Beauty & Strength, Part 2

Marriage is always more than just submission and authority, but it’s never less than this. This is the biblical vision.

JDudgeon on February 4, 2024
Beauty & Strength, Part 2
February 4, 2024

Beauty & Strength, Part 2

Passage: 1 Peter 3:1-7
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Today is the second part of a message we began a week ago. If you weren’t here last week, we took a careful journey through the passage we just read together, doing our best to understand what God, through the Apostle Peter, had to say to the Christians reading his letters.

And now today we’re going to spend our time considering what this passage means for us today. And I hope you know that these two messages are very connected. This week as I prepared I was still making frequent references to the passage and really trying to make sure that this application is grounded in the text. So please, don’t hear this as a separate message. Please know this really is part and parcel of what we did together last week.

Here’s how we’re going to do this: we’re going to look at what this passage says about marriage, about beauty, and about strength. And under each of those headings we’re going to think about how this passages’s teaching on that issue applies to various groups of people.


1. MARRIAGE

We’ll begin our discussion on marriage, and we want to speak to three general categories of people here. First, let’s touch on what this passage says about marriage in general, particularly to those who are married. But if you’re not married, listen up, because there’s still a fair bit here for you to learn.


a. For those who are married

We can’t miss the obvious point that Peter tells wives to submit to their husbands. And this is not unique to Peter. There are four main passages in the New Testament which teach on “how to do marriage," and in three out of these four passages we see a similar command. Ephesians 5:22: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Colossians 3:18: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”

Marriage is always more than just submission and authority, but it’s never less than this. This is the biblical vision.

Now, someone might ask, “Why do we still insist on this? Isn’t a wife submitting to a husband just a cultural practice, just like slaves and masters? If the gospel overturned slavery, why doesn’t the gospel overturn submission in marriage?”

That’s a good question. And the answer is that Peter does not explain wives submitting to their husbands in the same way that he explained slaves submitting to their masters. Think about how he encouraged slaves to submit: by telling them to follow the example of Jesus, who was so mistreated in his trial and crucifixion. He acknowledges the injustice, but says that, like Jesus, there is glory in suffering unjustly.

With wives and husbands, that’s not how he argues at all. Peter grounds a wife’s submission to her husband in “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4), and he goes on to give as examples the holy women who lived in a very different time and place as the people he was writing to.

We see similar things in the other “submission” passages, particularly Ephesians 5, here Paul explicitly grounds submission in the gospel and in creation. Wives live out the gospel by submitting to their husbands, and husbands live out the gospel by sacrificially loving their wives. And he explains how this was God’s design way back when He first made us.

So submission wasn’t just a cultural thing to tolerate. This was God’s plan.

And so the question for us, particularly for those who are married, is: do we believe this? And do we practice this?

I wonder how many Christians in churches like ours say “yes, we believe in biblical gender roles,” and yet, when it comes down to how their marriages actually work, they basically function like the rest of the world. They treat “submission” the way the U.S. government treats their nuclear weapons—it’s something we have, but we really, really hope we never have to use it.

But if three out of the four marriage passages in the New Testament tell wives to submit to their husbands, does that sound like it’s supposed to be a rare occurrence? It sounds more like something very normal, doesn’t it?

So wives, let me ask you: when is the last time you submitted to your husband, not because you agreed with him or thought that his idea was better than yours, but simply because he’s your husband and the Bible tells you to submit to him?

This doesn’t mean you don’t tell him what you think. This doesn’t mean you check your brain at the door. This doesn’t mean that you don’t seek to have an influence on your husband. Peter specifically tells us in this passage that wives submit to Christ first and should influence their husbands towards Christ.

So ladies, this is not about being a doormat. God made Eve to help Adam, and that role as helper calls for action and wisdom and diligence. Just read Proverbs 31 for one example of what that looks like.

And yet, none of that erases the very plain words of the apostles which teach us that God expects wives to submit to their husbands because that’s how God designed men and women and marriage to work.

Now at this point I want to say to husbands: do you know, really know, that God has given you authority over your wife not for your benefit but for her benefit? Are you living with her in an understanding way, like verse 7 says, really thinking about your decisions and the impact that your leadership is having on her? Are you using your authority to serve and protect her, and help her to thrive?

Are you remembering that she is your helper, and are you seeking her advice and perspective and wisdom? Does she know that she is heard? Are you laying your life down for her and making it easy to submit to you?

Are you I hope the answer is yes. If you get excited when you hear about this submission stuff, like “Oh boy, this sounds fun,” then you’re missing it. This should make you gulp and feel the weight on your shoulders. Because that’s what this is about. This is about you, like Christ, sacrificially carrying the heavy weight on your shoulders so that your wife and family can thrive under your care. This is about you being willing to suffer for your wife’s mistakes without berating her, as a tiny reflection of the way Christ suffered for us.

Your wife will struggle to submit to you at times, because she is a daughter of Eve. Her desire will sometimes be contrary to you, like Genesis 3:16 says. There’s a reason the Bible has to tell her to do this. But make it as desirable as possible for her. Win her heart, earn her trust, and make her want to keep on trusting your caring authority.

There’s at least three hours more of things to say on this topic, but let me call the married men and women in this church to joyfully embrace and actually practice the biblical pattern for marriage. Wives, actually submit to your husbands. Husbands, actually lead your wives with sacrificial love and thoughtful attention to her well-being.

And just a plug here: don’t expect this to be easy. Marriages go through hard seasons. Husbands, don’t be offended if your wife needs to talk to someone else to get help and perspective. Wives, the same is true for you. Both of you, don’t be ashamed to call up some friends or trusted leaders to sit down and ask for help. This is normal. Marriage is hard and we should expect to need each other’s help as we grow in grace together.


b. For those who are married to unbelievers

Next, we need to touch on what this passage says to wives who are in the situation Peter directly addressed in our passage: Christian women who are married to men who do not obey the word and do not believe the gospel.

And I don’t know if I have a lot to say here, because this passage and last week’s sermon is largely straight application to someone in this situation. Peter affirms that a wife’s main allegiance is to Jesus, and that she is right to seek to win her husband to Christ, and he gives her instructions on how to go about doing that—which is mainly through her life, not her words.

There is no guarantee here. Salvation is God’s business. But God put that man in a house with you, and don’t be surprised if He uses your conduct to make him hungry for the Lord.

Someone asked a great question this week—what if a wife has an unbelieving husband and he doesn’t want her to go to church? Does she need to submit to him in that regard?

And I think it’s an important question to ask because it gets at a key issue in this passage. It gets at the issue, “how far does submission go?” And to answer that question, I’d just point out again how counter-cultural it was for Peter to affirm a Christian wife following Jesus in the first place. Peter is saying that Jesus is Lord way above her husband. And just like in the previous weeks, we’ve seen that submission to human authority has to take a back seat to submission to Jesus. It was Peter who told the council, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Human authority does not overrule God’s authority.

So when it comes to gathering as God’s people, this is something the Lord has commanded His church to do. And so I conclude that a husband does not have the authority to tell his wife not to do something God has told her to do. So I would say that is a situation to obey God rather than man. Now there may be may be specific situations or exceptions where a wife might wisely make a different decision, but in general, I think she needs to gather with God’s people even if her husband doesn’t want her to.

This principle can be applied to other situations where a husband tries to pressure a wife to sin. He just simply doesn’t have the authority to do that. We submit to Christ first in everything, and that goes for wives in marriage.

Now there’s a lot more I want to say here about women or men who find themselves in marriages to someone who doesn’t share their faith. I have some material I’m going to share on the blog this week, and if you go on there this afternoon and subscribe to updates, you’ll get it in your inbox this week.


c. For those who are unmarried

I want to speak next to those who are unmarried. And I want to be so careful here, because I don’t want to heap pain on those who did not make wise decisions when they married. God’s grace is sufficient for you in whatever kind of marriage you’re in today. But if you’re not married yet, can I please encourage you not to make your life harder than it needs to be?

And I know that both men and women are prone to making these mistakes, but in my history I have far more often seen young women settle for a guy, just so that they can “make it” and be married, only to realize too late how challenging it can be to be married to someone who either doesn’t share their faith, or is way less mature than them.

Young people, especially those so desperate for marriage, you need to hear that marriage can be more lonely than singleness. I’m not making this up. This comes from many stories I’ve watched and walked with.

And I know how Satan tempts people to get into this kind of thing. He’ll bring someone across your path who you get along with so well, and they seem to really get you, and they’re incredibly good looking, and they’re even open to hearing you talk about your faith in between make-out sessions. And you’re convinced that the Holy Spirit really needs your help to save this person, and so you can’t break up with them.

Young people, please know that God’s word is very clear on this. “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). And getting romantically involved with someone whom you know you can’t marry is literally one of the ,most foolish things a person can do.

Perhaps an even more sneaky temptation is to fall for the guy who “says he’s a Christian.” Because then you’re good, right? Checks all the boxes. But ladies, just think about this: if almost every time the New Testament talks about marriage it tells wives to submit to their husbands, than don’t you think you should be looking for a man to whom you can safely submit? A man who has the maturity and their ability to lead you in marriage, and how is proving it by providing leadership and initiative today?

As some of you have heard me say before, there is no magic in a wedding ring. He’s not going to suddenly grow up just because he’s your husband. If he’s a man child now, what makes you think he’ll be any different then? What kind of marriage, and life, do you really want to have?

I’m talking to ladies here because in my experience I’ve seen them make this mistake more often than men, and because the issue of submission makes this particularly relevant to them. But men can be tempted in the exact same ways.

Look at the Biblical ideal for marriage, and work backwards to make wise decisions today about the kind of person you will (or will not) marry in the future.


2. BEAUTY

Once again, there’s so much more we could say there, but let’s move on to talk about the issue of beauty.

And we’re going to spend less time on this one, but let’s begin by reminding ourselves of what our passage says about the source of true beauty: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3–4).


a. For Women

The challenge here for women is to truly believe this. This is not just a fact for you to acknowledge and nod your head to. This is a truth that should shape your heart and your behaviour and your life. Do you know that God values the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, and does that mean more to you than the opinions of other humans?

Women, how might you cultivate an appreciation for this? How might you cultivate a lifestyle that prioritizes inner beauty? Again, please hear the reminder from last week—this is not saying that outer beauty does not matter at all. 1 Corinthians 11:15 talks about a woman’s hair being “her glory.” That’s just one example of the way in which the Bible celebrates physical beauty. We’re not ignoring that. But we’re seeking to put the priority in the right spot.

Here’s an evaluation question: how much time in a day do you spend working on, or focusing on, or thinking about, external appearance? Now ask, how much time do you spend in a day working on, or focusing on, or otherwise cultivating inner beauty? You could include here time spent meditating on God’s word, talking to your Heavenly Father, growing together with your family in Christ, or other ways in which you are deliberately growing on the inside.

Does your balance reflect a biblical priority? Are you paying proper attention to the beauty that is going to last? When you’re young and healthy, it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever be anything but. But these bodies do not last forever. They wear out.

I’m not very old, but in my life I’ve met people who had perfect-looking faces and bodies but had ugly hearts that made them so hard to be around. And I’ve been with people whose bodies were torn apart by disease and they had no physical beauty to speak of, but their inner beauty made them literally shine.  What are you going to focus on?

And this isn’t just about the future. Our passage speaks to you about the incredible power that you have to draw people towards Christ with your inner beauty. This isn’t just about husbands. This is about the people around you finding Christ compelling because of who you are on the inside. And that’s powerful.

And it’s so counter-cultural in a society that has taught us that a woman’s value depends on her sexual attractiveness. Clothing styles continue to get tighter and smaller and more revealing, and younger women in particular feel so much pressure to dress in alluring ways in hopes of being noticed and desired by men, because that’s where they think their worth comes from.

And this passage calls women of all ages to flip that script around. Sisters, I urge you to actively, deliberately and intentionally pursue the inner beauty that is precious in God’s eyes. And just look at how God may use that for His glory through you.


b. For Men

A quick word for men here. Men, our culture has conditioned you to think certain things are beautiful and certain things aren’t. Our culture has supplied you with a steady stream of unrealistic expectations for how women are supposed to look and act and interact with you. You probably believe more lies than you know right now.

And this passage is calling us to cultivate an appreciation for this kind of beauty. And that will require discernment. We’ll have to filter the messages about beauty that are coming at us through our screens all the time, even if you’re not watching anything inappropriate.

But how much worse when the material we look at gets more and more toxic. Brothers, flee from pornography. It’s destructive in more ways than you know. Throw your phone in the river rather than use porn one more time. Start now to detoxify from the poison you’ve been inhaling.

One of my favourite things to see when a guy comes off of porn is that he starts to actually see the women around him. He begins to see people, not just bodies. Sisters, not just objects. And he begins to be able to appreciate true beauty without needing to possess it for himself.

Brothers, there’s freedom to be found in learning to appreciate what God finds truly beautiful. Ask God to give you this sense, and do whatever you must to cultivate this.


3. STRENGTH

Our final stop today is to consider what Peter says about strength. In verse 7 he calls husbands to show honour to their wives as “the weaker vessel.” Peter here is reflecting the very distinct Christian ethic that honour does not just go to the strong, and weakness is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, in the kingdom of God, the last shall be first, the lowest shall be the greatest, and those weaker are to be shown greater honour.

This was an important message in the ancient world, where a man’s strength gave him permission to run rough-shod over his household with no accountability. This is an important message in the modern world, where masculine strength is often either abused or viewed with suspicion and something to be ashamed of. Or we pretend it’s not even there.

The Biblical picture that emerges in this passage is that God has made men strong, physically strong, and they are to use this strength to crate an environment of safety and honour for the women in their lives.


a. For Men

So let’s speak first of all to the men on this. I said a few things to you already last week, but let’s just probe a little bit deeper. Peter says in verse 7 that husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, and show them honour as the weaker vessel, “so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

He’s getting this idea from Psalm 34, which he’s going to quote in verse 10. If you look down at verse 12, which comes from Psalm 34:16, we read that the ears of the Lord are open to the prayer of the righteous, “But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

The assumption here is that not being understanding to your wife, and not showing her honour as the weaker vessel, is evil. And God will turn his face against those who do these things.

That’s a scary thought. Or at least, it should be. This is only a scary thought if God means something to you. Verse 7 is only a compelling argument if you are a man who prays and desires that God will hear your prayers. And if that’s you, then you will show care and honour to the women whom God has made, particularly to your wife if you are married.

Men, is that you? Do you care about this? I hope so. I pray so.

And with that being said, brothers, let me call you to use the strength God has given you to create environments of safety around you. Let the women in your life—not just your wife, but every woman with whom you interact—feel safe in your presence. Make sure they know that your strength will be used for them and not against them.

In the Middle Ages this idea of masculine strength was a part of the system of chivalry. Today, when we think of “chivalry” we think about men holding doors or giving up their seat for a woman. And sadly, some guys never do this unless they are trying to flirt.

But in the ancient understanding, these practices were a part of the way that warriors used their strength to honour the women around them. These knights were powerful men, used to bloodshed and battle and the sight of severed limbs. And holding a door for a lady was a way of saying, “My strength is not a threat to you. I will use my strength to show you honour and provide you with safety.”

So brothers, hold the door for a lady. Give her your seat if there’s no place to sit. Carry the heavy grocery bag. Go out in the cold to start the car. Do the hard jobs, not because you’re flirting, but because that’s what men do.

And dads, teach your sons to do this. Teach them to treat little girls differently than they treat little boys.


b. For Women

Now, a word for women: what if your husband is not doing this? What if your husband is using his strength to hurt you and harm you? This is the question I pointed to last week: should a wife submit even if she is being abused?

Sadly, there are people who say “yes.” I just heard another story last week about a woman who went to her pastor for help in an abuse situation, and was basically told to shut up and take it. There are church circles where if a woman is being beat up by her husband, and she leaves him, she is going to get in trouble, not him.

This is not okay.

Let me point you to a little-known but really helpful passage in the Old Testament that’s not about marriage but helps us think through these situations really well. Deuteronomy 23:15: “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him’” (Deuteronomy 23:15–16).

Slaves were supposed to submit to their masters. But if one ran away, apparently because he or she was being hurt or treated poorly, you weren’t supposed to send them back to take it. You weren’t supposed to demand two or three witnesses. You just let them live with you. In other words, your default mode was to provide safety.

If that’s true in that situation, how much more a woman who comes seeking safety from her husband? It should be obvious to us that a woman in harm’s way needs to get out of harm’s way. And any one of us in the church should be ready to provide a place of safety to a woman who needs that place of safety.

Now past that point, we need to approach these situations with carefulness. On the one hand, we want to recognize that most cases of domestic abuse go unreported, and when a woman says she’s being abused, we should not assume she’s making it up [https://www.violencefreecolorado.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/CCADV-CCASA-Fact-Sheet-on-Myth-of-False-Allegations_updated-2.21.14.pdf]. On the other hand, false accusations of abuse do happen. There are some who define the word “abuse” so broadly that basically any time a husband is less than perfect he is guilty of abuse and his wife is justified to leave him.

So we need to be careful, and weight each situation carefully and wisely against Scripture, instead of our own definitions of what is or is not “abuse.” But let us never hesitate to provide shelter and safety to those who need it.

Women, you do not need to stay and submit to a man who is hurting you physically. And I believe there are cases where even if the pain he’s inflicting is verbal or emotional, you might need to get away to safety, even if that’s just for a time.

As a church we cannot tolerate the use of masculine strength to bully or intimidate or cause harm. God forbid that we ever have to deal with a situation like this in our church, but if we ever do, may God grant us the wisdom and the mercy to protect the vulnerable and provide safety for those who need it.


c. For The Church

There’s so much more. I had a bunch of stuff in here for parents that I had to take out and will include in our next parenting workshop. But let’s just end with a call for us to live these truths out together as a church. And not just this last point about strength. When it comes to marriage and beauty and strength, when it comes to everything that 1 Peter 3:1-7 has told us, these truths aren’t just for us as individuals or us as families. Every family has blind spots and shortcomings, every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, and we need each other to live this out well.

More than just each other, we need Jesus. He is the only perfect example in all of this. Jesus is the perfect husband who nourishes and cherishes His bride. Jesus is the one who lays down His life to give is safety. Jesus is the one in whom we see the prefect use of strength combined with gentleness. All we need to live these things out as Christ’s body is found in our head, who is Christ himself.

In Christ we have all that we need to be a community honours marriage, treasures beauty, and stewards strength. Let’s look to Christ together now.


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