In my last few sermons we talked about how the ways we interact with others affect our witness to the gospel. Peter started out at a macro level in talking about how we relate to the government, then narrowed it down to how we relate at work, and now we get to dissect Peter’s words about the home. The way we relate to our family members definitely impacts our witness, since it is the people who share our lives that get to see the best and worst of us. If you want to know just how big a hypocrite you are, have kids and wait for them to become teenagers, they will break it all down for you. Our kids see our inconsistencies on a daily basis, and that has an impact on our witness to them. It is in our families that some of the hardest work of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and patience happens. In our home life we also have the place to practice and hone our gifts to build each other up. Peter asked us some tough questions over the last few sermons like “Is Jesus the Lord of your interactions with the government?” and “Is Jesus the Lord of your interactions at work?” Today we look at the tough question “Is Jesus the Lord of your home?”
There are some dynamics going on here behind the scenes of our text that are vital for us to understand if we are going to grasp what Peter is teaching. In every instance of interaction that Peter has given us, it is assumed that Christians are not the ones with power in the situation. The Christians Peter addressed in the last two sermons were subject peoples under a conquering governmental authority and slaves who were the property of a master. It is only in this week’s text that Peter addresses someone with any kind of power, and he addresses them last, almost as an afterthought. During the first century worldly power was, for the most part, inaccessible to Christians, and the writings of the very early church reflect that context and assumption. Another thing we need to note here is how radical it was for Peter to address women directly and not through their husbands/owners. We take for granted that women are autonomous human beings who are capable of moral agency, but this was not the common belief in non-Quaker Western Society as recently as 60 years ago let alone in Peter’s day. So try to realize as we read today’s text just how radical this had to be for the listeners of the mid to late first century.
1-2In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; 4let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights. 5This is how, long ago, holy women who put their hope in God made themselves beautiful: by respecting the authority of their husbands. 6Consider how Sarah, our mother, obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him “lord,” and you will be her daughters as long as you boldly do what is right without fear and without anxiety. 7In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel. Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers. 1 Peter 3:1-7
Keeping in mind the cultural context here, Peter just told the women he is addressing that they have the ability to accept authority and that they have a responsibility to do it in a way that imitates Christ. Women had a witness in a society that declared them to be voiceless. There is a power in actions that goes beyond the spoken word, and I think that applies to men as well as women. When our actions themselves point to God, we witness to the truth of the good news. That Peter is giving this instruction to women is a remarkable understanding of the vision of Jesus for the world. Jesus’ desire as expressed in his teaching was that all might come to know him and his saving grace. It should then be no surprise that we as Christians are given instruction in our various conditions in how to do that well in the circumstances we find ourselves in.
I am going to take a liberty here and try to interpret the next section into the modern context. Which I am going to guess by the content of the passage may not be too different from some of the attitudes about women in Peter’s time. Everything around us tells women that their primary value is in the way they look, from the Photoshopped covers of “beauty” magazines, to advertisements for just about every product imaginable, we are bludgeoned with the lie that a woman’s worth is derived from the exterior of her body and the way it is decorated or displayed. Peter is calling that out as a dark lie. That lie is destroying people in every school, church, and workplace and we can stand for the truth that the source of a person’s beauty is in the whole person, not just the visible parts. When we get caught up in judging ourselves by externals we step out of love and we say that something God created is not beautiful. It then becomes a very short step to judging others by those same standards, especially since that is an easy way to get the focus off of our shortcomings. If you want to be truly beautiful don’t let concern with physical appearances let you neglect the development of good character and dedication to the God who sees you through the eyes of love. The material centered systems of our society depend on us allowing our bodies to be seen as objects. The underlying message in this passage is that you must fight against being made into an object to be lusted after and instead work on accepting that you are a person who is beloved.
In the past women who sought to be holy did so through the practice of accepting the authority their society gave their husbands, treating them with the respect those societies called for. Now, things have changed and our society is no longer structured in the same ways, so what can we make of this passage. It seems to me that Peter is saying that there is a new requirement that goes beyond the old blind obedience to authority. If you would be part of God’s people you have the responsibility to do what is right and not succumb to fear, worry, and anxiety about how doing the right things will make you look to others. We are still called to treat people with respect, but we must go beyond respect and truly love. Let me stand with Peter to say that the women of this church have a voice, and not only that but you have the same moral agency and responsibility as men to pattern the use of your voice after the model of Jesus.
(Important side note here: Using violence against your spouse is a form of marital infidelity, and in that situation boldly doing what is right is taking yourself and the children and fleeing. If you find yourself, woman or man, in a situation at home that is physically unsafe we will help you get to safety. Call a pastor, or the police if the situation is immediately dangerous, and tell them what is going on and where you can be picked up.)
Now we get to Peter’s “Oh, right! There might actually be husbands in the church,” and try to translate it to today as well. Men, the women around us are treated as objects every day. As soon as they look at their first media: the TV, internet, magazine, or newspaper (Those still exist right?) they are hit with the messages I mentioned earlier. We can make sure that our homes are places where women are valued and cherished for the gifts God has bestowed upon them and not just for what they can give us. We can make sure that our church is a place where women’s gifts are welcomed and valued, in which ministers like Rosie and Kathy can find a space to use their gifts and our future ministers like Hailee, Madison, or Amy can see examples of respect shown for everyone’s gifts. Let’s take the time to listen to what the women in our lives have to experience and make our homes and church places of safety and shelter in which women and girls are valued as equal heirs of salvation not as objects to be possessed. Peter gives us men a warning here as well, if we want God to listen to us we need to listen to, respect, and value the women in our lives.
Friends, each one of us is under the authority of Jesus, and that means that regardless of external circumstances or abilities we all answer to him. We must respect each person’s responsibility before God and place nothing in each other’s way that could distract us from the voice of God. We all have the responsibility to listen for the voice of Jesus and to respect the calling that Jesus has placed on others’ lives. My calling as a pastor is to point each of you to Jesus to the best of my ability, to listen with you, to respect your gifts, to value each member of this community as incredibly beautiful bearers of the image of God. We have been given the greatest gift of a savior who died because he looked at us in our brokenness and imperfection and saw someone to love. Authority works differently for us as followers of Jesus, since he modeled a different way than the way of the world. Jesus had access to absolute power and he gave that up so that he might truly experience humanity. In order to be fully human he did not grasp at power, instead he served. Authority that models itself after Jesus is not the dominating control the world craves, but is instead loving service dedicated to those who it serves. As fellow slaves with Jesus what authority we do have has a much different priority structure than any other authority operating in this world. We are equally slaves of God, equally called to serve each other and spread the kingdom of God. True authority that derives from the saving grace of Jesus follows Jesus by taking up crosses of our own that others might be saved. Authority among equal slaves comes not from power but from sacrifice. I sacrifice for you and you sacrifice for me. Wives sacrifice for their husbands and husbands sacrifice for their wives. We all sacrifice for each other because Jesus thinks we are worth sacrificing for. Let us pray.
(During our open worship one of our youth shared about their experience growing up with unrealistic dolls that taught her a distorted view of beauty. She went on to share about a new realistic doll called the Lammily Doll. Here is a link to go support a doll that teaches “Average is Beautiful.”