One of the most counter cultural elements of the Christian life is the living out of the biblically mandated roles within marriage. The notion that wives should submit to their husbands is often met with shrieks of patriarchy and misogyny, without ever considering that there is not one single command directed to husbands to compel their wives to submit; in fact they are commanded to not be harsh with them (Col 3:19). And the notion that husbands are to live sacrificially for their wives (Eph 5:25) and are solely responsible for supporting his whole family (1 Tim 5:8) are equally unpopular. (Please note I am not saying that women are prohibited from working outside the home, but I am saying that it is the husband’s sole responsibility to adequately provide for the family.)
Because the bar is so high for Christian husbands, to love your wife as Christ loved the church, it is imperative for husbands to search the scriptures for every command and bit of wisdom that relates to what God expects from husbands. This search inevitably leads to 1 Peter 3:7:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
This verse is key to understanding what it means to be a Christian husband. But if you think this verse is saying, “merely show your wife emotional deference” or “women are the inferior sex,” I hate to tell you, you’re using it wrong!
Where people (and let’s be honest by people I mean men) tend to go wrong is in their interpretation of “understanding way” and “weaker vessel.” Rightly interpreting those two terms goes to the heart of what it means to be a Christian husband.
Live With Your Wife In an Understanding Way
Knowing what it means to “live with your wife in an understanding way,” starts with knowing what it doesn’t mean. It is not a command to emotional deference or an escape clause for when you don’t want to lead your family; and it is certainly not a get out of sin free card. Yet that is how it is often used.
How often have you heard a man excuse a serious household blunder or a bad decision by saying “yeah, but I have to live with my wife in an understanding way”? When a man says that he falls into rank next to Adam in the garden to wag his finger at God while shouting “that woman you gave me caused me to sin (Gen 3:12).” It is nothing more than sinful blame shifting.
When Peter says to live with your wife in an understanding way what he is actually saying is to live with your wife according to knowledge (no really he does). Literally he says “to live with your wife kata gnosin, according to knowledge.” This knowledge breaks down into three area.
First you have to live with your wife according to knowledge of your wife. Every person, and that includes women, even the one you are married to, has unique strengths and weakness, fears and goals, and history and hopes. You need to live with your wife according to knowledge of her, who she is and what makes her tick. It has been said a man cannot understand women, and while that is certainly true, out of the roughly 3.2 billion women on the planet you only have to understand (have knowledge of) one, your wife.
Secondly you need to have knowledge of the situation you (as a couple or a family) are in. Living with your wife in an understanding (according to knowledge) way means you must traffic in reality. You get to the bottom of things, you seek to understand them, and you gain your knowledge from reputable sources. If you are making decisions (or allowing them to be made) based on information gleaned from crackpot websites purporting to be telling you what the medical, financial, or any other kind of professionals don’t want you to know, you are not living with your wife in an understanding way.
Finally and most importantly you must live with your wife according to knowledge of the Bible. And not just what it says about being a husband either. In scripture we have all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). You have to know scripture to be able to speak it into your wife’s life. Does scripture have anything to say about whether you should buy a new Mercedes or a used Chevy, no. But it certainly has things to say about the use of debt, stewardship, and the pride of life (and hear me clearly, for some families the godly decision might be the new Mercedes, I am not issuing a call to poverty or even simplicity). Does scripture say anything about the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity or the pros and cons of vaccination? No. But it does have an awful lot to say about making health and security an idol and being governed by fear.
By the way it also has a lot to say about preferring others to yourself (Rom 12:10), putting the interests of others first (Phil 2:4), and about loving your wife (Eph 5:25). Living with your wife according to knowledge of the Bible means that you will always put her wants and needs above your own.
Honor the Woman as the Weaker Vessel
Again we have to start with what this does not mean. It does not mean that women are the inferior sex. I have seen this verse used to justify all kinds of nonsensical misogyny in the church. I have heard this used to advance the idea that there can never be a women’s Bible study because they will veer into heresy or at least split the church. I have heard it used to justify the neglecting of girls education, because why bother since their brains can’t handle it, so let’s make preparing them to be wives the sole focus of their education. These are sinful attitudes and it takes serpent level twisting of scripture to get them out of 1 Peter 3:7.
All this phrase says, is that women (as a general rule, and all things being equal) are physically weaker than men, and because of that husbands need to go out of their way to treat them with gentleness (cf Col 3:19). The word for weaker here always pertains to physical strength and is often used to describe the loss of strength due to illness. Women are simply constitutionally different than men, and we need to be mindful of that and act appropriately. We must never act in such a way that our wives could be intimidated or feel threatened by us. And we must never strike or in any other way put our hands on our wife in an angry matter. [Any kind of physical abuse is a law enforcement matter, not only should a husband who strikes his wife be subject to the church discipline process, his actions must be immediately reported to the authorities for appropriate action.]
Notice too Peter doesn’t say that women are weak and men are strong, he says, “women are weaker,” and by implication men are weak also. I once saw a video tape of an NCAA super heavyweight wrestling star attempt to wrestle an orangutan while traveling in Southeast Asia. That tape made it comically clear even the strongest of men are tremendously weak. (And if you don’t believe me just go to the nearest zoo and leap into the gorilla enclosure and challenge the silverback. But please make sure the cameras are rolling, you’ll get lots of hits on YouTube, I promise).
So now that you know, put 1 Peter 3:7 into action. Lead your family, love your wife, and live with her in an understanding way. Always remember, he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains a blessing from the Lord (Prov 18:22)