Marriage: Aiming to Emulate Christ and the Church - Wives who are Daughters of Sarah

1 Peter 3:1-7

Previous Sermons in Series

  1. Genesis 2:18-25 Marriage: A Showcase of Covenant Keeping (beginning of the 2008 series on Marriage).  Audio Version

  2. Genesis 2:20-25 Marriage: A Safe Gospel Radiant Place (Second in 2008 series on Marriage)  Audio Version

  3. Colossians 3:12-19 Marriage: The Art of Grace Bending (3rd in 2008 series on Marriage) Audio Version

  4. Ephesians 5:15-32 Marriage: Aiming to Emulate Christ and the Church - Introduction Audio Version

  5. Ephesians 5:21-32 Marriage: Aiming to Emulate Christ and the Church: HusbandsAudio Version

(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg

1 Peter 3:1-7

3 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your 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 braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, 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 make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. 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.

Brothers and sisters in Christ:
If we accept that marriage is all about Christ and the church, that marriage is not just a simple metaphor but a relationship created and designed by God to display the relationship between Christ and the church, then if follows that we should shape our relationships in such a way that the relationship between Christ and the church can be seen. Last week we looked at husbands, and we found that husbands are called to be men of honor, in faithfulness using their power and authority to serve their wives, in taking initiative in reconciliation and provision for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his wife and family, like Christ does for the church. Now Paul in Ephesians 5 makes it very clear that a wife also has a role to play in emulating Christ and the church. In verse 24 he writes:
Ephesians 5:24

24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Now we found first of all that if a husband is truly worthy of honor, then being under his headship is the safest and one of the most wonderful possible places to be. In that context, most women would love the word submit.

Things have gotten distorted. First of all the fall into sin has distorted men, they can be authoritarian, they can be lazy bums or anywhere in between, being dishonorable has many different shades, it is in my heart and yours. But the fall has also distorted women. Remember after the fall, in Genesis 3:16, when God lists the consequences of the fall into sin,

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

Clearly, pain is a consequence of the fall, even pain in child bearing. And the last part is easy to understand in the sense of how we see headship has become distorted by the fall into sin. But then there is the line of the curse “Your desire will be for your husband.” Does this refer to the desire of love, the desire of sex, how can those be called part of the curse when they bring so much pleasure? Actually, this short verse pictures the battle of the sexes, the dynamics which make a biblical view of marriage as not only God created but ordained to display Christ and the church difficult. The word desire used in this verse happens, to the best of my knowledge one other time in scripture - in Genesis 4:7. Remember the story of Cain and Able. They both made sacrifices, Abel’s was accepted, Cain’s was not. And so a seething anger overcame Cain. Listen to the words of the Lord to Cain...

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

This is the same word as in Gen 3, the same word for desire, it has connotations of control and mastery, it has connotations of manipulation and devouring. Here in the original fall, we see how even submission went off course, how the marriage relationship went off course. A willing submission to a safe faithful initiative taking husband became a desire to dominate him. The fall into sin and its consequences have distorted what God intended for marriage.

Now we also live in a time and a culture where the spirit of the age emotionally undermines this biblical perspective of marriage where in emulating Christ and the church, the husband is head and the wife is in a position of submission. Let me give you a few flavours of the spirit of our age:

  1. We live in a time of individualism, where independence is equated with maturity, where the self made independent man or women is the hallmark of success. With financial security and in vitro fertilization, more and more women are choosing to have children without a man. To acknowledge dependence on someone else is perceived as inferior..

  2. We live in a time where authorities are not trusted. We have heard to many horror stories of authority abused - it makes the news whether it is police stun guns or fathers who kill their families, or priest who abuse school children. Authority as a general concept is not trusted. That’s a spiritual issues in this post modern age.

  3. Submission has a sense of injustice. In a world were rights are in alienable, submission has to do with injustice, its not fair that one should submit to another. How can the church possibly with a clear conscience teach this?

Based on 1 Peter 3, let me make a few points that I think will be helpful on this issue.  First of all, the scriptural view of submission has the following flavor: submission from a position of strength and freedom of choice. Submission is a free choice arising from our freedom in Christ. We are not compelled by demands to submit (a faithful husband who lives to serve would not do that), we do not do it because a community demands that we do (that is the tyranny of the majority - which can easily happen), rather we submit because in Christ we are free and it is our aim to emulate the relationship between Christ and the church. We submit for the glory of God. We submit from a position of strength and the choices that are possible because of our freedom. Again, Christ submitted himself to his disciples. You remember the day that Christ, who came to serve, not be served, took a towel wrapped it around himself and then washed his disciples feet. He did not do that to their demands, he did not do it because he was powerless, he submitted himself to serving them from a position of pure power in total freedom. Submission happens from the free choice of strength. From 1 Peter 3 - how does this come out....

Notice the strength that Peter highlights in this passage:
First of all - the strength of a women is her hope in God.  ...this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God.  Hebrews 11, the entire scriptures reveal to us that the greatest strength of any human is to put their hope in God. Those who put their hope in God overcame the Egyptian kingdom, entered the promised land, overcame hardship. There is no strength greater than putting our hope in an Almighty Sovereign God who is intimately involved in our lives and in this world. This hope is the first quality of a strong person and especially a strong women in the scriptures. Listen to proverbs 31:25 as it describes the ideal women.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

She can laugh at the days to come because she places her confidence in God who holds her future. She can face the uncertainties of her relationships, she can face the uncertainties of her future and laugh because God is her security.  Notice how Peter follows this through.

5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Here is the strength of a wife that places her hope in an almighty sovereign God, this is the beauty and strength that every women can achieve regardless of outward adornment, a fearlessness that arises from that hope. Submission that comes from fear is not submission, it is cowering. A husband who rules by fear is abusing his position and power. As we learned last Sunday, headship is given for the purpose of service, not to be served. This hope in God overcomes fear.

Now you notices that Peter refers to Sarah, who called Abraham her master. If you remember the story of Abraham and Sarah, then you will remember the not once but two times, Abraham chose to give up his wife to save his own skin. In Genesis 12 and then chapter 20, first to Pharaoh and then to king Abimelech. These powerful people saw how beautiful Sarah was and fearing that they will kill him and take Sarah for themselves, Abraham simply gives Sarah his wife away. We are right to be offended at his self centeredness, his abuse of his wife. But in the scripture, what Peter notices, is that unlike her husband, Sarah is the women of incredible faith. Sarah is the one who choose to call her husband master, and placing her hope in God, goes without fear. In both instances, the Lord who was with Sarah divinely protected her from her husband lack of faith by making those she came close to really sick.

Her strength, her beauty was in her fearlessness.

Now notice Peter’s profound wisdom. We live in a culture where external beauty is the focus of our attention. Thousands are paid to get whatever part of the body surgically lifted. Thousands more are paid to get the Sex and the City eye candy walk in closet filled with amazing clothing. But the truth is, beauty that is put on fades with age and is not attainable by many. However the beauty that Peter speaks of, this internal beauty that is characterized by at least an anxiety fighting if not a fearless hope in God is something that every women can attain and it grows with age.

Sarah, from a position of profound strength in God dared to submit to her husband. Her actions were first of all actions of trusting God, they were not demonstrations of weakness or fear. You see, we have to put away any notion that submission and weakness are the same. We have to put away any notion that submission is a weakly agreement with everything you husband decides. Submission is not shutting off your capacity to think once you get married.

And submission is not accepting your husband with every flaw he has without trying to change him. The very intent of Peter’s instruction to wives is that they might be won over, that they might be changed, by the behavior of the wives.

When two people get married, one of God’s intents in that marriage is that they both be sanctified through each other, that they both come to maturity not only as persons but in their knowledge of the love of God together.

I think it is with profound wisdom that Peter points out that this winning over the husband, this changing the husbands mind, is not does by words. If there is one thing I have noticed over the years of pastoring, it is that women will seek to change their husbands with words. It is human nature to use the power you have to get things done the way you want them done. And I have noticed that often, not always, often, women are much stronger at their command of language and manipulation with language then men are. And so when they discover that the young man they married is not quite the man they had hoped for, they resort to what we in our culture call nagging in the hope that it will change him. Using your power on your husbands weakness will not change him. Change takes time, sometimes it takes conflict, fight for what is right, but fight fair, and place your trust in God who takes care of your future. Let your words be few, lovingly stated, trust that God will work in your husbands weaknesses.

So Peter calls wives to be daughters of Sarah, strong in the faith, the hope in God that enables them to overcome their fears, this results in the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Again, in these words of Peter, you can hear strength. A person who is strong does not need the bluster of words. A person who is strong does not need the tools of manipulation. A person who is strong continues centered on the sure knowledge that God is her God, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate her from the love and care of God, even a husband. A person who is strong, from that strength freely chooses in her life and in her relationship with her husband to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, for what she has no one can take it away from her. Age cannot take it away.

Only eternity will tell the true and profound effect that Sarah’s incredible faith and hope in God had on her husband Abraham. Only eternity will tell the true and profound effect that women of faith today with their unfading beauty of a gent and quiet spirit will have on their husbands and their children, and their children’s children. Only eternity will measure the profound effect of your submission from a position of strength in God. And only eternity will demonstrate the beauty of the church as she submits to Christ, her head, freely by choice, overcoming fear, and she will be the church triumphant at the wedding supper of the lamb.

(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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