[Note: This is the text of a sermonette given at the United Church of God congregation in Portland, Oregon on April 15, 2017.]
I would like to begin today by looking at a passage relating to the relationship between husbands and wives. Let us begin today by looking at 1 Peter 3:1-2. Here we read advice from the apostle Peter to wives married to husbands outside of the church. 1 Peter 3:1-2 reads: “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” You may have heard it said as part of the interpretation of this particular passage that it was the responsibility of wives to win over their husbands, regardless of whether those husbands were believers or not. A common misunderstanding of this passage holds that if a husband is estranged from God or his wife, she is to blame. This would be equally inaccurate if it were reversed, where a husband was held responsible for the emotional or spiritual state of his wife. Nor would it be any more accurate for parents to be held responsible for their adult offspring or for children to be blamed for the faults and mistakes of their parents. Nor are siblings or friends responsible for the spiritual and emotional state of others. We are, ultimately, responsible for our own actions . If this passage, though, does not make women responsible for the emotional and spiritual state of their husbands, though, what is this passage about?
Let us focus today on one small part of this passage, namely the statement by Peter that husbands who are not obedient to God may be, without a word, won over by the conduct of their wives. Let us be very clear about what is being said. For one, we can see that the context of this particular passage relates to the relationship between wives who have converted to God’s ways and their unbelieving husbands. For another, we can also see fairly straightforwardly that it is the behavior and example of believers, namely their obedience to God and their graciousness in dealing with others, that is the way that such women evangelize within their households. Let us also note that this passage speaks about possibilities rather than certainties. A godly and gracious wife may win over an unbelieving husband through her conduct, if her husband is sufficiently sensitive and attentive. A wise husband will see a godly wife and appreciate her example. For example, the French philosopher and notorious religious skeptic Voltaire prohibited his wife and servants from hearing his own rather harsh criticism of Christianity because he did not wish for their own conduct to be corrupted from his unbelief. Even such an unbeliever as him understood that his household was blessed and benefited by the conduct of the professed Christians within his household.
Let us turn this passage on its head. Having never married, I do not feel personally qualified to give unsolicited advice to present or future wives of anyone here or anywhere. God willing, though, someday I would like to be a husband myself. Can we find within the Bible the same sort of graciousness expected of husbands toward their wives? Is the expectation that wives provide eloquent testimony of their faith through their chaste and reverent conduct something that is expected of wives alone, or is it a general expectation of how we should deal with others? I would like to spend the rest of my time showing the other side of this picture, namely the graciousness of God as a husband to an unbelieving bride in ancient Israel.
We can see an example of this graciousness in Joel 2:12-17. Joel 2:12-17 gives a poetic call to prayer and fasting in a time of national crisis and it says: ““Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him—a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and nursing babes; let the bridegroom go out from his chamber, and the bride from her dressing room. Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, “Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not give Your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’””
Here we see a situation where God is being portrayed as a gracious husband, slow to anger, of great kindness, with an unfaithful and unbelieving wife who has driven Him to complete distraction. Of how many of us as men can it be said that we are gracious and merciful, slow to anger, of great kindness, relenting from doing harm? Can it be said of us that we are patient and understanding in dealing with others and that we are kind and gentle? Can we find any better model of a husband than God is? God is our judge, our Lord and Creator, and yet He shows himself here as being immensely kind and gentle with a people who are in a time of great crisis, facing the destruction of their power and independence. We know from history that Judah and Israel did not repent and were ultimately put aside by God, but can God be blamed for the hardness of heart of his people? If love was enough to compel obedience from an unbelieving spouse, surely God’s love for Israel and Judah ought to have induced them to turn from their wicked ways and worship God with a whole heart, but clearly that did not happen.
It should be clear, after all, that God’s love for His people throughout history has always been extremely passionate. Let us simply quote one example of God’s passionate wooing of his unfaithful bride Israel, told in Hosea 2:14-23. Here, in one of the more obscure minor prophets, Hosea 2:14-23 tells us: ““Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master,’ For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord. It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,” says the Lord; I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel. Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’””
This is a moving passage of devotion. Listen to the words that God uses for his courtship of unfaithful Israel. He will woo her, bring her into the wilderness, and bring her again into a covenantal marriage with Him in rightness and justice, lovingkindness and mercy, faithfulness. Israel will no longer look at God as a harsh master, but as a loving spouse. Can it be said of us as men that we are as patient and understanding with our wives, if we have them, as God is with us? I say this not to make anyone feel guilty, or to put on husbands a burden that would be equally unjust when applied to wives, but rather I wish for us to examine ourselves and ponder the sort of example that God has set for us through his own marital conduct. Despite Israel’s sins, and despite our own, God remains faithful, merciful and gracious to us, and if God, being perfect, can be kind to us, surely we can be kind to those who are imperfect and flawed beings like ourselves. It is through being gracious and kind and merciful and just that we demonstrate the character of God whether we are men or women, married or unmarried, young or old. Those of us who are a part of God’s family are supposed to have a family resemblance to Him in our behavior.
As we close today, let us return in thought to the original passage where we began with the additional biblical context we have examined in the minor prophets. We have seen that the same gracious conduct expected of wives towards unbelieving husbands by the Apostle Peter was itself shown by God towards unbelieving Israel. We ought to expect that people who are called by God will learn how to be kind and loving towards others, whether believers or not. If it should be expected of both women and men that they be loyal and gracious and kind and just in their dealings with unbelieving spouses, surely we ought to be at least as loyal and gracious and kind and just in our dealings with other believers. It should be said of us that the apple does not fall far from the tree, and that we are like our Father in heaven, that there is a family likeness that people can see in us. Whether we are married or not, we can certainly all stand to practice the kindness and graciousness with each other that God shows to us so conspicuously and abundantly. Let us therefore go and do it, and use passages like 1 Peter 3:1-2 as a mirror to examine ourselves and not as a club to make others feel as if our spiritual and emotional state is their own responsibility. We all have enough responsibility dealing with our own imperfect selves as it is.
 See, for example: