1 Peter 3:7
February 13, 2005
Quick now, what well-known actor said the following: “I don’t like danger. I’m not a womanizer. My happiest moments are when I’m at home with my wife or in the company of a couple of good friends. I don’t covet wealth. I do want to be able to end my days in dignity and leave my wife relatively well provided for.” Not sure? Well, here’s a hint. He starred in many movies and TV shows, including “Fantasy Island,” “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan,” and “Spy Kids II.” “To me, the greatest Latin lover in the world was my dad, who married my mother and was faithful to her until the day he died, 55 years later. Now, that’s a great lover—a man who is intelligent and romantic enough to keep one woman interested all the time.” Those are the words of Ricardo Montalban. It is amazing and gratifying to hear such words coming out of Hollywood.
It was God himself who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18, NASB). God answers Adam’s loneliness by giving him a wife. He designed marriage to be the cornerstone of all human society. Since marriage is God’s idea, it makes sense to consult him for directions on how to make it successful. That’s what we’ve been doing in I Peter 3. Last week we learned that God calls Christian wives to focus on developing inner beauty. Our text for today spells out Peter’s advice to Christian husbands: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (I Peter 3:7). This verse contains a command, two reasons, and a sobering motivation.
I. The Command
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect.” The word translated “live with” has the same meaning as our modern expression. It means fundamentally “to share the same bed.” Peter’s advice starts in the bedroom and goes out from there to every other room in the house. The King James Version calls the husband to live with his wife “according to knowledge.” That’s a good way to put it. Know your wife! Study her, get to know what makes her tick, figure out how her mind works, and learn what her gifts are, her desires, her talents, her hopes and dreams. A Christian husband who really knows his wife sees her talents and abilities, opens the door and says, “Sweetheart, go for it.” If she can sing, if she can teach, if she can write, if she can buy and sell, if she can organize, if she can design, if she can administrate, if she can encourage, if she can counsel, if she can program a computer, if she can start a company, if she can think creatively, he says, “Go for it!”
If you don’t believe that, go back and read Proverbs 31 again. There you will find God’s picture of the virtuous woman. Yes, she is a homemaker, a wife and a mother. But she also considers a field and buys it. From her earnings she plants a vineyard. And there’s no contradiction at all. Why? Because Proverbs 31:11 says, “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain” (NASB). Did you get that? He—the biblical husband—will have no lack of gain. So many times we husbands fear our wives’ success. As if we’ll lose them if we encourage them to develop their God-given gifts. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The smartest thing you’ll ever do is to really turn your wife loose to be all God wants her to be.
So Peter says it’s your job to study your wife, to get to know her intimately, and to live together with her on the basis of that knowledge. Many years ago, when I was a student at Dallas Seminary, Dr. Craig Massey, then Pastor of Des Plaines Bible Church, came to hold a two-day conference on marriage. Most of what he said has long been forgotten. But one thing remains. He quoted Song of Solomon 4:3 where the lover says to his beloved: “Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.” Craig Massey said if you open up a pomegranate, you find that it has many sections inside, little ones and big ones. He said that’s what a woman’s mind is like. Complex with many sections, big and small. Modern science backs up Solomon’s insight. We know that the brain contains two hemispheres—the left and the right. Neuroscientists tell us that women typically have a larger pathway between the two hemispheres so that information flows more freely. To put it simply, most men have a footpath, most women have a superhighway. They are generally more verbal and more in touch with their emotions and better at forming deep relationships. Men are better with non-verbal tasks. That’s why we have the remote control. I would say more about how women and men think differently, but the women already know this and the guys are going, “What’s he talking about?”
Women are amazing. That’s why you can be married for 30 years and still find your wife fascinating and captivating. Her mind works in so many ways. The wise husband recognizes in his wife all sorts of talents and abilities, and he encourages her to develop them. That’s what the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 did. She developed them for the good of her own family. Many husbands fear their wives will change if they really turn them loose. They’re right. Your wife will change and all for the better. You have to lose the seed to gain the flower. How beautiful to see a Christian wife blossom under the creative encouragement of a wise husband. Men, don’t hold her back. Let her be all she can be for the glory of God. Don’t stifle that budding desire. Water it, nourish it, and bring it to full bloom.
Peter adds another bit of advice. “Treat her with respect.” Literally, honor her! To honor someone means to “assign value to.” You honor your wife when you make a conscious decision to assign great value to her. Some years ago Reader’s Digest published a fictional story called “Johnny Lingo’s Eight-Cow Wife.” The story takes place on a primitive Pacific island called Kiniwata, where a man paid the dowry for his wife in cows. Two or three cows could buy a decent wife, four or five a very nice one. But Johnny Lingo had offered an unheard of eight cows for Sarita, a girl whom everyone in her home village thought rather plain looking. The local folks all made fun of Johnny, who they thought was crazy to pay so much for a wife. But when the teller of the story finally sees Johnny Lingo’s wife, she is stunned by her beauty. How could this be the same woman the villagers talked about? What has happened? How did she become so beautiful? Johnny’s reply shows that he’s nobody’s fool:
“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.” “Then you did this just to make your wife happy?” “I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”
“Then you wanted—.” “I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”
“But—.” I was close to understanding.
“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”
(Stephen J. Cole, “Understanding and Honoring Your Wife”)
People tend to live up to or down to our expectations. If we offer repeated praise and affirmation, the person responds by living up to it. Honor is a choice a husband makes. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” Gary Smalley, popular author and speaker in the area of Christian marriage, made this comment:
After interviewing hundreds of wives and daughters, there is one consistent plea that is commonly asked of all their fathers and husbands: Please be comforting instead of lecturing and criticizing. Being comforted is so important to them: their eyes light up with enthusiasm with just the thought of their husbands learning this responsibility.
We tend to assume our wife knows how we feel, and therefore we think we don’t have to tell her over and over again. Wrong. She doesn’t know. You have to tell her and tell her again. And then show her and show her again. It’s so easy for a man to say, “Well, I work hard, provide you with a nice home, clothes and food. What more could you want?” Your wife married you, not your paycheck. Many wives who are well off in material goods are desperately lonely. Waiting for their husbands to notice them, waiting to be appreciated, waiting to be remembered, waiting for their husbands to talk to them. Waiting and hoping.
If I could give to each man here one sentence you would never forget, it would be this: Men, you cannot replace your life with material things. Your wife doesn’t want more things, she wants you. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t know what marriage is all about.
Writing 300 years ago, the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry said the husband’s duty to his wife consisted in “giving due respect to her, and maintaining her authority, protecting her person, supporting her credit, delighting in her conversation, affording her a handsome maintenance, and placing a due trust and confidence in her.”
So the husband is both to know his wife and to honor her. Peter then advances two reasons for these commands.
II. Two Reasons
The first is because of what she is. Peter says “treat her with respect as the weaker partner.” Actually, the literal word is “weaker vessel.” It is similar to our word “vase.” This particular word was used of priceless, fragile china. It was also used of sacred vessels used in the temple for the worship of God. When Peter calls the wife the “weaker” vessel, he is not referring to moral character or to intellectual ability or to spiritual perception. It certainly does not refer to outward beauty. It refers primarily to the difference in physical strength between men and women. A man who takes that fully into account may end up doing some very odd things. For instance, he might actually help around the house, he might do the dishes or the wash or the ironing. He might take out the trash or do the cooking, or he might get the kids up in the morning and get them ready for school.
Peter adds an unexpected phrase. He says husbands are to do all this “since she is a woman.” That pushes us back to Genesis 2:18 where God created Eve as a helper for Adam. The old phrase “helpmeet” really isn’t too bad. God created your wife to be a helper meet for you or fit for you. The word means one who does for another what that person cannot do for himself. Men, your wife is given to you because you are incomplete without her. She’s not another man. She’s a woman—separate, unique, different in every aspect. Our problem is that we’ve been sold a bill of goods by the culture around us. We expect our wives to be superwomen—a combination of Florence Nightingale, Betty Crocker and Jennifer Lopez. Not so. When you married her, you married a designer original, not some robot put together by a computer.
There’s a second reason we ought to know and honor our wives. Not only because of what she is but also because of who she is. She is a fellow-heir of the grace of life. It’s the flip side of what we’ve been saying. There’s a simple biological truth here. It takes two people to bring life into the world. Again, Peter is speaking in intimate terms. No one is supreme in the bedroom. It is in the act of love that husband and wife declare their belief that life is a gift from God.
There’s also a spiritual truth here. In one sense both man and woman are made in the image of God. In another sense, man and woman together reflect aspects of God’s nature that are not possible for one person. Marriage offers the best human illustration of the Trinity—two persons joined together, becoming one flesh. A Christian marriage, rightly understood, is a powerful advertisement for the gospel. It reflects the glory of God and opens a window into eternity and brings a bit of heaven down to earth.
There’s also a psychological truth here. Husband and wife are fellow-heirs. Equal partners. Neither one is more important. Neither one is overlooked. Both are fully engaged. Both are fully committed. Marriage ought to be fun. Husbands, your wife ought to be your best friend in the world. We are heirs together of the grace of life. And we receive our inheritance of grace day by day. It gets better and better and better. A truly Christian marriage should improve as the years go by.
III. The Motivation
Peter closes with a strong and strange warning. This is the motivation for taking his words with utmost seriousness: “that your prayers be not hindered.” The word for “hindered” is a military term for an army digging a trench in a road to stop the enemy’s advance. It describes what Satan will do in your spiritual life. If husbands do not take this seriously, Satan will dig a trench and your prayers will never get through. We all know that automobile engines get out of whack if only one little piece malfunctions. Likewise, our bodies have one breakdown and we end up in the hospital. There is a delicate balance between the physical and the spiritual. A marriage that is out of tune emotionally or physically will soon be out of tune spiritually. To put it bluntly, you can’t ignore your wife and get through to God. The Almighty takes the side of the weaker vessel! When we are truly one with each other, then we are truly one with God.
This principle applies in a broader way to all our relationships. If we harbor bitterness or if we are unkind or if we gossip about others, if we get angry and stay angry, our prayers will not get through to God. You cannot say, “I hate you,” to a brother or sister in Christ, and then blithely say, “I love you so much, Lord.” Or to be more accurate, you can say those words, but you’re just lying to yourself. If your prayers seem dead, dull and ineffective, maybe it’s time to do a relational inventory. God has wired us so that there is a direct connection between the horizontal and the vertical. The way you treat others has a direct impact on how God responds to your prayers.
Let me share a personal word of testimony. When we got married in 1974, Marlene and I made a commitment that we would try to read the Bible and pray together. That commitment didn’t last more than a few days. Looking back, I’m not sure why it happened, but we were never able to find anything that worked for us. We’ve both done our share of Bible reading and prayer, but not very often together. During my years in seminary, I remember talking to one of my professors about this. He told me not to worry about it. He prayed and his wife prayed, but they rarely prayed together. Over the years I’ve found that to be true of most Christian couples. It was certainly true of us. Last summer before we left for a month of ministry around the country, we asked the Lord to speak to us. God certainly answered that prayer in ways we didn’t expect. He spoke to us very definitely about the principle of intentionality. By that I mean, living life on purpose, and not just drifting through one day after another. It’s so easy to go through a day and be very busy, and yet come to the end and say, “What did I do today?” Busyness is no guarantee that you are actually doing anything important. Busyness may be a cover for a lack of purpose in your life. Too many times we sit on the banks of the river while the current of life rushes right by us. And then one day, we wake up and die. God spoke to Marlene and me very clearly about living intentionally, with purpose, not just filling each day with activity, but finding out what really matters, and then going and doing it. And we felt God calling us to minister together as a team, to travel together and to spend time together ministering to others.
During that month away, and as a result of what God spoke to us, we came up with a simple plan for reading the Bible and praying together. It’s a plan so basic any couple could use it. It goes like this. We read one chapter a day and we pray together. One day I read and she prays. The next day she reads and I pray. Very simple. Not a lot of discussion. No Bible commentary. One chapter and prayer. Using that simple plan, we’ve read through I Peter, Ezra, Habakkuk, Proverbs 1-10, Joshua, Philemon, and right now we’re in Revelation. We’ve read the Bible and prayed together more in the last six months than in the previous 30 years of our marriage. This simple plan meshes perfectly with what Peter says because if you have been quarreling with each other, it’s hard to read the Bible and pray together. You’ll have to make things right. And this simple plan helps keep things right.
I want to end this sermon the same place I ended last Sunday. Peter uses the same phrase when he speaks to wives (v. 1) and husbands (v. 7): “In the same way.” That phrase takes us back to chapter 2 where he calls all Christians to follow in the steps of Jesus who suffered but never struck back. When he was insulted, he did not return an insult. When he was attacked, he did not respond in kind. When they hit him, he did not hit back. When they spat on him, he did not spit back. When he was mistreated, he submitted himself to his Father in heaven, trusting him in the hour of his greatest suffering. Through his bloody death on the cross, he became the Savior of the world. The cross of Jesus is not just the pattern for marriage, it is also the basis for every Christian relationship.
Here is what God is saying to us today:
Wives, be like Jesus.
Husbands, be like Jesus.
Christians, be like Jesus.
Jesus calls each one of us to take up our cross and follow him. If you want to be like Jesus, there will always be a cross at the end of the road.
Do you want to be like Jesus? It will cost you everything. You cannot skip the cross. But we need not fear this or shrink from it. When we are like Jesus, our lives will be filled with inner beauty and our prayers will be unhindered. God will be glorified and the world will see Jesus at work in us. Amen.