As we continue our study of how Christians can live honorably among non-believers and stand firm for Christ in their marriages, we come to Peter’s instructions for Christian husbands. Having established that wives are to come under the authority of their husbands in the marital relationship, Peter now explains to the husband how this authority is to be exercised.
We read in 1 Peter 3:7 that husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, honoring them as the “weaker vessel” in the relationship. But what does Peter mean when he calls the woman the “weaker vessel”? We must note that Peter does not have in mind here the idea that women are somehow inherently lesser than men spiritually. As the rest of the verse explains, wives are co-heirs with their husbands of the grace of life.
When Peter speaks of the woman as the weaker vessel, he likely has several things in mind. First is the idea of physical weakness since, generally speaking, men are physically stronger than most women and could use their strength against their wives. Secondly, Peter may also have been, without endorsing this view, responding to the idea that women in his day were viewed by much of society as weaker in dignity than men. Unfortunately, the continued objectification of women in our own society testifies that this remains an implicit assumption for many people even today. Finally, Peter may also be speaking of women having the lesser authority in the marital relationship.
Considering these emphases, Peter recognizes that it can be tempting for husbands to exercise their authority in a cruel and demeaning way. Therefore, in keeping with the biblical teaching on the dignity of both men and women, he calls husbands to honor their wives as the weaker vessel. Far from taking advantage of their own physical power, objectifying their wives, or using their authority in a cruel or demeaning way, husbands must instead respect their wives and exercise leadership lovingly and considerately. When this is done, the prayers of the couple are not hindered.
In several other places in the Bible, husbands are told to love their wives (Eph. 5:25). Today’s passage tells us that this is truly accomplished when husbands respect and honor their wives. John Calvin notes, “for nothing destroys the friendship of life more than contempt; nor can we really love any but those whom we esteem; for love must be connected with respect.” If you are married, remind your wife today in word and deed how much you love and respect her.