Blue Prints for a Healthy Marriage

Four year old Suzie had just been told the story of ‘Snow White’ for the first time in her life.  She could hardly wait to get home from nursery school to tell her mommy. With wide-eyed excitement, she retold the fairy tale to her mother that afternoon. After relating how Prince Charming had arrived on his beautiful white horse and kissed Snow White back to life, Suzie asked loudly:

            ‘And do you know what happened then?’

            Yes,’ said her mom, ‘they lived happily ever after.’

            ‘No.’ responded Suzie, with a frown, ‘…they got married.’

            In childlike innocence, that little nursery schooler spoke the in-depth truth without realizing it. Getting married and living happily ever after are not necessarily synonymous.[i]

A cynic once observed: ‘All marriages are happy. It’s the living together afterward that causes all the trouble.”[ii] In a day and age where relationships are struggling, the most challenging but rewarding relationship is the marriage relationship. It is the foundation of our society. It’s a place where a new generation is being born and developed. It’s the place were values are being taught, both positive and negative. It is one of God’s greatest tools to shape our lives and it becomes the most profound example of what it means to be in a relationship with God. It is interesting that in both Old and New Testaments we see that marriage is a key metaphor in helping us understand our covenant relationship with God, and how we are in a oneness relationship with him. Marriage is the place where we learn to pour out our lives for another and when children come along to increase our capacity for giving.

Yet, it is also the relationship where we are most exposed and vulnerable. It is the place of greatest joy, but also of greatest pain. So, how can we work at making this critical relationship, not only work, but thrive? How can we build a healthy, loving marriage? The best place to turn for instructions is the operator’s manual. God, the originator of marriage (cf. Genesis 2:18-25). In 1 Peter 3:1-7, gives us amazing insights into how to grow our marriage. Here we are going to discover what makes people attractive, and the answers may surprise you.

            First of all he instructs wives and then moves to a succinct instruction for husbands. Peter gives very simple keys to creating a meaningful marriage relationship and I would add to any relationship. In I Peter 3:1-7, we discover God’s blueprints for a successful marriage. These are primarily attitudes that lead to healthy behaviors.  

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,

When they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hair styles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

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.[iii]

First Key in a Healthy Biblical Marriage is Submission.

In Ephesians 5:21, we have the idea of mutual submission. The husband exercises submission by loving his wife as Christ loved the church. In Ephesians 5:22 we discover that wives are to submit to their husbands, which is also what Peter is stating in this text in 1 Peter 3:1.

Here we need to understand the voluntary nature that is being asked of wives. Submitting is the opposite of self-assertion and the demanding of our rights. Walls and Anders in their commentary on Peter’s letters write: “It involves being satisfied at times with less than what one may deserve or claim as a right.”[iv]

Wives are to cultivate an inward beauty that is attractive. Here in our text it is described as a beauty that comes from the heart. The inner part of her being is described as ‘an unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.’ This is expressed in the relationship as an attitude of submission to her husband, which means that for a person to actually do this takes a great confidence and trust in God.

We are living in a culture that is superficial. We focus on externals, but here we see what makes for healthy, long-term relationships is what is happening within a person. A gentle and quiet spirit is persuasive and attractive and can only come from someone who is confident that God is ultimately in control and is entrusting themselves to God to work out what is best. This comes from a submitted heart to God.  But what does submission mean? In the Greek lexicon: “It is the Greek word, ‘hypotasso,’ and it literally means “to subordinate our rights.”[v]

All conflict is about who’s in charge or who’s in control. We are living in an hour that so many are struggling with conflict, people are violently demanding their rights; and yet the Christian message and example is one of yielding or laying aside our rights, dying to self and learning to trust God. It’s about being a servant. Submission does not imply inferiority. Nor does it suggest superiority, rather it speaks of a loving willingness to surrender to another’s leadership. It’s interesting that when Jesus came to earth, He willingly submitted himself to the Father in Heaven even though Jesus was absolutely equal to the Father. Peter describes three areas of submission that enriches a marriage relationship.

A. The first area where this submission needs to be seen is in the behavior of wives.

It is one thing to submit to a loving and understanding spouse, but Peter takes a more challenging situation where the husband is an unbeliever, or as I’ve pointed out to upset wives, someone who is behaving like an unbeliever.

What are wives to do when husbands aren’t listening to them? One temptation for a wife is to use the fine art of nagging. The reason why this is so ineffective as a method of seeing change occur in one’s husband is that it is primarily a message of rejection. I don’t like the way you are, or the way you do things. Secondly, nagging does not factor in the nature of men. One of the greatest needs of a husband is for their wives to respect them. This speaks to the need for affirmation. How many have discovered that arguments rarely if ever win people over. Living out the truth is a far more effective method of communication. So, for all the exasperated wives who are now thinking: ‘how can I be heard?’, hear what the wisdom literature teaches us in Proverbs 25:15: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.”

What is this verse saying? That the way to persuade is not ramping up the voltage on the conversation, but rather here we see the means of persuasion is through gentle communication. Notice the effect of that kind of communication. It is described as the ability to break a bone. But what does that mean? O.T. scholar, Duane Garrett relates: “The bones are the most rigid body parts inside of a person, and fracturing the bones here refers to breaking down the deepest, most hardened resistance to an idea a person may possess.”[vi]

The best way to persuade is through a gentle approach. This submission is illustrated in the life of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Wayne Grudem points out:

To be Sarah’s daughter is to be a joint heir of the promises and the honor given to her and to Abraham. The condition for being Sarah’s daughters is if you do right and let nothing terrify you. Both verbs are again present participles indicating a pattern of life continued over a period of time: ‘if you are doing right and not being frightened by any terror’, then you are (more accurately, ‘you have become’) Sarah’s daughter. Peter’s insistence on ‘doing right’ is a reminder that no acts of disobedience in Sarah’s life are to be imitated by Christian wives (cf. Gen. 16:2, 6; 18:15; perhaps 20:5); it is her submission to her husband and her trust in God that Peter commends. The condition ‘if you … let nothing terrify you’ is another way in which faith finds expression. A woman with ‘a gentle and quiet spirit’ who ‘continues hoping in God’ will not be terrified by circumstances or by an unbelieving or disobedient husband (cf. Gen. 20:6).[vii]

This does not suggest that a wife is to submit to her husband even if he tells her to do wrong. That would be taking this concept to the extreme. It’s amazing how we often tend to go to the extremes and those extremes are sinful. Whereas some wives in their desire to please God are willing to submit to their husbands in everything including what is wrong, other wives ignore their husbands altogether. Both are unhealthy. How do we ignore our husbands, you might ask? One subtle way is by putting other activities or people above them. We can put many good things at the expense of our family. That also happens just as frequently, if not more so, in the lives of husbands who abandon the home front for the work front.

This is not to suggest that wives are to be silent. Communication is the key to a good marriage or any relationship. However, nagging is not communication. It’s not the way to make someone listen. Rather it turns people off. After we make our point clearly in a winsome and gentle manner, we need to step back and allow God to have his way in the other person’s life.

When a husband stops listening, prayer becomes a powerful release and opportunity to watch God work in that person’s life. When we leave our husband in the hands of God, that is wisdom. God is able to handle the situation.

B. The second area of enhancing your marriage is in the area of appearance.

Peter is talking about the inner spiritual development. Here a wife is challenged to submit to the word of God, and allow a change to transpire in the inner life. The real key to seeing another person influenced by your life is not to go about changing them but rather allow God to work changes in your own life.

What may lure a man initially, is not the same as what will keep the man. Peter continues, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful (3:3-5).”

These verses have often been incorrectly interpreted by preachers and others by teaching that jewelry and forbidding woman from jewelry. This is not what this passage is teaching. 

‘Peter’s point is not that any of these are forbidden, but that they should not be a woman’s ‘adorning,’ her source of beauty.”[viii]  Rather beauty is something that should originate within the heart of the individual. I like what Charles Swindoll writes regarding submission. “It speaks of strength of character, strong self-control, a person of quiet elegance and dignity…It’s a picture of unusual beauty…. The picture is of a woman clothed with strength of character and confidence. She isn’t shallow or loud or cheap. She’s got class.”[ix] 

 C. The third area of responsibility for a Christian wife to enhance her marriage is in her attitudes.

We need to understand that submission is an attitude of the heart. Notice Sarah was willing to give the leadership role to Abraham. She recognized that God had a certain order and that Abraham was to lead. Whenever wives treat their husbands with respect it meets one of his great needs. It’s amazing, but when we give people respect, they generally live up to it. People are so beaten down, that when someone believes in them, they respond. Notice it says that “Sarah obeyed Abraham. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear (3:6).”    

The reason why many wives struggle with this area is because of fear. They question if they will be taken advantage of. There is always a risk when we do what God says. But it is only as we honor God by doing His Word that God can honor us in our marriage relationships.

The Second Key in a Healthy Biblical Marriage is a Considerate Attitude.

When a husband is concerned and understanding toward his wife, a lot of difficulties never occur. It also eliminates many misunderstandings. A women needs to know that her husband loves her, and one of the ways to demonstrate this is through consideration of her needs and feelings.       

“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 (1 Peter 3:7).”

A.  Peter relates how we are to show consideration as a husband lives with his wife.

This is more than just living at the same address. It is more than just providing for the family. Rather it is the husband’s responsibility to see that all is well on the home front. There are too many absent husbands in our homes today. I’m not just speaking about spending time at home, but to be emotionally involved with our spouse.

It’s tragic when a marriage degenerates down to the level of two strangers living together. Too often the husband treating his wife as an object rather than a partner in this life together. The KJV states it this way; “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge…” 

The ‘knowledge’ Peter intends here may include any knowledge that would be beneficial to the husband-wife relationship: knowledge of God’s purposes and principles for marriage; knowledge of the wife’s desires, goals, and frustrations; knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms; etc. A husband who lives according to such knowledge will greatly enrich his marriage relationship-yet such knowledge can only be gained through regular study of God’s Word and regular, unhurried times of private fellowship together as husband and wife.[x]

The responsibility of the home is primarily the husband’s. Generally, when our families fall apart it is an indictment against us as men. Most wives are looking for their husbands to love them, to care for them and about them. Obviously, there are other things that destroy relationships. However, when both parties are living out what God is asking of them, you will see spiritual growth within each partner. It is important that we ask where our wife is at emotionally, or where she is at spiritually. Don’t make assumptions because you are not listening. 

How do people respond to a person that they feel does not value them? One of two ways. There will either be a growing hostility or a sense of self-depreciation and diminishing of themselves. 

B. Secondly, husbands are to show consideration by treating their wives with respect. 

The KJV states it as “giving honor unto the wife…” It means to give value to your wife. 

“Love grows out of an attitude of honoring someone. When we decide someone is valuable, that decision alone is a major first step in acting out our love for the person.”[xi] We must never allow contempt to develop in our mind toward our wife. As soon as that occurs a husband will treat his wife harshly, which God forbids (Col. 3:19). 

Francine Klagsbrun in her book “Married People: Staying Together in the Age of Divorce,” interviewed 87 couples who had been married 15 years or more. She hoped to identify the factors that had enabled these marriages to survive and thrive in a time when some 40 percent end in divorce.    

Respect turned out to be a key element…It’s not the same as admiration. Says Dr. Alexandra Symonds, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, ‘When you fall in love, you admire the other. You look up to someone, much the way a child idealizes a parent.’

Such romantic admiration thrives and even depends on the illusion that he or she is ‘perfect for you.’ That’s why it doesn’t last.  “You come to see that the person you married isn’t exactly what you expected, ‘says Francine Klagsbrun. ‘There are differences of personality, of approaches to life; different ways of doing things.’ It’s now that real respect has a chance to develop.

You can try to change your mate back into your fantasy. But for the marriage to last you must agree to disagree, learning to let the other be. For respect is between peers…. Whenever we put someone else down, it sends the message that the other person has no worth… Good marriages nurture each other’s self-esteem…

Respect then is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique. These things take time to discover, accept and finally appreciate. That’s why respect is a quality of maturity in a marriage, not of the first heat of romance…

The root meaning of the word respect is ‘to look at’. Respect is a clear yet loving eye. It sees what is really there, but also is potentially there and helps bring it to fruition. Respect is the art of love by which married couples honor what is unique and best in each other.[xii]

In Peter’s charge we find that the husband is to “treat the wife with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life (v. 7).” If wives are weaker, then the husbands are weak. As God looks down from above, He sees our weaknesses. Some authors suggest that Peter speaks of wives being weaker here in the physical realm in a general way. Wayne Grudem points out: “But the context also shows that women are ‘weaker’ in terms of authority in the marriage, (vv1,5-6), and Peter therefore direct husbands that instead of misusing their authority for selfish ends they should use it to ‘bestow honor’ on their wives.”[xiii]

What we do discover is that the husband has great power for good or evil in the life of his wife.  We can either build up our wife up or tear her down. If you build her up, in reality you are building up yourself because the two have become one. If you are tearing your wife down, it means you are tearing yourself down. Remember, your wife is your equal when it comes to receiving from God. What I have discovered over the years is that men who diminish their wives really don’t love themselves.

The apostle Paul writes in: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Ephesians 5:28).” 

Therefore, we can conclude that he who doesn’t love his wife doesn’t love himself. The only way to change that is by believing that God loves you. When God’s Spirit comes into the human heart it changes us and creates within us a loving heart. Loving yourself, enables you to love your wife and love others.  

C. Husbands are admonished to be considerate to maintain harmony in their relationships with others.

When a man is inconsiderate, it leads to disharmony not only in the home, but also that disharmony spreads to other areas of his life. When we don’t treat our wife properly if negates our relationship with God. It negates our communication with God. It hinders our prayers.

No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife ‘in an understanding way, bestowing honor’ on her. To take the time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God’s will; it is serving God’; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight.[xiv]

[i] Charles R. Swindoll, Strike the Original Match, (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1980), 39

[ii] Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989) 232.

[iii] 1 Peter 3:1-7 New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[iv] David Walls & Max Anders, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Vol. 11, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers,1999), 48.

[v] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1042.

[vi] Duane Garrett, Proverbs, New American Commentary, Vol. 14 (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1993),207.

[vii] Wayne Grudem, “I Peter”, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 17 (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 150.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Charles R. Swindoll, Strike the Original Match, 47.

[x] Wayne Grudem, I Peter, 143.

[xi] Ibid, 144.

[xii] Annie Gottlieb, “Respect at the Heart of Successful Marriage”, Reader’s Digest, June 1988, 123-124.

[xiii] Grudem, I Peter, 146.

[xiv] Ibid, 154.          

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