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Husbands (3:7)

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If a person merely says he believes something but that faith does not govern his actions, then his words are meaningless. When the standards of society are in harmony with ideals of our religion, then it is easy for us to act consistently with what we say we believe. But the real test of faith is whether we are willing to defy the standards of society in order to be obedient to the will of God. We should show our faith not only in how we act towards those in society, but especially in how we treat our families. The manner in which the followers of Jesus should treat family members is one of the things that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. And it is different from the standards of society. As the Apostle Peter points out, there are two principles of conduct which should govern all of our actions. The first is to abstain from evil, and the second is to do good. But Peter does not leave it there. He goes on to apply these principles to specific areas of our every-day lives. In writing to husbands the he says: “You husbands, in the same way, live with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor to the woman, as to the weaker vessel, as being also joint heirs of the grace of life; that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)

“...husbands, in the same way...” In the same way as what? To answer this question it is necessary to look at the context of Peter’s instruction. After giving the general rules of Christian conduct in chapter 2, verses 11 and 12, Peter writes about what our attitude toward government should be, how household servants should behave towards their masters, the example of Jesus and the conduct of wives. In each case Peter emphasizes the need of submission. So, when Peter tells husbands to act in the same way, he is instructing them to be submissive. This is not always easy. A man may have to face ridicule and scorn for obeying Peter’s instructions. But the motive for submission in all the examples Peter gives, is a reverential fear of God. A husband who is truly a follower of Christ will submit to God’s standards in spite of pressure from friends, relatives or society because his highest goal is to not do anything that would destroy his relationship with God.

When Peter refers to woman as the “weaker vessel” he is speaking primarily about wives. But it is not limited to them. A Christian husband’s attitude and behavior towards his wife should extend to all women.

In what way is a woman a “weaker vessel?” When Peter called women the weaker vessel he may have had in mind the order in which God created mankind, and the authority structure God has established. In speaking of this the Apostle Paul writes, “ For Adam was first formed, then Eve. Adam wasn’t deceived, but the woman, being deceived, has fallen into disobedience.” (1 Timothy 2:13-14) It is because woman was created after man, and because she was the first to sin that God has placed wives under the authority of their husbands. And so, it is possible to say that a woman is weaker because God has given her less authority.

A woman may also be the “weaker vessel” as a result of the instruction the Apostle Peter gives to wives in chapter 3, verse 1. There he tells wives to submit to their husbands. Any person who submits to someone else voluntarily puts themselves in a weaker position. So it follows that if a wife is obedient to God’s Word she will give her own will a lower place than her husband’s.

But it is most likely that when Peter uses the term “weaker vessel” for women, it is not so much a comment about women, but rather a comment about how men view women. The clue to this interpretation is that Peter says that husbands are to live with their wives “ according to knowledge”. During and after the time of the writing of this letter, there were many philosophers and religious sects which claimed to have special knowledge, beyond what was revealed to the apostles. They called themselves the ‘knowing ones.’ These people regarded all matter as evil and, in particular, they regarded women as lower than themselves and unclean. This philosophical position in turn caused them to despise and suppress women.

This is an area in which Christianity is very beautiful when contrasted to the standards of the world. Are women ‘weaker vessels?’ Then, instead of despising their wives for their weakness, Peter makes it very clear that the followers of Christ are to show them respect. Strength is not the same as worth. God often chooses the weak to do his work over those who consider themselves strong. As God said to the apostle Paul, “ power is made perfect in weakness...” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Peter also points out that, before God, wives are of equal value as their husbands. In God’s eyes the wife is not ‘lower’ than her husband, and the husband is not ‘higher’ than his wife. They are both joint heirs of life. And this life is a gift. It is not something the husband has by right while his wife does not. He needs the gift of life just as much as she does. It is only by God’s grace that either of them have life. Husband and wife are to serve God side by side.

Our attitude towards our wives and other women affects much more than just our home life. Peter says that if we do not respect our wives, if we will not treat women as fellow heirs of the gift of life, then our prayers will be hindered. Do we feel at times that it is difficult to pray? Does it seem sometimes that God is far away and does not listen to our prayers? Whenever we begin to feel this way, we should take a look at how we are treating our wives. It may be that God will not listen to us because we refuse to grant our wives the same honor and respect which God gives them. Each one of us needs to ask ourselves, do we honor our wives? Do we treat them with respect? Do we acknowledge that our wives are as precious to God as we are, or do we try to put them down?