There is a part of our Christian faith where we tend to speak of things as either right and wrong or good and bad. It’s the modern world’s black and white world. But sometimes we face situations where the choice isn’t right or wrong but rather the choice is bad and bad. Neither choice is good. It’s damned if you do or damned if you don’t. Either way you choose it’s not going to be good. I’ve seen this in Africa where women have to prostitute them-selves, if they are going feed their kids, or “be moral” and let her kids die. We saw this during World War II, when mothers in England handed over babies knowing full well they might never see them again. If we are honest, there are times in our lives when we face choices where the choice is a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” choice.
Bare with me for a moment while I back up a minute – In 1 Peter 3 women are told to “be like Sarah.” The passage speaks of her calling Abraham “master “and submitting to him.
This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands. 6 For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do.”
Usually what we hear about this passage is that it teaches women are to submit to their husband’s leadership. We are rarely told to call them master, but we are told to submit. When I read the passage, I ask: What are we supposed to emulate from Sarah? Why did Sarah submit? What did it look like? And why did Peter say, You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do?”
In order for me to find those answers, I have to go back and examine Sarah’s life story. We find her first in Genesis 12. And when I read her story, I became enlightened to what Peter meant by “do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do.” So to understand 1 Peter 3, we need to understand Genesis 12. Before we dive into Sarah’s life in Genesis 12, we have to understand the context for 1 Peter 3. Got it? Stay with me.
1 Peter 1:1 starts out by reminding the readers of that letter that they are strangers and aliens in their world, and as such, they are not to take their cue from the general culture as how to live. When referencing women, Peter challenged them to resist engaging in pagan culture but to instead model their lives after godly women of old like Sarah.
Here’s what Peter said:
The same goes for you wives: Be good wives to your husbands, responsive to their needs. There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition.
Let’s pause for understanding – the Apostle Peter is addressing those in society who have come to faith in this new religion called Christianity. And these new converts were part of the Greco-Roman world. In the Greco-Roman world, the eldest male was the patriarch of his home. He had absolute rule over children, wives, slaves, and servants. The family unit (think more like a clan than immediate family) would worship the gods of the patriarch in the family. It’s crucial to note that along with the Roman Empire’s conquests, they often absorbed the religions of those they conquered. The Roman Empire either allowed or rejected the religions of their subjects based on whether or not the religion impacted the household structure, and more specifically, the behavior of women. Roman societies were honor and shame societies. A woman’s behavior either brought honor or shame upon her husband. An honorable wife was to be submissive, silence, to live in seclusion, to dress modesty and be chaste. One sign of her submission was to share in her husband’s religion. A married woman worshipped and recognized the gods of whom her husband holds dear, and these alone. The door must be closed to strange cults and foreign superstitions.
So it was with Christianity.
So we have these people coming to faith in this “new religion” called Christianity. From Peter’s writing we can surmise the first converts, or majority of converts, were women. These new believing women lived with men –husbands who either didn’t believe or believed but were disobedient to their new faith. Imagine the tension in the home when a woman took on a god of her own. She brought shame upon her husband and his home. Remember Peter’s first concern was that these new converts not conform to culture but rather live in a different way. But it seems what we see in the passage is women converts were taking their cues from culture when it came to trying to convert their husband. It seems the women dressed provocatively and sexy in order to lure their husbands into being a Christian or a faithful follower. I’ve seen something similar happen in our day. A woman gets tired of going to church alone, so one Sunday morning she awakes next to her husband and says, “I’ll have sex with you if you go to church with me.” And Peter says don’t do that. Why? Because it’s an appeal to the fleshly (which is what culture appeals to – the flesh) and it will ruin your witness for Christ. You’re acting sinfully- just like culture, to get someone to be holy. It doesn’t work that way. Peter says if you want to win your husband, then adorn yourself with kindness, purity, love etc. Peter says “be like Sarah.” I think what he means here is to choose to put yourself under your husband in order to lift him up to something more, that’s what the word submit means. She submitted.
4-6 Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as “my dear husband.” You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated. (The Message 1 Peter 3:1-6)
Okay so when did Sarah submit by trusting God and doing what was right without fear? That last part is crucial –it gives us some hints as to what part of her life story to focus on. Okay back to when we met Sarah in Genesis 12: 10-20.
But that comes in the next post; I think we have enough to chew on for now.