This morning I have been asked to do a lesson on the relationship of husbands to wives, and particularly to explain the expression found in 1 Peter 3:7, in which Peter describes wives as “the weaker vessel.” We heard that passage read in the Scripture reading this morning, so let’s take a look at the big picture of what’s going in here in 1 Peter and then figure out what Peter has in mind by calling wives “the weaker vessel.”
I. The Context of 1 Peter 3:7
A. Many sections of the letters of the NT addressed various responsibilities common in ancient households.
1. Sometimes called “household codes,” codes of conduct for members of the family (husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves).
2. You can probably think of several passages like this in the NT (Eph. 5:22-6:9; Col. 3:18-4:1 are two that quickly come to mind).
3. These instructions regarding extended family relationships come after the main “doctrinal” section of these letters, and are part of the “so what” applications to the rich truths found earlier in the book (as in Eph. 1-3 and Col. 1-2).
B. The letter of 1 Peter also contains instructions for Christians as they work out their responsibilities to society.
1. Addresses responsibilities as citizens (2:13-17); servants (2:18-25); and as wives and husbands (3:1-7).
2. Like the other epistles, the teaching found here is built on the earlier portions of the letter, which focus on our calling as the people of God to live lives of exemplary conduct amidst unbelievers, called “Gentiles” (see 2:9-12).
3. So, how do Christians conduct themselves honorable as citizens? Read 2:13-17. How do Christians live as the people of God while serving as slaves? Read 2:18-25. And how do Christians display good deeds and glorify God as spouses? Look to 3:1-7.
a. You will notice that the instructions to wives and husbands begin with the same word, “likewise” (see 3:1, 7).
b. Just as Peter had something that citizens needed to hear in verse 13, and servants in verse 18, he also (“likewise”) has important instruction for husbands and wives in the context of how to live as God’s chosen people.
With this context in mind, let’s narrow our focus and look at verse 7 by itself.
With this context in mind, let’s narrow our focus and look at verse 7 by itself.
II. A Closer Look at 1 Peter 3:7
A. There are two commands, or imperatives, found in this verse.
1. The first is, “Live with your wives in an understanding way.”
a. Previously, Peter told wives to be respectful and pure (v. 2), and offered Sarah as an example to emulate since she obeyed Abraham and called him “lord”! (v. 6) Lots of husbands are getting excited!
b. But then when Peter turns to husbands, he doesn’t say, “they obey, you command, they call you ‘lord’ so you lord it over them; they respect you so you demand respect from them.”
c. Instead, he says, “live with them in an understanding way,” or as the TNIV puts it, “be considerate.” I especially like the CEV: “be thoughtful of your wife.”
d. So what does it mean to be thoughtful or considerate?
i Jerry and Connie are the two most thoughtful gift givers I have ever known. Mention things one in passing in a sermon, and each year I get something related to that for Christmas (have I mentioned I love Cadillac Escalades?)!
ii They listen, they are genuinely interested, and they respond in ways that are generous and touching. They don’t ignore or dismiss, focus on self, think only of what they need.
iii I’d suggest that living with a wife in an understanding way requires the very same determination to listen, to know what she feels and what she needs, to generously meet those needs thoughtfully and considerately.
e. Illustrate with CPAP tubing story! (used a CPAP machine for years, rubber hosing that needs to be cleaned, to dry I would just swing it around. Moved into “our” house; usual practice while she was gone; she was home one day and saw me slinging water all around the kitchen; huge problem! She had been working hard to get the house straight, all day long, and it came across to her like I didn’t care).
f. Husbands, this is not extra credit for super-hero husbands; this is as direct a command to us as “repent and be baptized.”
2. Now the second imperative. “Showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.”
a. This phrase provides additional explanation for how we live in a kind and considerate way, you do it by showing honor to her.
b. Honor as “the weaker vessel.” What does this mean?
3. First, what does it mean to call her a “vessel”?
a. The word refers to a container of some kind, from something as large as a ship, a sea vessel, to something as small as a cup, or drinking vessel.
b. Periodically the Bible refers to people as containers or vessels.
iv Acts 9:15 Chosen instrument
v Rom 9:23 Vessels of mercy
vi 2 Cor 4:7 Jars of clay
vii 1 Thess 4:4 control his own body
c. So the concept of the wife as a vessel is not strange or unusual. Men and women are vessels in the sense that our bodies contain our spirits, and we are recipients of God’s mercy and used for His service.
4. But Peter calls the woman the “weaker vessel.” In what sense is she the weaker vessel?
a. Intellectually? The wise woman of Tekoah, the story of Abigail, and countless other narratives in Scripture show that women are clearly not inferior to men intellectually.
b. Spiritually? In this very text Peter acknowledges that there are wives who are superior to their husbands spiritually, and may win them over by the sheer impact of their example – 3:1.
c. Not intellectually or spiritually, but women are weaker than men physically.
viii The issue here is not whether women have better constitutions, or handle pain better, or whether there is a woman somewhere who can bench press more than me.
ix But on average, women typically have about 60 percent to 80 percent of the muscle mass of menall things being equal, men are physically stronger than women.
d. And it is precisely because men can physically overpower women that men need to be reminded to be considerate and respectful! Might does not make right – not for those living as strangers and aliens striving to honor God.
e. And so what Peter says is, your wife is not as strong as you, but that does not give you the right to be a brute or a bully. You must show her honor (“treat them with respect,” TNIV) precisely because she is the weaker vessel.
f. I have a big plastic cup that I like to drink out of. It was cheap, and it is sturdy. I could throw into the sink like a football if I wanted to (not that I’d do that!). And I have a coffee mug from the place where we got married, made from ceramic. It is more delicate and fragile, and therefore is way more valuable, and I treat it with great care and respect. That is precisely how Peter says we must treat the “weaker vessel,” the fine china that is our wife.
B. Why should we treat our wives thoughtfully and respectfully? Two reasons:
1. First, because while husbands may be stronger physically, spiritually we are on equal footing with our wives, “since they are heirs with you of the grace of life.”
a. Our shared status as heirs is due to our common bond in Christ – Gal. 3:28-29.
b. There are no second-class citizens in Christ. Society tends to relegate people to classes based on social standing, ethnic heritage, or gender identity. But we are one in Christ as heirs of the gracious gift of life.
c. In fact the word in Greek is very specific, we are “joint-heirs” (ASV); “fellow-heirs” (NASB); co-heirs.
2. And there is another reason we should treat wives with tender consideration. “So that your prayers may not be hindered.”
a. Do you remember what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount we are to do if our brother has something against us? Matt. 5:23-24.
b. A few weeks ago I spoke with you about the basis for human dignity. Made in the image of God, therefore how we treat others is a reflection of what we think about God.
c. We can’t expect God to listen to us if we mistreat those bearing His image. That is tantamount to disrespecting Him.
d. And if that is true generally, how much more so the one we are one-flesh with, a model in miniature of Christ and the church according to Eph. 5!
e. Guys, if we consciously reflected on the fact that whether God listens to us depends on how we treat our wives, what would we do differently?
The premise of this passage is that men and women are different, and that men in particular are to be sensitive to that difference and act accordingly. It is amazing that in just my lifetime we have gone almost full circle as a society from the stereotypical domineering man and a wife who stands by her man, to liberation and the effort to treat little boys and girls as if they are identical, to recovering a sense that no, we are not the same, and life is so much richer, so much more interesting, much more enjoyable because of these God-given differences. I don’t remember much from ninth grade French, but vive la différence!
But in particular, we need to always remember that in a world in which people have different gifts, talents, aptitudes and opportunities, there will always be those who have more power, more wealth, more standing, and there will always be those who have less. And the reality is that in the brutal place this world can be, power is often distorted into abuse, exploitation, and oppression.
God’s people are not like the world, though, and in any relationship we find ourselves in in which we have authority, God constantly calls upon us to wield that power with love, consideration, and humility. And in no relationship is that more important than as we husbands live with our weaker vessels.
And after all, isn’t that exactly what the King of Kings showed us we should do?