“The Wife Support System”
1 Peter 3:7
September 23, 2012
Express Christ’s love to your wife by knowing and honoring her.
I. Knowing your wife.
II. Honoring your wife.
Did you know that the Apostle Peter was married? It’s true. In Luke 4 Jesus visits Simon Peter’s house in Capernaum and we’re told his mother-in-law was ill with a high fever, and Jesus healed her. Later in 1 Corinthians Paul reminds his readers of the sacrifices he’s made to minister to them and says “Would we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” Cephas is Peter, and apparently his believing wife accompanied him in his ministry travels.
Paul, by contrast, seems to have been unmarried. In 1 Corinthians 7 he addresses some of those who have asked about marriage as ‘unmarried, even as I am.” He may have been a widower, but almost certainly not married at the time of his ministry travels. So of the two, Peter and Paul, you might be more inclined to listen to marriage advice from the one who was married, Peter.
Not that Paul gives bad marriage advice, but we’re looking today at the one verse of marriage advice to husbands given by Peter. One of my Greek professors at seminary said often that this was the most important verse for husbands in the entire New Testament. The English Standard Version translates it this way: Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
We’re going to look at each phrase in this verse, but the big idea as I see it is simple: express Christ’s love for your wife by knowing her and honoring her. We’ve been worshipping Christ this morning for his love, especially his love for the church. And husbands are to express that love for their wives by knowing them deeply and honoring them deeply.
Now I’m calling this the wife support system, as a kind of play on words on ‘life support system.’ By making your wife the focus of your mind and heart, and by honoring her, you truly support her and bless her. But I want to distance myself today from a few commercials that have been making the rounds recently in which Jewelry stores call their products ‘wife insurance.’ That’s a play on words I reject because the thought that you can guarantee your marriage if you buy your wife enough jewelry is the opposite of Peter’s focus. Wife support honors your marriage. Wife insurance trivializes it.
I. Knowing your wife.
So what does this verse teach about the wife support system? The first thing I want to emphasize is that as a husband you are to study and know your wife.
Literally the first phrase says: live together according to knowledge. Base the life you live with your wife on knowing her. Somebody used a phrase with me years ago that has become one of my key phrases for premarital counseling: Make your wife your field of study, your field of knowledge. Ben, get your bachelors degree in Hannah; Todd, get a masters degree in Titia; Dan, get your PhD in Api. Become the world’s foremost expert in your spouse. As husbands we should think all the time and try to learn more and more about our wives; what they like and dislike, their needs, what they enjoy. And wives, don't think you get off the hook: you should do this too. In fact, this is good advice for any significant relationship: study and know people. It's even good advice for a relationship with God: learning to know God on a personal and intimate level is a key to your relationship.
But today we’ll focus on the application of this to husbands. Anne Ortland, in one of the older marriage books on my shelf, says it begins with noticing each other. She says “Most marrieds don't. When one or both go off to work, neither knows what the other was wearing. If one is troubled or looks tired, the other doesn’t even notice. Don't just bustle around functioning: start to notice one another.” This is a key first step toward communication in any relationship. Watch your spouse, your child, your friend, your parent and ask: What does this behavior mean? What does this smile mean, this laugh, this slump of the shoulders, this frown? What do these things teach me about this person? About how I can love her better, and take better care of her. Gail occasionally gets migraine type headaches, and when I’m noticing I can easily see these in her face and demeanor and try to come alongside to help.
But noticing is only the first step in knowing. Communication takes place when you notice something about your partner and then talk with them about it. If you want to know whether you’ve understood the meaning of an attitude or behavior, listen to your wife when she talks. Don’t assume that you know what someone is thinking or feeling: you will rarely give a right response based on a wrong assumption. Your wife is the best professor you have in your chosen field of study: she longs for you to let her teach you about herself. But you've got to be intentional; you've got to put yourself in the mode of listening and caring, reflecting together on problems and solutions.
Last fall Gail and I attended Carl Elkins’ marriage clinic; a few others have gone since then on our recommendation. One of the things Carl emphasizes is getting to know you spouse, especially their needs and their primary style of giftedness; their giftedness has a lot to do with how they communicate, and their needs are a primary component of what they communicate: and if you are aware of both these things you will be a better communicator.
And this knowing of your spouse is not just theoretical, but lived out. Peter doesn’t say understand your wife, he says ‘live with your wife in an understanding way.’ The Greeks thought of knowledge like we do: as head knowledge or information. But that wasn’t the way Jewish or most cultures of that day saw it. In their languages this word meant a personal knowing, a relational knowing and an active knowing, so that the Old Testament can say ‘Adam knew his wife’ and mean that Adam had a physical and emotional and spiritual and intellectual and sexual relationship with Eve. When Peter says live with your wife in an understanding way, he means have a relationship that is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The cover of the pre-marital counseling handbook I’ve been compiling for engaged couples looks like this because oneness in marriage is physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
The movie ‘Fireproof’ which has spoken powerfully to many marriages over the last few years affirms this truth. Chapter 18 of ‘The Love Dare,’ the booklet that Caleb Holt uses, is called ‘Love Seeks to Understand. It includes the whole PhD in your spouse discussion, and several other key thoughts, and then says “If you miss the level of intimacy you once shared with your spouse, one of the best ways to unlock their heart again is by making a commitment to know them. Study them. Read them like a book you're trying to understand.” Then it gives three practical ways to do this: Ask questions; Listen; and Ask God for discernment. “Things like gender differences, family backgrounds, and varied life experiences can cloud your ability to know your mate's heart and motivations. But God is a giver of wisdom. The Lord will show you what you need to know how to love your spouse better.”
So we need to communicate, to spend time, to study and know our wives. Noah Jackson was telling me he and Laura are reading Timothy Keller’s book ‘The Meaning of Marriage.’ So I looked up a few quotes, and the very first one spoke to this point: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Express Christ’s love for your wife by living with her in understanding and deep sight.
II. Honoring your wife.
Second, express Christ’s love for your wife by honoring her. Peter says: showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life. Before we get into the scope of ‘honoring’ we need to talk about the phrase ‘the woman is the weaker vessel,’ because in our culture it's near blasphemy to use the terms weaker and woman in the same phrase; admitting such differences is not politically correct.
But Peter has reasons for using this phrase that transcend culture, and that husband need to be reminded about. First, there is the area of authority. The wife is under the leadership of the husband. Peter spends verses 1-6 of this chapter teaching this to wives; we’ll look at those verses next week. The husband has been put in the place of authority, but he must not abuse that authority: Peter says honor your wife; use your authority wisely and responsibly.
Second, women are more likely to be abused, and men to be abusers. The wife is the weaker, female partner; men are almost always bigger and stronger and can overpower their wives physically. This is also true emotionally. Despite feminist rhetoric, our experience, day to day teaches that women are usually more sensitive to emotional issues than men; husbands can easily be emotionally overbearing and insensitive. So honoring means keeping your hands to yourself: no physical contact that causes harm or pain to your wife. It means controlling your voice and words: no verbal attack or neglect that causes emotional harm. It means also not using your physical presence combined with your voice to intimidate even if you never actually touch her.
And the sad part is that I need to say this. Statistics tell us that at least five percent of conservative Protestant families experience physical abuse, with a much higher percentage reporting emotional abuse. I know some of the marriages in this room struggle with one or both of these forms of dishonor. It is shameful to dishonor your spouse with anger expressed physically or with grievous hurt expressed verbally. If this is an issue you struggle with, you need to talk to somebody about it. Physical or extreme emotional abuse is almost never resolved without some kind of outside help. Talk to me, or to a believing friend, and get support and accountability in your struggle.
But this isn’t the only kind of honor. Mark Driscoll in a famous in-men’s-faces sermon not only rages against those who won’t be true men by obedience to this verse, but also lists ways they can honor their wives. I really don’t agree with his tone in this, but I liked his list, and want to share it and add some thoughts of my own.
First, honor her martially by absolute faithfulness even in your thought life. Be a one woman man through and through. Honor her physically: this begins with the absolute ‘don’t go there’ of abuse. He says be strong for your wife, not against her. He adds that you are to be protective of her and present with her, to guard her against danger and help her in difficulty.
Third, honor her emotionally: be emotionally present and intimate. Take her on dates and pay attention to her. When someone is important to you, you pay attention to them: you don't allow yourself to be distracted from them.
Fourth, honor your wife verbally: be nice; express your emotions carefully and clearly, not carelessly or hurtfully. Driscoll adds that you speak honorably of her both when you’re in her presence and when you’re not. Finally, honoring her verbally means valuing your wife's advice, taking her opinion seriously.
Fifth, honor her financially: provide for the financial needs of your family, organize your budget, and be generous towards your wife. Sixth, honor her practically: consider her needs and how you can serve her, and create a home and environment at serves her. This can also valuing the other person's contribution to the marriage and family. I’ve said to Gail many times recently, and it chokes me up every time, but it’s true, that she’s my hero.
Seventh, Driscoll says, honor her parentally: shepherd your children; pray with them, teach them about Jesus, read the Bible with them, etc. Finally, honor her spiritually. Your wife longs for you to pray with her, to initiate Bible Study, to lead at church. Driscoll emphasizes that men honor their wives by serving Christ’s church. Then he gets really intense and tells men that fail in this area that they are a joke, that they are idiots and losers and other things I can’t say from this pulpit, and then he goes right to the last phrase of the verse to tell them that if you don’t do this stuff God won’t hear your prayer.
But he skips, as far as I could tell, the next to last phrase, about being joint heirs of the grace of life, which I consider critical to this verse. It is important, first of all, because by it Peter blasts apart the myth that Christianity teaches inequality between men and women. No way: she is an heir together with you of God’s grace. So, although there is an authority structure in marriage, there is not inequality between men and women. My wife is a person for whom Christ died - he valued her that much. You don’t mess with what God values. So I need to honor her because of this value she has to God. Your wife isn’t a mirror to your personality, or a robot expected to obey your whim, but a person made in God’s image and renewed in Christ’s image.
And therefore, as Mark Driscoll did say, we have a responsibility to honor our wives spiritually, and nurture them spiritually. This is Paul's point in Ephesians, when he says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” We’ve been worshiping Christ this morning for his husband-love for the church. He is concerned for her welfare and spiritual well-being. In the same way we express Christ’s love to our wives by concern for their spiritual needs.
But this phrase is important not just because we are fellow heirs, equal heirs, but because we are heirs of the grace of life. Mark Driscoll doesn’t seem to have seen this; I didn’t see it twenty years ago, but this week it jumped out at me like the sun coming out from the clouds. This is one of Peter’s neon words; grace; grace; the grace of life. You receive grace to be rescued, to trust Jesus and you receive grace to live this way, to know and honor your wife.
Peter has now used the word grace four times in this letter, and he will go on to use it four more. He has said that the prophets looked forward to the grace that we were to receive, and he instructed us to set our hopes fully on grace. And a little later he will say “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” He’ll say “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
Peter is all about grace, and so we should not expect him to give us these kinds of life challenging instructions without reminding us that we live this life by grace. We’re going to look at the ‘wife’ part of this, the first six verses next week, and Peter will say to our wives that they should imitate the wives of the Bible who put their hope in God. And we too should put our hope in God because he is the one who gives the grace of life and the life of grace.
So it is through this grace, in which we dwell as joint heirs, that we are enabled to express Christ’s love in our marriage. We do it by learning to know them, through communication and the commitment of time and by respecting and honoring, valuing them as individuals and not taking advantage of our authority or strength since they are joint heirs of the grace of life.
And this kind of behavior will undoubtedly improve our marriage, but Peter gives another motivation for it at the end of the verse: So that your prayers will not be hindered. If you do not live with your wife in this understanding and honoring way, God will blunt your prayers. Partially he will do so through the turmoil in your family and your own life, which will make it harder and harder to pray. On top of that, if your heart isn’t right, God will not see answering your prayers as beneficial to you or glorifying to him. When the heart of a husband is not in accord with his spouse, he must go and make things right with her, and then bring his prayers to the altar.
Jesus taught that the way you treat others is the way God will treat you. If you want to see this, look at the parable of the steward in Matthew 18. But would you want God to treat you the way you treat your wife? I hope the answer is yes, but I’m sure for some of us all the time and all of us some of the time the answer is no: ‘God, please don’t treat me the way I treat my wife.’
So what have we seen? For Peter, the two things a husband must do to express Christ’s love are first to live with his wife in true knowledge and depth of insight and second, to honor her above jewels martially, physically, financially, emotionally, intellectually and perhaps most of all, spiritually.
The often retold story of the impact of honoring your wife is that of Johnny Lingo. My wife has loved this story and told it often. I can only summarize it here. It seems Johnny Lingo is the sharpest trader in Polynesia. As he travels from island to island every deal he makes makes him richer. Now he has come to a particular island to purchase a wife. In that culture one paid the girl’s father what the market would bear. A plain girl might be had for two cows, a comely girl for four, a spectacular girl for at most six. Johnny has set his eye on a girl, Sarita, who by all accounts is plain, some would say ugly. She is also painfully shy, clumsy and graceless. Some say her ashamed father will ask only one cow, and that slick Johnny end up getting a wife for free.
But to their astonishment, after the father sets the bold opening price of three cows, Johnny says that price is far too low for his Sarita and insists on paying no less than eight cows. The father agrees, the wedding is held and Johnny takes Sarita home - the only eight cow wife in the island’s history. Then the narrator adds that he had had occasion to visit Johnny Lingo not long before, and had been offered hospitality in his home. There he met Sarita, now the most beautiful, well-spoken, gracious, lovely young woman he’d ever seen. Johnny explains that he had not wanted to marry a woman who would go through life knowing she had only been valued at one cow. The narrator says “Johnny I misjudged you. I thought you’d paid eight cows only to establish your own wealth and status. Now I see you wanted to make Sarita happy. And Johnny replies “More than happy, Mr. Harris; look at what she is now; she is an eight cow wife.”
Not too many years ago the son of friends who had moved away fell in love. He was a godly and fanatic young Christian man, and from the rapture of his letters and e-mails you’d think his fiancé was Solomon’s beloved, Helen of Troy, and Venus de Milo wrapped up in one. His admiration and love for her, and his willingness to sacrifice for her were intense and obvious. What a surprise then, on meeting her to find that she was, to most eyes, somewhat plain, and maybe a little awkward. But in his eyes she was all that God could ever have given, and his love and honor enhanced her, so that on her wedding day she was a beautiful, beautiful bride and she has become a wonderful wife in a marriage that has faced a number of challenges. From the beginning this young man sought to know her and honor her.
I don’t know if he was intentionally obeying Peter or not, but his marriage is a testimony to the power of this verse: husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.