September 6, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
1 Peter—Aliens and Strangers
1 Peter 3—Alien Living

Introduction and offering:

Noel update.

Today, we’re going to see what God wants to say to us through 1 Peter 3. Peter wrote this letter to be circulated among the churches in what is now Turkey. We believe it was written during the reign of Nero, the Roman Caesar who was famous for killing Christians. These Christians were facing persecution and death, and Peter wrote to encourage them to endure in suffering.

Last Sunday we saw that in chapter 2, Peter called them “foreigners and exiles” (some translations say “aliens and strangers”). These were words used of those living temporarily in a foreign land, often of civil servants like today’s ambassadors. An ambassador’s job is to represent her country and her leader well. Peter says, “Live as aliens and strangers in this world. You are an ambassador for Jesus. Live in such a way that you represent Jesus well.” This is alien living and that’s our big idea today.

The Big Idea: Live in such a way that you recommend Jesus to others.

In describing how they should live, Peter asked all of them to submit to the civil authorities. He was concerned that Christians be good citizens and that they didn’t give the already hostile authorities any reason to suspect or attack them.

Then he tells slaves to submit to their masters—we talked last week about why he didn’t tell them to rise up in revolt and throw off their shackles. The gospel is more subversive—it undermines racism, classism and all the other –isms and makes everyone equal before God. The gospel destroyed the very roots of slavery and resulted in its eventual demise. Peter tells them to submit to their masters whether they were good or bad. In effect, he tells them to be good slaves.

So he tells the Christians to be good citizens in a hostile state, and to be good slaves even with an abusive master. Next he turns to marriage—can you guess what he’s going to say to these Christians? Be a good wife, be a good husband. Live so that you recommend Jesus to others, starting at home. Let’s see what Peter says about alien marriage.

  1. Alien marriage: helping my spouse find and follow Jesus. 1-7

When I say “alien marriage” some of you imagine this. But I’m not thinking about Jabba the Hutt and Princess Leia. Peter tells us to live like aliens here—we’re foreigners, we’re ambassadors for Jesus—so what does that look like in a marriage?

1 Peter 3

1 Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

There are things in this passage that make modern people cringe: wives, submit to your husbands, or husbands, treat your wives with respect as the weaker partner. What does Peter mean? To understand and apply what Peter is saying, we have to know the historical and cultural context, which was very different from our own.

The first thing you notice is that Peter’s counsel to wives is six times as long as his advice for husbands. Why the difference? In that time, when a husband became a Christian, his wife and the rest of the family automatically followed suit. But if a wife became a Christian, her husband not only didn’t automatically follow suit, but could divorce her or make her life miserable. Christian wives found themselves in a very difficult position. Their new faith could cost them everything: marriage, family, even their lives. Women in that day had virtually no rights. William Barclay wrote:

Cato the Censor (234-149 BC), the typical ancient Roman, wrote: “If you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you can kill her with impunity without a trial.” Roman matrons were prohibited from drinking wine, and Egnatius beat his wife to death when he found her doing so. Sulpicius Gallus dismissed his wife because she had once appeared in the streets without a veil. Antistius Vetus divorced his wife because he saw her secretly speaking to a freed woman in public. Publius Sempronius Sophus divorced his wife because once she went to the public games. The whole attitude of ancient civilization was that no woman could dare take any decision for herself[1]

For a wife to change religions without her husband was unthinkable, and very dangerous. Life must have been incredibly difficult for a woman brave enough to become a Christian.

It is in this context that Peter writes to these imperiled Christian women. Notice what he doesn’t tell them to do. He doesn’t tell them to leave their non-Christian husbands and find a good Christian man—they couldn’t do that. He doesn’t tell them to preach or nag their husbands until they give in and convert. He doesn’t tell them to insist to her husband that there is no difference between male and female to the God she has come to know. What Peter does tell her is very simple: be a good wife. In that culture, a good wife submitted to her husband’s authority, so Peter counsels these women to simply be good wives. Even more, he tells them to live such good lives that their husbands will be won over by their behavior. This repeats the advice Peter gave to everyone in 2:12.

1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Peter applies this same idea to wives: live as aliens—as ambassadors for Jesus—and live such a good life that your husband will see and want to follow Jesus. You will win him over by your good life!

Peter goes on to talk about inward and outward beauty:

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

Again, context is important. Since women were not allowed any part of public life, they had little to do but focus on their appearance. Barclay wrote:

Epictetus, the (Roman) philosopher (AD 55-135), thinking of the narrow life to which women were condemned in the ancient world, said, “Immediately after they are fourteen, women are called ‘ladies’ by men. And so, when they see that they have nothing else than to be bedfellows of men, they begin to beautify themselves and put all their hopes on that.[2]

Peter calls the Christian women to be different, and to focus not on outward adornment, but to cultivate the inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Ladies, this doesn’t mean that you should just let yourselves go physically… please!   It’s not that you should never dress up, use make up or jewelry or try to be beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with outward beauty—my wife is a beautiful lady, and I’m happy about that. What’s wrong is when that is your only or primary focus. Our primary focus should be the inner person

ILL: My mentor groups just finished reading Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald. It’s a classic, and MacDonald challenges us to focus on our inner world: our motivation, our character, our intellectual and spiritual lives. The outer public world grows out of a healthy private world.

That’s Peter’s advice to wives—focus on the inner life—but it’s equally applicable to all of us. Men, do you spend as much time in the Bible as in the gym? Are you as concerned about your character as your career? Our primary focus should be the inner person.

So Peter’s advice to these Christian wives is to be a good wife so that your husband can be won over. Alien marriage is all about helping your spouse find and follow Jesus. That’s the lens we use to make decisions. Will doing this help my spouse find and follow Jesus?

Then Peter turns to the husbands.

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Notice the first few words: “Husbands, in the same way.” Peter calls for reciprocity in marriage and this was a new thing. At that time, the husband had all the rights. The wife had none. We quoted Cato earlier; here’s the full quote:

“If you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you can kill her with impunity without a trial; but, if she were to catch you, she would not venture to touch you with her finger and, indeed, she has no right.”[3]

The husband had all the rights of law, the wife had none.

Into this cultural context, Peter writes and insists that marriage is reciprocal, that Christian husbands have obligations before God to their wives. Here’s what those obligations are.

First, husbands are to “be considerate as you live with your wives,” or literally, “live together according to knowledge.” Know your wife: know her wants and needs, her likes and dislikes, her feelings and preferences, her strengths and weaknesses, her fears and hopes—and live according to that knowledge. Know your wife, adapt to her, be thoughtful and considerate.

ILL: Joe and Ann were attending a Marriage Seminar dealing with communication. The instructor said, “It is essential that husbands and wives know each other’s likes and dislikes.” He asked the men, “Can you name your wife’s favorite flower?” Tom leaned over to Ann and proudly whispered, “It’s Pillsbury, isn’t it?”

Keep working on it Joe. First, be considerate as you live with your wife—live “according to knowledge.”

Second, husbands are to “treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” The word “respect” is translated in the ESV as “showing honor”. The Greek word refers to something’s value, and because it is valuable, you show esteem or honor or respect. A husband is to value his wife highly, esteem her highly and show that in the way he treats her. Your wife is God’s child.

ILL: The 1996 auction of the Jackie Kennedy Onassis estate brought unexpected prices. A worn footstool went for $33,350 and a silver tape measure sold for $48,875. The night’s highest price was for a walnut tobacco humidor that had belonged to President Kennedy. It sold for $574,500. Many items auctioned were common; they became valuable because of to whom they had belonged. We belong to God.

Having my father-in-law, Noel, live with us for the past 25 years was a huge blessing. It was also a daily reminder to treat Laina with value as Noel’s daughter. And it was a reminder to me: my wife’s model for a good husband and father is Noel. That’s what I have to live up to! Husbands, treat your wives with value and respect as God’s daughter.

What does “the weaker partner” mean? There have been many suggestions, including the widespread recognition that men in general are physically stronger than women in general—there is a reason ladies don’t play in the NFL. But perhaps the best explanation of “the weaker partner” is that the wife was in the more vulnerable position socially, and so should be treated more carefully. This would have been alien in that culture, where women’s vulnerability was often exploited. Christian husbands were to recognize their wife’s more vulnerable “weaker” position and rather than take advantage of them, they were to esteem and protect them.

Barclay said that chivalry toward women was unknown in the ancient world. It was (and still is in certain parts of the world) common to see men riding on donkey or camel, while a woman trudged at his side, often carrying a load. It was Christianity that raised the status of women and introduced chivalry—the idea that women are to be treated with honor, courtesy, respect and equality before God.

Third, husbands must remember that their wives are “heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.” Women were generally not allowed to participate in worship in the Greek, Roman and Jewish worlds. Christian faith elevated the status of women and granted them equal standing with men before God. Paul wrote:

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Here again, rather than starting a revolution and calling women to burn their bras, Christianity was more subversive and struck at the roots of sexism, declaring men and women equal before God. Husbands, treat your wives with respect as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life.

Fourth, husbands must remember that failure to treat their wives with consideration, respect, and equality will “hinder your prayers.” Husbands, your relationship with your wife has a direct bearing on your relationship with God.

ILL: Many times, I’ve prayed for something, and felt God interrupt me and say, “That’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how you just treated your wife.”

“Really, Lord? That again?”

And I’ve had to pause my prayers and go find Laina and apologize.

Jesus said,

Matthew 5:23–24 Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

God isn’t interested in our prayers or worship until we have reconciled with our brother or sister. He doesn’t want us professing our love for Him if we’re ignoring the hurt we’ve caused others. This has to start at home. So husbands, treat your wives well, or your prayers will be hindered.

This is alien marriage: everything Peter is teaching was alien to the culture of his day; much of it is still alien. Peter was espousing a new vision for marriage, a Christian vision of marriage that is Christ-centered and Christ-honoring. We are to be good wives and good husbands for the sake of our spouses, but also for Jesus’ sake, because we are His ambassadors. We want to represent Jesus well to our spouses, but also to a watching world.

The goal in Christian marriage isn’t primarily my personal fulfillment, but helping my spouse know Jesus. Does my behavior help my spouse find and follow Jesus, grow closer to Jesus? That’s alien marriage—Christ-centered marriage. 

  1. Alien suffering: like Jesus, repay evil with blessing. 8-22

Peter assumes that they are suffering for their faith. But how are they to respond to this suffering? First, they must love each other. Like Jesus, Peter’s answer to the world’s hostility is to remind them first to love each other. Second, they are to return good for evil. Third, you must be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks.

Generally, when you do good, you will be rewarded. But when you are punished instead, you are blessed, because you are living like Jesus. He is our example of alien living, alien suffering. He didn’t fight back. He didn’t do anything wrong. But He suffered, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. There it is again: our motivation is to bring others to God. In everything we do, including suffering, we do it to bring others to God.

Peter doesn’t address the why, but he tells them to be prepared, follow Jesus’ example, and trust God.