A story is told of a couple returning from their honeymoon. She says to him, “If you put the toast on and make the tea we can have breakfast.” He says to her, “What’s for breakfast?” She replies, “Tea and toast.”
She may think that she has Scriptural warrant for such and attitude – after all isn’t there a book in the Bible called He-brews. Such a misuse of Scripture is usually the other way round. ‘Wives be submissive to your husbands’ is read by some husbands to mean that their wives are to be doormats. ‘Be submissive’ in the NIV is a mistranslation; it should be ‘Submit yourselves’ – active not passive. Husbands who stop there should read on to verse 7: 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.
‘In the same way’ is not a reference back to wives, but a reference to the submission of Jesus Christ at the end of chapter 2. This whole passage is about submission – to rulers and masters and to husbands – all should have the mind of Christ. So how does ‘In the same way’ apply to husbands? What are they to submit to? To a standard of behaviour; loving their wives as Christ loves the church. And remember He laid down his life for her.
Peter gives us three instructions on how we are to treat our wives. The first is to be considerate as we live with her. Of course we should not be inconsiderate – just take her for granted and assume that by marrying her and paying the bills you have done her a favour. Considering has to do with thought. We are to treat her thoughtfully. Being a husband is a lifetime job that we need to give some thought to. It turns out that men and women are different. You can’t treat your wife like you treat your male friends. She is unlikely to be impressed by an opportunity to sit on the couch with your feet up watching a football match while downing a six pack however much Bob or Dave would enjoy the experience.
Someone has written that there are five ways of expressing love. The first is with words. You may be a published poet or a writer of messages in birthday cards, but I’m not talking about flowery language here. Sometimes it is just a matter of answering her questions or paying attention when she speaks to you. We have all experienced drifting off into a reverie about a 60 yard pass from the previous weekend while she goes on about a dress she saw and then suddenly you realise that she is expecting an answer. You won’t be able to get away with a generic “Hmm.” or “Well, what do you think?” Listen!
Remarkably, you don’t have to be clever or eloquent. “I like you in that dress.” or “You know; you cook that dish better than my mother ever did.” are perfect examples of how to use words to show that you love her. But it shouldn’t stop there. Remember she has a brain (it may well be better than yours). Ask her opinion and take her advice. Discuss a book that you have both read. Read the Bible together. If you watch a movie or a TV program together, discuss it afterwards.
The second way to show love is with gifts. Someone once told me that you got a Brownie point for each gift, no matter how much it cost; one point for a packet of handkerchiefs but only one for a gold watch. I’m not suggesting that you split up a bunch of flowers and give them to her one at a time. Don’t be a cheapskate! But it doesn’t just have to be Christmas, birthday and wedding anniversary that you reach into your pocket. How about, “I saw this in the shop today, Honey, and I thought it would suit you.” or “You haven’t had any chocolates for a couple of weeks; I thought I’d buy you some on the way home from work.”
The third way (and probably the most important way) is to give her your time. You may think that a couple of extra hours at the office will improve your promotion prospects and in the long run enable you to give her a better house in a better area, but she will think that you prefer being with your mates at work rather than being with her. I know that work is demanding, especially in these difficult financial times, but your relationship with your wife is more important. If you really are so busy, then map out areas in your diary when you will spend time with her. You have no difficulty blocking out a few days for that business trip to Florida for which the company has pencilled in an evening trip to Sea World. And don’t think that you can make it up to her by taking her with you. What is she going to do, cooped up in a hotel while you ‘work’? Time with her should be time just with her. Arrange for someone to have the kids. It need not be a slap up meal or a show, if money is tight. Time together is what matters.
The fourth way is with deeds. Scrub the kitchen floor. She may have thought it was her job, but I can guarantee she wasn’t looking forward to it. When the roads are icy, drive her to the shops (but don’t dare to suggest she is not a good driver). Say something like, “If an accident is inevitable, I’d rather we had it together.” Bring her a cup of coffee while she is still asleep in the morning. Cook the dinner when it isn’t your turn. Send flowers to her mother. Put gas in her car and check the tires. Take the garbage out.
The final way is by physical touch. Men have this idea that every touch leads to sex, but this should not be so. Put your arms round her and kiss the back or her neck. Rub the back of your finger against her cheek. Hold her hand. Give her a foot massage. Try rubbing between her shoulder blades at the end of the day; there will often be knots of muscle there.
In other words, think about her needs and not just your own.
Peter’s second instruction is to ‘treat them with respect as the weaker partner’. What does he mean by the ‘weaker partner’? It certainly doesn’t mean that she is weaker intellectually or emotionally, or of less value. Some people think that it means that at certain times in the month she is more friable, but I don’t think this can be so; people stay married in their fifties and sixties. No, I think this just means that on average men are bigger and stronger than women. I know it isn’t always so. I came across a patient who weighed 280 pounds while her husband was 4 inches shorter and weighed only 130 pounds, but such an arrangement is the exception. At the Olympics men and women don’t compete at running, throwing or swimming; it would not be fair. Peter is here thinking about the physical. Things should be shared between husband and wife, but not equally. If there are heavy bags to carry, the husband should take the larger share. If there are heavy jobs to do, they should be the husband’s responsibility. The days of sending your wife up the ladder to clean out the gutters are over.
The husband has to stand up and be a man. You sometimes see a marriage where the wife has to look after her three little boys – her two sons and her husband. Mothers do their sons no favors if they continue to make their beds, clear up after them, polish their shoes, iron their shirts and buy their clothes. No wonder some men live with their mothers in their thirties and look for wives who will mother them!
But being bigger and stronger there must be no fighting. Young ladies if you are starting to think seriously about a young man and he hits you, end it there and then. There is no excuse. Wives, if your husband hits you, go to the police. Tell the elders of the church. Ensure that your marriage will continue only if there is no more violence. Church elders, take a firm line on this. Wife beating is not the unforgivable sin, but it should never happen again.
In the Greek ‘she is the weaker vessel’. Compared to the earthenware jar, she is the alabaster pot, like the one that held fine perfume; much more precious for being more breakable.
The third instruction concerns her spiritual life, for she is ‘as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life’. Some religions make women second class citizens, but that is not so for Christians – we are heirs together. Consider Islam and how suicide bombers think that they are going to Paradise to be rewarded with 70 virgins – as if a woman were a plaything. Consider how Jesus encouraged Mary to sit at his feet when her sister summoned her to the kitchen. Husbands and wives should pray together, study the Bible together, have fellowship with Christian friends together. Husbands should encourage their wives to feed their own souls. If she is in a crèche for the morning service then he should stay behind and look after the children so that she can attend the evening service.
Why should husbands behave like this? So that nothing hinders their prayers. Strife between husbands and wives stops us from praying. It becomes all consuming so that we have no mood for prayer. But more than this; the Lord will refuse to listen to him who abuses his wife, whom he has given him.