In the bible a story is told of a man who was commissioned to be a High Priest.
As a priest, he had two main responsibilities: first, to protect the temple that God had placed under his care, so that unbelievers would not come in and bring disorder into it through false ideas and false worship; second, to work the temple — to maintain and improve the proper ordering of the temple, so that worshipers could come and discover the joy of true worship.
As a man, he had another responsibility: to cultivate the wife that God had placed under his care. It was his calling to cultivate her spiritually and intellectually: teaching her God’s Word, so that she would be able to follow him into proper worship with her whole heart and mind. It was also his calling to cultivate her physically: producing children who would grow up to follow their parents into proper worship.
But as the story goes on, we find out that this man failed to protect the temple, he failed to teach his wife what she needed to know, and as a result he lost his position as High Priest. He and his wife were forced to find a home outside the temple, where they had to struggle with one another and with the earth itself just for survival.
And I think that many of you, by this point, have figured out that this is the story of Adam and Eve. God had created them in his own image: male and female, two parts of one whole. Their marriage was designed to be the first building-block of a human society — a living temple — dedicated to bringing life and order and worship into the whole world. Once that building-block was distorted by sin, quite naturally the human societies that followed had the same distortion built in.
And the bible itself gives us several examples of how that distortion manifested itself. The earliest example is that of Cain’s city, Cain’s civilization. Like all growing civilizations, it was very conservative. Genesis, Chapter 4, gives us a glimpse into a society where marriage was carefully regulated so that men were allowed to have several women, but women were not allowed to have several men; a society where men had power and freedom, and women were mere commodities. Ironically, we also see that, in a conservative society where women are commodities, they are also valued quite highly.
Later on, Genesis gives us a glimpse into a much more progressive society, a society where sex and marriage have been deregulated and redefined to such a degree that homosexuality is considered normal: this is the civilization centered around the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And what becomes painfully obvious is that, in this example of a very progressive society, women no longer have any value at all: a man offers his own daughters to a mob in order to protect his male guests — and no one there sees anything wrong with this.
And as we discussed last week, modern sociologists have noticed that this pattern of development — from conservative to progressive, from regulation of marriage to deregulation of marriage, from the control of women to the trivialization of women — is a universal pattern in human society. The details and the timeline, of course, are very different in every case; but this process is always going on at various levels. In fact, it is very common for one part of a society to be moving in a very progressive direction, while other parts of that same society may be moving in a very conservative direction.
And there is something else modern sociologists have noticed about this universal pattern of development: men are always the gatekeepers. Basically, nothing changes in a society unless the men change. And in the last analysis, sociologists have noticed that this pattern always seems to result in some kind of benefit for the male. For instance, when a society is conservative, men exert a greater level of control over women — which is beneficial to men. When a society is progressive, women are more empowered! but at the same time sex becomes plentiful, cheap, and easy — which is also beneficial to men. At least for a little while. Because what men inevitably discover is that when women lose their value…so, eventually, do men.
So modern social science is simply confirming what we already know: human society cannot escape from the shadow of Eden. We were created male and female, in the image of God, designed to fit together and work together in certain ways. From the very beginning, it was Adam who was given responsibility to lead his wife into the worship of God…but he chose to glorify himself instead. Because of this, his position as High Priest was taken from him — but the structure of male and female remains, the structure of male leadership in marriage remains: though terribly corrupted.
Many think, therefore, that the solution should be to get rid of the structure by deregulating marriage, or by trying to erase male and female distinctions. But that plan has failed every time it has been tried over the last 5000 years of recorded history: a society cannot remove its most fundamental building block — the family — and expect the walls to keep standing!
Besides, the problem is not actually the structure itself — the problem is corruption in the hearts of men.
Which means that the solution is to redeem the hearts of men, to call them back to their original task, their original responsibility: leading their wives and families into worship for the glory of God alone.
And this is why Peter now turns to address the Christian husbands of ancient Roman Asia:  “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives.
“In the same way…” he says. In the same way as what?
Well, last week Peter said, “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves…” and we asked this question then. So we had to go back one more week to where Peter said, “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves…”, and even further back to where Peter said, “Everyone, submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake…” And we remembered that this is Peter’s way of telling Christians to live and act out of a deep consciousness of God, a deep awareness of who they really are as God’s children.
So Peter is saying, “Husbands, in reverent fear of God be considerate for the Lord’s sake as you live with your wives.” He is saying, “Remember who you really are, remember your true identity, as you live with your wives! Remember that you are the sons of God now.”
But why? Why is Peter saying the same thing to husbands that he said to wives and slaves? Roman slaves and Roman wives were more or less powerless, so they needed that kind of encouragement, that kind of empowerment. Roman husbands are already empowered. Why does Peter remind them that they are also the sons of God?
Well…it is true that Roman husbands exercised a lot of power over their households at this time. But when it comes to winning a wife to Christ, all that power is useless. Just as a wife cannot argue her husband into following her faith, neither can a husband force his wife to follow the Christian faith.
But this part is complicated. Because, legally speaking, a Roman husband actually could force his wife to follow his faith. And that is because religions at the time were purely external: they were a matter of ritual. If you did the rituals of that religion, then you were a follower of that religion. Your inner life did not actually matter — especially not the inner lives of women. So most Roman husbands could, quite literally, force their wives to follow the rituals of their faith.
But Christianity is different. Yes, there are important external rituals in Christianity. But as Peter told us last week: it is the beauty of your inner self which is of great worth in God’s sight.
So a Roman Christian husband faced a bit of an unusual situation. All of his non-Christian neighbors could just tell their wives what to do, which god to worship and how. If their wives protested for some reason, all they had to do was put pressure on them in various ways until they started doing the right rituals in the right way. Non-Christian husbands could basically use their superior position in society to force their wives into external compliance with their religion, because external compliance was all that mattered for them.
But a Christian husband, by the very nature of Christianity, cannot do this. Faith is a work of the Holy Spirit, it is a work of God, not man. So what is a Christian husband to do if his wife resists following him into this strange new faith called “Christianity”?
But, of course, we might say, “Why would any Roman wife resist following her husband into a new faith?” After all, Roman society expected wives to share the same friends and the same gods, and unless there was something really distasteful or weird about Christianity, surely most women would just follow, right?
Well…yes. At first, anyway.
This is how it worked — this is what we see described in the Book of Acts, for instance: when a man, a Head of Household, accepted the claims of Jesus Christ, the local church would make his conversion official by baptizing him — along with his whole household, even the children and the slaves. Whether every member of the household believed yet — or even understood what was going on — did not matter; what mattered is that the Head of Household believed. His personal baptism, and the baptism of his household, was the official sign that this household now belongs to Jesus Christ.
Basically, the sprinkled blood of Jesus in baptism is like the sprinkled blood of Passover in the Old Testament: it is not necessary for everyone in the household to believe or fully understand at first; what is important is that you are inside the house that is protected by the blood of the lamb.
But after baptism — just like after the first Passover — is when the true journey into faith would begin. Back in Moses’ time this meant that each family followed their father across the Red Sea and into the wilderness toward their promised homeland. What did this journey look like during Peter’s time?
Well, each baptized family would begin to follow their Head of Household. It was his responsibility to begin leading his household into faith, teaching them how to pray, how to worship, how to act: all that stuff. And at first, perhaps, Christianity would have seemed very similar to every other religion, because every religion has certain basic rituals and teachings, certain moral requirements.
But then the wife begins to notice some very strange behaviours. For instance, when they go to worship for the first time, her husband insists that everyone in the household comes along…even the slaves. And to make matters worse, they worship at a rich Christian’s house — because that is only person in the church community with a place big enough to accommodate 50 or 60 people — and the wife finds it shameful to bring her slaves into a rich person’s house, because her slaves don’t really know how to interact politely with higher class people — especially her European slaves from Germany and Britain: they are soooo barbaric! Now, it helps a little bit when she realizes that everyone else is also bringing their slaves to worship…but then, when it is time to eat, the slaves do not serve their masters, everyone serves everyone. She even sees her own husband tearing a loaf of bread and sharing it with their gardener!
And then at the end of the meal one of the oldest slaves in the rich Christian’s house stands up and reads a letter from some guy named Peter about how they are all one new equal race of people now. Which is absolutely scandalous! But apparently he means it, because when he is finished reading, the slave fills a large cup with wine and then everyone takes turns drinking from the same cup! And just before the cup comes around to the wife, a slave-girl drinks from it, and everyone knows that she is a shrine-prostitute owned by the Temple of Isis two streets away. Even this girl’s presence in the same room is defiling to a woman of the wife’s middle-class status, and in the end the wife cannot even bring herself to touch the cup with her fingertips, she has to get up and go out.
And when they get home she is furious with her husband, she wants to know how she will ever be able to face her friends in the marketplace ever again? They argue for a while, she finally agrees to follow him to worship every week — she does not mind if her friends see her going into that rich person’s house! — but she will only do so if her husband agrees that a). she does not have to share a cup with anyone who is lower class, and b). her husband will not tell anyone that they are now a Christian household…
So, what is a Christian husband to do in that situation? After all, if his non-Christian neighbors find out that his own wife is not following all the rituals of his new religion properly, he would become a laughing-stock! — and Jesus’ reputation would would be damaged also. Because his neighbors are all going to think that his new god is a pretty weak kind of god if he can’t even make women do what he wants!
And Roman law says that he is allowed to use his superior status to put pressure on her. Should he use this power?
Peter is saying: no.
And this is hard for a man to hear. Because men naturally want to have the respect of those around them.
Last week, Peter warned Christian wives against being too status conscious. In Roman society, a lot of a woman’s identity and value came from her clothing, and it was very tempting for Christian women to use whatever wealth they had to put on a good face, so that they would be respected by their neighbors. Peter called upon them to find their value in Christ, not in clothing.
Well, men are also status conscious. And in Roman society, a lot of a man’s identity and value came from the conduct of his wife, his children, his slaves, his household. So it was very tempting for Christian men to use the power society gave them to force on a good face before the neighbors. Every man wants to be respected, and power is the most direct way for a man to achieve that.
This is why Peter starts by reminding these Christian husbands that they are the sons of God: he is calling upon them to find their value in Christ, not in power. In the eyes of the world they are impotent, because they cannot force their wives to submit. But in the eyes of God, they are the most powerful people on the planet: they possess the Spirit and the power of God!
And because they are so powerful, Peter is saying, they can afford to restrain themselves. Yes, they have the power to destroy their wives: all they have to do is force their wives to submit to every external ritual of Christianity. Then they would look like good husbands in the eyes of their neighbors, and their wives would most likely turn aside into bitterness and hatred of Jesus Christ, guaranteeing their damnation. ”But,“ Peter is saying, “if you are truly Christian men, why would you use your power to destroy?
“Instead,” Peter says, “Husbands, in reverent fear of God, be considerate as you live with your wives.”
A literal translation would say live with your wives “according to knowledge”. What knowledge? This points both ways: live with your wives in the knowledge of what God requires of you, and live with your wives in the knowledge of what God requires of her. What does God require of you? That you lead your wife into true worship, so that she can help you bring true life and order into the world. What does God require of your wife? That she allow herself to be led into true worship, so that she can help you bring true life and order and worship into the world. How is a husband to do this if he cannot use force? Well, in the exact same way Adam was called to lead his wife: by teaching her God’s Word.
But what if she is resistant? What if a wife is like the husbands Peter talked about last week, those who do not believe the word, actively refuse to believe the word?
Well then, just like the Christian wives of last week, Christian husbands must submit themselves completely to God’s plan, to Christ’s humble way of living in the world…so that their rebellious wives might be won over without words when they see the purity and reverence of their husbands’ lives.
Okay. And what does purity and reverence look like in the life of a Christian husband?
It looks like this: treat your wives with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.
The Christian scriptures begin with the story of how God created mankind in his image: male and female, two equal parts of one whole, each one with a vital role to play in creation. Any husband who sets out to teach God’s Word to his wife is going to have to teach her this concept of equal partnership very early on — and he is going to have to live this truth.
So the first thing a Christian husband is called to do is begin treating his wife with respect as a person, as a human being made in the image of God.
But a wife is not just a generic human being, she is a special kind of human being: she is a female human being. So a Christian husband must not treat his wife as he might treat a brother, a male human being; he must treat her with respect as the weaker partner. Literally: with respect as the weaker vessel.
And this is where many modern people roll their eyes and say, “Oh, here we go with the ‘weaker vessel’ bit! That is always the conservative patriarchal ideal, isn’t it: the quiet, demure, two-dimensional woman who is too weak to handle life on her own…!”
But again: that is not what Peter is saying. He is not suggesting that women are emotionally less resilient than men, intellectually weaker than men — none of that! He means this quite literally: women are, on average, physically weaker than the men they marry. Women are, in general, more vulnerable to violence; they are more easily victimized, especially if they are pregnant, nursing, or caring for a number of children.
So Peter is talking about physical weakness here — not weakness of character, but literal vulnerability of body. That is why he uses the word “vessel”: he is talking about the human body as a sort of physical container for the inner self.
And we should notice that, since there is a “weaker vessel”, that means that there is also a “stronger vessel” — in other words, men are also vessels, containers. Peter’s point is that men and women are both the same “kind” of thing: they are equal in substance, equal in value, like two jars made out of clay. It is simply the design of the jars that is different, because each jar is intended for a different purpose. In the engineering and design world they have a saying: form follows function, and this is true of male and female as well.
But Peter is also making yet another point. From the beginning of his letter he has been showing us how, in the Kingdom of Christ, everything is upside-down and backwards from the way things are in the world. In the world, it is always the stronger faster bigger thing that deserves more respect and honour — mostly because we are afraid of things that are more powerful than we are. So a very large empire is more respected than a small country. A rich person is more honoured than a poor person. And men are more respected than women. But in God’s reality, in God’s family, it is the weaker, smaller, slower things of the world that should receive the greater honour. In Christ’s kingdom, those who are strong and honourable in the eyes of the world are called to use their strength and lay aside their honour to serve those who are considered weak in the eyes of the world.
Peter is telling these Christian husbands to live with an awareness of their greater physical and social strength, to live with an awareness of how their strength can affect women in unexpected ways.
For instance, as Peter pointed out last week, women are people with complicated inner selves. They are capable of intellectual development, reason, self-control. Part of recognizing the reality of a woman’s rich inner life is recognizing that she may have fears that a man does not generally struggle with. It can be easy for a husband to say, “You’re worried about what? Oh, come on! Look, just trust me and everything will turn out fine!”
Peter is calling upon Christian husbands to be mindful, to be gentle, to be very careful in the application of their strength: making sure to use their weight to surround and strengthen rather than crush.
But, even though wives are that special kind of human being called “female”, and Christian husbands are called to treat them with a special kind of respect related to that, wives are also supposed to be treated as heirs of the gracious gift of life.
And this is another case where Peter is taking two contradictory ideas — “female” and “heir” — and jamming them together. In the Roman world, women’s inheritance rights were just not equal with the inheritance rights of the men in the family. Roman brothers would be heirs with one another; when their father died, they would become partners working together in the administration of the family estates. Now, those brothers might have great affection and even respect for their sisters, but they would grow up knowing that eventually their sisters would marry into some other family, and be part of some other estate. Those sisters would never be heirs with their brothers, partners working alongside them for the long-term benefit of their father’s family.
Peter is telling Christian husbands that, even though they are called to love their wives gently, as females, as sisters, they are also called to invest in their wives with the same kind of long-term vision that Roman brothers would normally share with one another. Peter is saying, “Look, guys: even though your wives are like your sisters in one way, they also have equal rights with you, as if they were like your brothers. Because, spiritually speaking, your sisters in Christ are never going to be married into some other god’s estate. Because you are married to them, and because they have been baptized into your Christian households, your Father is also their Father, your inheritance is also their inheritance, and for all eternity to come we are all going to be partners together — men and women — in the eternal administration of our Heavenly Father’s family estates!
“So,” Peter is telling these guys, “live with your wives gently, because they are your sisters. But also live with your wives as if they were your brothers, because they are equal shareholders in our family’s collective future!”
These Roman Christian husbands are wondering what they are supposed to do when and if their wives resist submitting to them. Should they use their greater weight and power to get what they want? Should they use the social tools that the Roman empire has given them to protect their reputation in the eyes of their neighbors?
Peter is telling Christian husbands to lay aside the power that Roman society has given them, and take up the power of Christ, a kind of power that is only fully activated in humility and weakness.
And Peter closes with the ultimate reason why Christian husbands must not use force or coercion: he says, “Treat your wives with respect…so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
Several weeks ago, Peter told Christians to treat government officials with the honour due to a person created in the image of God. He told them to do this not just for the good ones, but also for the harsh ones, in hope that they might see your good deeds and glorify God. He told slaves to treat their masters with the same honour; again: not just the good ones, but also the harsh ones, in hope that they might come to glorify God. He told wives to treat their husbands with that same honour — not just the good ones, but also the harsh ones — in hope that they might be won over.
Now, Peter has given Christian husbands the same command for the same ultimate purpose, based on the same principles: Jesus did not lead these men to glorify God by seizing power and using force, he won them over through humility, weakness, and obedience to his Father’s plan. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
In the same way, when a wife hurls her insults at him, a Christian husband does not retaliate; when he suffers, he makes no threats. Because in reverent fear of God he knows that it is his calling to lead his wife — and his whole household — into true worship. And in reverent fear of God, he knows that true worship comes from a heart filled with the Holy Spirit. And in reverent fear of God, a Christian husband knows that it is impossible to fill someone’s heart with the Holy Spirit through force. In fact, a Christian husband knows that trying to use force will actually hinder his efforts to lead his household into worship.
See, Peter sees each family, each Christian household, as a mini-church, a mini worshiping community. And when you gather these mini-churches together, that is when you have a church. Each baptized family is like a living stone being built together with other living stones to become a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. Peter is expecting every Christian husband and father to take up the responsibility God has given him to lead his wife into worship, into ”prayers”, so that his marriage can become an effective building-block in the human society Jesus Christ is building.
So Peter is not saying that — if you are not a very good husband yet — your prayers to God are just going to bounce back to you. He is not saying that, if you are mean to your wife, your personal prayers will stop ”working”…whatever that means. No: what Peter is saying is that a man’s efforts to lead his family into prayer and worship will be hindered if he is harsh, if he is overly concerned with his reputation or with his family’s outward appearances. After all, why would a man’s wife or children or slaves believe his teaching about the gentleness and kindness of Jesus Christ if he himself is not gentle or kind?
So Peter is calling these Christian husbands to a life of faith in relation to their wives. He is urging the Christian husbands of Roman Asia to control their fears and their pride, to follow the instructions contained in God’s Word, and trust — not their wives! but — God to do the right thing in their marriages.
And what are the instructions contained in God’s Word? Well, God’s Word has given a husband certain responsibilities, and the authority to act upon those responsibilities. But God’s Word has not given husbands responsibility for everything!
For instance, last week, Peter made it clear that God has trusted women with the responsibility to submit themselves to their own husbands; nowhere in scripture is a husband told that it is his responsibility to force his wife to submit to him.
Peter was careful to point out last week that a wife has her own relationship with her Heavenly Father, and her Father has called her to a certain kind of obedience in marriage. If she refuses, then that is between her and God, and there will be an accounting on the Day of Judgement. That is not her husband’s business! Her husband is called to a different kind of obedience: to teach and lead by example. If he refuses to follow the example of Christ, and tries to use earthly power instead…then there will be an accounting for him on the Day of Judgement. But that is between him and God.
So God’s Word has given husbands a certain kind of authority; but God’s Word has also put limits around that authority. God’s Word has given husbands a job to do; and God’s Word has given them the proper tools to accomplish that job: the tools of respect, humility, gentleness, sacrifice. Christian husbands must be careful to take up the responsibilities that God has assigned them! At the same time, Christian husbands must also be careful not to take control of things that God has not assigned to them.
So, now, what does this mean for us in 21st century Kuala Lumpur? Brothers — Christian husbands — how should we apply this to our lives, our marriages, today?
Well, as always, it is helpful to go back to basics, to start simply and build from the ground up. So we go back to the beginning, to our creation in God’s image — male and female — and we remember our original purpose as men: brothers, we were created to bring order and worship into the world. This was Adam’s job even before he had a wife, and it is the job of every man.
When a man becomes a husband, however, his calling to bring order and worship into the world receives a special focus: first, upon his wife, and then upon his children and any others in his household that God may see fit to give him. The reason God created marriage is because it is not good for a man to be alone: a man, alone, has the overwhelming challenge of cultivating the entire world. Marriage — believe it or not — is actually…easier. And the potential pay-off is much higher, because it is through marriage that a man can multiply himself, and expand his ability to fulfill God’s calling to bring the world into proper order and worship.
So, guys, if you are here today and you are wondering what your job is as a husband, this is it: when you are married, you are a craftsman who is called to help shape your household into an essential building-block in the walls of God’s kingdom. As a Christian man, your marriage exists for the the Lord’s sake, and you serve as a husband in reverent fear of God.
Now, knowing that our households are meant to be building-blocks in God’s kingdom, and knowing that the way to shape our households properly is by leading them into true worship of the true God — well, this helps us understand how we are supposed to accomplish this task. Since we know that true worship comes only from a heart guided by God’s Word and God’s Spirit…it becomes obvious that any kind of force or coercion is not going to work. Just as a wife cannot nag her husband into faith, a husband cannot drive his wife into faith — he must lead her into worship through the Word of God and through his own Christ-like example.
And what makes this difficult is that are tempted in the same way Christian men were tempted in the Roman empire. We all want to be respected by our wives and by our neighbors. And in a world that only truly respects strength and forcefulness, the easiest way to get respect is by being forceful.
— and I want to make sure we all understand something: Peter is not just condemning the use of physical force, physical abuse, in a marriage, he is condemning coercion of every kind: emotional browbeating, intellectual browbeating, spiritual browbeating…which we are all guilty of. That is why, way back in Chapter 2, Peter began this section by telling all of us to rid ourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Physical abuse is a terrible evil; but the truly deep long-term damage to a marriage and a church happens through the secret slow-acting poisons of evil speech.
We are all jealous for our own honour, our own respect, and left to ourselves we will use various kinds of force to seize it and keep it. How can we be saved from our own evil desires to glorify ourselves? How can we become better husbands?
Peter’s Gospel for us husbands is the same Gospel he preached to wives and to slaves: our value, our identity is secure in Christ. We are the children of God, adopted and born again through the sprinkled blood of Jesus, and there is no greater honor than that. There is nothing we can do to increase that honour, and there is nothing anyone can do to take that honour away from us.
Brothers, this is how we can be saved: we fix our eyes on this truth. As this truth works its way through our character, we will learn how to follow Jesus’ example and entrust our lives, our reputations, our value to him to judges justly. Basically, the more secure we become, more we will develop that gentle and quiet spirit which is of great worth in God’s sight — that gentle and quiet spirit that is actually the greatest kind of strength.
It is ironic, perhaps, but harshness and forcefulness in a man is actually evidence of weakness. It is the fearful man who fights back when he feels that his wife is not showing him the proper respect; but the man who does not retaliate when he is insulted, the man who makes no threats — this is the strongest possible kind of man, a man whose identity is completely secure in Christ. And that is the kind of man we all want to be.
So, in closing here, guys, and in the interests of keeping things simple, let us continue to encourage one another to live with our wives according to these two points of knowledge:
First, remember what men were made for. We are, first and foremost, called to be the worship leaders of our households. If we can remember this, then we will remember that worship leading can never be accomplished by force.
Second, remember who we have become in Christ: the unshakeable sons of God. If we can remember this, then our temptation to use force in our families will gradually wither away, and in its place will spring up such a fountain of living water that no one who comes to us will go away thirsty.
That’s it. That’s the beginning, the foundation of a good Christian marriage, the foundation of a transformed Christian society. As for the details of what it might look like for us to be considerate as we live with our wives — well, just like last week, in his instructions to wives, Peter has left this open for us to discuss. So, please, let us do that during our Q&A in a few minutes.