Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. – 1 Peter 3:7 ESV
We might as deal with the most challenging part of this verse first. What does Peter mean when he refers to women as “the weaker vessel”? He most certainly was not inferring that women are somehow inferior to men. While that was the common societal perspective of his day, Peter, like Jesus, held women in high esteem and as the spiritual equals of men. While he believed in and adhered to God’s created order that the man was to be the head of his household, women were in no way subservient. So what should we make of his point that women are somehow weaker than men? What is he trying to say? The easy and most obvious answer would be that women are, in most cases, physically weaker than men. No, this is not always true, but it is usually an accepted fact that men are physically stronger than women. It could also be referring to the more sensitive nature of a woman’s emotional makeup. Women tend to be exhibit the characteristics of compassion, tenderness, love, kindness, mercy and care. This is not to say that men do not share these traits, but they are more commonly associated with women. Peter could have simply been encouraging the men to whom he was writing to know their wives well and to be sensitive to their physical, spiritual and emotional makeups. One way in which we could view Peter’s words are to see the wife as fine china, weaker in the sense of fragility and value. They are to be treated with tenderness and care. They are to be seen as irreplaceable and priceless.
He told them to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” The literal translation of the phrase Peter uses could be “according to knowledge.” Not only should a husband know his wife well, but he should know how God would have him express love to his wife. He is to honor her based on what he knows about her. And he is to see her as his partner in life, his heir of the grace of life.
It was God’s idea to put man and woman together as husband and wife. Together they complement and complete one another. They each have God-given roles and responsibilities and each is to honor and respect the other. The husband is to see his wife as his partner in life, and that would include in his spiritual life. In the culture in which Peter lived, women were expected to accept the religion of their husbands, without any say or input into the matter. They had no rights regarding the matter. So perhaps Peter is addressing husbands whose wives were not believers. This would seem to fit in with his address to the wives who had husbands who were not yet believers. It was obviously common for men and women to come to faith in Christ while their spouses remained unsaved. So it could be that when Peter addresses wives as “the weaker vessel,” he is either referring to non-believing wives or wives who are less mature in their faith. In his letter to the Romans, Paul addressed this very issue and used similar language. He wrote, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions” (Romans 14:1 ESV). He then went on to deal with situations within the church involving gray areas or personal convictions. There were those in the church who felt it was wrong to eat certain kinds of foods. They were bringing their convictions from their former religions or lifestyles into the fellowship, without realizing that there were no such restrictions within Christianity. Others in the fellowship, who knew that these convictions were baseless were guilty of looking down on their “weaker” brothers, flaunting their rights and freedoms in their faces. Paul called them on the carpet for this, admonishing them to give up their rights for the sake of their weaker brothers.
So it could be that Peter is making a similar point. He just might be addressing believing husbands whose wives are immature in their faith. Peter could have been encouraging husbands to treat their wives with deference and honor, knowing that their faith was less developed. Whatever the case, Paul’s admonishment to the believers in Rome still applies: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8 ESV). There is a selflessness that is to characterize the life of a believer, and that is especially true within the marriage context. The husband and wife are to treat one another with honor and respect. They are to understand that their relationship is God-ordained and that together they share in the grace of life.
Peter concludes his remarks to husbands with an interesting word of warning concerning unanswered prayer. He seems to indicate that if a husband does not live with his wife in an understanding way, showing her honor and treating her with respect, his prayers will go unanswered. This shows how important this matter is to God. To mistreat, undervalue or dishonor one’s wife is sin. Sin hampers and hinders our relationship with God. A believing husband who does not place the proper value on his wife cannot expect to be heard by God. When God looks at a marriage, He sees the two as one. He holds them both accountable. There was no doubt that those who came to faith in Peter’s day were faced with all kinds of difficulties in the form of trials, temptations and even persecution. But there would also have been potential conflict within the home. Christianity was bringing with it a certain degree of conflict, even between parents and children, husbands and wives. So Peter called men to love their wives, whether believing or lost, in a way that would please God and keep the channels of communication open between themselves and their heavenly Father.