start with the knowledge about wives being weaker vessels. In today’s day and age, I can’t help but think that most women would be a bit offended by that language. I think in part it’s something lost in translation, and I think in part our culture has trained us not to use language at all like this today about women. I suspect that no matter how carefully I try to explain this, I might not state it as well as I should, but I’ll do my best. Simply put, the word for vessel here is a term that is used figuratively for the human body. And the word for weaker here is a word about physical strength. So, I think Peter is simply stating the obvious. Generally speaking, most women are physically weaker than men. That’s maybe not always the case, but for the most part, men are physically stronger than women. That’s the reason why men can generally bench press more than women. It’s surely the reason why even in a sport like figure skating that has so many women in it, that women can usually only at best do triple jumps, and men at best can do quadruple jumps. It’s just a biological fact – men are generally stronger, women are generally weaker.
Realize, this does not mean women are inherently weaker as persons. No, there have been many a strong women in history who have done great things. And the reality is that God has made women and men to complement each other. Women are generally stronger in some ways than mean. And men are generally stronger than women in other areas. But in terms of physical strength, that is an advantage that typically goes to the men. Well, Peter tells us here that husbands should live with their wives understanding this knowledge. They should live in such a way that recognizes it. What Peter is basically saying is that a Christian husband ought not to exploit this. In other words this is not about male chauvinism – he’s actually forbidding male chauvinism. But think about this. When a husband is wicked toward his wife, sadly this is one thing he might commonly exploit. Historically, wicked husbands have gotten their way through physically violence, because he can. Well, that’s the exact opposite of what Peter is commending here. Husbands are to recognize the weaknesses of their wives, and live in a way that honors them. We’ll talk more about that honor in a moment.
But first let’s look at the other piece of knowledge Peter gives us about these wives. The other piece of knowledge that should inform a husband’s treatment of his wife, is that she is a fellow heir of the grace of life. Now, obviously this only applies to Christian wives. Peter is evidently writing to an audience that he supposes this will be generally true. It certainly is not always the case. But even if a wife is not currently Christian, certainly the husband should even acknowledge the possibility that she could become a Christian. Remember how that’s been the point of Peter’s last several verses. A Christian as a pilgrim in this world can influence others to Christ by their godly actions. Certainly that should be in our view as we consider this here – that if even some Christian husbands have non-Christian wives, the honor and love and respect they show them can be used by God to bring them to faith.
But Peter at this point most specifically envisions those husbands with believing wives. He says that this knowledge should also influence your living together. Think about how this makes the point I was just making. Even though women may be weaker physically, obviously that doesn’t make them of any less value as an individual. No, together, men and women, husbands and wives, can all be Christians. That’s of course the explicit statement of Paul in Galatians 3:28. Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, gender does not make a difference in terms of our salvation. Both men and women can find new life in Jesus Christ. This shows the fundamental equality of man and woman. Yes, there are differences. Even of physical strength. But there is a fundamental equality; and we see that in the ability for both to find salvation in Jesus. And yet, the beauty of this equality is that it doesn’t lose the diversity. Men can still be men. Women can still be women. They should be different. They are different. But it’s a beautiful difference. And yet in their differences, we can all still be united together in Christ.
And so Peter is saying that husbands should have certain knowledge as they live with their wives. They should live in light of that knowledge. This is the understanding this verse is talking about. Husbands should understand that their wives have certain physical weaknesses compared to them. And so, husbands should understand there are differences between men and women. But husbands should also understand that their wives have a joint heritage with them in the Lord. And so, husbands should understand there are similarities between men and women too. The knowledge of these things, should inform and affect how they live. Particularly, Peter goes on to say that this should result in a husband honoring his wife. Verse 7, husbands are to be “Giving honor to the wife.”
Honor is a big subject in Scripture. There are a lot of different commands to honor in the Bible. There are a number of categories of honor, even in Scripture. On the highest level, we’re called to honor God, Revelation 4:9-11. God is chiefly worthy of all honor, for who he is, and what he’s done, and for his position. In this sense, this is a kind of honor that is uniquely given to him. Another big category is that we are supposed to honor earthly authorities. Romans 13 talks about honoring the civil governments. The 5th commandment talks about honoring our parents. 1 Timothy 6:1 says slaves should honor their masters. So that’s a category of honor that’s given because of a position, regardless of how inherently worthy someone is based on their own actions. That doesn’t fit here in this passage. Earlier Paul had said that husbands were to be in the role of authority in a marriage, and so this can’t be that kind of honor – the kind that you give to an authority over you.
But you do have a broader category of Scripture that simply says we should honor everyone. That’s actually what Peter said earlier in chapter 2, verse 17. Honor everyone. We should honor all people with a general sort of honor. This recognizes the inherent equality of all humans. All humans have been created equal in God’s sight. We’ve all be endowed with the image of our creator, even those who mar that image today by continuing to live in rebellion against God. This category certainly has some application in this passage. I think it’s especially relevant in light of the statement here that men and women together can be heirs of life. In stressing that fundamental unity that can be found most clearly in Christ, we should especially honor each other. In this unity, husbands, should especially honor their wives.
Another category of honor in Scripture is what we see in 1 Corinthians 12:22-24. There it is talking about all the people in the body of Christ. And it’s using the analogy of the body. And it says that we ought to give greater honor to those parts of the body that might seem to be weaker or might seem to be less honorable. Paul says there that those parts of the body are actually indispensable. And so their apparent weaknesses should be a reason to all the more clothe them in honor. I think this category of honor is very fitting in light of this verse too. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that all parts of the body are essential. Well, that’s true with women too. We’ve acknowledged certain physical weaknesses of the female gender. But that external weakness should cause us to honor all the strengths of women. There are many things women do better than men. There are studies that show the unique strengths of women, beside the obvious ones of ability to bear and nurse children. Women have strengths that are different than men that we need. That are essential. The problem is that the difference in physical strength can be so visible that it can get the attention, and draw us away from all the strengths of a woman. In fact, this is behind many of the abuses down through the centuries. The reason why there is a radical feminist movement today is in part because husbands haven’t honored women in their differences, but have dishonored them in their differences. This verse, read with 1 Corinthians 12 would tell us that we should especially look to honor our wives in this case. That we should especially look to exalt them in honor because of the apparent weaknesses that have been used against them in the past. Honor them for all their unique strengths that the world might not be quick to point out.
So, then, what does this honor look like? Well the word for giving honor in Scripture is about assigning value to someone. Husbands, value your wives. Show them how much they are worth to you. Let them, and the world know it! And per this verse, our honor should take into consideration this knowledge we have of our wives. Remember, the two pieces of knowledge here – that they are different in some ways but they are also similar in some ways.
And so, husbands, honor your wife even in her physical weaknesses, and in all her differences from you. Certainly, we don’t honor our wives when we try to take advantage of their physical weaknesses. Physical abuse to get our way does not honor our wives. Instead, value those differences. Find ways to celebrate how her strengths fill your own weaknesses. Cherish them. Part of this means to learn to really value all the unique aspects of them. Sometimes men can look at the differences with women and look down upon them. We can joke about how women are different than us, but really are looking down on those differences. That ought not to be the case. Those should be reasons to honor her. To lift her up and tell her how you appreciate all those unique qualities. To look to defend her against any who would speak against these things; instead for you to let others know how much these things are worth to you.
And then remember that other category. We honor our wives in that they are joint heirs with Christ. We’ve said this points out the equality of men and women. In that sense, we can remember how we ought to honor her in general as a fellow human. But for those husbands married to Christian wives, especially celebrate that. Let her know how thankful you are that she is a Christian. Treat her this way, as someone who is equal before God. This should humble husbands, and exalt wives. But think of the joy you can have together in the Lord. Think of the ways you can celebrate your salvation together. Praying together. Reading the Word together. Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs together. Daily as husband and wife. In the most intimate way you can celebrate this. Treat your wife as the fellow Christian that she is. Help one another to grow in Christ. Help each other with the greatest love and the greatest value for one another.
Let me stop right here for a moment. If you are here today and have not tasted of this salvation, realize how important it is. Peter yet again, tells us how important this is. Scripture keeps drawing our attention to this. It’d be easy for any of us today to sit here and learn good morals about marriage. It’d be easy for any of us today to think today is just an ethical message about how men and women should treat each other. But Peter has to again remind us of the gospel. Jesus died on the cross and rose again so that we could be saved from our sins. By turning from our sins and placing our faith in Christ, we have become heirs together of the grace of life. That’s Peter point even just in passing today. Are you an heir of this grace of life? If not, you can be today. I call each man and woman today to become an heir of this great salvation by faith in Jesus. Turn from your sins unto Christ.
I’d like to turn now and consider the final part of this verse. It’s a warning of sorts. It warns the husband of a consequence that can happen if you don’t honor your wife in this way. It says that your prayers may be hindered. Some have suggested this might be referring to the joint prayers of a husband and a wife. Well, I have no doubt that a poorly treated wife will have trouble praying with their husband. But the language is more broadly put, and specifically addressed to husbands, and so I think we should see this more generally. That in general, a husband’s own prayers could be hindered as a result of their sinful treatment of their wife.
Now, we’re not told in great detail in what way they would be hindered. But the larger context helps us here. Basically, it seems that Peter’s referring to how God might not hear this husband’s prayers. That God might begin to not answer the prayers of the husband as he would normally. I believe this is the particular focus here. In just a few verses later, Peter will describe this further – In 3:12, he’ll say that God’s ears are open to the prayers of the righteous, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. That seems to further deal with the idea of hindered prayers. Now, certainly unbelievers should not have any expectation that God will hear their prayers at all. John 9:31 says that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but that God does listen to those who worship and follow him. You see, unbelievers are God’s enemies. They should not have confidence to approach God in prayer; they should fear meeting God, lest they find judgment. And yet that’s not the case for a Christians. Scripture says we can now go confidently before God in prayer. But this passage is talking about a Christian’s prayer being hindered. And so realize that if God doesn’t hear a prayer of a believer in this way, it must be a form of fatherly discipline. Hebrews 12 acknowledges that God chastens his people, and says that this chastening is ultimately a good thing. God can chasten us as a father to make us realize when we are sinning. Instead, God would have husbands to go get right with our wives, and then return to him in prayer.
This is what Jesus taught about conflict between believers in Matthew 5:23. Jesus said there, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” It’s hypocritical to come to God in prayer when you are living in conflict with your brother or sister in Christ. That’s similar to our approach in going to the Lord’s Supper. If we go with unresolved conflict with believers or unrepentant sin, then we are coming hypocritically to God – we eat and drink judgment on ourselves. Well, this is true of prayer too. We should not be surprised if in fatherly discipline, God turns a deaf ear to some of our prayers when we live dishonoring someone, and are not repentant about it. Particularly when a husband dishonors his wife. Instead, we should examine our hearts and lives and look to be reconciled with those we have treated sinfully.
Now, this might seem a bit scary to say the least, and so let me offer some encouragement in this. This is not to take away from the seriousness of this warning. But it is to properly exalt God’s grace in it. We see a prayer hindered in Psalm 22. That is a psalm of David. There he cries out in Psalm 22:1 – “Why are you so far from helping Me, and from the words of my groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.” And so David cries out in this Psalm that his prayers are being hindered; they are not being heard. And yet I didn’t quote the very first line of that Psalm. The first line goes like this: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Hopefully you all recognize that those are the words Jesus uttered on the cross. On the cross, Jesus put himself under the weight of our sin. He experienced God’s curse in our place. This resulted for a time in which God no longer heard Jesus. God stopped hearing Jesus’ prayers at that time on the cross. I can only begin to fathom this. But you see, sin hinders our prayers with God. Those who are not believers should not expect God to hear them. But as Christians, the only reason we should expect God to hear our prayers now is because of the cross. Because on the cross Jesus had his prayers go unheard for a time. Because on the cross he suffered hell in our place. He became weak so we could made be strong.
Now, as Christians we can come before God. And even if for a time we find our prayers hindered because of our sin, realize that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are still praying for us – that’s Romans 8:26 and 34. If we belong to Christ, God will not ultimately let us fall. Even though he disciplines us, he will work to restore us. Christ and the Holy Spirit will be praying for that, and God will hear those prayers.
Brothers and Sisters, Husbands, and Wives, Men, and Women of God: We’ve been reminded of God’s grace again today in Jesus. Grace he has shown us who are weak without him. Let us as joint heirs in Christ live out this passage today. Let us honor one another. Husbands, especially honor your wives the way this verse describes. But may all of us look to honor those around us who the world might dishonor. If the world has dishonored women, let us clothe them with all the more honor. And may we look to honor those who have differences than us – I’m not talking about sinful differences. We don’t honor those. But in those good ways that God has made us different, value those as gifts from God. Each of us here today whether we are married or single, can look to show love and honor to those who have lacked such in the past. Especially to those who’ve been dishonored sinfully by others. Let us lift up others who might outwardly seem weak, and in that strengthen them by showing them the wonderful gifts God has given them. That is what Christ has done for us – lifted us up who have been weak, and giving us strength from above. Let us go and do likewise, we who have tasted of Christ’s grace. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.