Husbands, in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. I Peter 3:7
It was sort of like a punch in the stomach. A former Covenant student had described the moral failure of a man to whom he had looked as both a spiritual father and a mentor. Everyone knows the devastating, life-changing consequences of moral failure, and yet it still happens. How does this occur—even among Christians?
I believe the paths to moral failure are many. It can begin with workaholism, carelessness towards temptation or even the self-doubt and selfishness of a mid-life crisis. But moral failure often begins through something more basic—simple ignorance and neglect.
Relational breakdown is often, in some large measure, the man’s fault. This is because, as modern day sage Dave Barry puts it, “Guys don’t really grasp what women mean by the word relationship.” Many men are simply not very relational, and their tendency in a relationship is simply not to think about it. However, if we take the Word of God seriously, neglect of relationships is not an option.
1 Peter 3:7 begins with, “Husbands, in the same way.” We need to look earlier in the book to answer the question, “In what way?” This question takes us back to 1 Peter 3:1, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands.” Here we see there is an authority structure at work. In 1 Peter 2:13 this is confirmed with, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men," and in 1 Peter 2:12 we see our motivation as we read, “Live such good lives among men,” and in 1 Peter 2:12 we see our motivation as we read, “Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in heaven on the day He visits us.” So you see the flow of argument in 1 Peter—the way you live before the pagans needs to bring glory to God on the day He visits us. “Husbands, in the same way (or, for your part, so that your behavior will be a witness) be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect.”
Do you realize the far-reaching implications which are expressed here of properly loving your spouse? Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, in their book, Intimate Allies, say that the marriage relationship is the first building block of the church. They explain: “If marriages are not growing in glory, then the church will be made up of crumbling stones.” How do we make sure that our marriages grow in glory? God made marriage. He knows how to make it work. He has told us how to make it work, and we need to listen. In 1 Peter He tells us, “Husbands in the same way, be considerate as you live with your wives,” or if I may translate that in a slightly different way; “Live with your wives according to knowledge.” Verse seven contains two injunctions: live with your wives according to knowledge and show her honor as a co-heir of the gracious gift of life. These injunctions are then followed by a motive clause, "so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
What does it mean to live with a woman according to knowledge? It means as we approach our wives we should do so according to knowledge—knowledge of God; knowledge of the faith, and knowledge of women—particularly that woman that God has placed into your life.
Too often we assume that after a few years of marriage we know our spouses, but as Allender and Longman point out, “We think we’ve explored their hearts and mapped all their territory, but nothing could be more untrue or more destructive.” Getting to know another person is a lifelong pursuit, but I think this verse gives us helpful clues toward success.
REMEMBER HER WEAKNESS
The first thing we must remember is that our wives are different from us. They are a weaker vessel. Now this does not imply they are less than equal to us. Remember they are co-heirs — different, but no better or worse. Some believe the words “weaker vessel” refer to moral frailty, but there is little to commend that approach in the text. It may be that the verse simply refers to men's greater muscular strength. I would also suggest that, perhaps the wife is a weaker vessel because she is in a more vulnerable position. She has voluntarily placed herself under her husband’s leadership.
Your wife is in a vulnerable position, therefore you must be careful, considerate and knowledgeable in the way you live with her. You need to consider her interests more than your own.
LEARN HER LANGUAGE
Another way our wives are different from us is that they speak a different language. My wife tells me she wants to go shopping to buy a pair of white shoes. The male mind, being task oriented, immediately begins to calculate the project: There are three or four shoe stores near our house, travel time is a half-hour there and back, white shoes are very common — two and a half hours max. Then I’ll be able to get back to my work and thus prove myself adequate (a basic male drive). We go shopping, and I flush out a pair of perfectly good white shoes. She doesn’t even raise her rifle. I flush out another pair and another—she even spots some on her own. She looks them over but is not much interested. She doesn't shoot a thing. We haven't bagged a pair of white shoes. Time is elapsing, pressures mount and I get frustrated. All the while she is thinking to herself, “I just wanted to spend time with this man. Why in the world did I want to spend time with this man?” What I need to learn is that when she says she wants to buy white shoes, she may actually mean, “I would like to spend an afternoon with you.” Men are literalists. They need to learn a different language.
Another example of the different ways in which women speak and men hear what they are saying might be when your wife says, “We never go out.” What is your response? “That’s not true. We went out last week,” or if you’ve been very busy, “We went out two months ago on a Thursday.” We take her words literally. Now my wife assures me that sometimes a woman does indeed mean exactly what she says—we never go out. But sometimes her words may simply mean she enjoys your company and would like to spend some time with you. The man, however, hears her request this way: “What a failure you are. You’re inadequate as a husband. We never do anything together anymore because you are boring and lazy.”
Men hate a sense of failure, which, if they misinterpret their wife’s words, is what they will feel. It seems like an attack, and so they attack back. If we simply learn to communicate in ways that each of us understands, then we can begin to live with one another according to knowledge. I would encourage you to extend your language. Don’t give your wife’s words wooden, literalistic, male-style translations. Go for the dynamic equivalent.
MARRIAGE TAKES WORK
A woman recently told me of a conversation she had with her brother in which she said, “You need to work at your marriage.” Her brother’s response was, “Huh? What does that mean?” I dare say most women know what it is to work at a relationship, but a lot of men do not. Her response to her brother was, “How do you work at your work, your hobbies, anything you love? You spend time thinking about it, you spend time talking about it, and you spend time involving yourself with it.” Do we study our wives? Do we get to know them so that we live with them according to knowledge? God challenges us as men not to say, “I’d better not think about it.” Rather we should study our wives so that we do “live with them according to knowledge.” Remember your marriage relationship is the first building block of the church. Remember that sharing your life and your love with your wife according to knowledge may be the most important thing you can do to bring the light of the gospel to a dysfunctional world. The only way we will succeed is with a firm sense that we are sinners saved by grace. Our wives are sinners, and we are sinners. As we recognize our stance before God in grace, we can graciously open our arms in grace to one another. Without a sense of the wholeness that we have in Christ, we cannot bring wholeness into our marriages. And without the Holy Spirit in our lives enabling us to trust in Him who judges justly, we will always feel the need to defend ourselves. Knowing that God is there in our relationships, knowing that our marriage is not a two-party relationship, but a three-party relationship, assures us we don’t need to defend ourselves—even on those rare occasions when we may be in the right!
Pre-eminently, what will make our marriages work, and what will make them a powerful testimony for the gospel is the purpose that our marriage serves. I challenge you to invest yourself in knowing your wife for the purpose of bringing glory to God.
Dr. Long is Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO. This article is reprinted from In Covenant, a publication of Covenant Theological Seminary, the National Seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Reprinted from the December 1997 & January 1998 issue of In Covenant Magazine.