There are times in our lives when we face choices and the choice is a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” choice. In my post on “She was willing to prostitute herself,” we talked about how we are told to be like Sarah. (1 Peter 3) Usually what we hear about this passage is that it teaches women to submit to their husband’s leadership. However before we read any passage, we must ask: “What are we supposed to emulate from Sarah? Why did Sarah submit? What did it look like? What did she have to fear from her husband?”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 us to find those answers, we have to go back and examine Sarah’s life story. We find her first in Genesis 12. And when we read her story, we became get a bit closer to what Peter meant by “do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do.”
10At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram, Sarai’s husband, to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner. 11 As he was approaching the border of Egypt, Abram said to his wife, Sarai, “Look, you are a very beautiful woman. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘this is his wife. Let’s kill him; then we can have her!’ 13 So please tell them you are my sister. Then they will spare my life and treat me well because of their interest in you.” 14 And sure enough, when Abram arrived in Egypt, everyone noticed Sarai’s beauty. 15 When the palace officials saw her, they sang her praises to Pharaoh, their king, and Sarai was taken into his palace.16 Then Pharaoh gave Abram many gifts because of her—sheep, goats, cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels. Genesis 12:10-20
So far in their marriage Abraham had been a man worthy of following, a faith-filled man. I believe if we studied his life, we’d find we could say of him what a friend said of Billy Graham, “I dearly love Billy Graham…for not disappointing me up close. Billy, you are better than your legend and bigger than your name.” But now, Abraham’s faith faltered. Sarah must have felt betrayed, disappointed, confused and fearful. Her husband had failed her. He husband’s faith had faltered them all. And yet she submits …
Why? Well, because women are warriors (ezer kenego)– we will protect our loved ones at all cost, even cost to the self. Sarah loved Abraham and didn’t want him to die. She submits in order to literally save his life and also “save” his faith. You could say at that moment her submission was one of standing in the faith gap for someone who lost faith. I’ve done that – haven’t you? I remember when my mom said she could no longer pray- she was just done – flat lined. I told her, “I know -it’s okay. Mom, I’ve been carrying you to the throne. I’ve had faith for you.” I think that’s a picture of submission. (Coming under and lifting another up to more.) The interesting thing about Sarah’s action is she submitted for the life of the very one who put her in a “damned if you do damned if you don not” situation.
I am convinced it was at that time that Sarah’s relationship with God shifted from being mediated “through” Abraham to God directly. Sarah trusted God…(and)…did what was right without fear.” She trusted whom? God! Specifically, she trusted in his promise – the promise of descendants – a child (not a child by Pharaoh but by Abraham). God does not change his mind about his promises. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying God doesn’t change his mind – I’m saying he doesn’t change his mind when it comes to his promises. And if we aren’t careful we can impose upon God promises he never made. I.e.: he never promised you a mate, children, easy life, meaningful career etc. God promised Abraham and Sarah descendants – that meant a child, a child from Abraham not Pharaoh. So she goes.
So how does this help us understand Peter’s challenge to women in 1 Peter 3? I think there are several principles we can draw from this passage:
First women are not to live in ways that bring shame upon the Gospel. Instead of using the world’s ways to win others over, we choose Sarah’s way of faith – even if it’s costly. (Refer to previous blog on context for 1 Peter 3)
Second, it’s wise to follow faithful people – particularly when we are young in the faith – they can help us see Jesus. But at some point even the most faithful people will fail us. It’s then we find ourselves at a crossroads. What will we do with Jesus when His people fail us? Will we walk away from Him because of them? Or will we learn to do what Sarah did and remove the mediators and rely on God alone? At some point in our faith we have to decide if Jesus is enough.
Third, will we trust in God’s promises even if we can’t see the fulfillment – yet? Knowing what God actually promises has been a huge faith shift in my life. I now know God doesn’t promise that I won’t be in a pit but he does promise he will be in the pit with me. I now know God promises his Kingdom has come and will come. Everything in my life is held in the context of this promise. My work, relationships, eating, passions, and family – all fit under and are interpreted by the Kingdom promise.
Finally, though not exhaustively, sometimes life hands us a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation. In fact sometimes the ones we love are the ones who put us in those situations. It’s then we must decide: Will we choose the hard road of submission or not? Will we stand in the gap? Will we come under and lift up the other regardless of the cost to the self? (Isn’t this what Jesus did for us?)
Peter challenged women to be like Sarah, to do what was right without fear. In my opinion what Peter was asking was way bigger than wives submission to husband’s leadership. That seems too simplistic of a view of the text. Peter is challenging us through Sarah’s story and we have to admit Genesis 12 is a bigger story than just submitting to her husband’s leadership.
Don’t we? Shouldn’t we?