1 Peter 3:1-2, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
Though I am happily married to a believing man, I know and have counseled women that face the daily struggle of having a husband who doesn’t believe or live according to God’s Word. The stories these women have shared break my heart. Being intimately united with a man who does not share in your love for God or your future of eternal life is not easy.
Some women have cried to me because they did not sign up for this; when they married their husband, he was a proclaiming believer—but now, they see no evidence of a heart changed by grace. Some women struggle in loneliness because they became a believer after marriage, but their husband still does not know Christ. And some women admit that they knew their husband was not a believer but chose to marry him anyway—and now deeply regret it.
Whatever the case is for you, friend, know that God hears and sees you. He knows your struggle, and he has not left you without a Word—in 1 Peter 3:1-6 he speaks gently and lovingly to women like you. Today, I want to examine His Words specifically in verses 1-2 on living with a husband who does not know God.
1 Peter 3:1-2 ESV, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.”
The subject of submission of wives in marriage could be covered in an entire book. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain biblical submission in marriage succinctly. Please also understand that at the outset, I wish to say additionally I cannot say everything on this topic as I’ve mentioned already entire books have covered these subjects.
Founded in the Gospel
We find submission in the Bible, not because of culture, time, or human mistake. Submission begins with the gospel. Ephesians 5:22-33 explains that women are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Marriage is first and foremost an example of the gospel. “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:32-33 ESV).
We must always keep this gospel focus when discussing submission. When we see submission as an example of the gospel, we know that it is not oppressive, controlling, or some kind of tyranny. Submission is about exemplifying the gospel. As wives, we submit to our husbands and allow him to lead our household not because we are less than him—because we are both created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and both equal in Christ (Galatians 3:28). We submit because this is the order God has set in place in order to demonstrate his gospel.
The practice of submission doesn’t change for women with non-believing husbands. Peter’s first direction to women in unequally yoked marriages is to submit to their husbands. She is still to allow her husband to lead the home. Of course, this comes with the qualification that we are not to submit when being led to sin. Our submission is always “as to the Lord,” meaning it must be in conformity to what he has already commanded in Scripture.
Such a calling is terrifying. It is one thing to submit to a man who loves the Lord and loves his wife as Christ loved the church. It is another to submit to a selfish sinner who does not know God. That is why God calls you to be courageous in this obedience. “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:5-6 ESV).
Take courage, sister. Obey God fearlessly, entrusting yourself to him. In the same way, God calls slaves in the previous chapter to submit to even oppressive masters. He calls them to take the example of Christ:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:21-23 ESV
A few verses later, God would write through Peter, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands.” When we are afraid, our temptation may be to revile, to make ourselves appear bigger and louder and scarier to our husbands. But God calls us to submit, entrusting ourselves to the Righteous Judge. Trust him that he will take care of you. Trust him that though you may not be fairly treated by others, you will always be treated righteously by God.
Won Without a Word
God continues on to call women in unequally yoked marriages to be submissive and set an example by their behavior. Why? So that their husbands may be won over without a word.
Seeing our husbands’ rebellious and sinful behavior, we may be tempted to attack him with our words. We may also want to wrench his heart with the conviction of sin. Furthermore, we should want to point his eyes to the truth, but we should not want to make him see the truth as we see it. Ultimately, we want him to be saved.
And yet, God says it will not be by primarily by our words.
This isn’t a call to silence for women, and this isn’t to say, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” We are not called to remain silent, especially when it comes to preaching the gospel. Paul wrote, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14 ESV). The gospel must be shared with words, and it is the words of the gospel that God will use to change your husband.
Rather, “won without word” is a reminder that we do not need to be our husbands’ Holy Spirit. We do not need to always be preaching truth at him trying to change and convict his heart. That is a work of God, and we need to entrust that to him. God doesn’t call women married to nonbelievers to argue and preach at their husbands until they are blue in the face. Instead, he calls them to live by example, and that will be what convicts their hearts.
This is also a reminder to wives to check their hearts and lives first before complaining about and examining their husbands. This is totally backwards from what we would expect. When we want someone to change, our initial question is what we can do to them. But here God says that if you want to change your husband, first change yourself. We see a similar principle in Matthew:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 ESV).
For the woman frustrated that her husband will not attend church with her: When was the last time you attended church? How important do you consider the gathering and fellowshipping of believers? For the woman who wishes her husband would spend more time in the Word: How often are you immersing yourself in Scripture? For the wife who wishes her husband would live out the Christian life to lead her children: Are you living out the gospel yourself?
Rather than preaching to our husbands about living a changed life, let us first teach him about it by living a transformed life by the grace of God before him.
Respectful and Pure Conduct
More specifically, God calls women married to unbelievers to have respectful and pure conduct. What does this look like?
Do you show respect to your husband? Once again, this may seem much easier for the women with a believing husband than for a woman married to a nonbeliever. But also once again, God doesn’t make that distinction. In the previous chapter, God says to servants, “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust” (1 Peter 2:18 ESV).
We treat others with respect, even when they do not deserve it. This is the kind of behavior God says will convict your husband’s heart. What does this bear witness to? This is a picture of the gospel. Before we were saved, we did not respect or honor God, though he is the sovereign King of the universe. And yet, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Don’t give your husband respect because he deserves it, but show him respect because you have been shown amazing grace.
Living in purity: That we would live a life unstained by sin. The word purity in the Greek is used to describe a virgin (2 Corinthians 11:2), innocence (2 Corinthians 7:11; 1 Timothy 5:22), and the perfect holiness of Christ (1 John 3:3).
Is your life characterized by sin, or the constant repenting of and scrubbing away of sin? Don’t think only of your conduct, but also the words that come out of your mouth and the thoughts that live in your mind. Are they pure, or striving for purity? Do they represent a life cleansed by the blood of Christ? The chaste, pure life lived by his wife will be used by the Holy Spirit to convict him of his lack of holiness, and thus open opportunity for the gospel.
A Wife to be Honored
Women in unequally yoked marriages tend towards shame in this area. They feel ashamed that they don’t have the marriages of other women, that they are united to a man who does not love the Lord.
Friend, don’t rest in shame. Instead, strive to live the honorable life God calls you to in 1 Peter 3:1-2. Christ paid the price for your sins, now live in obedience to him out of gratitude for his sacrifice. Continue to submit to your husband as unto the Lord, and live a godly lifestyle that cannot be ignored by your unrepentant husband. And know that God sees you, and he is working all things together for your good (Romans 8:28-30). Take courage as you go forward in obedience, entrusting yourself to him. He is faithful, and he is trustworthy.