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Why does Peter gag the women?

by on December 28, 2012

QUIET+PHASEWives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct.   I Peter 3:1

What exactly does Peter mean by ‘without a word’? And why does he gag these women? Are they supposed to be the quiet, mousy types? Why can’t they speak to their own husbands?

Well, first he’s not saying women shouldn’t speak, he’s talking about how to win their unbelieving husbands for Christ. How should they go about it? What’s it going to take?

And the answer is, it’s by your lifestyle, not by your words. Peter might have put it, ‘Don’t think you can preach your husband into the kingdom. The message he needs is the message your life speaks.’

Why so? Why does Peter limit women in this way?

I think there are a few aspects to this.

First, Peter is thinking in terms of winning these husbands over. He’s not just interested in making sure they’ve heard the message – he’s thinking about what will work, what will do the job of actually getting them into the kingdom. Peter cares about the results, not just the process. He wants these husbands to be won.

And because of this the wives are going to need to play it with a straight bat. To change the metaphor, they’ll need to tread carefully.  They need their marriages to be successful, for these husbands to be won. They need to make sure the gospel does not become a cause of offence in their marriage.

Second, Peter recognises here that relationships have rules, boundaries – and success in the relationship can only come within the parameters those rules establish. If these husbands are to be won, the wives will need to play by the rules, respect the boundaries. In first century Greek culture, women did not have a lot of rights. They were certainly not supposed to lecture their husbands. They were supposed to submit.

If the gospel turns these women into untameable shrews, the men are lost. Everything depends on communicating the gospel within to rules of marriage as it was at the time. And that means NO PREACHING.

This does not, of course, apply automatically to women today. Marriage customs change.

Third, Peter sees these women’s lifestyles as potentially powerful and effective communicative tools. The men can get the message from the lives. How so? Well, for one thing, they won’t find it hard to get the message that their wife has faith in Jesus. Then, they will be able to see how it has been a blessing to her, made her more calm and contented and healthy-minded. Also, they’ll notice that it has helped the marriage – she’s become more respectful and devoted, not less. So that’s the sort of Lord Jesus is!

And probably she has new friends. Supportive, trustworthy, kind friends. He’ll hear snippets of conversation, perhaps hear or read a bit of bible in the house. He’ll hear her talking with the children. Gradually things will sink in. Maybe one of her new friends’ husbands will get to know him, and be able to share more with him. Etc, etc. Lives are complex, multifacetted things – there is so much information can be picked up from watching one. Yes, Peter knows that lives communicate messages.

All of this should make us ponder a bit. What about our mission approach? Some questions it throws up:

  • Are we thinking about mission success, or just about mission? Winning people for Jesus, or just evangelising them?
  • Are we thinking about it relationally? Do we get that effective mission needs successful relationships?
  • What are the rules we need to respect to win over our friends and neighbours and loves ones?
  • Are we maximising the potential of our lives to speak the gospel message. Are our lifestyles significantly different from those of our neighbours?

At Canterbury we have tried to ponder these questions. One thing we’ve noticed is that we’re not very good at friendships with non-Christian people. We started to suspect that we weren’t following the rules. So we’ve been trying to learn them.

One rule we’ve learned is that in most friendships with neighbours, preaching is not on. It’s a bit like in first-century marriages. People have boundaries about these things, and preaching busts them completely. So Peter’s advice holds good for us.

That’s meant putting on hold our evangelical longing to preach. We’ve recognised that this longing is part of the mission problem, not part of the solution. Because if let loose, it breaks the rule of the relationship, causes offence and leads to relational failure (= mission-failure). Notice we’re not talking about the offence of the gospel here: we’re talking about the offence of not respecting the relationship, of preaching where it’s not welcome. Quite a different thing. This offence would be there regardless of what message we preached.

It’s also meant thinking more seriously about how our lives communicate the message. We’ve had to focus here because, with some neighbours, the early phase of the friendship has offered few ‘gospel-speaking’ opportunities. But many, many neighbours have commented on the unusual lifestyles of our people, re community service, hospitality, friendliness etc. This often leads to a conversation about Jesus, but it’s a conversation initiated by them, on their terms.

So we’re slowly getting better at the relationships thing. We find it frustrating, because we’re trained to preach, we just want to preach. But we’re trying to discipline ourselves.

Of course, from Peter’s point of view the big question is, does it work? Are we starting to see people won over for Jesus?

It’s still early days, but early indications suggest: yes.

From → General

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