March 12, 2022
1 Peter 3:1-7 NIV
1 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
7 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.
(O.K., let me warn you up front. This one is going to be a thinker. Refill your coffee.)
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands
Why do people struggle with this text and others like it?
Let me chance a working conclusion. Because we read it through the lens of power and power differentials.
So why do we tend to read texts like these through the lens of power and power differentials? Because we tend to read the Bible more as American Christians than as Christian Americans. An American Christian is going to approach Scripture with the foundational assumption that all people are created equal. A Christian American is going to approach Scripture with the foundational assumption that all people are created in the image of God. I don’t mean to eschew equality as somehow wrong or bad. It’s just not the primary value set in the Kingdom of Jesus.
Equality is a social construct of comparison and ultimately of power, inevitably pitting human beings against one another. It is often the domain of the elite, whose interest tends to be either the maintenance of power or its redistribution. How does Jesus deal with power imbalances? In a word, submission. In two words: cross-bearing.
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Is “equality” a feature of the “image of God?” I would say that the pursuit of equality is actually a feature of the fallenness of human beings. Isn’t this precisely where the original image bearers of God first went off the rails—when they grasped for equality with God in the Garden of Eden? Isn’t there a tower somewhere out there on the ancient plains of Shinar, a tribute to equality, resting in the rubble of Babel, “a tower with its top in the heavens?” (Genesis 11) Is this not precisely the response and remedy of Jesus, the “Image of God” himself, to the failed start of the original image bearers, “who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.” (Philippians 2)
What if being created in the image of God has little to do with equality and everything to do with holy love, with profound submission to one another, with mutual deference, with regarding others as better than ourselves, with becoming last instead of first, least instead of greatest, even with laying down our lives for one another in love? (see 1 John 3:16)
I am not saying that equality among human beings is not a noble and grand aspiration for the unbelieving world to strive after, even America. I’m just saying it is a painful and pitifully low bar for the Church Jesus is building and a foreign language to the Kingdom of on Earth as it is in Heaven. The agenda of the Word of God is not fighting power imbalances but subverting them through the counterintuitive strategy of cross bearing.
The world is filled with despotic men and tyrannical women—always has been. The Church Jesus is building in the Kingdom of on earth as it is in heaven is not of this world. We are not called to operate from the social justice engineers playbook. They will forever be locked in a zero sum stale-mated quest for power in the name of equality (the latest frameworks center around privilege and equity). Social engineers have become so prominent in our time because the institution posing as the church has been so anemically weak. We have even allowed the world to define the framework of the church in the terms of equality, pitting the egalitarians against the complementarians. Friends of Jesus, we are witnessing, in our time and on our watch, the triumph of modern sociology and post-modern social theory over biblical theology and Kingdom of God realism.
So what does any of this have to do with these words from Peter about wives submitting to their husbands? And thank you for bearing with the long setup today. People tend to at best critique today’s text and others like it and at worst reject them altogether. On the one hand some dismiss them as the benign value set of an ancient near eastern culture with no present day application. On the other hand, some brand them as the dangerous ideology of an oppressive patriarchy.
Friends, these are the revealed words of God. We do not sift them. They sift us. Peter is not writing from a worldly point of view but a Divine vantage point. We must labor to join his vantage point—which is in the company of Jesus, at the foot of the Cross, within earshot of the empty tomb. We must labor to leave behind the distorted vantage point of the mind of Adam, which is the decided pattern of this world, and read through the lens of the prismatic brilliance of the Mind of Christ, which is given to us by the Holy Spirit. From this vantage point, I suggest to you that “Wives submit to your husbands and husbands respect your wives,” means something quite different than what our predisposed, power saturated, world shaped notions would lead us to think it means.
Jesus is after something so categorically beyond equality that it doesn’t even live on the same spectrum. He is the one who said if you want to be first you must become the last, and if you want to become the greatest you must become the servant of all. He is the one who being in very nature God made himself nothing and took on the nature of a slave. He is the one who said if someone sues you for your shirt give them your coat too, if some one forces you to go with them one mile go with them two. He is the one who looked straight in the face of the man who would pronounce his death sentence and said, “My Kingdom is not from this world.”
(And just so you know I know, if you are a battered spouse in some kind of abusive relationship don’t walk—run. All bets are off.)
Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. We have learned a lot from this world and accepted so much of it uncritically. Teach us about your Kingdom. We want our values to be sifted by the Word of God and sorted by the Kingdom. Forgive us for getting that backwards. Holy Spirit, fill us with the mind of Christ that we might value what you value and think like you think. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Are you tracking with me here? Do you see how equality is not wrong– just perhaps not the right approach? I welcome push back on this. Remember the relationship between our convictions and our working conclusions.
For the Awakening,