Of the many treatments of family life found in the New Testament, Peter's is unique in many respects. Most of the other treatments come from the pen of Paul, who was not married when he wrote them (1 Cor. 7:7), and, so far as we know, was never married. But we know that Peter was a married man when he first became a disciple of Jesus. One of Jesus' first miracles was to heal Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1:30-31). We know also that Peter was still married years later, when he had gained the standing of a chief apostle and was traveling throughout the churches in the Mediterranean world (1 Cor. 9:5). Peter's practical experience as a family man no doubt explains why his comments on marriage are extremely blunt and down-to-earth, more so than Paul's, which, although perfectly correct, seem at times almost theoretical by comparison.
A Wife's Obedience
Peter agrees with Paul that a wife should obey her husband. Paul says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph. 5:22-24; the same thought is in Col. 3:18). Peter says, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands" (1 Pet. 3:1). But then he elaborates.
5 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:
6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.
1 Peter 3:5-6
He wants a Christian wife to treat her husband as her lord, after the example of Sarah, Abraham's wife. He does not mean that she must address her husband as "lord." Rather, he means that she must humble herself by submitting to her husband's will in all things.
As a husband myself, I do not expect my wife to call me "lord." I would rather she use some term of endearment like "honey" to highlight the warmth of our relationship, to convey the idea that the essence of our relationship is love and friendship rather than subordination. Yet in her heart she should, and I think she does, view me as her lord, in the sense that she accepts my leadership.
A Husband's Love
To be viewed as a lord is a heavy responsibility. It takes great love and maturity not to take advantage of someone under your authority. Despite his moral right to be "head of the home," a Christian husband should not bring to life all the negative connotations in that expression. He should not be hard, demanding, or mean. Rather, he should be the easiest of all husbands to live with. Why? For four reasons:
1. While being his wife's master, he is also her servant. Paul says, "But by love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). Therefore, a husband's chief goal should be to secure his wife's best interests. For her sake he should be willing to perform menial tasks such as a servant would perform. If the need arises, he should roll up his sleeves and do the dishes, or mop the floors, or take out the garbage. He should provide care when his wife is lying sick in bed.
2. His model of authority is Christ, who said of Himself that his yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:29-30). Jesus never requires more of His servants than they can handle. Likewise, a Christian husband never makes demands of his wife that stretch her too far. He is careful to respect her limitations. He is always satisfied with her best and never makes her feel a failure because her best is not good enough. My wife is now a superb cook, one of the best. But I hate to think of some of the meals she served when we were first married. At the time I paid her sincere compliments, recognizing that God grades only for effort.
3. His authority is tempered by godly wisdom, and godly wisdom pays due respect to a woman's intelligence. Only a fool would treat his wife as a fool. I know from experience that I make better decisions if I take my wife into the process and seek her advice. Ultimately I make the decision, but frequently the decision is different as a result of her input. Not only do I consult her, but in many things I let her make her own decisions. Because I trust her judgment, I give her free reign in matters that do not concern me directly. As just a few of many examples, she governs the kitchen, makes all decisions respecting house cleaning and decoration, shops at her discretion, socializes however she likes with other women, handles certain aspects of family business, takes the initiative in witnessing to people who cross her path, chooses her ministries within the church, and conducts them according to her own judgment. At times she has worked outside the home under a boss other than myself.
A man can delegate whatever authority he wants to his wife. In my parents' home, my father assigned my mother the job of handling the money. Many husbands retreat even more from practical control of the household. They face so many stresses and problems at work that when they come home, they do not want the pressure of making decisions. They just want to relax. Letting their wives run the domestic show does no harm so long as they maintain oversight of important matters, such as the discipline of children and the spiritual life of the family (Eph. 6:4).
4. The authority of a Christian husband is guided by love. A dictator pleases himself, but in my decisions as a Christian husband I am not seeking to please myself first. Rather, I am seeking to please my wife first, by taking her desires into account. The nature of love is to give. Therefore, the more I love my wife, the more I will use my authority as a tool to make her happy. I have the right to decide what we will do on vacation, but my chief consideration is what she prefers. Also when we go out to eat, I almost always ask her to pick the restaurant.
My wife's happiness is not the sole consideration in my decisions. Sometimes a man must look beyond what suits his wife to what is right or to what is best for the family. He must override her preference if he judges it to be unwise. Yet he should never dismiss it out-of-hand, without giving it fair scrutiny.
Wisdom in the Divine Plan
All the restraints that a good husband places on his authority do not take it away. In his own home, he still occupies the seat of authority. It is sad whenever a marriage turns into a battleground between two parties seeking to rule.
Struggle for dominance in the home is by no means a new thing. I remember driving in the country with my father, who said that you can tell who wears the pants in the family (an expression dating from when pants were the exclusive apparel of men) by the relative condition of house and barn. If the house is nicer, you know the woman wears the pants. If the barn is nicer, you know the man wears the pants, as he should, but also that he needs to cater more to his wife.
Conflict in marriage is much worse today, however, as a result of women being indoctrinated with feminist ideas. The modern world holds that marriage should be a union of absolute equals. It views any subordination as repressive, even abusive. But the currently accepted model of marriage goes against the divine plan, giving man authority over the woman. The divine plan is superior for three reasons:
1. In many important judgments that a family must make, a man is more discerning than his wife. The Bible says specifically that a man is less easily fooled by deliberate deception.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. . . .
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
1 Timothy 2:12, 14
It does not mean that every man is more discerning than every women. It is referring to averages. The average man is more discerning than the average women. In any match made by God, the man will be more discerning and better fit to lead. In the beginning, when Satan tempted the first man and woman, the woman proved herself more gullible. Still today, an average man excels an average woman in his ability to spot Satanic deception, especially in the form of false religion. Every cult entraps more women than men.
Male rule was dictated by God as part of the penalty imposed on Eve for listening to the serpent.
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
She wanted to be like God, holding first place in the grand scheme of things, so ever afterward she would take second place.
Adam's penalty was likewise appropriate.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
He sinned to please his wife. So ever afterward he would have to do exhausting hard work to meet her needs and keep her happy.
2. God wants peace in the home. Any attempt to share ultimate power breeds conflict. To assure that the home operates without conflict, God gives one person the authority to make decisions, and He directs the other members of the family to comply cheerfully. The person endowed with authority is the man, the creature He has made with a special desire to lead.
3. A woman is more verbal than a man. It has been determined by research that for every two words a little boy speaks, a little girl speaks five. In most marriages the woman is a much better talker than her husband. So what happens when a typical young couple embarks on marriage with the goal of fulfilling the modern ideal of shared authority? Our culture teaches them that marriage is a union of equals who arrive at all decisions by mutual agreement and who work out all differences by negotiation. But when they try to put this theory into practice, the man finds that his wife can outtalk him. Thus, he seldom prevails in any real disagreement. If the disagreement becomes heated, he finds also that she has a weapon he cannot defend against—the power of her sex to cut his ego to shreds.
He has been taught that he cannot expect his wife to obey. But he cannot erase his innate desire to exercise leadership over a woman. That desire was put within him by God, so that he might fulfill a man's role. It is part of his psychological programming. Therefore, when his talkative wife takes control of decisions, he becomes increasingly frustrated. Resentment builds up in his heart until it reaches the flash point. Then one of two things happens.
If he is a weak-minded man with poor resources for dealing with frustration, he may at last try to bring his wife into submission by using his superior weapon, brute force. One of the principal causes of domestic violence throughout the ages has been alcoholism, but whereas the incidence of alcoholism is holding fairly steady, domestic violence is on the rise. The reason is that feminism has undermined proper male leadership in the home. To hit a woman is absolutely inexcusable, regardless of the provocation. But a battered wife bears some responsibility for her plight if she has continually bullied her husband with words.
Most husbands who are weary of henpecking do not resort to blows. Rather, they find a woman at work or at a party who treats them with the respect and deference they desire, and for her sake they leave their first wife. I believe feminism has been a major cause of rising divorce rates.
The Role of Helpmeet
Paul says the man has authority for a reason we have not yet considered.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
1 Timothy 2:12-13
He points out that woman was made for man. God's purpose in making woman is revealed in the Biblical account of the sixth day of creation.
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
A helping role implies subordination. Nevertheless, when man and woman were both sinless, there was no conflict between them. No dispute marred their cooperation as man and man's helper. There was no real need for a boss. But when they fell into sin, the possibility of conflict arose, and God gave one authority over the other, with power to decide in matters of disagreement. The one appointed ruler was the man.
Along with male rule, God decreed also that within the woman there would be a "desire to her husband." The meaning is that the woman would find it hard to feel fulfilled and content apart from marriage. Her desire for marriage would exceed a man's. This yearning for a man at the center of her life was intended as a kind of mercy, making it easier for her to accept a man's authority.
Why Marriage is Not Unequal
Yet people today protest that the Biblical model of marriage makes it a one-way street. Whereas marriage should be a give-and-take relationship—a 50-50 sharing of authority—the Bible so distorts this ideal sharing that it becomes 50 lion and 50 lamb. We will offer three replies.
1. As I said before, there is no reason that a husband should reserve all authority for himself.
2. The man too is under authority. The woman must submit to the man, but the man must submit to God. He is not any freer to do what he wants than the woman is. There is a divinely ordained chain of command.
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.
1 Corinthians 11:3.
If any man operates his home just to please himself, with no concern for what God wants, he is as much a sinner as any rebellious wife. It is as bad for a man to abuse his authority as for a woman to reject it. Indeed, if a man asks his wife to do anything clearly contrary to God's will, she has no obligation to obey him. In a pastor's counseling experience, one type of case that will eventually come to him is the Christian wife married to an unsaved man who wants her to join him in some sinful practice. The pastor must advise that her husband has no authority to overrule her conscience.
3. In one respect, marriage is unequal in a woman's favor.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.
See how much a man must love his wife? As much as Christ loved the church. What did He do for the church? He died for it. Notice that no comparable command is given to a woman. Yes, she should love her husband (Tit. 2:4). But nowhere does Scripture say that her love must equal God's love. Paul's metaphor compares her to the church, but nowhere do we read that she must love her husband as much as the church loves Christ. In any case, does the church love Christ as much as Christ loves the church? Certainly not. No other love rises as high as the love of God.
So you see that between man and wife, the man is supposed to be the leader also in love, to love her even more than she loves him. That is a hard requirement, since women by nature are more affectionate. How does a husband prove that his love is greater? He sacrifices himself for his wife's good. How? He gives unselfishly of his energy and strength day after day to provide for her needs. In all decisions he considers her happiness to be more important. If they come into danger, he rushes to her defense, even though the attempt to save her life may cost him his own. In the ultimate test of his love, he stands in front of his wife and takes the bullet.