Dear radio friends,
We will return for a final time today to our series on marriage, the family, and God’s covenant, focusing yet once more on what it means for a wife to be submissive to her husband. I have said many times in this series that we cannot say too often that marriage is to be the picture of Christ and the church, meaning that we, as husbands and wives, must mirror God’s covenant bond with us in our marriages. We do not want our marriage to lie, to leave the wrong impression. But we want it to leave the correct impression of what it means that Christ loves the church.
Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may glorify your Father which is in heaven.” If we are to do that, as husbands and wives, we must know our calling. Our calling as a husband is to exercise a wise, biblical headship over our wives. We are to look to Christ. We are to love our wives with a sacrificial love. We are to protect and provide for our families. And we saw last time that a wife is to submit to her own husband as unto the Lord. She is to take the picture of the church’s subjection to Christ as being what she wants to mirror toward her husband. In other words, the calling of the wife is to leave a testimony before the world of what the church thinks of Jesus Christ, and of the great love that the church has for Jesus Christ.
We are going to look once more into the calling of the wife to submit. Today we are going to look at the Word of God in I Peter 3:5, 6. We read, “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
Peter there is tracing out the roots of a wife’s wise submission to her husband. He says that it belongs to her very womanhood, as given by God, because women, in Christ, are holy. They trust in God, and they adorn themselves with spiritual graces. Because that is the case with a woman, you will find that she also sees and follows her calling to be submissive to her husband. So, if you are looking for the source of a wife’s submission, and if you ask, “Where does this submission come from? What gives it its life? How do you explain this?” Peter responds: “You need to see Christian womanhood. You need to understand what it means to be a woman of God. The roots of a wife’s submission are found there.”
But before we look into those roots that Peter shows to us, let us note two things, if only briefly, in this Word of God. First, Peter is expressing the great purpose God has in the Old Testament Scriptures, as well as the New Testament, especially in the historical portions of those Scriptures. God’s purpose is to give us examples (living, breathing, real examples) of redeeming grace. When you read the Old Testament Scriptures, do not immediately spiritualize. Do not think that you must find some hidden meaning behind every event. God is giving tangible, concrete examples of what it means to live by faith through grace. Do not read the Bible as a dated, ancient, long-ago book. But in the lives of the saints in both Old and New Testaments, see that God is drawing a picture of what it means to live the life of grace.
And, secondly, let us see that Peter is saying to us that when he sets before us the call of the wife to submit to her husband, he is not setting forth a novelty. When the Scriptures call the wife to submit to her husband, this is not something of a particular culture. Peter is saying that the Christian life is the same in all ages. The Christian life is not determined by what a society will bear, what an age will accept. But it is determined by the will of God in Holy Scripture. Each age has its own arrogance. Each age will say, “Issues, situations of our day, are different. We live in a global society. We have redefined the roles of husband and wife. We have redefined sexual orientation and morals. The Bible talks about women who wore sandals and carried water in clay pots and lived in tents and bowed before men. But that’s not the way it is today.” God says to that, “Don’t talk arrogantly.” In the book of Job, Job was asked, “How long have you been around, Job?” Likewise, God says regarding women, “This is My word. This is her beauty. This is her femininity. It involves also that in marriage she will submit to her husband.”
Now, as I was saying, Peter shows the roots of a woman’s submission to her husband, the things that make it strong and beautiful. He shows three roots.
First, the deepest root of womanhood is hope in God. In verse 5 of I Peter 3 we read, “The holy women also, who trusted (or better, who hoped) in God, adorned themselves.” They hoped in God. That is where the Scripture begins. What is the deepest root of God’s grace in a believing girl? It is hope in God. In the words of Psalm 62: Truly my soul waiteth upon God; my expectation is from Him; He only is my rock and my refuge. A Christian woman does not place her hope in her husband as the source of her ultimate good and peace. She does not place her hope in this life. She does not place her hope in getting a husband. She does not place her hope in her looks. She does not say concerning her looks, “This is going to keep me. This will provide security and acceptance.” But she places her hope in the promises of God. She lays hold of them. That is the root of being a Christian woman: hope in God.
We read in Proverbs 31:25: “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” Better translated, “She shall laugh at times to come.” She laughs at everything the future will bring and might bring, because she hopes in God. The source of womanhood, first of all, in Christ, is hope in God. With hope in God the Christian woman looks away from the troubles, miseries, and obstacles of this life that seem to make the future so bleak. And she focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of her God, who rules in heaven and earth as He pleases. The Christian woman, therefore, knows her Bible. She knows her theology. She knows the sovereignty of God. She knows His promise that He will be with her and help her no matter what. This is the deep root of womanhood.
It is not the deep root of any woman, but only of a believing woman. Not just a married woman, but all holy women. Hope will drive away fear—hope in God! That first.
Secondly, Peter says the root of womanhood is holiness. He says, “…holy women also, who hoped in God.” The root of being a Christian woman is holiness, the holiness that Jesus Christ bestows. We have bad ideas sometimes about holiness. Holiness is not something of ourselves. It is of the grace of God. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit of Christ in our hearts creating new, God-pleasing desires. In Christ, holiness is not drudgery, a dull thing. It is not a proud thing whereby we say, “I’m holier than you.” But it is the consecration of all my being and the dedication of all that I am to the service of God. It is the realization of the purpose of my life. Peter said in I Peter 2:9, “But ye are a…holy nation…that ye should shew forth the praise of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Holiness means that we are set aside for God’s praise. Holiness in a Christian woman means that she understands that she is not set aside to be eyed in the lust of men. Girls, you need to be very careful what pictures you put on Facebook. Every boy knows what pictures you have and knows exactly what you are showing. Your body (no, not yours, Christ’s body—it is Christ’s possession!) is to be to the praise and to the honor of God’s grace. The root of a Christian woman is the steadfast desire, it is the sincere commitment, to be pure, chaste, and devoted to God. A Christian young man will be attracted to you by what you do not show him.
And, thirdly, the root of a Christian woman is to be focused on the internal adornment of grace. The apostle Peter says, This is how women in the Old Testament times adorned themselves. Here he is referring back to verses 3 and 4 of I Peter 3, where he said that the adornment must not be of the outward, but of the hidden man of the heart. The Christian woman, then, does not focus on the external. Not because the Bible is against beauty and attractiveness. You must not read the Scriptures and say that the Christian woman must dress in a gunnysack. But the idea is this, that the Christian woman does not focus, does not place her efforts, on the outside but focuses on the beauty that is within. She is concerned about the internal beauty. And Christian men are also addressed here in what they expect. What are we saying to women in the church, to our wives, to our daughters, that we want them to be? In the world it is very plain what the world wants them to be. It is expressed in the fashion models—skinnier and skinnier. It is shown on the magazine covers and on the TV and on the billboards. They have to have the perfect figure, the tight clothes, the cleavage, the naked-look dress, the seductive look. Beauty to the world is brazen, manipulative, and assertive. God says, “Come into My divine school of cosmetology.” This is not dull! Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel—all of these were beautiful women. Beauty is a gift of God. But God says that you must be concerned about an inward beauty that mirrors the grace of Jesus Christ.
Now it is out of these—hope in God, holiness, and a focus on inward beauty—out of these grows the godly submission of a wife to her husband. Do not try first to be submissive. Ask God to grow these roots in your heart: hope in God, holiness, and a focus on inward beauty. And out of those things in your heart, live with your husband in submission.
Peter brings it all together with an example. The Scriptures often show to us that an example is worth a thousand words. And the example here is Sarah. Peter says, “Even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
Who was Sarah? Sarah was the wife of Abraham and one of the most fascinating women in all of the Bible. She had many facets. She was a woman of faith. She is mentioned in Hebrews 11:11: “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed.”
The Bible, of course, does not overlook the faults of Sarah. Sarah could be very pushy. In Genesis 16, when the promise of a son to Abraham was not getting done, and she was now 78 years old and had been in the land of Canaan for thirteen years, she said to Abraham, “Go in unto Hagar my handmaid and have a child with her.” And Abraham obeyed her. There you have a role-reversal. He hearkened to her. She was pushing him the wrong way. At other times, Sarah did not stand up when she should have stood up—when Abraham said to Sarah, “Tell Pharaoh you are my sister, because I’m afraid he’s going to kill me if he discovers that you are my wife.” She should have said, “Abraham, how could you suggest such a thing!”
But the Bible focuses on Sarah’s virtues, on her faith, on what God did in her. She was not perfect. And yet, when God summed her life, and uses her as an example, He does not focus on her faults. He focuses on what He did in her. God is more gracious than we are. We should learn from that.
Peter says that Sarah is an example of two things—two things that God worked in her as an example to Christian wives. First of all, in what she did. Sarah obeyed Abraham. She listened to him and she responded favorably. She showed her submission in following Abraham, by giving up what was most dear to her as a woman. God had said to Abraham, “Go to a land that I will show thee.” He was seventy-five years old. She was sixty-five. Abraham had only the word and the promise of God. Sarah had to leave a place, the place of her family, the place of her security. She had to set her husband’s God-given calling and duty above herself. She is no different from any other woman. She would have asked Abraham, “Where are we going? Do you know where? Are we coming back?” And all he could respond was, “Sarah, I don’t know. You have to come with me.”
And then, do not forget Genesis 22, when God said to Abraham, “Take thy son, thy only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him up to me where I will show thee.” Do you think that Abraham kept that secret from Sarah? I do not believe that. I believe that he told her: “Sarah, God calls us to give up this child, to give this child over. And, Sarah, you can’t go with me. You can’t protect him. God says that He is going to work this out.” I think it was a very teary farewell that day. And while we think of Abraham on the three-day journey to Mount Moriah knowing that he must offer up his own son, what do you think was on Sarah’s heart as she was left home alone, as she thought of her son, Isaac, the miracle child, whom she had nursed and whom she loved? I think that the last words that Abraham and Sarah spoke on the day that Abraham left with Isaac to offer him up are the words that are recorded in Hebrews 11:19. I believe that Sarah spoke these words with Abraham: “God is able to raise him up from the dead.” Sarah hoped in God. Sarah knew God’s care of her and committed her child into that care.
Secondly, Sarah is an example because of what she called her husband. Peter says she called him “lord.” What does that mean? It means this: what you call someone reflects what you think of your relationship to that person. It is indeed interesting that there is one time recorded in the Bible that Sarah called Abraham “lord.” It is found in Genesis 18:12. Three angels have appeared to Abraham. God has spoken His promise: “Sarah shall have a son.” You recall that Sarah, inside the tent, was eavesdropping. And when she heard that, she laughed, for she was far past the age of bearing children and she had never been able to bear a child. And the Spirit of God tells us what she said in herself at that moment: “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
Now, what you say about someone behind his back is the clearest indication of what you think about him. To their face you say, “Yes, sir, officer. Yes, Dad.” But then, when you are by yourself, you express what you really think about that person. Here is Sarah. She is expressing her unbelief in God’s promise, her cynicism with God, and if ever she is going to speak in a degrading way of her husband it would be now. “I’m going to have child with that old man?” What would you call your husband? What do you call your husband when you are most frustrated and exasperated? Sarah, at that moment, called him “lord.” Sarah embraced in her deepest soul her relationship to Abraham given by God in marriage. She had one thing straight. “This is my God-given husband. This is my head, my leader, my provider, my protector, my lord.” Out of the heart, says the Bible, one speaks. So, have you embraced this Word of God that the man to whom God has given you, the man to whom you are married, is the head, husband, leader, protector, lord? And do you, for Christ’s sake, serve him as the church serves Christ?
Peter says to the Christian woman, “You don’t need to be afraid when you do this. You are daughters of Sarah, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.” Submission must not be rooted in fear. Submission is free. It is our liberty in Christ to give up ourselves for another. This is freedom. You are the daughters of Sarah. The faith that God placed in Sarah is the faith that God places in you. This woman Sarah, who wore sandals and lived in a tent, is speaking. God is speaking through her. A woman who had everything against her hope, who could not see with the human eye God’s promises, she believed in God. And her example gives birth.
Let us be encouraged. Yours is not just a marriage. You are a daughter of Sarah. Your life of godly submission, your life as a wife, glorifies God. Perhaps you are not being written about or are not going to be written about in Good Housekeeping, or in the Ladies’ Home Journal. But you preach a lasting sermon. Your life bears a testimony throughout all ages of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. You need not fear. You need not fear that submission will make you vulnerable. Hope in God. Seek to do the will of God. Do not fear. Do not fear losing your attractiveness, your beauty. Do not fear what will happen to your children, your house, or your wealth. Make God your hope and your refuge. Follow His will. Seek the beauty that is in Jesus Christ. Sink the roots of your faith into Him. And the believing generation, the believing church, the believing husband, and the believing children will, by God’s grace, say of you: “She is beautiful in the beauty of Christ.”
Let us pray.
Father, we again thank Thee for Thy Word and pray for its blessing upon our hearts. We pray that we may not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by Thy Word, that in our marriages especially we may reflect Christ and the church. We pray in His name alone, Amen.