For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps…You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
– 1 Peter 2:20-21; 3:7 NASB
We have examined the high, self-sacrificial calling of wives in A husband’s lordship. It is time to examine the high and self-sacrificial calling of husbands.
(See also the companion post, On teaching our wives…)
First, some background…
1.1. Various trials
In the Epistle of 1 Peter, the Holy Spirit teaches us why as believers we have the privilege of enduring suffering, joyfully.
Immediately after the opening greeting, the Apostle Peter reminds us of our hope of the resurrection in the face of “various trials”:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you…In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials…
– 1 Peter 1:3-4, 6
The battle when we’re suffering is always about hope; the temptation when we’re suffering is to believe that our suffering serves no eternal purpose, that faithfulness is futile, and that we might as well listen to Job’s wife, “Curse God and die!”
But this idea that our suffering serves no eternal purpose and that we should despair is a lie. In fact, the situation is so good for us who believe that when we see it by faith, we will truly rejoice in our suffering. (Not “know we should rejoice” if we were more spiritual. No, real bubbling-up-from-the-heart, bones-you-have-crushed, leap-for-joy rejoicing.)
Suffering is a test of our faith. When we bear up joyfully under suffering, our faith is proved. And it is a joyful thing to have our faith proved, for two reasons:
First, that when we bear up joyfully under suffering and thus demonstrate true faith, that glorifies God a lot;
Second, that when we see the Lord testing our faith and proving it true, we have the precious gift of assurance of our salvation — we know we are His.
Indeed, it is these very reasons that the Apostle speaks of next:
In this [hope of heaven] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
– 1 Peter 1:6-9
Not just a little bit of praise at the revelation of Jesus Christ, mind you: praise and glory and honor to the Lamb. We endure suffering by faith for a day, and it results in honor to our King forever, and we obtain as the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls.
Brothers and sisters, that is as far from futility as you can get.
1.3. Since Christ also suffered for you
The application starts in verse 13 with the first “Therefore…” dealing with how in light of these truths we should live before God and in the first part of Chapter 2 how we ought to live with one another.
But now, what’s this? We can bring glory to God among even unbelievers:
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
– 1 Peter 2:12
Jesus is our prime example of this, who glorified God by entrusting Himself to Him while suffering unjustly at the hands of unbelievers:
…and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…
– 1 Peter 2:23
After demonstrating that Jesus’ suffering was not futile, and after demonstrating that neither are a wife’s sufferings futile (“Even so, you wives…”), the Apostle turns to husbands and says,
You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
– 1 Peter 3:7
Now, it’s easy to understand why a wife would suffer under an unbelieving or fool husband. But, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way…”? In the same way as what?
The construction leading up to this is, in the same way that when Christ suffered while obeying God it was not futile…in the same way that when a believing wife suffers while obeying God it is not futile…
The construction and the context agree that we’re talking about suffering here: “…so also you husbands [when you suffer while obeying God]…”
But why would a husband suffer while obeying God?
When a man begins to repent of his sloth, indolence, and lack of faith and to start loving his wife as Christ loves the Church, giving himself to shepherd her and teach her according to God’s law, his leadership changes. Before, he was content to live day to day, eating and sleeping with her and providing input for her decisions for the family and not thinking too much about his responsibilities as husband before God. Now, though, he is developing a vision for his family. For the first time, he is beginning to understand that the word ‘husband’ means something.
The repentance is sweet–it is good to believe the Lord, to take His commands seriously, to take up his responsibility to lead. But it isn’t long before the husband encounters a painful surprise: his wife is not keeping up with him as he leads the family where he now sees they need to get to. She’s fearful, or tearful, or resistant, or angry. She is unsure of his leadership. “Gung-ho” is at the other end of the spectrum from where she is. Even if a husband has been giving attention to leading faithfully since the beginning of the marriage, there may be times when he finds that his wife is not able or not willing to keep up.
The slothful husband does not encounter this: he had no vision anyway. But the diligent husband suffers…
Discouragement sets in: they’ll never get to where they need to be! Why did God open his eyes to his responsibility only to have his wife be unwilling or unable to come along? The situation begins to look futile, and it is tempting to blame his wife and give way to bitterness.
Did you ever notice the particular instruction to husbands in Colossians 3?
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
– Colossians 3:18-19
Into this darkness, God instructs a husband with just the two things he most needs to learn at this moment: compassion, and hope.
First, compassion. The Holy Spirit commands husbands “…live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman.” These are words that a husband needs to hear. Husbands just learning to husband: your wife is weaker, being a woman. Don’t be a fool and try to be wiser than the Holy Spirit on this. You need to understand that your wife is weaker so that you can live with her in an understanding way.
This knowledge is not to dishonor her. You owe her honor as an equal before God:
…and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life…
So, no sarcastic comments coming from a bitter heart that believes your wife is a spiritual impediment to you. Because that’s a lie too: your wife is not an impediment to you; God’s just testing your faith, like the Apostle said earlier in the letter.
Reviewing the situation: The Lord stirred your heart and you began to lead, but you can’t get where you need to go yet because your wife needs patient instruction and time and care; in her weakness as a woman, she can’t go that fast. For love of God and your wife, you’ve slowed down to gently instruct and care for her…but it’s a kind of death, isn’t it? Maybe you’ll never get where you need to be.
No. It is at that point–when all human hope has disappeared–that the Lord gives the promise. “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing her honor…so that your prayers will not be hindered.”
Just as the wife who tries to serve God and take care of her family while rejecting her husband’s lordship will find that she has become the foolish woman, tearing down her house with her own hands; even so, the husband who tries to lead his wife while rejecting the path of gentleness, honor, patience, and suffering ordained by the Holy Spirit will find that his very prayers are hindered, and he will find the truth of the saying, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” In the end, his will be the path of futility.
But the husband who, without giving up on the vision, treats his wife with compassion and honor as he patiently and gently instructs and teaches her, will find that his prayers have been answered, to the glory of God and to the sanctification of both him and his wife.
O brothers, let us learn to endure such suffering joyfully, by faith, to the glory of God!