Natural Relationships

1 Peter 2:18‑25; 1 Peter 3:1‑7  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 9
(Chapters 2:18–3:7)
Peter goes on to address the conduct that Christians should have in their natural relationships in the household. What he has touched on, thus far, have been the new things that Christianity has brought into the world. But what is now before us is not new; these natural relationships have been in existence long before Christianity.
The salient point in this section of the epistle is that the new life does not negate or run counter to natural relationships and responsibilities. What Christianity has done is to set these natural relationships in a new light. Hence, the exhortations that follow address the conduct that should be found in believers who are in one or more of these natural stations of life, and this is in view of rendering a godly testimony for Christ in this world.
Household Servants
(Vss. 18-25)
The first of these natural relationships is household servants. Peter says, “Household servants, be in subjection with all fear to your masters, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the crooked [ill-tempered]. For this is grace if for conscience toward God one endureth griefs, suffering unjustly [wrongfully]. For what glory is it if when ye sin and are buffeted ye shall endure? But if when ye do well and suffer ye shall endure [take it patiently], this is grace [acceptable] with God” (W. Kelly Trans.). The Greek word for “servants” here is not the usual word used in the New Testament, which is “bondmen” (slaves). The word used here refers to those who were servants, but not necessarily slaves.
Having addressed the need for subjection to the governmental authorities in the lands wherein we live (vss. 13-17), Peter insists on similar “subjection” in the household (vss. 18-20). The great point here is that the servant is to be subject to his master, but at the same time, he is to maintain a good conscience before God. This is particularly challenging when the master is “crooked” and he asks the servant to do something morally or ethically wrong. Refusing to do something evil will oftentimes lead to the servant suffering “wrongfully.” Peter says that it would be no credit for us to suffer for wrongdoing. But, if we suffer “patiently” for refusing to do evil “for conscience sake,” it glorifies God and bears witness to the fact that we have something (our faith in Christ) that is worth suffering for. There has been many a master who has been converted through their servants living by upright values in the name of Christ.
Living in the western world where having masters and servants in a household is not customary, we might be inclined to think that this passage has no application for us today. However, when we are gainfully employed at some firm, we are, in principle, in the same position as these Christian servants. During the hours of our employment, we render our services to the firm that has hired us, and in doing so, the injunctions given to servants here, and elsewhere in the New Testament, have a practical application to us (Eph. 6:5-85Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. (Ephesians 6:5‑8); Col. 3:22-2522Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: 23And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; 24Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. 25But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. (Colossians 3:22‑25); 1 Tim. 6:11Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. (1 Timothy 6:1)). Likewise, employers who manage a company and have employees, in principle, are in the position of masters, and they are to run their companies in a way that would honour the Lord (Eph. 6:99And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. (Ephesians 6:9); Col. 4:11Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1); 1 Tim. 6:22And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. (1 Timothy 6:2)).
Vss. 21-25—To help servants meet these trying circumstances in the workplace in a right way, Peter brings in two things:
•  The example of Christ’s life (vss. 21-23).
•  The sacrifice of Christ’s death (vss. 24-25).
As to the first, he says, “For even hereunto were ye called: Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example [model], that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” The trying and difficult circumstance of working under an overbearing master affords the servant a golden opportunity to show forth the excellencies (virtues) of Christ. But this is not easy to do when we know that we are suffering wrongfully. As a “model” for all right conduct under such circumstances, Peter points us to Christ, the perfect Servant. No one suffered wrongfully more than He did, and no one ever took the suffering with such a wonderful spirit of meekness and grace! Servants suffering for injustices in the workplace are to “follow His steps” and His “example” of patient submission when they have to suffer in this way. The setting of this exhortation is that of servants suffering in their station of life, but Peter’s words of encouragement here, apply to anyone who suffers wrongfully.
Christ suffered, but not for His own sins, because He had no sins. Scripture says, “He did no sin” (vs. 22), He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:2121For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)), and “in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:55And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. (1 John 3:5)). Yet He suffered patiently under the false accusations that were hurled at Him. When He was falsely accused before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council), He “held His peace” (Matt. 26:6363But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. (Matthew 26:63)), and then before Herod, He demonstrated the same restraint—He “answered him nothing” (Luke 23:99Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing. (Luke 23:9)). And, He exercised the same restraint again before Pilate—He “answered him never a word” (Matt. 27:12-1412And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. 13Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? 14And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. (Matthew 27:12‑14)). He made no attempt to defend Himself, or to retaliate. Peter says, “When He was reviled” with abusive words, He “reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.” There was no “guile” in His mouth; He never said a word in a wrong tone of voice! Instead of exonerating Himself, He “committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously,” and thus, fulfilled Isaiah 53:77He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7) perfectly. The Lord’s conduct shows us how we are to behave when we are maligned and persecuted for doing what is right before God. We learn from this that we mustn’t allow ourselves to get drawn into word fights when we are reviled or to make threats to get even, etc.
As to the second thing, Peter says, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop [Overseer] of your souls” (vss. 24-25). We might wonder why he would bring in Christ’s work on the cross wherein He made atonement when it is not possible for us to follow Him in that kind of suffering—only He could make atonement for sins. But taking a closer look at the passage we will see that Peter is not asking us to imitate the Lord in atonement, but rather, to be cognizant of what He accomplished in atonement. His suffering for sins is not set before us as a model here, but as a motivation to cease from sinning. Peter’s rationale is that since Christ suffered so dearly to put away our sins, we cannot rightly go on in those things that cost Him so much. To carry on in those sins is a heartless mis-consideration of what He went through to put them away.
Putting this in context; by responding in a fleshly way to wrongs done against us, we are doing something that cost the Lord unmeasureable suffering! How can God approve of that? All such fleshly actions are not God’s way of behaving when we are persecuted, “for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:2020For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)). The flesh feels justified in sinning when it knows that it has been wronged, but if we have truly been “healed” by His “stripes” (spiritually), we will not want to respond to injustices against us with a sinful display of anger, railing, etc. Peter states that the purpose of Christ’s death is to sever believers from the course of sins that they once pursued (which is what “dead to sins” means) in order that they would “live unto righteousness.” Therefore, the only right thing to do when tested in these difficult situations is to seek grace from God to behave in a way that would glorify the Lord (James 4:66But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6)).
Verse 24, has to do with what Christ did for us in the past on the cross, but verse 25, has to do with what He is doing for us at the present—caring and keeping us in the path of faith. His eye is ever upon those whom He has redeemed, watching over them as their “Shepherd” and “Overseer.” As our Shepherd, He feeds us with spiritual food (vs. 2); as our Overseer, He guides and guards us from spiritual attacks from the enemy (chap. 5:8). If we keep close to Him, we will be delivered from the pitfalls in the way (Deut. 33:1212And of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders. (Deuteronomy 33:12)). Before these Jewish saints were saved, not having the Lord to help them in this practical way, they were “going astray” in the darkness of empty Judaism, but now, having received Christ, they were on the path of faith under His care and keeping.
Wives
(Chap. 3:1-6)
Peter passes on to address the marriage relationship, supposing a situation where the wife is a believer and her husband is not. He shows that through quiet, godly living she can testify of Christ and win her husband to Him. He says, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation [manner of life] of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation [manner of life] coupled with fear” (vss. 1-2).
For a believer to be united to an unbeliever in marriage is exceedingly difficult. No one should voluntarily go into such a union; it would be pure disobedience (2 Cor. 6:1414Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)). Peter is not speaking of that here, but of a situation where the gospel has reached two unbelievers in a marriage, and one (the wife) gets saved. God may use the difficulties of an unequal yoke in marriage as a discipline for the one who has willfully entered into that unscriptural union, but in the case in which Peter is speaking, He will give grace to meet the situation. When such a case exists, much wisdom is needed on the part of the believing partner. The answer is not divorce, but to remain in that calling and to be a bright testimony for Christ in it (1 Cor. 7:13-1613And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:13‑16)).
Peter’s line of thought here is simple; since the husband rejects the Word, the wife is to win him “without the Word”—that is, without preaching at him. She is to display the character of Christ, and over time, the Spirit of God will use it to convict him and win him to Christ (Prov. 11:3030The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. (Proverbs 11:30)). This shows that actions often speak louder than words. The thought of a woman submitting to a man is repugnant in today’s society, yet it is God’s principle of blessing and healing in a marriage. Such is the power of a quiet, submissive spirit that God identifies with, and blesses. On the other hand, a strong, dominating woman will often drive her unbelieving husband further away from Christ.
Peter adds, “Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (vss. 3-4). This shows that the beauty the wife is to have is an inward moral thing, rather than an outward display of worldly adornment. The point here is that it will not be her outward appearance in hair and apparel that will win her husband to the Lord, but her inner life of holiness and submission. Ornate clothing and hairstyles tend to attract attention to the person rather than to Christ. The Spirit of God will not identify with worldliness in a wife, but He will identify with her godliness and will use it to convict her unbelieving husband. Peter is not encouraging slovenliness in women’s dress; there is no virtue in that. What he is saying is that God appreciates “a meek and quiet spirit,” and that is what every Christian woman should be concerned about.
Peter then points to the character of holy women in Old Testament times. They didn’t have Christ before them as a motive as Christian women do today, but they displayed a spirit of submission to their husbands that was commendable. He says, “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement [consternation].” Sarah “obeyed” Abraham, and Peter sets her example before us as a model for Christian wives. The Apostle Paul lifts Christian marriage to a higher plane in keeping with the revelation of the Mystery which was committed to him. The model he sets before us is not that of Abraham and Sarah, but of “Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:3232This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)). Accordingly, Paul tells children and servants in the household to “obey” (Eph. 6:1, 51Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)
5Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; (Ephesians 6:5)
), but wives, having a different relationship with the head of the house, are to “submit” (Eph. 5:2222Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22); Col. 3:1818Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. (Colossians 3:18)). Submission is slightly different from obedience, having to do more with the attitude of the heart and the will. Whereas, with obedience, one could obey but not have his heart engaged at all. Demanding obedience from the wife reduces Christian marriage to a legal arrangement, and this spoils the picture that it is supposed to exhibit of Christ and the Church.
Sarah referred to Abraham as “lord.” Peter is not suggesting that Christian women should literally call their husbands “lord” when speaking to them. Sarah said it “within herself” (Gen. 18:1212Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also? (Genesis 18:12)); thus, it was the attitude of her heart by giving Abraham his rightful place as head of the household. She is the example for all “holy women.” Christian wives who follow her example are morally her “daughters.” The Christian testimony needs holy women more today than ever.
Husbands
(Chapter 3:7)
Peter says, “Likewise ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” Husbands are not told to claim submission from their wives and to insist upon it; they are to win their respect by dwelling with them “according to knowledge.” The knowledge that he is referring to here is that which is required of each partner in the marriage relationship. H. Smith said that it is “the knowledge of the relationship as instituted by God” (The Epistles of Peter, p. 21). Hence, the principles of Christian marriage are not based on the customs and culture of the land in which we live, but on what God has ordained in Scripture concerning marriage. This means that husbands cannot treat their wives in some untoward way, and excuse it by saying, “It’s the custom in our country.” The husband also needs to know the natural limitations of his wife, physically and emotionally, as being the “weaker vessel,” and to be considerate in all things. He is to recognize what his wife is able for—in work, in travel, even in child bearing—and not to demand of her more than what she is physically and emotionally capable of handling.
Thus, the wife is to give her husband “subjection” (vs. 1) and the husband is to give his wife “honour” (vs. 7). Being the “weaker” vessel does not mean that she is inferior. Note: she is called the “weaker” vessel, not the “weak” vessel, which implies that he is the strong vessel in the marriage. Stating that she is “weaker” implies that the husband is weak too; but that she is just the weaker of the two. This means that both need to be cast upon the Lord in dependence to ensure a happy and successful marriage.
“Heirs together of the grace of life,” is not referring to the believer’s eternal heritage of spiritual blessings in Christ (Acts 20:32; 26:1832And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:18)
; Col. 1:1212Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: (Colossians 1:12); 1 Peter 1:44To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, (1 Peter 1:4)). Rather, it is referring to the natural benefits that come with marriage in this life. If a Christian couple follows the simple principles of marriage as laid out in God’s Word, they will have the smile of the Lord’s approval, and they can expect to have His blessing in a practical way. They are not to allow anything to come between them that would hinder them from bowing their knees together in the Lord’s presence and expressing their dependence upon Him for their needs. This is what Peter means by saying, “That your prayers be not hindered.” Quarreling and bickering will certainly do this.