By Mike Willis
We are constantly reading about someone going somewhere to preach the gospel in some area where it is desperately needed. Without detracting from what these good men are doing in hard areas, I would like to suggest that there is a neglected mission field very nearby to many of us. I am referring to the home.
Many homes exist in which only one mate is a Christian. Other homes raise several children without any of them choosing to become a Christian. The number of children of Christians who are lost to the world is large enough that it should be alarming to every Christian. The rise in the number of divorces which are occurring in the families who are Christians and the number of serious family problems facing Christian families reminds us of the need of the gospel in the home. These evidences portray the “Christian home” as a neglected mission field.
Although there are many directions to go in applying these observations, I would like to primarily direct attention to the situation which exists when one marriage partner is a Christian and the other is not. We are reminded that Christianity is not revolutionary with reference to existing social arrangements; marriages are not destroyed because one person becomes a Christian and the other does not (I Cor. 7:12-24). However, there come times when a person, desiring to be obedient to the Lord, must choose between serving the Lord and holding on to his mate (Matt. 10:34-39). In cases where one marriage partner becomes a Christian and the other does not, what is the Christian to do?
The apostle Peter wrote the following instructions directed to this situation. He instructed Christian women regarding how they should conduct themselves toward their unbelieving husbands.
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 of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting tee 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. 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 (1 Pet. 3:1-6).
Let us notice the following observations drawn from these verses.
1. These verses presuppose the study of God’s word. In the opening verse, Peter mentioned the failure of the attempt to convert the unbeliever with the word. I would suggest, first of all, that every person who is married to an unbeliever should begin by studying the word of God with him. I have frequently heard Christians warn people who came to visit them not to mention the Bible because the mate was not a Christian. A person might conclude that they are afraid that they might hear the gospel and become a Christian, judging by this conduct. If I were married to a non-Christian, I would want those who might have some influence over my mate to do what they could to teach her the gospel. Hence, if you are married to a non-Christian, begin by trying to teach the word of God to him.
2. Use the influence of a holy life. In the event that teaching the gospel does not have an impact on the non-Christian, the Christian mate has no right to use pressure to try to make the unbeliever obey the gospel. Withholding conjugal rights, pouting, and other forms of misconduct used to bring pressure on the unbeliever will only cause a deep resentment. The only influence which can be brought upon the unbeliever other than the teaching of the revealed word is the influence of a holy life. Consequently, Peter mentioned things which should be characteristic of the holy life of a Christian wife trying to influence her unbelieving companion.
a. Be in subjection. Becoming a Christian does not release the wife from her responsibility to be subject to her husband. All wives are commanded to be in subjection to their husbands (1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:22-23); hence, the same is required of the Christian wife married to a non-Christian husband. However, this is even more necessary for the Christian married to the unbeliever. She must so conduct herself that he sees the virtue of her life and desires to become a Christian. Refusal to be subject to her husband would be damaging to her attempts to convert her husband.
The subjection of the believer to the unbelieving husband needed to be stated for another reason. Frequently the believer is subjected to forms of abusive treatment because of her faith in God. The husband might blaspheme the Christ who died for us. He might impose hardships which make it difficult for her to assemble with the saints or in some other way make it difficult for her to serve her Lord. Nevertheless, she must be in subjection to her husband. These are not reasons for rebelling against God’s holy commandment to be subject to the husband.
b. Chaste conversation. The second thing which Peter commanded of the believing companion was chaste manner of life (conversation in the AV refers to manner of life and not merely one’s speech). The word from which chaste is translated means “pure from carnality, chaste, modest” and “pure from every fault, immaculate” (Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 8). Hence, the believing wife must be sure that her- conduct is above reproach.
She must be careful to maintain her-purity for her husband. Hence, she should dress in such a way that she does not call attention to her body (1 Tim. 2:9-10). She should not be a flirt or man chaser. She should not put herself in compromising situations which might make her husband suspicious or jealous. In every way, she should reserve herself sexually for her husband and him alone.
Her blameless conduct should also show itself in other aspects of her life. Her speech should be pure. Her house should be well-kept. She should prepare meals suitable to the budget and the man’s taste. In no way should she leave herself open to the criticism that she is spending all of her time at the church and leaving her responsibilities related to the home undone. In all of these matters, she should conduct herself above reproach.
c. Reverence the husband. Peter instructed that the wife should manifest “chaste conversation coupled with fear” (I Pet. 3:2). The word phobos is not referring to “terror” but to “reverence and respect.” The example of Sarah’s reverence for her husband Abraham, calling him “lord” (1 Pet. 3:6) demonstrates what Peter meant. The unbelieving husband should be respected.
Though there are cases in which a husband so abuses his wife that she cannot respect him, these cases are rare. In normal cases, the husband gets along with his wife in every respect except that he is not a Christian. The wife should respect such a man as this. He goes to work every day, brings home his pay-check for the family to use; he does not indulge his appetites by wasting his money on drinking, gambling, or wasteful luxuries. Such a man deserves the respect of his wife. The Christian wife should give the respect which is properly due such a man, not withholding it simply because he is not a Christian.
d. Limited emphasis on outward adorning. Peter commanded that the Christian wife should not place an undue emphasis on the outward appearance. Some have mistaken the construction of this verse to make it teach that this is an absolute prohibition of women wearing jewelry or plaiting the hair. If that is so, the same verse becomes an absolute prohibition against her wearing clothes, for all three are mentioned in the same list (1 Pet. 3:3)! Instead of that being what Peter is saying, he is emphasizing the need of not making these things one’s primary emphasis. John 6:27 contains a similar construction. There Jesus said, “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life . . . .” Jesus was not commanding men not to work for a living; He was simply emphasizing the need for working for something more important than bread alone. That is exactly what Peter is saying in this verse.
The Christian woman should not place such an emphasis on the adorning of the body that the spirit is neglected. Some women chase after the things pertaining to outward appearance to such an extent that the home is disrupted thereby. I have known some women who constantly kept their husbands in debt or broke in order to pay for the clothes, shoes, jewelry, knickknacks, and other unneeded items. A Christian woman will not treat her husband in this manner; if she does, she only causes him to disrespect her.
A word of caution needs to be mentioned here. This verse is not commending the woman who has no concern for how she looks or keeps house. The woman who does not comb her hair, wash her face, spruce up a little, and otherwise take care of her body is not more spiritual than the one who does these things. The truth of the matter is that the woman who lets herself go is likely to lose a husband. This immoral world holds too many attractions to allure the husband whose wife makes no effort to be attractive to him!
e. Emphasis on the character. The Christian wife will be primarily interested in adorning the spirit, not merely the body. She realizes that the spirit is incorruptible (1 Pet. 3:4). I might add that it is also precious in the sight of man! Poverty may keep a woman from wearing fancy clothes and old age may dim the beauty of the body but nothing can prevent one manifesting a well-adorned spirit.
Beauty will fade with age. A beautiful wife with an ungodly, ugly disposition cannot hold a husband very long before he will be wanting to look somewhere else. The woman whose sole concern is an attractive body well adorned is unaware that she is “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). The kind of spirit which this woman needs is one that is meek and quiet.
The word praeos is defined as “gentle, mild, meek.” Some equate meekness with weakness; however, it should be remembered that Jesus was described as meek (Matt. 11:29). The word esuchios is defined as “quiet, tranquil.” It is the same word as appears in 1 Tim. 2:2; hence, it is not referring to silence. Both of these words describe a disposition which is the opposite of that of a self-asserting, caustic, stormy, bitter disposition. This is quite a contrast to the picture of woman presented by supporters of the E.R.A. Nevertheless, these are the traits demanded by the Holy Spirit.
The Christian wife who is married to an unbeliever might truly desire to do more for the advancement of the gospel of Christ. She might wish that she could go with a Christian husband into a foreign land to preach the gospel. Such cannot be the case. However, she needs to realize that there is a mission field in her home. No doubt, in addition to her unbelieving companion, there will be children born into the family. She can take the gospel to each of them. Let her begin by trying to teach the word to her husband and children. If this fails, she should try to win these people for Christ by her conduct.
Unfortunately, God has not revealed that the unbeliever will become a believer in every case in which this is done. She might do her best to teach her mate and live a blameless life before him and still lose her husband to the Devil. She should not blame herself or feel that she has failed as a Christian in such a case. Rather, she should persevere in living a life which pleases the Lord.
I remember worshiping with a woman who had several kids a few years ago. A number of times, I tried to talk to her husband about the gospel. Every time that I failed, I wondered whether or not she was leading a good example before him. As the years have passed, I have watched every one of her children grow up. All of them are faithful Christians; two are married to Christians. Nevertheless, her husband remains an unbeliever. I admire that woman more every day as I contrast the impact of her godly life upon her family with that of other women in the same situation as her who lose their children. She never dressed luxuriously, never caused any. problems in the church, was always ready to address the bulletin, clean the building, or teach a class as she had the opportunity to serve, and to do whatever she could to promote the kingdom of God. I pay tribute to her and the hundreds of God-fearing sisters which I have in Christ who are doing what they can in their own private mission field to win the lost for Christ. God bless each of them.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 42, pp. 675-677
October 23, 1980