Today, Wednesday, March 5 is the day of the live webinar at RBC on The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. If you haven’t already signed up, it’s not too late.
Last week I received a response to an earlier blog post titled, “Lesson’s from Sarah’s Story”. The writer asked a question regarding that well-known passage in 1 Peter 3 where Peter is highlighting Sarah’s submission, even though it was to something that would lead her to sin. I thought it would be helpful to review once again what Peter is saying in this passage.
Here is her question: I appreciate this perspective on Sarah and Abraham. In my years as a married woman, I have always heard Sarah extolled for her submission as well as set forth as an example of how we should submit even if our husband was in the wrong. I love how you brought all of Scripture to bear in this topic.
My question is, what submission is Sarah being praised for in I Peter 3? A counselor has told me that I Peter 3 is referring to the times Sarah went along with Abraham in saying she was his sister. The counselor asked me what other instances this could have been referring to? I don’t know how to answer that. Why is Sarah given to us as an example of submission when she submitted to Abraham’s request that could have led her to commit adultery?
Answer: Peter wasn’t specific as to what exactly he was referring to with his example of Sarah’s submission, but Matthew Henry’s commentary says of this verse, “Sara, who obeyed her husband, and followed him when he went from Ur of the Chaldeans, not knowing wither he went, and called him lord, thereby showing him reverence …”
We know that God was displeased with Abraham’s decision to lie and put Sara at risk, when he instructed her to tell the authorities she was his sister, so I trust that the Holy Spirit would not have instructed Peter to praise her for submitting to Abraham’s sin. I think we can do more justice to the entirety of Scripture and Peter’s thoughts in this passage to broaden the question to Does the Bible teach that a spouse is to unconditionally submit without question and suffer harsh and abusive treatment within his or her marriage without protest or consequences?
The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, especially targeting believers who face mistreatment for their faith. But let’s look at what Peter teaches us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.
First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people. Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. In other words, when someone sins against you or treats you harshly, their behavior does not justify or excuse your sinful response.
Often in destructive marriages a spouse who is verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of responding to mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or sinful reactions to his abuse.
Peter encourages us to choose a different path. He tells us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22,23).
Second, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment. He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good. Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop. Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).
In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse.
Her behavior honors God, protects her children as well as acts in the best interest of her spouse. (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.).
When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken. That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.
Biblically, sometimes it may be the right thing to stay silent and forbear under mistreatment, but other times it may be the wrong thing to do.
There is no single right answer in each and every situation. The Bible tells us that we are to forbear with one another and it also says to confront and speak the truth to one another. Which one is the right approach in any given situation takes wisdom. Even the apostle Paul protested his harsh treatment and appealed to the higher authorities in Rome when he was being flogged (Acts 22:25).
When we tell a wife that her only godly response to an abusive and/or destructive spouse is to submit and continue to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not godly, wise, or good for her or her marriage.
This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he please with no consequences. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God.
Peter concludes his teaching with these words. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV). He also tells wives that we are Sara’s children if we do good and not fear anything that is frightening (1 Peter 3:6 ESV).
When we encourage a woman to suffer for Jesus, let’s make sure we’re encouraging her suffer for doing good rather than suffer for staying passive or pretending.