Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.
1 Peter 3:1–2
For many people, the word submission implies serving someone else hand and foot. Submission seems dehumanizing. We assume that such deference would sap a marriage of the mutual respect and service that a marriage ought to have to make it strong and vital.
In 1 Peter 3, Peter was addressing a specific situation: how the wives of unsaved husbands might influence them to become Christians. He counseled the women to submit, but he was thinking of the kind of submission that is deeply catalytic, a potent secret remedy for a lost loved one.
The secret of a Christian wife’s submission is found in three phrases. The first is in verse 1: “in the same way.” It refers back to the Christlike submission described in the previous verses (2:21–24). In the same way that Jesus trusted God to work redemptively through his submission, we can trust God to work through our submission.
The second key phrase is in verse 2: “when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” Purity and reverence ennoble a person; they are signs of spiritual strength. They are the marks of carefully guarded relationships with people and with God. Submission without purity and reverence has no potency, but when someone is the recipient of your humble submission and realizes that it springs not from his or her power over you but from your relationship with God, the person is changed by the experience.
The third important phrase is in verse 4: “a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” A gentle and quiet spirit is the opposite of a fearful spirit. Wives of unsaved husbands in Peter’s day had a lot to be afraid of, but those who learned to quiet their hearts in the promises of God took on an inner beauty that no dress or makeup could give them, a beauty that attracted others to Christ. The message, both then and now, is that while Christian wives serve their unsaved husbands, they are depending on God, and that is a transforming experience.
Notice that the goal is not a dominating husband, but a godly husband. God-shaped submission makes the people around us better, not worse. Furthermore, even if an unsaved husband never responds to Christ, the Christian wife may grow in such beautiful godliness that others will be attracted to Christ.
Peter didn’t apply to believing husbands the same recipe for winning over an unsaved wife, but we can be assured that the principles are similar. Paul instructed Christians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). If a husband has an unsaved wife, his loving and sacrificial behavior toward her will show her a picture of Christ’s love for the church (see Ephesians 5:25–32).