Father God, please teach us to love one another so that the way we live points others to you. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
We return tonight to our series in the book of 1 Peter, and we're looking at chapter 3, verses 1-7. It would be a great help if you could have that open in front of you. And I have 4 points; the first is this:
1. Living as Strangers
This letter is written to Christians surrounded by trials and hostility. Peter, who wrote the letter, wants those who belong to Jesus to live differently to those around them in every situation they find themselves in. He wants them to live as God's chosen, holy people. As strangers in the world. He has already told us why, in 1 Peter 2.12:
"Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [that is: non-Christians] honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
So, we are to live in a way that commends God to the world around us. We are to live differently, as strangers so that people see something of Jesus in the way we act. In chapter two Peter covered what it looked like to be a Christian in society – in our relationship with the government. And being a Christian at work.
Our focus tonight is 1 Peter 3.1-7, where he explores what it looks like to be a Christian in family life, in marriage. I know not all of us here are married, but there are lessons for all of us – perhaps marriage is a present reality, perhaps it will be a future reality. We can all support the marriage of others. There are general lessons too about what matters most and how to relate to one another.
But before we get to that, we need to see that in each of those different situations Peter teaches us that the way we should live is by following the example of what Jesus did on the cross. 1 Peter 2.21:
"For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."
Jesus came to show us what God was like, because he was God. But he did not come just to show us what God was like. He came to bring us to God.
The way he did that was by being executed on the cross. Yet, Peter tells us that he had committed no sin (v.22-23):
"He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly."
So, if he was so perfect, why was he crucified? The answer is that he wasn't crucified for the bad in him. He was crucified for the bad in us (v.24-25):
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree … By his wounds you have been healed." We are made well. We are made the people we are meant to be. But what was wrong with us? We had rejected our maker and lived as if he did not exist, putting ourselves first regardless of the cost. In rejecting God, we deserved to be punished and were separated from our creator God. But Jesus carried our sin so that we can return to the shepherd of our souls. He died to pay for our sins. And he died to bring us to God.
So, have you allowed Jesus to pay for your sin and bring you to God? If not, then why not? Perhaps you need to know more and need time to think it through. Then take this booklet called 'Why Jesus?' – it's free – and consider joining a course we run called Life Explored.
Jesus died to pay for your sins. And he died to bring you to God. You need to respond to that first. But once you have there is more. He also died to show us how to live, which leads me to our next point:
2. Loving as Christ Did
Becoming a Christian leads you into a new way of living. Much better than what you had before. A new, better way of life that follows the pattern of Jesus Christ. So what does that look like for those who are married? Look at 1 Peter 3, verses 1 and 7:
"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands"
"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way"
What does he mean by 'likewise'? He has made the point that citizens under a government and those employed by a master should follow Christ's example. Now he says, those of you who are married – the same is true for you. You are to love one another in the same way that Jesus loved you.
What does that look like? It means costly sacrifice. It means making your goal doing what is best for the other person and not just demanding your rights. That is what a Christ-like marriage looks like.
Love is not something that just happens. It requires work, hard work. It requires deliberate decisions and actions. It requires commitment. You don't fall in love, nor do you fall out of love. Love is something you deliberately decide to do and to give. It's OK to feel in love – God made us with emotions, and that includes the emotional rush of meeting, getting to know and relating to that special someone in your life. However, loving as Christ loved is a commitment.
For many people love means 'I love what you can do for me'. So, when the relationship stops meeting their needs, they want to get out. The lesson here is that love means saying, 'I want you, and what's best for you'. Love is always about giving not receiving, which is why it is so costly. We are to love one another, as Christ loved us. To drive this point home, Peter considers a particularly challenging situation. Look at verses 1-2:
"Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct."
Here is the situation: a woman is married to someone who is not a believer. That's not something you should get into deliberately. In places like 1 Corinthians 7, the Bible is clear that we should not choose to marry an unbeliever. What's happened here is that a couple who are married have both heard the word. The wife believed that word. The husband does not believe.
Even in this very tough situation, the wife should love him as Christ loved her. These verses are not saying that actions are more important than words. Evangelism is always about proclaiming the good news. Loving actions never replace that. But loving actions do reinforce the word and husbands may be won over to the word they have already heard by godly behaviour of their wives. It means a Christian wife commits to the marriage and sacrifices to make it work.
It's worth saying at this point that believers who are married to spouses that are not believers face many challenges. As a Christian family we need to walk with them, love them, pray with them and work hard to encourage them in their marriage, to love as Christ has loved us.
3. Loving as Equals
There is a wonderful phrase in verse 7 that is very important. Have a look at that:
"Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel [don't be put off by that phrase, we'll come back to it!], since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered [by which I take he means the couple's prayer time together]."
He has in mind here, the pattern of a Christian husband married to a Christian wife. And he reminds us that they both equally have received from God, by grace the gift of life. They are both on their way to heaven. And in God's sight, they don't just belong together they also both belong to Jesus. At the time, this would have been incredibly counter-cultural.
This is a powerful picture of a man and a woman as partners. You worship God together, serve God together, study the Bible together, encourage one another to live as strangers in this world and perhaps most powerful of all – you pray together. A genuine partnership under God. Here is how a Christian from a previous generation expressed what is involved in the spiritual partnership of marriage:
"Especially to be helpers of each other's salvation: to stir up each other to faith, love, and obedience, and good works: to warn and help each other against sin, and all temptations: to join in God's worship in the family and in private: to prepare each other for the approach of death, and comfort each other in the hopes of life eternal."
(The Common Duty of Husband and Wife from 'The Poor Man's Family Book' by Richard Baxter)
4. Loving as Men and Women
Finally, I'm sure you have noticed that he doesn't just talk to 'married people'. He talks to wives and then talks to husbands. Both are equal and both are called to love as Christ did. But that looks different because men and women play different roles in the marriage. That's what we recognise when we make our wedding vows. The groom says "I take you to be my wife… to love cherish and worship" while the bride responds, "I take you to be my husband… to love, cherish, and obey". Men and women play different roles in the marriage.
For the wife, that means being subject or submissive to her husband. Not men in general, not every husband. Just her husband. You see that in verse 1. For the husband, that means being understanding and honouring his wife. You see that in verse 7. This isn't something just from the time this letter was written – it is part of how God created us. That concept and the language used may evoke a strong negative reaction in us. But we need to make sure we understand what is being said correctly. It does not mean that the husband is the superior sex and should get his way all the time, while his wife does everything he tells her to. It does not mean a husband can be abusive. It does not mean she is the property of her husband. We must reject such attitudes and behaviour.
The phrase in verse 7 about "showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel" simply recognises that women are often more vulnerable. That is not a negative thing! After all, God loves and uses us in our weakness – you just need to look at the cross to see that. It may offend you, but don't you instinctively know that it's true? Isn't that why you don't let your friend walk home on her own in the dark? That vulnerability is a good thing, but because of sin it can expose women to awful behaviour. Isn't that at least part of the cry of the #metoo movement? Instead we read in verse 7, "show honour… to the woman". Her husband is to love her sacrificially as Christ has loved us. To respect her, protect her, and work towards making the marriage a genuine partnership under God. This verse never justifies any abuse within a marriage.
In these verses, the wife is encouraged to set aside outward and short-term external 'beauty' and instead nurture 'inner beauty'. That doesn't mean she should just wear old and ugly clothes. It just means the focus is on what is inside us. So guys – what are you looking for in a wife? Is it mainly about looks and the kind of beauty that will not last? Or is it, as it should be, on godliness and Christlikeness? And ladies – are you focussing on what matters most? For all of us, this is counter-cultural. In the 'world of Instagram' our focus is so often on image. But look at verse 4:
"but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit."
A gentle and quiet spirit is not about personality – as if women should be seen but not heard. No, a gentle and quiet spirit is about godliness. It's bringing calm into the storm of life. Bringing peace into family situations by doing what is right and having an unshakable peace in God. Like holy (or godly) women in the past, she puts her hope in God alone. She has a quiet, calm spirit because she doesn't forget God, rather she trusts him and puts him first. That is the sort of beauty she is encouraged to display in the family home and beyond as she chooses to follow her husband's loving leadership. Why? So that we show a watching world the love of Christ, the gospel on display.
The husband is to be considerate and respectful. In other words, as it says in Ephesians 5.25:
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."
What does that mean? It means husbands are charged by God to lay down their lives for the good of their wives. Jesus gave his all for his people, and so a husband is called to give his all for his wife, doing all he can to love, lead, serve, protect and provide for her, while placing her comfort and needs above his own. It means taking time to listen to her, to know her concerns, dreams and desires. It means he speaks tenderly and thoughtfully to her. It means he serves and loves her. It means remaining faithful to her. He is accountable to God for how he leads his family, and his personal walk with Christ directly affects them. He needs to accept responsibility, work hard and sacrifice himself for the good of his wife and family. Why? So that we show a watching world the love of Christ, the gospel on display.
Here is John Piper from his book 'This Momentary Marriage':
"Marriage is patterned after Christ's covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church. And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display. That is why marriage exists. If you are married, that is why you are married. If you hope to be, that should be your dream."
All of this is counter-cultural in a world that tells us that marriage is all about meeting my needs. This is how God has created marriage to work. We cannot do it in our own strength. But we have not only the example of Christ but also his Holy Spirit at work in us. We will mess up, but remember that Jesus carried our sin to the cross so forgiveness and a fresh start is always available. Marriage as God designed it is a beautiful thing.
Here's just one example of what it looks like. Robert McQuilkin was the Principal of a Bible college. His wife had advanced Alzheimer's disease and these are the words he wrote when he resigned from his job to look after her.
"My dear wife, Muriel, has been in failing mental health for about 8 years. So far I have been able to carry both her ever-growing needs and my leadership responsibilities at Columbia Bible College. But recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her. It is not just 'discontentment.' She is filled with fear – even terror – that she has lost me and always goes in search for me when I leave home. Then she may be full of anger when she cannot get to me. So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full time.
Perhaps it would help you to understand if I shared with you what I shared at the time of the announcement of my resignation in chapel. The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel "in sickness and in health ... till death do us part." So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But, there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me – her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honour to care for such a person."
We have seen how we are to live as strangers. For those who are married, that means loving as Christ did, loving as equals and loving as men and women with different roles. Marriage as God designed it is a beautiful thing.
We are all in different situations, so let me give you a few minutes to respond on your own to what we've seen in God's word this evening.