Breakdown in Communication
Although Peter gives a husband authority over his wife, he counsels the husband to exercise his authority with reasonableness and kindness. He commands the husband to dwell with his wife according to knowledge.
7 Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.
1 Peter 3:7
The usual interpretation, which I have heard in many sermons and talks, is that a husband should seek to understand his wife, with the goal of making decisions sensitive to her needs. Indeed, a man should work at knowing his wife better. He should probe for the roots of her ways of thinking. He should try to discover her innermost fears and hopes and desires. Above all, as many experts on family living recommend, he should let his wife talk to him. When women are asked to evaluate their marriages, the most common complaint is that their husbands will not talk to them. Many men are so preoccupied with their own affairs that they have little interest in listening to their wives. They may even regard a wife's talk with some contempt, dismissing it as the chatter of a woman. A man who shuns conversation with his wife puts her at a distance. He forces her into silence. They become strangers to each other. The man, especially, settles into a self-containment oblivious to the intimate workings of his mate's mind and heart. Instead of one flesh, there is a fractured flesh.
My wife and I have pretty good communication, but still there are times when she suddenly stops talking and says, "You're not listening to me." It is a mystery to me how she knows. I try to look as if I am listening. I have a pleasant expression on my face. I nod every so often. But she is right. My mind is many miles away, thinking about the economic crisis or the Book of Revelation.
Why is this a common complaint?
- As I have said before, a woman is more verbal than a man, so it is natural for her to see a man as an unsatisfactory conversationalist.
- A man easily lets himself become preoccupied with worries and problems that, for good reason, he would rather not share with his wife. If I talked to my wife about the economic crisis, I would only make her upset.
- A woman needs to be sure that she is not monopolizing conversation, to the extent that she is forcing her husband into silence. Maybe if she would put more pauses into her speech, he might take the opportunity to say something. She might even encourage him by asking him questions. Perhaps just the question, "What do you think, honey?" would help. Every man likes to be seen as an expert.
- A woman should encourage her husband to open up his thoughts to her. Her best strategy is to respond with interest when he talks about subjects on his mind—his work, his hobbies, his sports teams, or even politics if he is the kind who grapples with the great issues of the day. Certainly she should draw him out if he is so admirably serious that he wants to talk about the Bible and spiritual things.
- As I said before, a husband and wife should create times to be together. But if you go on a date, do not sit at the restaurant like two Sphinxes. Talk about the day's happenings, about the past week or the week to come. That is a good time to discuss decisions and goals.
- Both husband and wife should build a habit of sharing thoughts. Make a conscious effort to speak rather than remain silent. The burden for this falls mainly on the man. If he decides to speak, it is almost certain that his wife will gladly respond and keep up the conversation.
Honoring a Wife
The breakdown of loving communication between husband and wife is a tragic state of affairs, but I do not believe that in his appeal for husbands to know their wives, Peter is primarily seeking to foster better communication. What he means by "according to knowledge" is clarified in the remainder of the verse. Peter is speaking of the kind of knowledge that teaches a husband to honor his wife (v. 7).
The Biblical view of women, seeing them as creatures to be honored, is the basis of chivalry. Is chivalry dead? Not completely. It feebly survives in such customs as holding a door for a lady, taking her hand when she steps out of a vehicle, and pulling out her chair at a table. It is sad that many women today resent a man treating them with courtesy. They feel that tokens of courtesy make them appear helpless. To be truly helpless is certainly not a good thing. A woman must be able to cope with life's problems. She cannot always rely on a man to pump the gas and kill the bugs. Indeed, she should be taught all the essential skills of daily life, including how to unstop a sink and change a tire. Yet there is a place for chivalry. Why should a lady carry in the groceries when her husband is loafing on the sofa? To follow the old-fashioned customs of helping a lady is in line with the Biblical injunction to honor women. Hence, these customs should be preserved, at least to the extent compatible with modern life.
Why should a husband honor his wife? It is a consequence of knowledge. He will honor her if he comprehends two things in particular:
- that she is a weaker vessel (v. 7),
- that she will inherit all the blessings of the children of God (v. 7).
A Woman's Weakness
Peter's reminder that a woman is a weaker vessel is important, because men, especially good men, have a tendency to idealize women. This tendency stands out in many classic works of fiction written by men. A heroine of a nineteenth century novel was so pure and constant in her love for a man even before marriage that if he jilted her, she might dress herself in black and speak to no one for years. Or she might go into a nunnery and spend the rest of her life praying that God would forgive the man who so cruelly wronged her. From what did the romantic conception of a woman's love derive? From male fantasy about the strength of a woman's love. A man would like to believe that a woman's love for him is all-consuming and undying, even if his love for her is very impermanent.
Male idealism can be a serious problem in marriage. To avoid unrealistic and damaging expectations, a man must accept that his wife is a weaker vessel. And as he looks upon her weakness, he must respond as love would respond, not with disdain but with a desire to uphold her. But why does her weakness make it only natural to treat her with honor? Peter says that despite a wife's weakness, she deserves to be honored. Why? Because her weakness is the weakness of something really valuable. She is like a fragile object of great value, such as a rare piece of fine glassware or a priceless work of art. She is weak, in the sense of being delicate, and she requires careful handling, but because of her value beyond compare, she is worth it. We should thank God that He has given us the privilege of taking care of her, and we should treat her accordingly, with honor.
In assuming the role of her helper and protector, a husband satisfies Peter's exhortation to honor his wife. Compassion upon her weakness improves his leadership in two critical respects.
- In times of difficulty, he tries his best to be a pillar of support for the family. He does not look to his wife for strength. He does not expect to lean on her. Rather, she is able to lean on him. In my lifetime, I have learned the hard way that if I express discouragement, my wife is likely to become very discouraged. If I become upset, she is likely to become very upset. I believe most women are the same. The application? I used to wonder what Paul means in Colossians 3:19, but I now believe that he is talking about what might happen when a man discovers how weak his wife is. He might be tempted to view her as someone who makes bad situations worse—a view that leads to bitterness. But instead of looking to your wife for strength in bad situations, look to God. And having compassion on your wife as a weaker vessel, fulfill your responsibilities as a spiritual leader by directing her to God as the source of her strength as well.
- Recognizing his wife's weakness, a man is careful what he says to her. He does not say anything that will cause her to stumble rather than give her support.
If a man blows off a little steam by complaining to his wife about how someone has wronged him, he may gain some relief, allowing him to get on with life. But by indulging his anger, he gives her resentful thoughts that she cannot easily forget. They fester inside and create a continuing bitterness. As a result, she pays a big emotional price for his outspokenness.
The second rule is hard for me, because my wife and I have been friends since we were sixteen, and we became the proverbial high school sweethearts. In a sense, we grew up together. (By the way, we do not present ourselves as an example for young people. On the contrary, we discourage early matches. One reason God brought us together so young is that if I had waited until graduate school before choosing a wife, I would probably had chosen an unsaved woman. At that time in my life, I was not living for God.) My wife and I have always shared all our thoughts. When I was on a deacon board, the pastor sometimes advised us to keep certain information from our wives. It always sounded to me as if he was asking me to live on another planet. I complied, although keeping secrets from my wife was contrary to an ingrained habit of openness with her. But I finally realized that to tell her about problems outside her own sphere of life served no purpose, except to give her more cause for worry.
My advice? It is obviously necessary to consult with your wife concerning real problems, but be careful about speech that gives her an unnecessary burden or that strictly serves to vent your bad feelings.
A Woman's Value
A proper knowledge of a wife extends to recognizing her great potential. This also leads to giving her honor. My wife can look forward to the same future that lies before me. Like me, she is a child of God with eternal life. In heaven there may be no difference in rank between us. If she has served God more faithfully than I, she will rank higher than I. Knowing that she may someday stand above me certainly motivates me to give her honor. It also gives me a better perspective on my responsibilities as her husband. God has made me her spiritual leader not only to assure the successful operation of our home, but also to help her prepare for eternity. When I appear before God in judgment, I will give account for my influence on my wife. Was it good or bad? Did I make sure that she was always in church under the preaching of God's Word? Did I keep a family altar and instruct her daily in the things of God? Did I show her an example of Christian character? Did I help her develop Christian character herself? Did I encourage her to maintain a personal walk with God?
Basically, in exhorting a man to dwell with a woman according to knowledge, treating her with honor, Peter is giving a recipe for peace and spiritual prosperity in the home. The great benefit is that when husband and wife are right with each other, they can also be right with God. They can approach Him with full confidence that He will hear and answer their prayers. That is why Peter concludes his discussion of the home by saying that if we heed his instruction, our prayers will be unhindered (1 Pet. 3:7).
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.