The Writings of Peter
We are in the midst of a series of messages on two New Testament books - I and II Peter.
The letters were written by Peter, who identified himself at the start of I Peter as an apostle of Jesus Christ. The letters were written to Christians who had faced persecution, which had caused them to be exiled to places away from their homes.
Peter reminded those Christians they had been chosen by God. That was to be an encouragement for them. As Christians, they were to do a number of things - gird up their minds, be sober, put their hope on grace, and be not conformed to the world, but be holy, including loving one another.
In addition, Peter instructed the Christians to whom he wrote - this also applies to those of us who are Christians now - to put away malice, guile, insincerity, envy, slander, and other passions of the flesh. In place of all the bad things put away, Christians were and are to maintain good conduct, including honoring national leaders, honoring all other people, loving other Christians, and fearing God.
All of what has just been reviewed is found in the first and most of the second chapters of I Peter. In this message, we will concentrate on the last part of chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3 of I Peter, beginning with instructions for servants in I Peter 2:18-25.
Servants. It is reported historically that in the Roman Empire, there were millions of servants. Some had been captured in wars. Some had been purchased to be workers. Some had volunteered to be servants, serving as apprentices.
I hope I am not going too far out of bounds by saying this can be applied to employees today. No, today’s workers are not forced into labor and yes, workers today have rights that servants in the Roman Empire did not have, but the teachings of Peter do apply to workers in our country today.
“Servants, be submissive to your masters.” Workers, be submissive to your bosses. Be submissive with “all respect.”
Remember Peter wrote this letter to Christians, so this applies to Christian workers today. Christian servants were and are to be submissive.
Why did Peter think that needed to be mentioned? You would think servants would already know they should be submissive and respectful.
Here is the explanation. In the churches where those Christians worshiped, there was a mix of servants and masters. Since Christianity teaches the worth of all people, there was apparently an attitude developing among some of the servants that they did not have to work hard anymore. If they were as important as their masters, why could the masters tell them what to do?
Peter’s teaching was that the equality was spiritual, not economic. Socially, the servants were still servants and the masters were still masters. Instead of taking it easy, servants were to continue to be submissive - obedient - and respectful.
I remember a student I had one year. He knew of my Christian faith. He was very open about sharing his Christian faith. We had some good conversations and a good spiritual relationship.
However, over time, I noticed his assignments were often not on time or turned in at all. Much of what he did turn in was done poorly. I caught him cheating on a test or two. Yet he remained very interested in making connection spiritually.
It occurred to me the student was trying to take advantage of our spiritual commonality. It seemed he thought he could ease up on his work, and that I would give him a good grade simply because we were both Christians.
It was this passage I shared with that student, making the point that instead of easing up, his work - at least his effort - should be better because of his Christian faith.
This is not the only place in the New Testament we are taught to work well. For instance, in I Corinthians 10, “Whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.” In Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Servants, be submissive to your masters. Respect your masters. And notice what is next. What follows is the teaching to be submissive, not only when masters were or are kind and gentle, which of course described me as a teacher, but also to masters who are “overbearing.” Bosses who are difficult to get along with.
In fact, there is more credit given to servants who endure bad masters. Servants who do right and suffer for it, who do that patiently, despite their treatment not being fair, have “God’s approval.”
How do we know that enduring has God’s approval? Peter explained, using Jesus as the example.
Jesus committed no sin ever. No guile or deceit was ever on His lips. But He was mistreated. His response? “When He was reviled, He did not” abuse and insult in return. “When He suffered [which He did all the way to a cross], He did not threaten.” Instead, “He bore our sins and took the wounds we deserved.”
Peter added that Jesus is to be “the Shepherd and the Guardian of our souls.” That includes allowing Him to make us submissive and respectful to those over us.
Those are instructions given to those who are servants. Then come instructions for wives - for the Christian wives among the exiles to whom Peter wrote. They are in I Peter 3:1-6.
Peter’s instructions in this section apply most specifically to wives who are Christians, but their husbands are not.
To best understand what Peter wrote, consider both Greek and Roman norms at that time.
The Greek civilization at the time thought it the duty of a wife to stay indoors and be obedient to her husband. She was to be seen and heard as little as possible. She could be divorced by her husband very easily.
Under Roman law, a woman had no rights. While growing up, she was completely subject to her father’s will. When a woman married, she was completely under the power of her husband. She had no right to make any decision for herself.
All of that means it was very difficult for any Christian woman among the exiles to whom Peter wrote who was a Christian if her husband was not Christian. Actually, why a Christian woman would marry a non-Christian, I do not know. Elsewhere in the Bible that is taught to be an unwise decision. But it might have happened that a woman who was an exile because of her faith got married to a non-Christian man.
If that happened, what was the woman to do? Peter wrote, “Be submissive to your husbands,” which here means to be selfless. To have the desire to serve. Not to be a doormat, but for a noble purpose. The hope that when her husband sees her reverent, chaste, loving behavior, he will be drawn to the source of her kindness, which is Jesus.
Notice the suggestion the husband may not be won over by his wife’s words. Put another way, nagging would likely not work. But her example of Christian love might work. That would be the hope, that her example might win him over to join her if believing in Jesus.
Peter then mentions some restrictions on grooming and dress, teaching against wearing braided hair, gold jewelry, and fine clothes.
I did, as I always do, some research on Peter’s restrictions, thinking, why does he care what women wear or do with their hair?
Here is what I found. It seems that both Greek and Roman women - remember the exiles to whom Peter wrote were among Greeks and Romans - were known for spending lots of money on personal grooming and clothing. Remember what was mentioned a moment ago about the status of women? That included the fact they did little but stay at home. Men back then often considered it acceptable that their wives spent their time on grooming and dress. They thought, what else did they have to do? But it had got out of hand.
Plus this. Over time, guess who specialized in braided hair. Lewd women, including prostitutes. Guess who specialized in gold jewelry. Prostitutes.
Peter’s instructions about hair, jewelry, and dress were for the purpose of making sure women who were Christians were not mistaken for immoral women. Plus, braiding the hair and wearing an excess of gold jewelry and desiring the finest of clothing all cost, not just money, but also time, and remember what Peter had just written. Christian wives are to be willing to serve. That was to take up more time than personal adorning.
Instead, Peter continued, make sure the heart - the inward spirit - is adorned so that she will have a “gentle and quiet spirit.” That is the jewelry that is to be most desired.
Listen to the reward. Remember it was written that, concerning servants, enduring patiently gains God’s approval. When a wife has a gentle and quiet spirit, she is, in God’s sight, very “precious.”
The example is Sarah in the Old Testament, who obeyed her husband Abraham. Wives - Christian wives - are to do likewise. Be submissive to your husbands, making sure you are adorned inwardly, the hope being they will join you in faith. Or, if your husband is a Christian, that he will grow in His faith.
That is what was written to those who are Christian wives. Then there are instructions for husbands. Instructions for husbands who are Christians. They come in a single verse. I Peter 3:7.
This verse, immediately following the passage before it, presents an interesting system. A system similar to other teachings.
Remember we started today with instructions for servants to be submissive and respectful. Elsewhere in the Bible is the instruction that masters - bosses, Christian overseers - be kind to their workers. The point is that servants will find it easier to be respectful when their masters are easy to work for. And masters will more easily be kind when their servants do what they are supposed to do.
Concerning family relationships, the Bible teaches that children are to be obedient, but there is also the Biblical teaching that parents - Christian parents - are to treat their children well. The point is that when children obey, it is easier on parents to treat them well, and when parents treat their children with love, their children will be more likely to obey.
In the passage before verse 7 of I Peter 3, wives are given instructions. Now it is time for Christian husbands to be instructed, the point being that it will easier for wives to do what they are supposed to do if husbands will do what they are supposed to do.
One thing a Christian husband is to do? “Live considerately with your wife.” Live with understanding, sensitivity, thoughtfulness. In a Christian marriage, this includes realizing your wife does have rights and opinions.
Do we not all know of marriages where one or the other partner seems to be able to be considerate of other people, but not his or her marriage partner? Most of the time when I meet with people planning to be married, I share the challenge to be at least as nice to your spouse as you are to everyone else. For a husband, that is, according to Peter, a Christian responsibility.
There is a reason we who are husbands are to treat our wives considerately. The reason is that is how we can honor them. As Peter wrote, honored as “the weaker sex.”
That statement can get a man in big trouble this day and age. But it is to be interpreted, not as a put down, but rather the realization that a woman is often weaker, at least physically, thereby making it easier for her when she has someone watching out for her. And not only physically, but also emotionally.
In fact, when that happens, it will be easier for the rest of verse 7 to be accomplished, which includes understanding that both the husband and the wife who are Christians are joint heirs of the grace of life. They can grow spiritually, doing so together. I know from personal experience how good that is. And having a productive prayer life. Here is a statement I read. It is when we are at one with each other that we can be at one with God.
* * * * *
Two devotional writings, the first having to do with a woman’s perspective of being submissive to her husband.
The devotional is by Sara Horn, a Christian writer.
Sara writes that Biblically, being a submissive wife is not her being a doormat. She does not look like someone who is being walked on.
Instead, she sees the value in her husband and the value in herself. She reflects a quiet confidence, and she passes that confidence on to her husband when she encourages him.
She does not talk negatively about him. She does not call him names or put him down. She makes it known that she is his biggest cheerleader.
She uses the wisdom God gives her to help counsel her husband when it comes to decisions for their family. She also uses that same wisdom to know when to give her husband room to lead.
She might be the president of a company or a homeschooling stay-at-home mom, but she is confident in her relationship with God and is fiercely committed in her relationship with her husband.
And this perspective from a Christian husband. A devotional about being considerate of his wife.
The Bible says that if we who are husbands neglect the teaching to live considerately with our wives, our prayers will be hindered. So what does it mean to be considerate? It means to quit any irritating habits. When she needs to be helped, do it. If she needs time to herself, take care of the children for a bit. Help your wife in any way you can. Show your love to her and always be considerate of her needs and wants. Pray, asking God to show you where you may be inconsiderate so you can grow in living considerately.
There is a hymn, the first two verses of which fit two of today’s passages from I Peter - the teachings for husbands and wives. It is Within the Shelter of Our Walls.
As we sing, let’s also determine to do our work well so God will be pleased. Then, if you are a Christian wife, pray about the teaching to be submissive. A good, positive submissiveness. If you are a Christian husband, join me in praying that I and we will be considerate in marriage.
Within the shelter of our walls,
Be present, Lord, to guide.
Where work is planned, where pleasure calls,
Where hearts keep holy festivals,
Find welcome and abide.
Transform our spirits as we learn
Thy loving discipline.
When tasks are hard or duty stern,
Give us the wisdom to discern
Your comradeship within.
Lord, help us to be submissive to those over us. Help us so that whatever work we do will be good. That will have Your approval.
Help those who are wives to be submissive, doing so with love. That will please You.
Help those of us who are husbands to be considerate and honoring of our wives. Then You will hear our prayers.
All is taught in the second and third chapters of I Peter. Lord, help us to learn and live by each of those teachings. Amen.