1 Peter - Lesson 8
By Curt Niccum
1 Peter 3:1-7
Background Information for the Teacher
- The class will realize that the Gospel message can be shared effectively through action.
- Men will understand that wives are to receive honor in Christian marriages.
- The class will recognize the sanctity of marriage and the importance of marrying a Christian. (optional)
- Bibles for every student
- Copies of worksheet for lesson #8
- If devotional period is desired, you may need songbooks and to designate people for singing, praying, and scripture reading.
Concerned about the impact of persecution on the church, Peter writes 1) to assure the Christians of their place in God’s kingdom and 2) to urge them to live as members of that kingdom rather than to capitulate to the surrounding culture. Peter employs a traditional genre (the Household Code) for discussing family relationships within the Roman Empire. Having discussed Roman citizenship and the slave-master relationship, Peter moves to the third category in which the world competes against God for“lordship” (marriage) and which exposes the Christian to potential abuse. Peter also closes the section with a gentle reminder to husbands that they are called to honor their wives.
Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class
Devotional Period (5-10 minutes)
- Read 1 Peter 3:1-7.
- Sing at least two songs (you may choose from the following)
- God Give Us Christian Homes
- A Beautiful Life
- Take Time to be Holy (especially verse 2)
- Shine Jesus Shine
- Prayer (some appropriate subjects for prayer are listed below)
- For those married to non-believers, that they will have strength under pressure, courage to act as Christ, and success in bringing their spouses into a proper relationship with God.
- For stronger families because the strength of God’s kingdom is related to their strength.
Introduction (2 minutes)
- Welcome visitors.
- Distribute study sheets.
Review (5 minutes)
- Remind the class that Peter is adopting language about family strength. In other words, Peter is using language that people in his day would recognize as connecting the strength of the kingdom to the strength of the family. Also remind them that Peter focuses on the relationship of Christians to outsiders (non-Christians) within the various “family” categories associated with the Household Code whereas Paul typically speaks of relationships within the Christian family.
- Because of this, Peter emphasizes relationships where the clash between faith and unbelief can create animosity because of competing claims to lordship. Q: Based on last week’s lesson, what are the two challenges that faced Christians with regard to whom they should address as Lord? A: Christians within the Roman empire (2:13-17) were to call Caesar “lord” and Christian slaves even had to call unbelieving masters “lord”(2:18-25).
- Briefly discuss areas where the same conflict arises in today’s culture.
Evaluation (5 minutes)
- Ask members to share stories about opportunities they had to do “good” (as God defines it) in the previous week.
- Discuss also the types of reactions this “good” produced in others. Was it negative or positive? (Expect both. Last week’s lesson presumes a negative response while this week’s looks forward to a positive one.)
- As a transition into this lesson, have the class discuss how a Christian spouse doing “good” within a marriage where the partner does not believe in God might result in good or bad reactions.
Learning Experiences (20 minutes)
- In the first century when Peter wrote, women were largely considered second-rate citizens. Marriage was viewed primarily as a business arrangement which created an environment where wives could be treated as possessions. The traditional Household Code in Greek philosophy suggests that the wife’s demeanor towards her husband reflects the success of the husband’s leadership, the strength of the family unit, and even the sense of peace and order in the Roman Empire. Therefore, a woman viewed as insubordinate could be treated very harshly, and not just by her husband. It was a social, not just a family issue.
- The pluralistic nature of religion in the Roman world would have complicated things. Part of a wife’s “submission” was the acceptance of the husband’s religion. For most, this would not have presented any problems, for religion was generally not exclusive. A woman would merely add on the gods and/or goddesses worshipped by her mate. A convert to Christianity,on the other hand, renounced not only her own gods and goddesses, but those of her spouse as well. Becoming a Christian, therefore, would have been viewed as rebellion. In such a scenario one could not be a Christian wife and also be submissive.
- Thus, as with the slaves, Peter places conditions on submissiveness. One’s basic loyalty is directed first toward God. This does not remove the secondary loyalties to the empire, to masters, or to husbands. Again, what is “good” (as God defines it) must be done by the one whose citizenship is in heaven. Although Peter emphasizes the possible negative consequences of such action in the slave-master relationship (the Christian might be unjustly punished), he addresses the potentially positive results from interaction with non-believers in marriage (the pagan might be converted). This suggests that Peter may be using the Household Code to structure his teaching towards all Christians and not just within the specific relationships mentioned.
- The general instructions given to wives differ little from what Peter encourages all to do elsewhere in the letter.
- In verses 1 and 2, Peter repeats language he employed at the beginning of the section (2:12). The general command is to have good “conduct” so that when the Gentiles “see” the good works God will be praised. Here the wives’ good “conduct” which their Gentile husbands will “see” might result in winning them over to a right relationship with God. What better praise for God can there be?
- Pure and reverent conduct (3:2) and the imperishable nature of a gentle and quiet spirit (3:4) also are characteristics intended for all Christians (1:23). This lifestyle is even better than gold (3:3; see also 1:7 and 18).
- Although Peter’s directives in each category of the Household Code can, and probably should, be applied to all Christians, he also includes specific directions for each group. For the wives, Peter discourages seductive adornment.
- In the ancient world a married woman with braided hair wearing expensive jewelry and nice clothing would be viewed as promiscuous. Such attire suggested an intention to seduce. In public it was interpreted as a sign of being unfaithful to one’s husband, and thus certainly not being submissive.
- Today’s society is different. Although attire can in some cases send the same signals, nice clothing, jewelry, and coiffures generally represent a concern for proper appearance and good hygiene.
- Peter’s instructions, then, should not necessarily be viewed as prohibiting nice hairdos or the wearing of jewelry. In keeping with the sense of Peter’s teaching, however,before putting something on or getting “all gussied up” one should ask what is the reason for this look (intention) and what will others assume when they see me (implication).
- Peter’s instructions could, therefore, be applied more broadly. Any type of activity that might signal a refusal to honor one’s husband in a particular culture should be avoided. In some cultures that would be wearing jeans (they are frequently associated with prostitution). In others it could be eye contact with a male other than the husband.
- Peter reminds his readers of the larger issue of lordship by referring to Sarah who called Abraham “lord” (Genesis 18:12).“Lord” was certainly not the typical form of address for husbands in the first century, and Sarah provides the only biblical precedent. It is unlikely that Peter intends to introduce a new custom for Christian wives. Instead, this passage is a reminder of the potential for conflicting claims of lordship whileChristians live on this earth. (As noted last week, both the emperor and slave masters could be called “lord.”) Recognizing God as Lord qualifies how wives should treat their husbands. They should do “good” (again, as God defines it) and not be afraid of the consequences of such action. At the same time,their speech should reflect reverence and purity. (There certainly would be a temptation for wives, especially concerned about the spiritual future of their husbands, to speak even about the gospel in a confrontational manner. This would only increase suspicion about a wife’s insubordination. Rather, a peaceful and pure life colored by a respectful demeanor might accomplish more in such a situation than speaking a single word.)
- Peter closes with a word to Christian husbands married to Christian wives. Despite their shared salvation, a husband might find himself tempted to follow the cultural norm with regard to how he treats his wife. Abuse in Christian homes has always been a problem. The husband’s goal should be to honor his wife.
- Peter calls the female a “weaker vessel.” Although not politically correct today, the woman was universally recognized in the ancient world as physically weaker. Thus, Peter may have this in view, even though it may seem denigrating to some women today.
- On the other hand, then, as today, fragile dishes (another possible translation of “weaker vessel”) such as fine china typically do receive the greater honor. No one who has a fine set of china likes to serve guests using paper plates or iron skillets and bragging about how beautiful they are. This would present a more positive view of women (although still technically politically incorrect). It would be similar to Paul’s argument that the weaker (or more fragile) body parts are the more necessary and thus deserve greater honor (1Corinthians 12:22).
- A final warning concerns the efficacy of prayer. How we treat others has an effect on our prayer life. This only reiterates what Jesus himself said. Our relationship with God depends upon our relationship with others. See Matthew 6:12-15.
- Peter literally brings the discussion home by examining the most intimate relationship, that of husband and wife. InChristian marriage, there should be honor and not abuse. For those married to non-Christians, the sanctity of marriage remains. The Christian spouse, primarily through her actions, must present herself as one who can be devoted to both God and her husband. The potential reward is gaining the husband for Christ. The possibility of becoming a victim of abuse,however, remains very real, just as it does for Christians living in the midst of other worldly relationships. This, of course, also happened to Christ who was hung on a cross.
Application (10 minutes)
- Have class members relate any stories of this in action. In most classes there will be at least one example of a wife leading her husband to Christ through her Christian example.
- Have the class then address the topic more broadly. Have them discuss how Christian action specifically has led some to Christ. Look especially for people who are recent converts who might have a particularly important story to tell about the influence of Christian action in their conversion. It may need to be noted that Christians married Christians. Both Peter here and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 provide directions for new Christians whose spouses did not convert with them.
- Challenge the class to consciously attempt to imitate Christ in the coming week.
Assignment (2 minutes)
- Each member should read 1 Peter 3:8-17.
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