“The Beauty of Submission”
1 Peter 3:1-6
September 30, 2012
Submission makes us the kind of person God designed us to be.
I. Submission calls for purity and respect. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
II. Submission calls for gentleness and peace. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
III. Submission calls for hope and obedience. (1 Peter 3:5-6)
Some things show evidence of design. This week I posted Apple’s drawing of the iPhone5. The drawing communicates to case makers the phone’s exact dimensions, and in a technical sense it is elegant and beautiful. Every measurement, every shape is precise and detailed. From this drawing you can design and build a case to perfectly match the phone, both dimensionally and by allowing the cameras and microphones and sensors all to work. And all the iPhone5 cases now being sold were designed from this drawing. Now that the phone has been released, there is video all over the internet showing how well these cases work. Some things show evidence of design.
In fact I believe all creation shows this evidence, from the wonder of the living cell to the earth’s shielding against solar flares. Evidence for design is also found in human psychology and sociology. People have been made by a relational God for relationships, family and community. Our Sunday School class is using a book called ‘Created to Connect’ which shows the ways the brains of infants are actually formed by experiences of touch, closeness and face time.
As believers we can take this further. It seems to me all the commands of Scripture push us toward living as we were designed. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” pushes us to live as God designed us, as two who become one. After the fall that oneness was marred. “Love your wives” is a command that counters the effects of the fall so that for those depending on God this oneness design of marriage can be substantially restored.
And in many ways the command to wives, submit to your husbands, is even more important for rescuing God’s design. From the beginning he was God and we were not; we were designed to live in conscious submission to him. The fall was our declaration of independence, and the result is catastrophe. So all the submission commands in Scripture are designed to push us toward the humble dependence for which we were originally perfectly designed.
It is with this larger beauty in mind that I want to explore Peter’s teaching to wives, to see in this text the beauty of submission not only in the husband wife relationship, but in every area of life. The character qualities that underlie the behavior of wives will bless all of us in every area of submission, whether it is submission of children to parents, of employees to employers, citizens to governments, or especially, ultimately, in the submission of God’s people to God’s Son, of the church to Christ her husband and head.
I. Submission calls for purity and respect. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
Submission makes us the kind of person God wants us to be. Let's begin by looking at 1st Peter 3:1-2, where we see that submission ca1ls for purity and reverence: Likewise, wives, be submissive 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, 2when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
The Greek word for submission means to put yourself under authority or under leadership and it is used this way in a variety of circumstances in the New Testament. Unfortunately, there is a movement in the evangelical world to dilute this word so it doesn't imply a leadership role and a submissive role. Instead some scholars argue that all submission is mutual submission and that submission means to be thoughtful, considerate and loving to another person. But the word clearly implies a person or group who is in authority and another person or group of people who are submitted to authority.
Let me give a few examples. This same Greek word is used of Jesus submitting to his parents in Luke 2:51. It's used of demons submitting to the disciples in Luke 10:17. Clearly the meaning "be considerate; act in love" doesn’t fit there. It is used of submitting to government authority in Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter, 2:13, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”
Submission is God's design. How wonderful that God's plan, God's design for the redemption of the world, is achieved because in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus Christ submits, saying "Not my will but your will be done.” He models submission to the will of another. And it is imitation of Christ, pure and simple, when we submit. We become the kind of people God designed us to be when we learn to submit to God by submission on a human level.
And amazingly, the result of this submission will be to win the disobedient. Just as Christ submitted to the Father, and was obedient to death to win the lost, and won the lost, so also our submission can win the lost. Remember the theme of this section, 1st Peter 2:12: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Now compare that to verse 1: “Likewise, wives, be submissive 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.” 1st Peter 3:1 is an application of 1st Peter 2:12.
Peter is talking to wives whose husbands have a set pattern of disobedience to the word. This husband may be an unbeliever, but might also be a believer not living God’s way. Peter says that your godly conduct may win your husband from disobedience and even from unbelief.
That’s how John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, was saved. He grew up in an unbelieving family, but married a devout and godly young woman whose parents had died. She came to the marriage with only two books, both testimonies to faith. It was her faith, and the two books, and conversation with his wife’s godly friends, that started Bunyan on the road to conversion.
We also see this when a believing husband has fallen into some sin or neglect. It is often a wife’s godly behavior that influences him to do right. I know from experience that Gail’s love for me, her habits of godliness, her devotion to the family have often caused me to turn from sin or neglect even when she hasn’t said a thing. And that’s how Peter says it works, without a word. Not that you never say anything, but you say it very carefully because you know that that you have most of your influence through attitude and behavior.
Verse 2 makes this clear: “when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” The word pure, in the phrase, is relatively rare in the New Testament, but refers to behavior that is free from moral defilement, that is holy and sinless, a state that Peter has been calling for throughout this letter: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” Peter is consistent about this: holy conduct glorifies God even in the sight of the unbelieving and disobedient. In fact, in every arena submission consists first of all of a God-given purity and godliness that becomes evident in our daily behavior.
This submission is to be done with reverence or respect. The Greek word here is not uncommon at all: it is the word ‘fear’ as in ‘fear the Lord.’ In the context this is a two sided fear: reverence or fear of God which leads to respect of your husband. We looked at fearing God when we studied 1st Peter 1:17 “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” That has to be part of the context here: wives, and every one in submission, live your lives out of amazement at what God has done.
But elsewhere the same word implies respect rather than awe. For example, in Romans 13, Paul talks about submission to government, and elaborates by saying “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” ‘Respect’ is the right translation in that context. In Ephesians 5 translators again capture this word with ‘respect:’ “Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” In submission to God it is obedient fear, reverence and awe. In submission to a husband, an employer or any human authority, it is respect: it puts deference to the one submitted to above personal preference.
Which leads us to briefly ask and answer a couple of obvious questions. First, will it always work? Does submission always work change in the one submitted to? The answer from this Scripture is no. Some people are so caught up in sin or spiritually blind, that they will not see the beauty of your submission. Peter only says they ‘may’ be won, not that they must. But, as with citizens and government, as with slaves and masters, so also here, Peter implies it is better to do right than to do wrong, even if you suffer for it.
Second: does submission mean obedience under every circumstance? We’ve been over this before. Purity and reverence toward God may come into conflict with respect to a disobedient husband. So you don’t submit when asked to violate Gods' moral law. Peter refused to submit to the government when commanded to stop preaching the Gospel: "We must obey God rather than men." Submission implies obedience except when it would be sin to obey.
So in these first few verses we see the hand of God in the design of submission. I read a story online by a woman named Karen DeLoach. Five years into her marriage her husband announced his desire to move from her home town in Oklahoma where they’d met to his home town in Georgia. In her words, she first ‘dug in her heels,’ then decided to ‘sic God on him.’ Surely this couldn’t be God’s will. But when they put the house on the market it sold in two weeks and a job appeared in Georgia. Karen decided she couldn’t fight God, and submitted to the decision. The first year in Georgia was miserable. But thirty two years later she sees God’s hand in every aspect of the move.
Submission imitates what God is like, the Son submitting to the Father the Spirit submitting to the Father and the Son. And submission grows out of a commitment to moral purity and reverence which is essentially a God-ward focus but leads directly to godly living and respect for the one submitted to.
II. Submission calls for gentleness and peace. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Verses 3 and 4 also display God’s design for us as submission displays a gentle and quiet spirit: Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Submission displays a gentle and quiet spirit, inward beauty rather than outward ornamentation.
Don't get me wrong: Peter isn’t saying you can’t braid your hair, wear jewelry, or wear clothes. His point is simply that these shouldn’t be the foundation of your attractiveness or the focus of your beauty. Instead of outward ornamentation, Peter says, you should adorn your inner, “the hidden person of the heart.”
So how do you beautify the hidden person? Peter says by cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit, and calls these qualities "imperishable." Remember, Peter has a keen awareness of what is unfading or imperishable. He’s used this word of the new birth that we receive through the word, and of the inheritance that is held in heaven for us. Now he adds one more thing that is imperishable: a gentle and quiet spirit. This must be pretty important, if God intends it to characterize us for eternity. And so we don’t want to limit it just to our wives: the principle of a gentle and quiet spirit applies to all submission.
The first word, gentle, is used of Jesus and I’m sure you have heard before that this gentleness isn’t weakness, but strength under control. Vine’s dictionary says that meekness is directed first and foremost toward God. “It is that temper of spirit in which we accept his dealings with us as good and therefore without disputing or resisting.” And because we accept God's dealings with us without struggle or contention, we also accept our circumstances in life that way, which is why meekness appears gentle to those around us.
Submission is gentle and quiet. This is not about never speaking; the word is used to describe orderliness as opposed to chaos. In 1st Timothy 2:2 it is used together with peaceful: we are to live peaceful and quiet or orderly lives. So the internal beauty Peter is describing is an uncontentious and ordered and peaceful spirit. And this kind of spirit is attractive. It's attractive to the world - no surprise there. But it is also attractive to God: He finds it valuable. The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, is of great worth in God's sight.
Before we move on, let’s ask ourselves the practical question: ‘How can I do this? How can I control my inner character? I have trouble enough controlling my behavior.’ And the truth is, that you can't. These kind of internal changes can happen - but only through three things: Prayer: earnestly seeking to change; and power: the power of the Holy Spirit who alone can make these changes; and practice: behaving as you would if this was your internal attitude. This is very useful. Ask yourself “How would I behave if I was at peace in this situation? How would I handle this if I really believed in gentleness?”
III. Submission calls for hope and obedience. (1 Peter 3:5-6)
So once again, we find that submission makes us the kind of person God designed us to be. Submission itself is an imitation of God, characterized by purity and reverence and here we have seen that it calls for a gentle and quiet spirit. But the last two verses show us that it is also characterized by hope and obedience, by doing good without fear. Verses 5 and 6: For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Submission calls for hope and obedience. This is the way, Peter says, the holy women of the past used to adorn themselves - not with external adornment but with inner beauty. How? They hoped in God. This is a key thought for wives, as you consider submission in marriage, and for all of us, as we consider submission. Those who submit must put their hope in God.
Let's admit it: submission is a scary thing. When we submit to someone else we are taking the chance that person will not treat us right, will fail us, even hurt us. Even submitting to God, it is scary, because God doesn’t have the habit of revealing the good he is doing through painful or difficult circumstances. Yet God has revealed himself in Scripture to be good, and he has promised good to us. So when we submit, we put our hope, our faith and confidence in God alone, whose promises of goodness are fulfilled throughout Scripture.
And isn't this just like God, to give us a discipline - submission - that encourages us to do the one thing that every human being needs to do - which is to trust in God, to hope in him for salvation? Trust in God is what makes a believer, believing that Jesus died for our sins, and rose from the dead to give us new life in him. God's design for submission encourages that kind of trust.
So Peter points to these holy women of old and says they were submissive to their own husbands. Then he takes the example of Sarah; she obeyed her husband and called him her master. Here is another key point about submission: in the end it can mean obedience. Normally in husband-wife relationships, there should be no need for the wife to simply obey. Instead, they will talk, and he will value her advice and they will decide together on a course of action. And a wife's submission will show in the ways that she encourages her husband in his role as leader, and gives him the benefit of her advice and energy in decision making, and then lives at peace with the final decision.
But there may be cases where a husband needs to make a decision, and the wife honestly disagrees with his choice. These verses do make those decisions the husband’s responsibility, and the responsibility of the wife is to be at peace, to pursue purity and respect, to accept the decision and obey its implications.
Remember this submission doesn’t mean the wife is inferior to the husband in importance, dignity or honor. We need look no further than the person of Jesus to see this. Jesus Christ was subject to God the Father, and yet equal to him in importance, dignity and value. Sarah is another example of one whom God gave high honor as the mother of Isaac and the whole nation of Israel. Yet she needed to be submissive to Abraham and to obey him, which she often did in unpleasant, uncertain and even dangerous situations.
We can learn a lot from looking at these situations. In Genesis 12 Abraham receives a call from God to leave Haran and go to a land that God would show him. At some point Abraham must have said to Sarah “get ready to go because God has told me to leave.” Now anybody with a lick of common sense would have objected to this plan, as Karen DeLoach did in the story we heard earlier. And maybe Sarah did, but she submitted and went with him - and that move turns out to have been key to the Bible’s whole story.
A few verses later they go down to Egypt, and Abraham makes a really dumb move. He says to Sarah ‘tell them you are my sister.’ Which she was; she was his half sister. And once again Sarah probably thought ‘this is not a good idea,’ and she was right. But she obeyed, and God rescued her and the situation from Abraham's foolishness. Now how was Sarah supposed to be tell which of these dumb ideas was from God and which from Abraham? She couldn't - she needed to do what she did, which was to put her hope in God, according to Peter, and to follow the leadership of her husband.
Or, as Peter applies it, ‘to do good and fear nothing that is frightening. These are key to the practice of submission. Do good: it’s like obeying, but more; it’s being a blessing, walking into your life situations, whether your family, your workplace or your culture and doing good that blesses others.
And while doing this the wife in submission, is told ‘don’t fear anything that is frightening.’ When Gail and I talked this is where her thoughts landed: that wives who want to do this are often walking into places, like Sarah did, where their husbands give reason to fear: He is not trustworthy; he’s vulnerable to temptation; he’s not skilled as a father; he might make wrong use of our money or our time; he might hurt me or leave me vulnerable. These are real fears. But Peter says those who put their hope in God do not fear what is frightening. They have reason to fear, but they trust. Wives, if I can emphasize one thing this morning it’s this: as you strive to submit, put your hope in God and in him do not fear even the things that are frightening.
So submission involves placing hope and confidence in God's sovereign hand, and fearlessly being a blessing. You do this because you trust that God alone is able to guard and guide every circumstance for your good and for his glory. And isn't this just like God, to create a submission on a human level that forces us to trust God fully so that we learn the most important lesson in life, that all I need is God and I can trust him fully in any situation.
You see, submission makes us the kind of people God designed us to be: it brings forth Godly character; a person of purity and reverence, a person with a gentle and quiet spirit, a person who hopes in God and is obedient to him.
This is God’s design. Karen DeLoach says “It is ironic that almost forty years before I submitted to a move, my Grandmother had done the same thing. My grandparents accepted the Lord at a revival meeting in the early 1930's. Shortly thereafter, Grandpa Harper told Grandma, "We're goin' a-preachin.'" I must have inherited my stubbornness from Grandma. She dug in her heels, too. There was no way she was going to take her four children, leave her home and their crop in the fields, and become a poor preacher's wife.
In his quiet way, Grandpa kept the issue in the forefront of their conversations. Finally, Grandma told him, "There's only one way we are goin' a-preachin.' If somebody comes by here and buys our crop where it sits in the field, we'll go." The next day, a man showed up at their front door. He told Grandma he wanted to buy their crop right then, while it was still in the field.
Shortly after that, they went a-preachin.' My grandparents never had much in the way of worldly goods. More often than not, they were paid in plucked chickens or smoked hams, bushels of garden peas needing to be hulled, or freshly baked apple pies. But as they ministered to poor hurting churches throughout rural Oklahoma for over forty years, they blessed many lives, won souls for the Lord, and fulfilled the purpose which our Heavenly Father had planned for them before they were born.
Submission makes us the person God designed us to be, his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which he prepared in advance for us to do. All human submission, in purity, respect, gentleness, peace, hope without fear and obedience with blessing teaches us to be what God designed us to be. Therefore wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.