Tomorrow is Valentines Day, the day when we’re told that receiving a dozen red roses, a cuddly toy and a card with an annonamous sentimental message is a meaningful expression of ‘true love’ and not the worrying actions of an unstable stalker.
It’s possible that my cynical tone has more to do with the bitterness I feel at never having recieved a valentines card, than it is about my deep unease over shameless marketeers profiting from our deep longing for love.
I love love! At heart I’m a hopeless romantic. I’ve been known to enjoy a rom-com or two. When I proposed to Becks I spent months planning the moment, weeks thinking what to say, days choosing the ring and hours printing, double-backing and laminating pictures to hang in ‘our tree’. I get that romance is beautiful, heady and exhilarating! It makes us feel good and the film industry, agony aunts and magazine columnists work hard to sell us this picture of ‘love’, how to achieve it and what to do when it starts to fade.
Historically, christians and the church have sometimes got it wrong when it comes to the relationship between a husband and wife. I said as much on Sunday when we looked at 1 Peter 3:1-7. The sermon came with a ‘Public Health Warning’ because it’s possible to misunderstand the passage or to be uncomfortable with the message.
Misunderstanding the passage:
In the seven verses we looked at there are three instructions concerning women that could be misunderstood. Peter writes:
“… be subject to your own husbands…” vs. 1
“… Do not let your adorning be external…” vs. 3
“… the woman as the weaker vessel…” vs. 7
Historically the Church has, in error, taken these verses out of context and told women to ‘give up your rights and be subject to your husband. What he says goes because you’re a woman!’ When it came to outward appearance women were instructed to ‘give up your identity and dress modestly. Don’t provoke men by your clothing – you need to cover up’. Because of gender differences, women were expected to ‘give up your freedom, you can’t do those things because you’re a woman. You put a brew on while we get on with the real work’.
All of this to say that I don’t believe that the subjugation of women was ever Peter’s intention in writing these words. Peter saw Jesus treat women in a radically counter cultural way – Jesus openly interacted with women, He spoke to women gently and with care, He valued women’s prayers, support, fellowship, service and witness. (*1) Peter knew that Jesus wasn’t looking to oppress women but that in coming to Him, men and women are revealed as equal before God.
The main thrust of this letter isn’t about who it’s addressing, but it’s about how the readers should be living! Peter is calling us all to live lives of submission, with our identity grounded in Jesus, looking for opportunities to care for others.
Edmund Clowney puts it like this;
Free in slavery to God, free as followers of Christ, they submit themselves to others freely. No-one else has the status and honour of Jesus Christ, whom Peter confessed to be the Son of God. Yet Jesus had washed Peter’s feet like a domestic slave. His girding himself with a towel for that humble task was as nothing compared to his bowing beneath the cross to bear Peter’s sins. It is Christ’s example that Peter calls us to follow in all the relationships of life. We need not be concerned about maintaining our rights. Jesus trusted his Father, the righteous Judge, to do that; and so should we. The Christian who follows Jesus does not grasp for privilege; he or she is already privileged beyond imagination. The Christian seeks rather opportunities to imitate Christ in willing subjection to service. (*2)
Jesus elevated relationships between men & women and gave them a new goal.
In knowing who I am in Him, my marriage is set free from the unbearable burdens of self-fulfilment, lustful passion and begrudging servitude.
Instead it becomes a living, breathing, dynamic picture of the Gospel, played out in glorious technicolour for everyone to see!
Uncomfortable with the message:
It’s possible then that you’re uncomfortable with all this and you’ll continue to believe that the Bible is sexist and that the Christian view of marriage is designed to oppress women and elevate men. Why? Because it’s easier to believe this caricature of christian marriage and so ignore the inconvenient truth that through marriage God reveals profound mysteries…
Marriage is not a sacrament conveying divine grace, but it is the human relationship that God has designed to mirror the love of Christ for the church, and of the church for Christ. (*3)
Questions for Community Groups/Personal study – 1 Peter 3:1-7
What do you expect for Valentines day? What will you give?
Have you ever seen/heard/experienced the errors that result from taking these verses out of context?
We’re told that ‘Beauty is only skin deep’.
How does God view true beauty? (vs. 4)
What can make this difficult to achieve?
Peter gives Sarah as an example of a godly wife, calling us to follow her example…‘…Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, [if you] do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.’ (vs. 21)…
Peter acknowledges that some things are frightening
Can you think of times when Sarah could’ve been scared? (e.g. Genesis 21:1-7)
What things can be ‘frightening’ in married life?
What should we fear? (1 Peter 2:17)
How does that bring freedom?
Men only – What can hinder our prayers? (vs. 7) How can you be more ‘understanding’ towards your wife?