Glorifying God in a Difficult Marriage
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 3:1
For a lot of people, the start of a new year is a time for making plans and setting goals. Well, whether or not you’re the type of person who sets goals, you are still the type of person who has desires. Some of those desires might have a timeline; others don’t. Either way, if you really desire something, you will take intentional steps to make it happen. If you’re unwilling to take those steps, it could be that your desire isn’t as strong as you thought, or that you’re lazy.
In Proverbs 13:4, the wisdom of God tells us: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing.”
The lazy man wants something, but he never gets it. That’s not because of some kind of curse on his life. That is the natural result of his laziness. He wants all the provisions and blessings of a good life, but his laziness keeps him from it. The lazy man is unwilling to do the necessary work, so he lives with unmet desires.
We all have varying kinds of desires, but as Christians there are some desires that are foundational to our new life. Those desires are the ones tied to God’s desires, and one specific example is the desire for people to hear and know about Jesus Christ. That’s what God wants, and that’s what we want, isn’t it?
First Timothy 2:4 says God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
God wants that, not simply for our own good, but ultimately, for His glory in Christ Jesus. John 4 tells us that the Father is seeking worshipers.
Since that’s God’s desire, it should be ours as well. We want to see people come to a saving knowledge of the truth. We want doors of opportunity to open so that someone can tell them about salvation and life in Christ Jesus. This desire is not an addendum to the Christian life. It’s not something extra. It’s foundational to who we are and why we’re here.
Turn with me to First Peter chapter 2, verse 9. This is one of the key passages we looked at last year. First Peter 2:9—You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
God has us here to proclaim the glories of His goodness and love in Jesus Christ.
That desire to proclaim Him is like a spiritual pulse. If you don’t have a desire to proclaim the goodness of God to this world, there’s a problem. You may actually be spiritually dead.
But if that is your desire, you want to know how to do that better. You want to be more effective personally, and you want us to be more effective corporately. How do we do that?
Again, we’re looking at another key verse in this epistle. Look at verses 11 and 12—Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 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.
These are verses calling us to holiness, to righteousness. We are called to live differently than this world. And it’s not self-denial for the sake of self-denial. It’s not holiness for the sake of holiness. It is a demonstrable righteousness which God will use to lead people to glorify Him. This is a call to an attractive and beautiful life that God uses for His glory in your life and in the lives of those around you.
Simon Peter, speaking by the Holy Spirit, assumes the heart of a Christian has a desire to see God glorified in the lives of more and more people. Even though he’s writing to people who are suffering tremendously, he’s not telling them how to alleviate the suffering. He’s writing to them telling them how their suffering can lead to the glory of God.
It’s so important that you understand that. If you can’t relate to that underlying desire for God’s glory, then the rest of the book isn’t going to make any sense, or it’s not going to seem relevant. You would be coming to God with the wrong question.
Instead of asking God, “How do get out of this situation?” the question we’re supposed to be asking is, “Father, how can You be glorified in this situation, both in my life and in the lives of those around me?” That’s the real question because it’s getting to the deepest desire of a new heart.
We have all kinds of desires, and those desires compete with one another. But at the core of who we are we were created to glorify God and to be used by Him. Once you realize that the glory of God is your heart’s deepest desire, and once you commit yourself to living in accordance with that, then you’re ready for the steps that Peter lays out. This is what we have been covering for the past couple months.
If you want a life that stands out for the glory of God, submit with respect and honor to the governing authorities. That’s what verses 13-17 say. Then, Peter says, if you want a life that stands out for the glory of God, submit with respect to your masters, even to the ones that are harsh or unreasonable. That’s what verse 18 is about, and the verses that follow.
In a very powerful way, God is glorified when His people demonstrate submission to the authority structures He has put in place—even when that authority isn’t demonstrating the care and the love they are called to express. That’s what it means to follow in Christ’s footsteps. That’s how we demonstrate the power He has given us over sin. Instead of retaliating or demanding our own rights, we trust God’s perfect wisdom, and we endure. We persevere in unjust suffering.
Well, for the next few weeks, we are going to be discussing one very specific place where suffering takes place, and that is in the home. More specifically, I mean in a marriage. Every single one of you already knows, or needs to know, that marriage is tough. Some might say marriage is a kind of torture chamber. It’s like a boxing ring, except there’s no bell that brings relief. The pain goes on and on and on. At least it might feel like that sometimes.
When Jesus talked to His disciples about marriage, their response was, “You know, Lord. If that’s how marriage is, it’s better not to marry.” They got the message!
What they didn’t have at the time was the other side of the message. Part of the reason marriage brings so much pain is that God designed it as a close, spiritual union. That closeness is what leads to the pain. But it’s also what brings joy. God created marriage to be a joyous union between a man and a woman. Together, they complement one another and minister for the glory of God.
Ephesians 5 tells us a man and his wife are a living picture of Christ and the Church. They put the covenant, gracious love of Christ on display. And that happens best when both the man and the wife are doing their part.
But what if your spouse isn’t doing their part? What if your husband, or your wife, seems to have no regard for the things of God? What if they’re spiritually or emotionally incompetent? What if they’re more concerned about their own preferences than about honoring God? Can God still use your marriage for His glory? Peter’s answer to us is: Absolutely!
That’s what we’re going to be talking about for the next few weeks. For some of you, marriage is a joy, but you’ve got rough patches now and then. But for some of you, for one reason or another, you might feel like your marriage is a prison. The good news is: God can work! He can use your marriage for His glory.
Look with me at First Peter, chapter 3, verses 1-7. First Peter 3:1-7—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. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but 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. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 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.
One of the immediate observations you might make is that Peter devotes much more attention to the wives than to the husbands. And maybe that seems unfair. Is he picking on the wives? No, that’s not what’s happening here.
If God and the Apostles wanted to pick on the wives, we wouldn’t have a passage like the end of Ephesians 5, which dedicates more verses to the husband than to the wife. God is not unfairly laying more responsibility on the wives.
The reason Peter gives more attention to the wives is because of the motivation behind what he’s saying. His particular focus in this section, as we’ve been seeing, is how a Christian can glorify God even when he or she is suffering under a cruel authority.
So, right before this, Peter talked directly to citizens, but he didn’t address the kings. He gave instructions to the slaves, but he didn’t say anything to the masters. His focus is on those under the authority of someone else. Do you understand that?
So, the reason Peter gives more attention to the woman here is because in a marriage, she is the one under the authority of her husband. She is in a unique position to glorify God by her position in the marriage.
God’s design for marriage is that the husband is the leader. He’s not more important than the woman, but he is the one primarily responsible for protection, provision, love, and leadership. And those should take place in both the physical and spiritual dimensions.
Guys, that’s your job description. Young men, and boys, that what God calls you to as a man. You are responsible to protect, to provide, to love, and to lead your family both physically and spiritually. Parents and grandparents, that’s what you’re training your young men for. That’s what our church should be training the guys for.
Unfortunately, this world doesn’t have the slightest clue what it means to be a man, and the culture has no idea where to go for the answers. So, instead of men, we get big boys who have no idea what it means to lead a family, and it leads to disaster.
Now, even for those of us who are committed to following Christ, there are times when our foolishness gets in the way of our calling. And our wives know when it’s happening.
So, ladies, what do you do? How would God have you respond? Remember, the immediate goal isn’t to alleviate your suffering, it’s to glorify God. How do you that in a difficult marriage or during a difficult time?
Today, we’re only going to be looking at verse 1. And as we do this, I’m going to give you two words to summarize the response God wants from you. Wives, this is how you honor God even when your marriage is a battleground. This is what God will use for His glory and to work in the lives of others.
Number one, you honor God by submission. Submission. This is not a new word for us. We’ve already covered this word twice before. Back in chapter 2, verse 13 told us to submit to the governing authorities. Verse 18 told slaves to submit to their masters. This is a continuation of that.
That’s why the opening word here in chapter 3 is “likewise.” Peter’s main theme, remember, isn’t simply submission; it’s an attractive life that stands out in this world. And what stands out in this world is submission.
As much as this world pushes back against biblical masculinity, it also does that for biblical femininity. The Feminist Movement wants nothing to do with submission. They want liberation. They want authority. They want power. They want control. And that same sinful rejection of God’s design lives inside your sinful heart. It’s part of the curse of sin that makes life difficult.
After sin entered the world, God told Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Adam’s authority over his wife wasn’t part of the curse. That was part of the creation order. What the curse brought was the woman’s desire to rule instead of the man. The curse brings a desire to overturn God’s design. That’s what makes life difficult. Sin programs us out of step with God’s design.
Ladies, all of you have that sinful heart. You will look for any reason not to submit to your husband. We all do it with the authorities over us. That’s what the world does. But that’s what makes submission so necessary and so powerful for the glory of God.
Submission isn’t some new command in times of suffering, but it is an important reminder. Ladies, God’s design for your role in marriage doesn’t change when life gets tough. You are called to submission. Ephesians and Colossians say the same thing.
Biblical submission is not a servile fear. It doesn’t mean you’re a slave in the house. It means there is in you a humble recognition of God’s design for the home. He has given to the husband an authority. If you don’t like that idea, your problem isn’t with your husband; it’s with God. This is His design, and it was put there to be a living picture of the headship of Christ and the submission of His people.
Now notice, it doesn’t say here that all the women are supposed to submit to all the men. It says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” Girls, if there’s a guy you don’t want to submit to, don’t marry him. If you’re already married to the guy, it’s too late. You need to humble yourself before God and recognize His design for marriage. Submitting to your husband is part of the commitment you made before the Lord on the day you were married. This is God’s calling on your life for His glory.
Peter isn’t saying this is going to be easy. He knows it won’t be. But just like citizens are to submit to the king and slaves are to submit to their masters, wives are called to submit to their husbands.
Unless your husband is directing you to do something that is contrary to the revealed will of God, your posture is one of obedience and submission. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to disagree, or to express that you’re unhappy, or that you’d like things to change. God has you there to share your wisdom. But even in those times, your posture should be one of humility and respect. You need to recognize that God has placed your husband as the leader of the home, even if he’s acting like a fool.
Similar to what Peter did when he talked about obeying masters, he is not giving you wives an excuse to disobey just because your husband is doing something stupid or sinful. Keep reading verse 1—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.
Peter specifically mentions a husband who is living in disobedience to God’s word. This is a man who is unfaithful to God. I take that to mean Peter is including both an unbelieving spouse and a Christian husband who is acting in foolishness. Submit to him.
That doesn’t mean you obey your husband if he tells you to sin. It means that even if your husband is an unbeliever, or even if he’s living and treating you in a way that dishonors God, you are called to respond with a respect and a humility which are rooted in your trust in God who cares for you.
Now, what does submission look like? Ladies, that’s a good discussion to have with someone this week. You can talk about more specifically about how submission looks in your home. You can share what submission doesn’t mean and what it does mean. But let me share with you one specific example of submission, and this will be our second key word for you today.
The first word I gave you was “submission.” Wives, that’s how you honor God in a tough marriage. Number 2, you honor God by your silence. That’s the second key word for today: Silence. Silence is an expression of submission. That applies to children, and to citizens, and to employees, and to wives as well.
Wives, I know there are areas you wish your husband would change in his life. We’ve all got that. But here's what you need to understand—where those changes you desire are legitimate, God cares even more about them than you do. God wants your husband to change more than you do. So, are you cooperating with what God wants to do? Or are you standing in the way?
God says, if you want to cooperate with what His Spirit is doing, be submissive and be silent. Peter isn’t saying here that you need to be absolutely silent. Then you wouldn’t be able to encourage and to thank him. The point here is that you abstain from the kind of speech that demonstrates a disrespectful and non-submissive heart. What kind of speech is that?
That would include being combative in your speech. That includes trying to make him look foolish in front of others. That includes talking bad about him to your friends. It includes speaking to him harshly and judgmentally. It includes belittling him. Why do wives do that? Why do any of us do those kinds of things? It’s an attempt to either get that other person to change, or to punish him for not changing. And it’s all sin.
Wives, is it possible to change your husband? Can you make him do something he doesn’t want to do? Yes, it is. Unfortunately, however, it won’t be real, lasting change. You can manipulate. You can threaten. You can withhold affection. You can make your husband’s life miserable, so that he changes. But that’s not going to be a real change in his heart. That’s a change you cornered him into, not a change that God caused in his heart.
The Proverbs have quite a bit to say about a non-submissive wife who won’t stay quiet. King Solomon warned his son that that’s a red flag. Don’t get that kind of wife! Stay away from that! So, he uses some very strong and very vivid language. Let me read some of those verses for you.
Proverbs 12:4—A wife who brings shame is like rottenness in her husband’s bones.
She’s not helping him. She’s hurting him. He’s wasting away because of her.
Proverbs 17:1—Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.
In other words, King Solomon says, it’s better to have peace in the home than a good meal. Don’t marry a woman who is known for getting into arguments.
Proverbs 19:13 says this—A wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
What’s it like when your ceiling is leaking in the rain? It’s annoying. It’s interrupts your entire day. And it’s a worry that something far worse may come. If you don’t fix it, the house might fall apart. Chapter 27 says something similar, and it compares the nagging wife to water and oil, which can’t be easily stopped or restrained.
Proverbs 21, verse 9—It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
Apparently that Proverb was so important that Solomon recorded it twice. It’s in chapter 25 as well.
Verse 19 of chapter 21 says something similar—It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.
What does Solomon want his son to know? Pay much more attention to whom you’re going to live with than the house in which you’re going to live. Guys, that the message of Proverbs for you. Don’t marry a contentious, argumentative woman.
Ladies, the message of Peter is: Don’t be that contentious wife. Your husband is going to do things and say things that irritate you. And he is going to dishonor God in the way that he treats you and responds to you. That is one of the toughest situations to be in. The man whom God has brought into your life for your spiritual good isn’t fulfilling God’s calling on his life. That’s a desperate situation. It feels like you’re suffocating.
But your desperation should lead you to Christ in prayer, and to His word, and to a faithful sister in the Lord, not to lashing out with your words. Listen, let me just say this bluntly: if you’re convinced your husband isn’t listening to you, what makes you think you’re going to change that by getting into an argument with him about it? That’s not going to win him over.
How does God say he’s going to be won? It says they can be won without a word.
Obviously, people need to hear the word in order to be saved. But wives, the way you win your husband’s ear is with your conduct, by your behavior. That’s the exact same word we saw back in chapter 2, verse 12. “Keep your conduct honorable.”
That’s an attractive life. That’s what demonstrates the power and the love of Christ, and that’s what helps open someone’s eyes to the truth of the gospel. The Holy Spirit will use it to soften hearts.
Do you want to win your husband over? Do you want God to work in His life? Then respond to him according to God’s purpose. Respond with humble submission and with a holy silence. That’s how God will work in his life.
Now, before we close, I want to address two specific questions tied to application. And I bring up these questions because there is such a range of sin in us as husbands and in the way our wives respond. And these are two questions I thought might be popping up in your mind.
Question number 1 is this: What does a passage like this mean for cases of physical abuse? If you are married to a man who physically attacks you and endangers you, how should you respond?
I can talk more specifically about this one-on-one if you like, but let me give you my general answer. If you, or someone you know, is in that kind of situation, the silence Peter is talking about does not mean hide what is going on.
Peter is not saying you shouldn’t talk at all about your husband’s sin. What he’s getting at is that the change in your husband’s heart will be more connected to your conduct than to your words. That’s what will change him. And again, what Peter is getting at is that you want to work in line with how God works, rather than try to make things work your own way.
Along that reasoning, ladies, if your husband is physically attacking you, tell someone. If you and/or he is a member of this church, or some other church, tell the leadership.
The word Peter uses for “winning” a husband is the same word Jesus used for winning a brother in Matthew 18. And in that context, how do you win a sinful brother back? You use the church. God uses His church to defend and to help restore those in its care. And the process for that is what we call “church discipline.” That’s how God works.
Another way God works in our lives is through the agency of government. That’s what Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 say. Human government is part of God’s grace in this life to protect people. If your husband is physically assaulting you, call the police. Tell the authorities. Your heart should be heavy and grieving, and there should be an attitude of submission rather than revenge. But in situations where someone is directly and physically harming you, part of the way God works for His good is the earthly authorities.
This man has not only broken God’s law; he has broken man’s law. And the action of the government, we pray, will open his eyes to the severity of what is happening and help bring him to repentance. Again, your attitude in all this isn’t revenge; it’s the wellbeing of the other person.
There’s my brief answer to the question of abuse. My second and final question for today is this: Wives, where do you get to the power to obey this command? How is this even possible? How in the world can God expect you to submit to an unreasonable, foolish man? How can you endure that?
For that, just go back with me to the end of chapter 2. This is a perfect place to end. I think most of you know this answer, but it’s so helpful to see it spelled out, especially in this context. First Peter 2, verse 21. What do you tell yourself when your husband makes your life miserable?
Verse 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. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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. 24 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. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Wives, you are not going to submit each and every time the way God calls you to. At times, you are going to give in to the flesh. But Jesus died to forgive you. And He died to give you the power to walk in holy submission. He died to give you the supreme example of what you are capable of in Jesus’ name.
The power of God might not be shown this week through the repentance of your husband. But it can be shown through your gracious and faithful submission to him.
God will use you, wives, so that His glory is made known in and through your home. And, by His Spirit, over time, your husband will respond. You will win his ear, and you may win his heart. That’s God’s desire, and I know it’s yours as well.