David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
1 Peter 3
1 Peter 3 - Submission and Suffering
A. Submission in the home.
1. (1-2) The heart of a godly wife.
Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.
a. Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands: The godly wife will be submissive to her husband. This submission isn't a reward for the husband's good behavior; as the proper order of the home, God commands it.
i. The teaching about submission was especially relevant to a first century married woman who had begun to follow Jesus. She would ask questions such as "Should I leave my husband?" or "Should I change my behavior towards him?" or "Should I assume a superior position to him because now I am in Jesus?"
ii. In the culture of the ancient world it was almost unthinkable for a wife to adopt a different religion than her husband. Christian women who came to Jesus before their husbands needed instruction.
b. Likewise: Proper submission in the home follows the same principles of submission as towards government or our employers. It is submission not only of the actions, but also of the heart - as demonstrated by the surrendering heart of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21-25).
i. The call for submission is not merely a call for love and considerate action. It is a call to take the place of submission to authority. The ancient Greek word translated submission was used outside the New Testament to describe the submission and obedience of soldiers in an army to those of superior rank. It literally means, "to order under."
ii. Yet submission to authority can be totally consistent with equality in importance, dignity, and honor. Jesus was subject to both His parents and to God the Father but was not lower than either of them. "Thus the command to wives to be subject to their husbands should never be taken to imply inferior personhood or spirituality, or lesser importance." (Grudem)
iii. Of course, submission in marriage follows the same principles as submission in other spheres. We submit to God appointed authority as our obligation before God, unless that authority directs us to sin. In that case it is right to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19-20).
c. Be submissive to your own husbands: Peter carefully observed that wives are called to submit to their own husbands and not to all men in a general sense. Male headship is God's commanded principle for the home and the church, not for society in general.
i. The principle of submission is presented in many different ways in the New Testament.
Jesus submitted to His parents (Luke 2:51).
Demons submitted to the disciples (Luke 10:17).
Citizens should submit to government authority (Romans 13:1 and 5, Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13).
The universe will submit to Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22).
Unseen spiritual beings submit to Jesus (1 Peter 3:22).
Christians should submit to their church leaders (1 Corinthians 16:15-16 and 1 Peter 5:5).
Wives should submit to husbands (Colossians 3:18, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:5, and Ephesians 5:22-24).
The church should submit to Jesus (Ephesians 5:24).
Servants should submit to masters (Titus 2:9, 1 Peter 2:18).
Christians should submit to God (Hebrews 12:9, James 4:7).
ii. None of these relations are reversed. For example, masters are never told to submit to servants, Jesus is never told to submit to the church, and so forth. So while there must be a servant-like love and attitude on the part of those in positions of authority, that does not eliminate the concept of God's order of authority and the corresponding submission.
d. That even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives: The benefit of submission is shown in the way that it affects husbands for God. A wife's submission is a powerful expression of her trust in God. This kind of faith and obedience can accomplish great things, even without a word.
i. Wives may want to shape their husbands, either guiding them to Jesus or guiding them in Jesus through their words. Peter reminds them that God's plan is that wives impact their husbands not through persuasive lectures, but through godly submission, chaste conduct, and the fear of God.
ii. There is a sense in which a wife's efforts to shape her husband through her own words and efforts may hinder the power of God's working on the husband. It is much more effective to submit in the way God says to, thus demonstrating trust in Him, and to let God have his way with the husband.
iii. "The attractiveness of a wife's submissive behaviour even to an unbelieving husband suggests that God has inscribed the rightness and beauty of role distinctions to include male leadership or headship in the family and female acceptance of and responsiveness to that leadership . . . The unbelieving husband sees this behaviour and deep within perceives the beauty of it. Within his heart there is a witness that this is right, this is how God intended men and women to relate as husband as wife. He concludes, therefore, that the gospel which his wife believes must be true as well." (Grudem)
e. Do not obey the word: This refers to an unbelieving husband, but it is a stronger idea than merely "do not believe." It has the idea of someone in active disobedience to God's word. Even these husbands can be won through the godly conduct of loving wives.
2. (3-4) The true beauty of a godly woman.
Do not let your adornment be merely outward; arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel; rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
a. Do not let your adornment be merely outward: Peter did not forbid all adornment. But for the godly woman outward adornment is always in moderation, and her emphasis is always on inward adornment.
i. Arranging the hair: According to William Barclay, in the world Peter lived women often arranged and dyed their hair. They also wore wigs, especially blonde wigs made with hair imported from Germany. Peter had this in mind speaking of the adornment that is merely outward. Peter did not forbid a woman fixing her hair, or wearing jewelry, any more than he forbade her wearing apparel (fine is not in the original).
b. Rather let it be the hidden person of the heart: Real beauty comes from the hidden person of the heart. It isn't something you wear or primp before a mirror to have. It is something you are.
i. The real question is "What do you depend on to make yourself beautiful?" Peter's point is not that any of these are forbidden, but that they should not be a woman's adornment, the source of her true beauty.
c. The incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit: The inner beauty of a godly woman is incorruptible. This means that it does not decay or get worse with age. Instead, incorruptible beauty only gets better with age, and is therefore of much greater value than the beauty that comes from the hair, jewelry, or clothing.
d. A gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God: Peter described the character of true beauty - a gentle and quiet spirit. These character traits are not promoted for women by our culture; yet they are very precious in the sight of God.
3. (5-6) Examples of submission.
For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
a. In former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves: Peter reminds women that he did not call them to a new standard; but to something that was practiced by holy women of former times.
b. Who trusted in God: When women submit to their husbands and when they do not put trust in their outward adornment, they are like the holy women of former times who trusted in God. They powerfully demonstrate their faith.
i. A woman can trust her own ability to influence and control her husband, or she can trust God and be submissive. A woman can trust her outward beauty and adornment, or she can trust God and cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit. It all comes back to trust in God; so she should be like the holy women who trusted in God.
c. As Sarah obeyed Abraham: Two things demonstrated Sarah's submission to Abraham. First, she obeyed Abraham even when it was difficult and even when he was wrong (as in Genesis 12:10-20). Second, she honored Abraham by calling him lord. It is possible to obey someone without showing them the honor that is part of submission. True submission knows the place of both obedience and honor.
i. "An attitude of submission to a husband's authority will be reflected in numerous words and actions each day which reflect deference to his leadership and an acknowledgment of his final responsibility." (Grudem)
d. If you do good and are not afraid with any terror: True submission, full of faith in God has no room for fear or terror. It does good and leaves the result to God and not to man.
i. The words "do good" remind us that true submission is not a sulking surrender to authority. It is an active embrace of God's will, demonstrating trust in Him.
4. (7) The heart of a godly husband.
Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
a. Dwell with them: A godly husband lives with his wife. He doesn't merely share a house, but he truly lives with her. He recognizes the great point of Paul's teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5: that "husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:28). The godly husband understands the essential unity or oneness God has established between husband and wife.
b. With understanding: A godly husband undertakes the important job of understanding his wife. By knowing her well, he is able to demonstrate his love for her far more effectively.
i. When a husband has this understanding, God directs him to use it in that he is to dwell with his wife with understanding. He is supposed to take his understanding and apply it in daily life with his wife. This is where many men have trouble following through. They may have understanding about their wives, but they don't use it as they dwell with them.
c. Giving honor: A godly husband knows how to make his wife feel honored. Though she submits to him, he takes care that she does not feel like she is an employee or under a tyrant.
i. In giving honor to the wife, the word in the ancient Greek language for the wife is a rare word, meaning more literally "the feminine one." It suggests that the woman's feminine nature should prompt the husband to honor her.
ii. This was a radical teaching in the world Peter lived in. In that ancient culture a husband had absolute rights over his wife and the wife had virtually no rights in the marriage. In the Roman world, if a man caught his wife in an act of adultery he could kill her on the spot. But if a wife caught her husband, she could do nothing against him. All the duties and obligations in marriage were put on the wife. Peter's radical teaching is that the husband has God-ordained duties and obligations toward his wife.
d. As to the weaker vessel: In this context weaker speaks of the woman's relative physical weakness in comparison to men. Men aren't necessarily stronger spiritually than women, but they are generally stronger physically. As Peter brought in the idea of the woman's feminine nature with the words the wife, he continues in appreciating the feminine nature and how a husband should respond to it.
i. Therefore, a godly husband recognizes whatever limitations his wife has physically and he does not expect more from her than is appropriate and kind.
e. Heirs together: A godly husband realizes that his spouse is not only his wife, but also his sister in Jesus. Part of their inheritance in the Lord is only realized in their oneness as husband and wife.
i. Heirs together: This "reminds husbands that even though they have been given great authority within marriage, their wives are still equal to them in spiritual privilege and eternal importance: they are 'joint heirs.'" (Grudem)
f. That your prayers may not be hindered: The failure to live as a godly husband has spiritual consequences. It can and it will hinder prayer.
i. Some have thought that Peter has in mind here the prayers that husbands and wives pray together. But since he addresses husbands only, and because he says your prayers, he refers to the prayers of husbands in general.
ii. Peter assumed that the fear of hindered prayer would motivate Christian husbands to love and care for their wives as they should. Many Christian men have such a low regard for prayer that this warning may not adequately motivate them.
iii. "Indeed, to true believers prayer is so invaluable that the danger of hindering it is used by Peter as a motive why, in their marriage relationships, and household concerns, they should behave themselves with great wisdom. He bids the husband 'dwell' with his wife 'according to knowledge,' and render loving honor to her, lest their united prayers should be hindered. Anything which hinders prayer must be wrong. If any management of the family, or want of management, is injuring our power in prayer, there is an urgent demand for an alteration." (Spurgeon)
B. Godliness in suffering.
1. (8-9) A plea for unity and love among God's people.
Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
a. Be of one mind: Most of us are willing to have one mind, as long as that one mind is my mind! But the one mind is to be the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Our common mind is to be Jesus' mind.
i. This command brings us back to the need to know God's word. We can't be of one mind, the mind of Jesus, if we don't know what His mind is. The word of God shows us the mind of Jesus.
b. Be of one mind: This speaks to the essential unity of God's people. We are one; but we are not all the same. While we should all be of one mind, we can't expect everyone to be like us. God has built both unity and diversity among His people.
i. Every cell of your body is different, and each one has its role to play. But every cell in your body has the same DNA code written in it, the master plan for the whole body. Every cell in your body has the same "mind."
ii. We could say that Christians should be like a good choir. Each one sings with his own voice and some sing different parts, but everyone sings to the same music and in harmony with one another.
c. Having compassion . . . tenderhearted . . . courteous: Peter described the kind of warm love that should be among the people of God. We should be compassionate, brotherly, tenderhearted, and even polite.
i. Remember that this was the measure Jesus gave to the world to identify His true disciples: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Jesus did not command us to like our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we are commanded to love them; and once we start loving them we will start liking them.
d. Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing: The greatest challenge to our love for others comes when we are wronged. At those times we are called to not return evil for evil, but to give a blessing instead.
i. No dispute, argument, or personality conflict among believers should linger. Even if one Christian gets out of line, the loving response of other Christians should keep the problem small and short-lived.
ii. The natural response to hostility is retaliation. This is what the terrible ethnic conflicts all over the world are all about - one group wrongs another, and dedicates the rest of its existence to repaying that wrong. Only the love of Jesus for our enemies can break the terrible cycle.
iii. Jesus reminded us that it is no great credit if we love those who love us in return; the real test of love is to demonstrate compassion to our enemies (Matthew 5:44-47).
e. That you may inherit a blessing: We love one another, but not only for the sake of Jesus, whose body we are members of. We love one another, but not only for the sake of our brother or sister for whom Jesus died. We also love one another for our own sake - by blessing those who have wronged us, we will inherit a blessing. If you can't love for the sake of Jesus, or for the sake of your brother, then do it for your own sake!
2. (10-12) A quotation from Psalm 34:12-16 demonstrates the blessing that comes to those who turn away from evil and do good.
For "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."
a. Let him turn away from evil and do good: Doing good is often difficult because as a general rule, evil is rewarded immediately and the reward of doing good is often delayed. But the rewards of good are better and far more secure than the rewards of doing evil. God promises this in the passage quoted by Peter.
3. (13-17) How to handle it when our good is returned with evil.
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. "And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled." But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
a. And who is he who will harm you: Though Peter says that Christians should always answer evil with good, he also lived in the real world and he knew that people often repaid good with a response of evil.
i. "Not to be hated by the world; to be loved and flattered and caressed by the world - is one of the most terrible positions in which a Christian can find himself. 'What bad thing have I done,' asked the ancient sage, 'that he should speak well of me?' " (Meyer)
b. If you become followers of what is good: Literally, become followers is "be zealous." "Some Jews were zealots, boasting their zeal for the Lord or His Law . . . all Christians should be zealots for that which is good." (Hart)
c. But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed: Peter reminds us that there is even a blessing for us when we suffer for righteousness' sake. God will care for us, especially when we suffer unjustly.
i. Jesus spoke of the same attitude: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
d. And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled: The presence or possibility of suffering for doing good should not make us shrink back from doing good. Instead we should give a special place (sanctify) to God in our hearts, and always be ready to explain our faith (give a defense), always doing it with a right attitude (meekness and fear).
i. Other manuscripts render sanctify the Lord God in your hearts as, sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. "The simple meaning of the injunction is that at the very centre of life there is to be one Lord, and that is Christ. . . . Other lords are permitted to invade the sanctuary of the heart, and to exercise dominion over us. Our own selfish desires, the opinion of others, worldly wisdom, the pressure of circumstances, these and many other lords command us, and we turn away our simple and complete allegiance to our one Lord." (Morgan)
ii. We can be ready to give a defense if we have made ourselves ready in knowing the Bible. Peter knew how important it was to give a defense to everyone who asks you. He had to do this in the situations described in Acts 2:14-39, Acts 3:11-26, Acts 4:8-12, and Acts 5:29-32. In each point of testing Peter relied on the power of the Holy Spirit and was able to give a defense.
e. Those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed: Our good conduct, when our good is returned with evil, will prove others wrong in their opinions about us and it will make them ashamed for speaking against our godly lives.
f. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil: None of us want to suffer. But if we must, may it be for doing good and not for doing evil. Sometimes Christians are obnoxious and offensive and are made to suffer for it. They may wish it were persecution for the sake of the gospel, but really it is simply suffering for doing evil.
C. Jesus shows the power of suffering for doing good.
1. (18) Through His godly suffering, Jesus brought us to God.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
a. For Christ also suffered once for sins: Jesus suffered once for sins. There is no longer any sacrifice or atonement that can please God other than what Jesus provided at the cross. Even our own suffering won't pay for our sins. The price has already been paid.
i. Though Peter used the suffering of Christ as an encouragement and strength to his afflicted readers, we must remember that Peter also set Jesus completely apart from all others in his suffering. Spurgeon recalled the heroic suffering of one godly man: "I remember reading, in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, the story of a man of God, who was bound to a stake to die for Christ; there he was, calm and quiet, till his legs had been burned away, and the bystanders looked to see his helpless body drop from the chains as black as coal, and not a feature could be discerned; but one who was near was greatly surprised to see that poor black carcass open its mouth, and two words came out of it; and what do you suppose they were? 'Sweet Jesus!' And then the martyr fell over the chains, and at last life was gone."
ii. That saint had the sweet presence of Jesus to help him through his horrible suffering; but Jesus did not have the sweet presence of His Father to help Him on the cross. Instead, God the Father treated Him as if He were an enemy, as the target of the righteous wrath of God. In this sense, the suffering of Jesus on the cross was worse than any ever suffered by a martyr; perhaps not worse in the physical pain suffered, but certainly in the spiritual suffering and total experience.
iii. "It is almost as if the apostle said, 'You have none of you suffered when compared with him;' or, at least, he was the Arch-Sufferer, - the Prince of sufferers, - the Emperor of the realm of agony, - Lord Paramount in sorrow. . . . You know a little about grief, but you do not know much. The hem of grief's garment is all you ever touch, but Christ wore it as his daily robe. We do but sip of the cup he drank to its bitterest dregs. We feel just a little of the warmth of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace; but he dwelt in the very midst of the fire." (Spurgeon)
b. The just for the unjust: Jesus is a perfect example of suffering for doing good. He, the just, suffered for all of us who are the unjust - and the purpose of it all was to bring us to God, to restore our broken and dead relationship with Him.
i. Since Jesus did all this to bring us to God, how wrong it is for us to not come to God in fellowship! The ancient Greek word translated "bring" is the same word used for access in Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18. In ancient literature, the word bring was used "of admission to an audience with the Great King." (Blum)
c. Being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit: Jesus did die in His body but was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. Here, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. It also tells us that the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4), and it says that Jesus raised Himself from the dead (John 2:18-22). The resurrection was the work of the Triune God.
2. (19-20a) Through godly suffering, Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.
By whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient,
a. By whom: This means that Jesus was inspired by the Holy Spirit when He did the work of preaching to the spirits in prison. He was made alive by the Spirit, and then also did this work by the same Spirit.
b. He went and preached to the spirits in prison: Apparently this work was done in the period after Jesus' death but before His first resurrection appearance to the disciples. Jesus went to Hades - the abode of the dead - and preached to the spirits there.
c. Spirits in prison: Though some have regarded these spirits as human spirits, it is more likely that they were demonic spirits. We know that their disobedience was in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20). We have evidence that this was a time of gross sin for both demons and humans, when there was an ungodly mingling of humans and demons (Genesis 6:1-2).
i. "Apparently, the oldest identification of those imprisoned spirits understood them as the fallen angels of Genesis 6. That view was widely known and generally taken for granted in the apostolic era." (Hiebert)
d. Preached to the spirits in prison: We also don't know exactly why Jesus preached to these imprisoned spirits. In all probability this was preaching (the proclamation of God's message), but it was not evangelism (the proclamation of good news). Jesus preached a message of judgment and final condemnation in light of His finished work on the cross to these disobedient spirits.
i. In doing this there was a completion in Jesus' triumph over evil, even the evil that happened before the flood. The Bible says that even those under the earth must acknowledge Jesus' ultimate Lordship. Here Jesus was announcing that fact: "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth" (Philippians 2:10).
ii. "We do not believe that Peter said that Christ preached the gospel to those imprisoned spirits; he taught that Christ announced His triumph over evil, which was bad news for them. For Peter's readers, however, it meant comfort and encouragement." (Hiebert)
iii. "What His message was we are not told. Why only those disobedient in the days of Noah are mentioned is not stated. What the purpose or result of Christ's preaching was, is not revealed. On all these points we may form our own conclusions, but we have no authority for anything approaching dogmatic teaching." (Morgan)
3. (20b-22) The salvation of Noah as a picture of baptism.
When once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us; baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.
a. Eight souls, were saved through water: Peter drew a picture with his words here. Even as Noah's salvation from the judgment of God was connected with water, so the Christian's salvation is connected with water, the water of baptism.
i. The water of the flood washed away sin and wickedness and brought a new world with a fresh start before God. The water of baptism does the same thing, providing a passage from the old to the new.
b. Not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God: At the same time Peter was careful to point out that it isn't the actual water washing of baptism that saves us, but the spiritual reality behind the immersion in water. What really saves us is the answer of a good conscience toward God, a conscience made good through the completed work of Jesus.
c. Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God: We see the completeness of Jesus' work by His exaltation to the right hand of God the Father, and the subjection of all created spirits unto Him (angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him). So though Jesus suffered for doing good, He had the ultimate triumph. The example of Jesus proves Peter's point in 1 Peter 3:9: when we suffer for doing good, we will inherit a blessing.
i. Jesus has gone into heaven, and it is better for us that He is there. Spurgeon related this to how the high priest, ministering for Israel on the Day of Atonement, disappeared from the people and went behind the veil. "Though he was not with them, he was with God, which was better for them. The high priest was more useful to them within the veil than outside of it; he was doing for them out of sight what he could not accomplish in their view. I delight to think that my Lord is with the Father. Sometimes I cannot get to God, my access seems blocked by my infirmity; but he is always with God to plead for me."
ii. Our connection with Jesus is like the little boy with his kite. His kite flew so high in the sky that he could no longer see it. Someone asked him, "How do you know it is still up there?" The boy answered, "I can feel it pull." We can't see Jesus enthroned in heaven, but we can certainly feel Him pull us toward Himself.
iii. Since Jesus has gone into heaven, His Church is safe. "Let not his church tremble, let her not think of putting out the hand of unbelief to steady the ark of the Lord. The history of the church is to be the history of Christ repeated: she is to be betrayed, she is to be scourged, she is to be falsely accused and spitted on; she may have her crucifixion and her death; but she shall rise again. Her Master rose, and like him she shall rise and receive glory. You can never kill the church till you can kill Christ; and you can never defeat her till you defeat the Lord Jesus, who already wears the crown of triumph." (Spurgeon)
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