Chapter 12: Godly Women in Peter's Experience

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by Ian McKee, N. Ireland

 

INTRODUCTION

PETER AND WOMEN IN THE GOSPELS

PETER AND WOMEN IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

PETER AND WOMEN IN THE EPISTLES

PETER’S INSTRUCTION TO GODLY WOMEN IN HIS EPISTLES

CONCLUSION


INTRODUCTION

We all know Peter or we think we do! Too often it is Peter’s failure in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace that is starkly scrutinised. "Peter the impulsive" in the Gospel records is majored on, with "Peter the proclaimer" in the Acts of the Apostles relegated to secondary consideration. Peter’s early propensity to rashness of speech is preferred to the richness of his preaching and his mature penmanship.

Therefore, Peter often suffers from a portrayal that lacks dimension, but the resulting caricature reflects more on the commentator than the character of his apostolic subject.

That said by way of introduction, I wish to interest the reader in a more sensitive aspect of the personality of this spiritual giant. We shall consider Peter’s relationship with women: in the Gospels; in the Acts of the Apostles; and in the Epistles. Some of this introductory material will be dealt with in a fuller way in other chapters of this book, but it is here to invite interest in how Peter’s experience developed; and as an essential scene-setter to our consideration of Peter’s instruction to godly women in his own inspired writings.

Peter and Women in the Gospels

Consideration of Peter’s relationship with women in the Gospels will lead us to reflect on six specific instances:

  • Peter and the healing of his mother-in-law – Matt.8.14,15; Mk.1.29-31; Lk.4.38,39

  • Peter and the healing of the woman with the issue of blood – Lk.8.43-48

  • Peter and the raising of Jairus’ daughter – Mk.5.37; Lk.8.51

  • Peter and his relationship to mother, wife and daughter – Matt.19.27-30; Mk.10.23-31; Lk.18.28-30

  • Peter and the pre-denial damsels – Matt.26.69-75; Mk.14.66-72; Lk.22.54-62; Jn.18.15-27

  • Peter and Mary Magdalene and the other women – Mk.16.1-7; Lk.24.10-12; Jn.20.1-10.

Peter and Women in Acts of the Apostles

Consideration of Peter’s relationship with women in the Acts of the Apostles will lead us to reflect on four specific instances:

  • Peter at a prayer meeting with Mary – Acts 1.13,14

  • Peter and Sapphira and discipline – Acts 5.8,9

  • Peter and the raising of Dorcas – Acts 9.39-41

  • Peter and Rhoda at a prayer meeting – Acts 12.13-16.

Peter and Women in the Epistles

Consideration of Peter’s relationship with women in the Epistles will lead us to reflect on one specific instance, namely his relationship to a sister, a wife – 1Cor.9.5.

Peter and Women in His Epistles

Consideration of Peter’s relationship with women in his own inspired writings will lead us to reflect mainly, but not exclusively, on 1Pet.3.1-7.

PETER AND WOMEN IN THE GOSPELS

It will be noted that not all of the women referred to could be called godly, but from the instances briefly considered we shall see that Peter is learning lessons that will equip him to give advice to sisters who aspire to be godly. It is for that reason we draw attention to these examples.

Peter and the Healing of His Mother-in-Law

Mark’s Gospel presents the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s Perfect Servant, in His constant and unceasing service. As a scene-setter, Mark describes a day in the life of the Saviour, Mk.1.21-34. During that long day the Lord preaches in the synagogue at Capernaum, casts out an unclean spirit, heals Simon’s wife’s mother, heals many others of their diseases, casts out many demons and spends part of the night in prayer. There is much to learn from this representative day of service, but our interest will focus on Peter and his mother-in-law.

Following the events in the synagogue the Lord is brought into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother, (yes, Peter was a married man) lay sick of a great fever. We note that Peter was in good relations with his mother-in-law. And so he must, for how could he later give ministry to women if he failed in relationships with his own wife and his mother-in-law? The moral right to give public teaching is earned at home, in one’s own house, in the assembly to which one belongs and in one’s local community.

But Peter learned something from the Lord that day that never left him, namely, that there is need for decorum and propriety when dealing with women. First, given the account of what transpired, it is clear that the Lord took Peter at least with Him into the sick chamber. Second, the Lord "touched her hand" Matt.8.15, and "took her by the hand, and lifted her up" Mk.1.31.

Visitation of the sick is an important responsibility. But in certain situations to avoid possible embarrassment and/or misunderstanding, it is best shared and sometimes most prudently with a wife, sister or daughter. In addition, in such circumstances, any physical contact should be appropriate. As Peter watched, "He took her by the hand, and lifted her up". And, as we shall see, Peter never forgot it.

Peter and the Healing of the Woman with the Issue of Blood

Matthew’s brief account emphasises the kindly words of Christ, "Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole" Matt.9.22. Mark’s account shows that the Lord’s kindly words were in response to the woman’s fear and trembling, her prostration and confession, following her vital touch; "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague" Mk.5.34. However, it is Luke who records Peter’s comment, "Master, the multitude throng Thee and press Thee, and sayest Thou, Who touched Me?" and the Lord’s statement, "Somebody hath touched Me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of Me" Lk.8.45,46.

That day Peter learned that faith’s tremulous touch brought an instant response from the plenitude of power. This believing touch, sensitive and secret, drew forth a response in mighty power. She, who touched Him from behind, is raised up and brought to look full into the face of Christ. How gracious were His actions, how reassuring His words, but how firm were His ways? Faith cannot be hidden and the Lord will, with gentle firmness, bring all of His own face to face with Himself.

Peter witnessed this exchange and learned much; not least that faith needs nurturing with personal interaction that secures blessing, confidence and encouragement without causing personal embarrassment. This secured effective, public witness to the Lord, and it is the timely word, to meet an individual need, which will have greatest effect. Another lesson learned by Peter!

Peter and the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter

The healing of the woman with the issue of blood and the raising of Jairus’ daughter, uniquely, are conjoined miracles, one at the end of 12 years of decline and the other after 12 years of growth. The first miracle was performed in the public place and the second in private: the first to give new health and the second to impart new life.

The main point to note here is that the Lord Jesus Christ did not enter alone into the bedchamber of the dead damsel. With Him He took "Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden" Lk.8.51.

Again we see the propriety of the Saviour, He "took her by the hand", spoke words of power and in His after-care for her He "commanded that something should be given her to eat" Mk.5.43.

The Lord has invited scrutiny of His actions and words and, again, Peter is one of the witnesses. He sees decorum displayed in how he relates to the damsel. He also sees that the Saviour brings her parents with Him into the privacy of her bedchamber.

Peter learns here that anything that is to take place in relation to the young, the vulnerable and the impressionable must be conducted with all due propriety and be demonstrably pure. The practical points made in relation to the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother also apply here. But, in addition, here we learn that the desire to bring the message of new life to the young must be tempered by wisdom. The Saviour had one-to-one conversations with men in private (Nicodemus), with women in public (the woman at Sychar’s well), but His dealings with young people whether in public or in private were with other adults present and preferably one or both parents.

The presence, the interest, the word and the touch of Christ are needed to impart new life. Let the preacher preach and let the Holy Spirit strive. God is able to do His own work in His own way. Pointed, personal, private conversations with the young and emotionally vulnerable may do more harm than good. Learn the lesson Peter learned that day. If such conversation is requested, make sure that the Saviour’s presence is enjoyed, that other adults (preferably parents) are in attendance, and that any physical contact is limited and evidently appropriate. A word to the wise should be sufficient.

Peter and His Relationship to Mother, Wife and Daughter

It is after the conversation with the rich, young ruler that the Lord warns His disciples about riches, stating, "Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God" Mk.10.24. It is following this that Peter says, "Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee" Mk.10.28, and asks, "what shall we have therefore?" Matt.19.27. The Lord’s answer is unequivocal, "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" Matt.19.29.

Peter, a married man with parents and a mother-in-law still alive, has earlier brought the Lord into his domestic circumstances to benefit. Here he learns that he must bring his whole personal life under the Lordship of Christ; that every domestic relationship must be held sensitively to the Lord’s sovereign sway. This is another lesson that Peter learned and which Paul confirms.

Peter and the Pre-Denial Damsels

Peter had a life of rich experience and outstanding service, yet it is this evening of failure that is remembered most. It came at the end of the last journey from Galilee, via the Jordan valley, to Jerusalem. It came at the end of the Lord’s last week of teaching in the temple precincts. And at the end of a long day of increasing pressure: the Passover supper, the institution of the Lord’s supper, the upper room ministry, the intercessory prayer, the last hymn, the moonlit walk through the city and across the Kidron to Gethsemane, the arrest, Peter’s attempted intervention, the return to the city and to the courtyard of the high priest’s palace.

Not one of the disciples would look back on their part in that evening with any sense of pride. John and Peter went further than the others and it is to John’s credit that he acknowledges his crucial role in securing access for Peter. But Peter’s failure was precipitated by the most unlikely of sources: not from men with swords and staves and lanterns and torches, not from soldiers or temple guards, but from young girls.

First of all he sat in the courtyard with the servants. It was here that a damsel came to him saying, "Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee". But he denied before them all, saying, "I know not what thou sayest" Matt.26.69,70.

Secondly, when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, "This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth". And again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the man" Matt.26.71,72.

Then after the space of one hour there came unto him them that stood by, and said to Peter, "Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee" Matt.26.73. Having failed when questioned by maids, could anything more be expected when so questioned by men? "Then began he to curse and to sware, saying, "I know not the man" Matt.26.74.

Under pressure, there is a danger that anyone can act on carnal rather than spiritual impulse. Under pressure in strange surroundings, our speech may not always savour of salt, and Peter is not the last to look back with regret on an experience that started with a conversation with a young female.

Peter never forgot the lessons learned here. There are dangers in that ‘in between’ region. He was in the place of shadows; not far from the Lord in one sense, but not close in another. He was in the sights of Satan, but mercifully in the view of Christ and within the scope of His High Priestly intercession.

Peter and Mary Magdalene and the Other Women

In devotion to the Lord, it is Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who were first at the sepulchre, very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, at the rising of the sun, bearing sweet spices that they might anoint His body. It was to these women that the angel said, "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: He is risen; He is not here: behold the place where they laid Him. But go your way, tell His disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see Him, as He said unto you" Mk.16.6,7.

Also, "when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene" Mk.16.9. "It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not. Then arose Peter …" Lk.24.10-12.

Such was the devotion of these women that they were up and moving early on the first day of the week. Because of this, these exercised women received the glad tidings of the resurrection from angels and, in turn were entrusted to convey this message to Peter and the other apostles.

Another lesson for Peter, and one he did not forget, was that spiritual women have a keen sensitivity and loyalty to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

PETER AND WOMEN IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Peter at a Prayer Meeting with Mary

Prayer and supplication marked the ten-day period between the Lord’s ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The fact that a Divine programme was moving irresistibly forward did not negate the need for prayer. This is the last time we have all the apostles listed by name, recorded as all being in the same place, at the same time, and engaged in a common exercise. Of even greater significance is the fact that "these all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" Acts 1.14.

Peter, with Mary; how it would bring back so many memories and be an opportunity for reflection and sacred conversation. But more importantly, Peter and the others spent ten days in prayer and supplication. Could he, could they, fail to be to be moved at the sight of Mary in prayer? She had experienced a mother’s sword-pierced soul, yet her greatest loss was her greatest gain. "His brethren" are with her in prayer. It was great sorrow followed by great succour – all her family saved, a circle never to be broken. As Peter learned earlier in his relationship to mother, wife and daughter, there is a hundred-fold recompense and an eternal inheritance to be received for any loss incurred for Christ.

These were ten transitional days of grief and grace, and intensely educational beyond our knowing.

Be still, proud heart! How can I stand and gaze

Upon that head, so humbly bending low,

And not lament, with tears and shame of face,

Thy wilful ways, rebelling, murmuring so?

O for the grace, in every earthly loss,

To bow the head to God, as Christ did on the Cross!

 

(J.M.S.Tait)

Peter and Sapphira and Discipline

It is sad that the lofty heights of spiritual power narrated at the close of Acts chapter 4 should be followed by the greed and hypocrisy at the start of chapter 5. The giving yet grasping of Ananias, his hypocritical posturing, his lying to the Holy Ghost, which followed a private pact with Sapphira to deceive, resulted in the judicial judgment of God in marked severity.

We cannot pass over this without comment. The wife and the husband were united in the sale of a possession. She was party to his withholding part thereof while implying that all was given. Sapphira lied personally when Peter made inquiry; and death ensued. A domestic, designed disaster that otherwise might have corrupted and destroyed the testimony at Jerusalem.

Peter will later lift his pen to write to believers in difficult circumstances, when pressure was felt in relation to public testimony and private life. The answer is not to trim with the times and temporise in trial. Rather, Peter will encourage whole-hearted Christian conviction and will have a special word for Christian women. And one who saw a woman dead at his feet because of her sin, has the moral weight to encourage spiritual stability and stamina. While never underestimating the cost of obedience in adverse conditions, Peter knew from experience that there is a greater cost from disobedience.

Had Sapphira been a true helpmeet she would never have encouraged Ananias in the course he took. And momentous decisions can still be taken at the kitchen table. There is still the need for sisters to cultivate a sensitive conscience guided solely by the Word of God, and who can tell what disasters may be averted thereby?

Peter and the Raising of Dorcas

The believers at Joppa showed amazing faith. They send two men to fetch Peter from Lydda following the death of Dorcas. There is no suggestion that they wanted Peter to officiate at her funeral. Evidently they were expecting more, yet, while apostles had performed miracles, they had not to date raised the dead. Peter showed faith as well, but he had been in a similar situation before, so, he follows the Lord’s example at the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

Like the Lord then, he puts the weepers forth from the death chamber. Then he kneels down and prays. We do not know what he said, maybe he just groaned within himself. Or did he hear again in his soul the words of the Lord on that previous occasion, "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole" Lk.8.50. The burden was mighty and the issues extreme, but having prayed, he turned to the body of Dorcas, prepared already for burial, and spoke to her virtually the same words the Lord had used when He addressed Jairus’ daughter, and to the same life-giving effect.

But that is not all. He took her by the hand and raised her up as he had seen the Lord do with both Jairus’ daughter and Peter’s own mother-in-law. Peter demonstrated the utmost propriety. Physical contact was appropriate and limited, and as soon as Dorcas was upright, the door of the life chamber was opened to the wondering eyes of the saints and widows.

Peter and Rhoda at a Prayer Meeting

Peter certainly knew where to find all the saints on prayer meeting night! And it is still good to so gather even if it is not always possible to say, "where many were gathered together praying" Acts 12.12. The Jerusalem believers were to be found in the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark.

And again it is Peter and a damsel at the courtyard gate. But the days of denial are long past. Nor are there any conversations in the shadowed place. He is outside, but clearly wants in. His knock is heard, and Rhoda was so glad to hear his voice she forgot to open the gate! Those who had just had their prayers answered did not believe it, thinking Rhoda was mad or, alternatively, it was Peter’s angel, but definitely not Peter. But angels don’t knock, and the knocking continued.

What a testimony there is here to the personality and gracious humanity of Peter? Would that every servant of the Lord was so respected that their knocking at the door, or their ringing of the doorbell, would cause similar pure delight to the young person answering!

PETER AND WOMEN IN THE EPISTLES

Peter and His Relationship to a Wife, a Sister

It is the apostle Paul who makes reference to Peter’s evident custom of being accompanied by his wife in his ministry, "have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas [Peter]" 1Cor.9.5. Given his ministry to women in his epistles, as we shall soon consider, Peter’s wife must have exemplified his ministry. And, as we have already noted, the moral authority to teach in public is acquired in personal life.

In view of this, sisters are encouraged to recognise that their life and testimony, their obedience to the Word of God, will be a vital help to the ministry of their husband (and/or father and, possibly, brother). And if not married now, sister, you may be in the future. Therefore do not live in carelessness and frivolity as this will be to your spiritual detriment, will be remembered, and may limit the potential of your husband’s ministry. Overseers’ wives, like their husbands, do not suddenly and unexpectedly acquire a place of respect among the Lord’s people. It is the result of spiritual development and experience. It will be a pity if folly in earlier life should exclude from later usefulness.

PETER’S INSTRUCTION TO GODLY WOMEN IN HIS EPISTLES

Evidently we must focus particularly on 1Pet.3.1-7 as being the primary section giving Peter’s teaching to women in his epistles. However, there are many references throughout his writings where it is self-evident that women are included.

General Comments

As all will know, the epistles of Peter are written with a background of trials and afflictions arising from increasing discrimination and persecution. Christian women are not immune from such and, indeed, may experience such pressure to an even greater degree, both personally and as pressure increases on family life. We should therefore note what Peter says about sisters in Christ in this regard. The references are to 1Peter unless stated otherwise. They are:

1.1 - Strangers scattered;

1.6 - In heaviness through manifold temptations;

1.7 - Tried in their faith.

Those trials are real and must not be minimised in any way. However, Peter sets over beside them the many privileges and blessings that sisters have in Christ. They are:

  • 1.2 - Elect according to the foreknowledge of God;

  • 1.2 - Sanctified in the Spirit;

  • 1.3 - Begotten unto a lively hope;

  • 1.4 - Inheritors of an incorruptible, undefiled and unfading inheritance;

  • 1.5 - Kept by the power of God;

  • 1.18,19 - Redeemed with the precious blood of Christ;

  • 1.23 - Born again;

  • 1.25 - Those who have had the gospel preached unto them;

  • 2.4 - Living stones;

  • 2.4 - Chosen of God and precious;

  • 2.5 - Built up a spiritual house;

  • 2.5 - Included in an holy priesthood;

  • 2.9 - Included in a chosen generation;

  • 2.9 - Included in a royal priesthood;

  • 2.9 - Included in a holy nation;

  • 2.9 - Included in a peculiar people;

  • 2.10 - Part of the people of God;

  • 2.11; 4.12 - Dearly beloved;

  • 3.20 - Preserved every bit as much as Noah’s wife and three daughters-in-law;

  • 4.14 - Those with the spirit of glory and of God resting on them;

  • 5.10 - Called unto eternal glory;

From 2Peter:

  • 1.1 - Sharers in like precious faith;

  • 1.3 - Given all things that pertain to life and godliness;

  • 1.4 - Given exceeding great and precious promises.

So, having considered sisters both in persecution and in privilege, let us note that the sisters in Christ, in their practice, are:

  • 1.8 - Lovers of a Man Whom they have not seen;

  • 1.14 - Obedient children;

  • 1.15 - Holy in all manner of conversation [behaviour];

  • 1.21 - Those who have faith and hope in God;

  • 1.22 - Those who have purified their souls in obeying the truth;

  • 1.22 - Those who have unfeigned love of the brethren;

  • 2.2 - As newborn babes desiring the sincere milk of the word;

  • 2.11 - Strangers and pilgrims;

  • 2.16 - Free;

  • 2.16 - Servants of God;

  • 2.17 - Part of the brotherhood;

  • 2.24 - Dead to sins;

  • 2.24 - Alive unto righteousness;

  • 4.10 - Good stewards of the manifold grace of God;

  • 4.13 - Partakers of Christ’s sufferings.

It is recognised that brothers, as well as sisters, similarly share the foregoing, but let us remember that Peter’s ministry is inclusive, all embracive, and sensitive. Against the background of all the foregoing, let us turn to 1Pet.3.1-7 and before saying anything about it, let us read that passage again, with souls receptive to the truth of God’s Word.

Specific Comments

This spiritual giant is well suited to write in relation to circumstances that require supreme sensitivity and spirituality, namely the becoming conduct of a saved wife where her husband is, as yet, unsaved. It should be noted that, as there is no censure, it can safely be taken that the wife has been saved subsequent to the marriage.

Such a situation will create its own tensions in the home. However, we should recall that additional stress will be created by the increasing levels of persecution and discrimination against believers from society, whether civil or religious, as indicated in the writings of Peter. Pressure is always on all Christians to seek to make them conform to the prevailing culture and norms of society, whether by overt coercion or by more subtle peer-pressure. Therefore, Peter’s inspired writings have a timeless and relevant message for modern life.

So let us consider the seven verses in more detail, remembering that Peter writes with understanding, feeling and compassion. His convictions have been formed in the school of Christ and are consistent with his long Spirit-guided ministry and service. While Peter’s ministry to women will cut across current secular norms; remember that was also the case when Peter penned his epistle. But the fact that Peter deals with these issues in the context of the most extreme situation means that his instruction is applicable to Christian homes as well. It should be noted that Peter’s instruction in this regard is not unique. Other passages, e.g. Eph.5.22,23; Col.3.18,19; 1Tim.2.9,10 and Titus 2.4,5 are also relevant. However, let us now consider 1Pet.3.1-7 verse by verse.

Verse1

The word "likewise" links back to the previous chapter, which concludes with the prime example of subjection in suffering in the will of God, namely that of our Lord Jesus Christ. With that example Peter writes, "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." In this close and exclusive bond the wife is to be in subjection to her own husband, which indicates to "place under rank", or submissiveness. This is living up to the command of God in sacred duty; it is not a slavish situation. This injunction regarding subjection cuts across prevailing, modern, western culture where creatorial relationships and scriptural responsibility are under attack across a wide spectrum, but specifically in relation to morality, marriage and gender issues.

Subjection here envisages a context of witnessing or evangelism where the husband is unsaved: "if any obey not the word". The gospel has come, the wife has been saved, but her husband is at least indifferent to the claims of Christ or, more likely, may be opposed. It is probable that he has heard the same gospel, has had similar opportunity, has understood the message, but has refused it. While the word "if" indicates that not all Christian wives have to deal with the situation of an unsaved husband, many do. But do note that salvation of one party in the marriage does not dissolve the marriage. He is still her "own husband" and she must ensure that he is given no reason to fear otherwise.

While the husband has rejected the gospel message, he should have an even more effective witness in the home. His wife’s objective, her blessing and that of her family, is bound up in the words "they also may without the word be won by the conversation [manner of living] of the wives". There can be no guarantee that the salvation of the husband will follow, nor can it be assumed to happen within any short time-frame, but the expectation or hope of salvation is a real one. And how is this objective to be achieved? It is certainly not by consistent preaching (which is the force of "without word", i.e. there is no definite article) but by considered piety. The saved wife is to live out her Christianity as an example.

Verse 2

So how is the Christian wife to display this subjection? "By chaste conversation [manner of life] coupled with fear [reverence]." So the husband witnesses in his wife a character superior to that of the unsaved wives of his unsaved friends. It is manifested by her love and kindness, understanding and compassion, and a purity of motive and conduct under his constant, perhaps critical, scrutiny. She is sustained in her objective by her reverential awe towards God and apparent respect towards her husband. Such a woman walks with God and stands by her husband.

Verse 3

In considering v.3 we must be careful not to go beyond what Scripture teaches. For instance, if one should take the first statement to mean that hair should never be plaited, and the second that gold is never to be worn, then to be consistent in following through the argument one will be asserting that clothes are not to be worn. Such an interpretation would be preposterous, violating sense as well as Scripture. What is here being taught is that Christian women should display a proper and becoming dress sense, avoiding that which is sensual and ostentatious.

Fashion and looks were evidently as much an issue in the ancient world as they are in the 21st century. In a world where glamour and glitter count for much, and the accentuation of the female form is used to enhance every conceivable advertisement, it may come as something of a shock to some to consider scriptural Christian counterculture. Surely, some may erroneously think, for a Christian wife with an unsaved husband, some licence should be given to enhancement of looks and sensuousness in dress? Far from it! And if there is no licence in this scenario, there is none where both husband and wife are saved.

Scripture is clear that Christian women should not focus on external glamour and suggestiveness, but on spiritual enhancement of character. Peter states "whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning" and proceeds to provide three unequivocal prohibitions in relation to glamour, gold and garb.

Firstly, he states that it should "not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair". That is, not elaborate hair arrangement, for example such as would need professional attention. This is not condemning plaiting or braiding as necessary to keep the sister’s long hair in tidy arrangement, but that which is excessive, expensive and eye-catching is not approved.

Secondly, "and let it not be that outward adorning … and of wearing of gold." While it may have been fashionable in the Greco-Roman world to intertwine gold bands or combs into the elaborate hair styling, or hold the entire structure in place with gold net with jewelled ornamentation, we should not confine this prohibition to that. "Not … wearing of gold" prohibits anything that is expensive or designed for show. The phrase also prohibits gold for ‘placing around’ or dangling for ornamentation or show. However, as earlier indicated, this is not total prohibition of gold. That which is necessary for moral protection or modesty, such as a wedding ring and/or engagement ring is not prohibited. Nor is that which is functional or utilitarian excluded, such as a wristwatch, or gold-rimmed spectacles. But let it not be assumed that so long as real gold is avoided then gaudy ‘bling’ jewellery, or silver jewellery, or even that of a more subdued nature is acceptable. Taking all together, the prohibition extends to, so-called, fashion jewellery as much as the truly expensive for, after all, it is similarly designed to suggestively draw attention to the external form.

Thirdly, "and let it not be that outward adorning … or of putting on of apparel", that is for ostentatious show and personal vanity. Frequent changes of clothing; an outfit for every occasion with every occasion an excuse for another outfit, are prohibited. As excessive show has already been dealt with in this verse, it should be evident that clothing is for covering, for protection and for reasons of good taste and modesty. Clothing is not for excessive external effect; and certainly not for suggestive revelation.

Peter does not elaborate further on the three prohibited areas. He would recognise that spiritual Christian women would not wish to fail in this area. However, it should be noted that there is nothing in this verse to suggest that an unkempt appearance, untidy hair, slovenliness of dress, etc. are condoned. No matter what Christian graces are otherwise displayed, the unsaved husband, indeed any husband, will be embarrassed by that which is less than acceptable.

There is always the risk when dealing with such issues of receiving ‘what about’ questions as if sisters need to have a list of what is, and what is not, acceptable. Should you really need to know, then careful consideration of the New Testament references already given is to be commended. The Lord’s warning in Isa.3.16-26 in relation to failure of the daughters of Zion in this regard is salutary as well as being, in many respects, remarkably up to date.

Verse 4

Peter now turns from the negative to the positive. Having dealt with artificial glamour he turns to authentic grace: "but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible". Development of internal Christian character is commended. That which is internal and spiritual should be developed so that the inward person of the heart is manifested in an outward appearance that is appropriate for Christian womanhood. True beauty does not fade. This true beauty is not externally applied; it is not sprayed on, brushed on, nor otherwise applied. True beauty in God’s sight is not achieved by cosmetic surgery or cosmetic applications.

Peter describes exactly what he means: "even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." It is this that will reach the heart of the unsaved husband. Even more, it refreshes the heart of God. This is true adornment, which is lasting and improves with time. It is in contrast to that which is external and artificial. This is a calm, considerate disposition, which becomes manifest in every facet of human life. It is this gentle and quiet spirit that is the unfading adornment. And remember that it was the Lord Jesus Christ Who said of Himself, "I am meek and lowly in heart" Matt.11.29.

Meekness means an absence of self-assertiveness and self-centredness. This disposition seeks the good of others ahead of personal advancement. This runs contrary to the current worldview, which promotes self-advancement and career orientation for women at the expense of home and family life. The world wants to give to women with one hand; and seeks to rob them with the other.

Every circumstance is different and it is recognised that there is considerable financial outlay needed for housing costs (whether mortgage or rental), utility bills, transport costs and associated insurance, educational tuition fees, household expenses, etc., which may require the wife to be in employment. Indeed, during times of economic downturn it may be only the wife who is able to secure employment. That said, we should be alert to the worldly peer-pressure that would seek to ensnare the wife by careerism.

The current worldview in this regard is to put career first, juggle job and home, defer child-bearing as late as possible, and when children are born transfer responsibility for their rearing to paid childminders (or unpaid grandparents). So work harder, for longer - but for what? The answer is most likely to miss what God intended as best for Christian women; to lose contentment and peace in the home; lose a safe and caring environment for children; and lose spiritual vitality. By having more of what this world considers "success", they will have less of what is of real worth. In the realm of domestic economics looked at from the Divine perspective "more is often less; and less is often more". We should all think carefully about this.

Verse 5

Peter then reminds contemporary women of the example of godly women in the past in respect of the matter under discussion in vv.3,4. In the early days of Christianity the positive role models were women of the Old Testament, whose Scriptural biographies are worthy of careful consideration. These were not the daughters of Zion in Isa.3.16-26, but mothers in Israel. They were women with God-centred lives; their faith and hope were in God, they lived with the expectation that God would fulfil His promises and bless both them and their families. They, too, adorned themselves with a meek and quiet spirit and similarly were in subjection to their own husbands. They were not self-assertive as the world would desire. But they were awesome women as the inward grace of God was outworked in spiritual power, so, when considering character studies from the Old Testament, do ensure that you study the women as much as the men, maybe more so.

Verse 6

A prime example in that regard is Sarah, whose name means "princess". Indeed, she is one of few women listed by name in the roll of honour in Hebrews chapter 11. Now Sarah wasn’t perfect, just as Abraham her husband wasn’t perfect. But she is an outstanding example of a submissive wife and significant helpmeet. The force of the word "obeyed" is indicative of a habitual response toward Abraham, which is characteristic. "Calling him lord" is not a cringing subservience, but expresses a heartfelt respect and support. Indeed in Gen.18.12 Sarah said this within herself, but while it wasn’t an audible expression, Abraham knew that Sarah was his most loyal helpmeet.

And here we have Peter’s sensitivity and succour to women under current pressure; he says, "whose daughters ye are." Peter recognised in married Christian women and mothers in his day, even those married to unsaved husbands, what they had become at conversion and demonstrated since. He recognised women who were following Sarah’s example outwardly because they had Sarah’s attitude inwardly. And his next phrase "as long as ye do well" should similarly be seen as complimentary of their continuing moral activity. He also encourages them not to give way even to one moment of fear. So, while the Christian wife is to have a meek and quiet spirit, this does not mean that she is to allow the attitude of an unbelieving husband to intimidate her Christian faith.

Verse 7

While Peter sets out in clear terms the duty of a Christian wife, even in the context of marriage to an unsaved husband, he then goes on to outline the duties of a saved husband. It would be remiss to consider the "likewise" in 1Pet.3.1 and omit the "likewise" of 1Pet.3.7.

"Likewise ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge", means that the husband is expected to provide for the physical and material needs of the home. He should show a considerate understanding that is marked by reasonableness and common sense. It also involves an understanding of the scriptural intention of what a true marriage should be. And "dwelling" means more than sharing the same address and postcode. It implies the commonality of a shared interest and purpose, with time spent together in the atmosphere of mutual love and respect. It is the complete opposite of unthinking (or deliberate) unreasonableness. So marriage is expected to be such that the physical and spiritual, the emotional and material, needs of the wife are nurtured to mutual benefit. And marriage in the Lord, with husband and wife both indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and each seeking to please the Lord in obedience to His Word, should be special.

"Giving honour unto the wife" infers more than due respect. It is rather a considerate understanding, recognising the true nature of the marriage relationship with a sense of (old-fashioned?) chivalry. Christian love should be infinitely superior to the casual lust that marked relationships in the pagan world then, and which characterises the decadent and permissive society now. It should be a realm where due respect is given and homage paid. After all, every time Abraham used his wife’s name he called her "princess". Godly, Christian women are royal.

While we must understand that men and women are equally frail mortals, the wife is to receive honour "as unto the weaker vessel". This refers to the average physical comparison; it does not imply inferiority or any mental, moral or spiritual weakness on the part of the wife. Nor does it give any licence to exploit a wife who has accepted that submissive position, but to give her all due respect and recognition.

Here both husband and wife are "heirs together of the grace of life". This is life in its truest sense. Those who are heading towards life eternal and celestial should let that fact sanctify and enhance their life presently.

Finally, husband and wife should be united in their prayers. Basically, what is taught is that if our marital fellowship and relationships are impaired, then our relationships with God will be impacted just as severely. The progress of our prayers will be impeded as if by a hostile, military force. Lines of communication with heaven will be cut. Husbands and wives, do you pray for, and with, each other?

CONCLUSION

We have travelled long with Peter, from his days in company with the Lord during His earthly ministry, through those heady days of Holy Spirit power in the Acts of the Apostles, to his majestic epistles.

Peter has met many godly women during that time. His wife has accompanied him in his service. He has always manifested decorum and sensitivity in his interactions with women. He evidences the Saviour’s gracious ways in seeking to raise women up to renewed spiritual vigour and health. He has sought to focus their interest in serving with spiritual grace. He has prayed with women and sought to encourage their consecration to the Lord Jesus Christ in adverse conditions both generally and, particularly, in home life. He has been conscious of the grave consequences of disobedience and, therefore, has been absolutely crystal clear in his teaching. He has the moral right to so minister and has moral weight behind his ministry. We should ever seek to put Peter’s ministry into practice.

But behind every faithful preacher stands a good woman. For that reason it will be of great interest to meet Peter’s wife, as well as Peter, in heaven. Peter practised what he preached and Peter’s wife must have been the absolute embodiment of his preaching. "She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life" Prov.31.12.