A meditation on 1 Peter 3.

Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. -Ps. 31:21

Last week we left off with Peter reflecting on the importance in the Christian life of suffering for doing good under the power structures we find ourselves embedded in, Emperor and subject, slave and master. I know there has been a chapter break but Peter’s subject has not really changed. He is continuing his point here as he moves on to husband and wife. Peter sees husband and wife as a power structure, the husband having power over his wife, the wife subject to the sinful will of the husband. Peter does not see this as merely cultural or accidental. He points us back to Abraham and Sarah, how Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her lord.

Now I know that language like this may be scary to some of you. Much violence, abuse and evil has been ignored by invoking the notion that the husband is the head of the household where it ought to have been rebuked or corrected. Nonetheless we are not at liberty to simply dismiss quickly or cheaply the fact that Peter finds the rightful power of the husband over the wife in the Hebrew Scriptures and expects Christians to live lives that inhabit and redeem rather than overturn this power structure. Just as Daniel inhabited and redeemed the government of Babylon, and Nehemiah inhabited and redeemed the government of Persia, wives are to inhabit and redeem homes governed by men, sometimes not even Christian men. I will bring up here that St. Paul does advise us not to be unequally yoked and seek out Christian spouses, but we are not always believers when we wed.

So how should the Christian woman live in the power structure of a home in rebellion against God? Peter tells such women to focus less on the beauty that can come from elaborate hairstyles or refined jewlery, but rather on a spiritual and behavioral beauty. Women are commended to have a gentle spirit, to have reverence of God, to examine their hearts and pursue purity and holiness in all that they do within this home. This will be either a rebuke against the husband’s rebelliousness or a call for him to turn and look upon the one who so transformed his wife. Be daughters of the faithful, do not live fleeing fear but racing after righteousness.

Christians are necessarily not Marxists. We do not overturn power structures by rebellion and strife. We look inward and let God transform our lives through grace and so live lives that point to Christ crucified and resurrected. In this way God turns pagan empires into Christian Kingdoms, in this way God transforms slavery into freedom, in this way God transforms broken marriages into the very image and outpouring of our salvation. We do not destroy except for the sin within us. And life pouring into us will pour out of us despite ourselves and the face of the earth will be made new. Peter doesn’t see us as a people who claw and clamor and protest, but a people who burn within injustice and show it the limits of its power by how irrelevant it is to us eternally, inwardly. Power in faith can only travel with us. Power in rebellion can only prepare us for heaven, sometimes traumatically and wickedly, but truly all the same. Let the heathen rage. He whose throne is in heaven is laughing.

Husbands then, like rulers, know who your shepherd is. Know whose sheep are in your power and how he will avenge them. Know that their meekness where you are evil is a burning coal upon your head. Turn then from self-indulgence to selfless love. For how does Jesus King of kings rule? That great shepherd of the sheep, the overseer of our souls gives up his life for the sheep and pours himself out for them. How then ought you to use the power entrusted to you by God when your wife promised to obey you on your wedding day? Pour out your life for her. Defend her from the wolves, physically and spiritually. Guide her to good food spiritually and physically. Encourage her in her trials. Journey together as husband and wife, celebrating in your joy a foretaste of the wedding banquet we will celebrate together at the end of time. Peter extols you that in her weakness is the glory of God revealed, travel together as co-heirs and let nothing hinder your prayers.

Vengeance is mine says the Lord (Exodus 23:4). Peter tells us that to keep our joy under authority we are to be sympathetic of one another, we are to pursue together seeking to be of like mind, we are to be humble, and we are not to seek revenge. Where another hurts or curses us we are to seek to bless them. This lines up with what Jesus says. Jesus tells us that if a Roman soldier forces us to carry his pack one mile carry it two, if someone sues us for our coat we should take the shirt off our back and give them that as well, if someone punches us we should turn and offer them our other cheek to be punched (Matthew 5). Yield don’t fight. Now this is nearly impossible to do, but Peter is asking this of us. Asking us to do what we cannot do. But I suspect in pursuing this with God’s grace there is the transformation of our conflicts, of our power structures, that may be amazing enough to make pagan households and empires Christian.

And here Peter returns to his theme of the last chapter again: If you do good who will punish you except those who hate the good? And if you suffer for being good, that is for us a blessing and encouragement.

Peter here also extols us to always have an answer for the hope that is in you. For those mourning over this world will wonder at it. We must be able to boldly say Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring me to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive again. By my baptism and my present sufferings, I have been united with him, that the same power that rose him from the grave has lifted me to a living hope in eternal life saved from my sins and from death and from hopelessness in this fallen and perishing country. We must be able to be joyful in suffering and humility and know how to share the source of that joy and hope. Gratitude is the mark of the Christian.

In Peter’s example of the hope that is within him that I have paraphrased above he brings up two doctrines that Anglicans believe which often other denominations, I’m looking at you Baptists, do not. I just want to raise them because this one of the biblical sources for these doctrines so its important to point out to you. First, Peter proclaims that Jesus alive in Spirit preached in hell to the souls of the damned. That’s just what St. Peter says, it arises also in Jude and so it’s taken as an article of Christian faith for Anglicans as something Jesus did. Second Peter says “this baptism now saves you, not in the washing away of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience towards God”. Baptism is the ordinary pathway into the household of faith, into the ark that will save us from the flood of God’s wrath. There is something supernatural about baptism. Although it is just a splash of or in dip in water by God’s promise it unites us with the righteousness of Jesus and gives us grace to have a clear conscience before God. In these waters we enter the hope of salvation and eternity. For some baptism is just a symbol. In medieval and reformation times the word symbol meant something different, it meant a teaching image that participated in the reality of the thing signified. Peter’s meaning here is clearly closer to the medieval/reformation understanding, that by participating in baptism, we enter the ark that saves us from the flood, we are united to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So may we hold on to the joy of the resurrection, may we endure our sufferings with hope, may we be ready to share that hope with others, may we be grateful and may God in our witness make all things new.

Praise be to the Lord, for he showed me the wonders of his love when I was in a city under siege. -Ps. 31:21