Ever since 2:13, Peter has been fleshing out his exhortation of 2:11–12, where he exhorted his readers to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” and to “keep [their] conduct among the Gentiles honourable.” Specifically, he has been concerned about honourable behaviour toward the Gentiles who “speak against you as evildoers.” His burden, in other words, has been honourable behaviour before vocal and cynical unbelievers. He has shown what this looks like before an unbelieving government (2:13–17), an unbelieving employer (2:18–25) and an unbelieving husband (3:1–6). He will apply this truth to one more area (unbelieving enemies, 3:8–17) but, first, he digresses slightly to address husbands within the church (1 Peter 3:7). How must husbands show “honourable” conduct to their wives?
In this digression, Peter does not focus on unbelieving wives. While the principles he draws will certainly apply to the husband of an unbelieving wife, he writes here to believing husbands about their wives who are “heirs with you of the grace of life.” In other words, having exhorted believing wives how to behave toward their unbelieving husbands, he briefly turns to how believing husbands should respond to their believing wives. In essence, he gives a fourfold exhortation.
First, the believing husband must imitate Christ before his believing wife. He begins his exhortation with “likewise,” which ties what he will say to what he has just said to believing wives. But he also began his exhortation to believing wives with “likewise” (v. 1), which ties what he said to them to what he said to employees (2:18–25). His exhortation to servants was to emulate Christ in their submission to their masters. Wives should “likewise” emulate Christ (vv. 1–6) and husbands should do “likewise” (v. 7).
Husband, do you imitate Christ in your relationship with your wife? Do you love her and give yourself for her—even if she crucifies you? Is your attitude toward her one of loving sacrifice rather than assertive dominance?
Second, the believing husband must strive to know his wife. Men frequently joke that women are impossible to understand. Peter will have none of it. He charges husbands to labour to understand their wives—a lifelong pursuit since people change over time. It takes concentrated effort for a husband to understand his wife and deliberate intentionality to live in such a way that makes it easier for his wife to fulfil her responsibility (vv. 1–6).
Husband, do you work hard to understand your wife and to lovingly lead her in a way that displays that understanding? Do you know her likes and dislikes, her wants, and her needs? Do you ask questions and respond to her as Christ knows and loves his church? Do you know her well enough to lead her in a way that will help her flourish?
Third, the believing husband must work hard to protect his wife. As a general rule, the wife will be the “weaker vessel” (a reference to physical strength) in a relationship and the husband must do what he can to protect her. Since the entrance of sin into the world, men have abused their physical dominance over women. Gender-based violence is a huge problem in South African society and, sadly, sometimes in South African churches. The Bible gives no excuse for this. Your wife is an heir with you of God’s grace and you must treat her appropriately. As Christ is protective of his bride, be protective of yours.
Husband, do you protect your bride? Do you stand up for her when she is mistreated? Do you provide for her and care for her as your greatest treasure? Do you recognise the priceless gift God has given to you and love her as Christ loved the church?
Fourth, the believing husband must treasure his wife. She is an “heir with you of the grace of life.” It was unknown in the ancient world to elevate women to the same level as men, but the Bible makes no apologies for this. The Christian husband must recognise the immense value of his wife and prize her appropriately.
How serious is God about all of this? Peter says it plainly: “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” To mistreat your wife is to hinder your relationship with God. When you treat your wife with contempt or indifference, God resists you. His ears are open to the prayers of the righteous, but his face is against those who do evil (v. 12). How sobering to realise that your relationship with God is directly correlated to the way you treat—or mistreat—your wife.
If you are a married man, allow this verse to challenge you to think carefully about the way you treat your wife, the most treasured possession God has given you. If you are a single man, pray that God will help you to view women in this way so that you will treat your fellow heirs appropriately. If you are a single woman, look and pray for the kind of man who displays these attitudes and actions. If you are a Christian, thank God that Christ treats his bride in this way so that you never have to fear wrongful behaviour from him.