Five Minute Devotions: 1 Peter 3
In 1 Peter 3, Peter continues where he left off in the previous chapter, discussing the necessity of submission to authority. The first part of the chapter is a notoriously contentious passage about husbands and wives, where Peter admonishes wives to be like Sarah “who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord” (1 Peter 3:6) and refers to them as the “weaker partner” (1 Peter 3:7).
In a devotional that’s supposed to only take five minutes, where an entire chapter of Scripture is covered each weekday, it would be easy to skip over portions of Scripture that certainly require more than five minutes of insight. What I really wanted to do was focus on the classic verse for apologetics found in 1 Peter 3:15:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. – 1 Peter 3:15
However, as I began to write, I realized that the latter half of the chapter was calling me to write on the first half of the chapter. I needed to be prepared to give an answer to everyone regarding this particularly sticky passage. So here goes…
Context is Key
1 Peter 3:1-7 is set in the context of the last part of 1 Peter 2, which is concerned with living godly lives in a pagan society. In this section, Peter has addressed Christians in general, warning them to submit to the Empire, even if its laws were unfair and anti-Christian (1 Peter 2:11-17). Next, he specifically focuses on slaves, again admonishing them to submit to their master, even if he was unfair (1 Peter 2:18-25). In neither case does Peter uphold the rightness of the anti-Christian Empire or the harsh master. In fact, there is an implicit recognition that this is not the way things should be.
When Peter transitions to his third group, this same contrast is at play. Just as there is tension between the Empire and the Kingdom, and tension between the slave and the master, so too there is tension between the unbelieving husband and the believing wife. And there is the implicit recognition that it should not be this way. Husband and wife should labor together in mutual submission, with the husband taking on the role as servant-leader.
Peter’s purpose in this passage is to tell wives that the best way to open their husbands’ eyes to the message of the Gospel is to live it out in their day to day lives for their husbands to witness. This passage does not denigrate women. Instead, it makes note of their denigration within secular culture and empowers them to take leadership in their homes through their spiritual example.
Culture is Key
It is important to remember that not everything Scripture records is something Scripture approves. Peter’s matter-of-fact reference to women as the “weaker partner” seems quite misogynistic to our twenty-first century ears. Some point to this phrase as evidence of Christianity’s bias against women. Other shrug and say that this kind of phrasing is to be expected of Peter, the blue-collar rough and tumble apostle. Many point to cultural biases.
And cultural biases it is, but not in the way many think. Peter’s identification of women as the “weaker partner” does not imply any ontological inferiorities. He’s simply stating what is true in first century culture: women do not have many, if any, rights. A better interpretation of “weaker” might be “more vulnerable.” In the first century, there can be no argument that women are more vulnerable than men. Even now in the twenty-first century, there can be no argument that women unfairly lack some of the advantages afforded to men.
Therefore, in light of the cultural condition, Christians are called to be counter-cultural.
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. – 1 Peter 3:7
The New Way in Christ
The Christian family will not follow of the pattern of the pagan family. In the pagan family, women held no social status, had few legal rights, and often were considered property of their husband or father. Peter inverts that structure in this verse. He commands husbands to take this socially and culturally vulnerable person and lift her up within the home. He advocates to treat her with consideration and respect—not as property or as a slave, but as a fellow heir to the Kingdom.
Despite popular non-Christian belief (and despite common Christian practice), Christianity has always sought the protection and the empowerment of women. Some of Jesus’ disciples were women. The greatest financiers of his ministry were women. Some of the greatest early teachers and leaders were women. Christianity has always been a religion of turning the Empire’s least-of-these into the Kingdom’s heirs to the throne.
Father, teach us to lead as you did. Help us to empower those to whom power is not that often given. Let us see your image in all people.
Does this chapter challenge your view on male headship?
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