I would like for you to take a couple moments and think about what you believe modesty to be. For many, you will answer that modesty is about the amount of coverage an outfit achieves. Perhaps you will define modesty as wearing a certain type of swim suit or a long enough skirt. Maybe you will think of modesty as an attitude of the heart that excludes boasting. However we see modesty, it is a limitation that one places on him or herself for one purpose or another.
Two weeks ago, we started our study of 1 Peter and we started where Peter does, building the foundation of God’s sovereignty. Just to remind ourselves of where we have been, Peter has presumed that God chooses His people from the foundation of the world according to His own knowledge and in accordance with His own will and purpose. We have discovered that the resurrection produces a hope of eternal life, that preservation provides a home with God, and that revelation promises an eternal honor. All of this is a work of God, not a work of people. In chapter 1 we also learn that God has given His own Word for us, an incorruptible seed. In chapter 2 we discover that Jesus was appointed and that those who are in Christ are no longer of the world but, by God’s grace, of Christ; and there’s not a thing that any of us did to deserve this.
Peter continues to build his momentum. Since God is sovereign and since we could not do anything whatsoever to earn His salvation; since God is the one who gives us hope and preserves us as we strive toward our destination in Him, who are we to live like kings and queens? Who are we to present ourselves with pride or to use Christ’s name as a platform to build our own empires? We find ourselves, together, in 1 Peter 3:
1 Peter 3:1-7 HCSB
In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the Christian message, they may be won over without a message by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes. For in the past, the holy women who put their hope in God also beautified themselves in this way, submitting to their own husbands, just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You have become her children when you do what is good and are not frightened by anything alarming.
Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
At the heart of this passage within Peter’s letter, we find the idea of submission. Before we dive into what submission looks like in our lives, we need to understand what submission actually is. I can say confidently that submission within the text of Scripture is not the domineering of one person over another. We recall the doctrine of election. God the Father chooses those He will place in His kingdom. The Holy Spirit sanctifies as God chooses and draws God’s people closer to Him. People are saved through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood on the cross. Since salvation is a work that Peter describes as by God and for God, there is no sense in which any person has greater qualitative opportunity in God’s kingdom than any other person. All are on equal ground before God, and this is something that we cannot conclude without first granting election.
After describing this doctrine of election, Peter begins to prescribe submission as the proper response to God’s saving grace, and we see this throughout the text of Scripture. Peter doesn’t just say that we ought to submit to God. He goes further and dedicates much space in his letter to the ways in which people ought to, in response to God’s election, submit to other people.
Now, I consider myself to be a pretty solid American citizen. We don’t like the idea of submission. When people begin talking about submission, we throw tea in the Boston harbor and we go to war! This mentality, I think, has permeated our society. We want to be free of outside influence. We want to be completely autonomous and decide our own direction. I don’t want people telling me how to live and I don’t want people telling me what I can and can’t do. As we look to the text of Scripture, we are humbled severely as God instructs us to actually practice submission.
In chapter 2, verses 13 to 17, Peter encourages believers to be submissive to civil authority. He writes that the elect are to live as free people, but are not to use liberty as a way to conceal evil. “Honor everyone,” he writes, “Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.”
If God is sovereign and if salvation and sanctification are His work, there is never an instance where I have to fight to have authority or autonomy. Submission requires me to abstain from fleshly lusts (2:11), and our addiction to control, authority, and autonomy is a fleshly lust that causes us to consider ourselves before God. It must be the case that if we find ourselves fighting for power, control, authority, or even autonomy in any arena of life, we have made an idol out of ourselves and think of ourselves much too highly. God has something to reveal to us that is devastating for everyone. God has elected. God gives hope. God gives a destination. God preserves those who are in Him. We brought nothing to the table. We have nothing to offer. God does not need us. The church does not depend on us. God’s kingdom and God’s work will not rise or fall based on what we do or not. We exist, we live, and we breathe in God’s kingdom; not He in ours. In our submission, then, we show that we are but dust and that life and breath is only found in Christ, who is all sufficient. Still, we try to build our own kingdoms in Christ’s name.
Dr. Chuck Lawless gives seven signs that one is about to experience a fall (or a moral failure):
Emotional and physical fatigue
Distancing from Christ
Missed evangelistic opportunities
If we find any of these evidences in our own lives, it may be the case that we are claiming a kingdom that does not belong to us. Election means that we have nothing to offer. Modesty means we admit it and strive to live submitted to the authority that God has placed in our lives and in our lands.
Peter exhorts wives to submit to their husbands in conduct. Husbands and future husbands, don’t get too excited. Peter has some instruction for us as well. The submission of wives to their husbands was, according to Peter, to look like the submission of citizens to their government and slaves to their masters. There were to be lighthearted. They were not just to make themselves look good on the outside, but to adorn themselves with inner beauty and a gentle spirit. Modesty and submission, then, requires that they not present themselves to be something or someone that they are not but to pursue genuine beauty. I really want us to focus, here, on verse 4. A gentle and quiet spirit is precious in the sight of God.
If God is the one who elects, gives hope, gives a destination, and preserves His people. What right do we ever think we have to boast in our accomplishments, in our ability, in our tradition, or in our plans? What right do we ever think we have to call attention to ourselves? Everything that we do ought to scream Jesus’ name. All glory and honor and power belong to Him, not us. The reason Peter had to begin with election is that if we don’t understand that this thing is a work of God and we have no power in it, then we are unable to understand that we have zero right to boast. We can thank God for this. If we had a right to boast about our own accomplishments or talents, then it would seem that some people in God’s kingdom are worth more than others. This, though, is not the case because God is the one at work.
As a point of honesty, here, this is an area where I just struggle. I am pretty good at almost anything I set my mind to. I have experienced much success in my life. I want to brag about the things that I have accomplished often. I want to look like I am better than the next guy. Over and over again, God brings me to my knees because I realize how short I truly fall of His glory. Honestly, I fail way more often than I succeed. When I write or when I preach, I do so as a broken man. When I speak of sin, I do so as one who is in need of more grace form both God and my brothers and sisters in the faith. If you notice that I fall short in some arena of my life or ministry, I promise you that I am much worse than what you see. How great is the news that this is God’s work and not mine! How appropriate it is that God receive recognition and not me.
We get to verse 7, and Peter addresses husbands, saying, “in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” After exhorting women to submit to their husbands, the epistle writer instructs husbands to be in the same way. He calls them to understand that women are naturally weaker and to not use that as an excuse to domineer over them, but instead, show them honor as co-heirs in God’s grace.
Here, I want to make a realization about our submission to one another as we apply God’s sovereignty to our own lives. A husband and wife are to be in submission to each other mutually and voluntarily because one is not better than the other or worth more than the other. After instructing the elect to submit to civil authority, slaves to masters, and husband and wife to each other, Peter continues in verses 8 and 9:
“Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing.”
Within the Christian community, there is to be mutual and voluntary submission, one to another. This is not, though, regular practice in our churches today. I have a friend who serves at a church where the church votes to renew her contract annually. In this, the congregation sends a very clear message. The body sees itself as the final authority and God is not sovereign. There is another church I know of where the pastor domineers his authority and has a “my way or the highway” attitude. In this also, the pastor sends a very clear message: that he sees himself as the final authority and that he does not see God as sovereign. Many fathers exasperate their children or domineer over their partner. Wives can dishonor their husbands. Children are rebellious. Employees are often disrespectful. There is something to be said about what it means to be a family, and I believe Peter captures it in this text. God is our father and king. Therefore, we should treat one another as brothers and sisters, co-heirs in God’s grace. The apostle, Paul, spells this out for the believers in Ephesus:
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head — Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:11-16 HCSB).
It is God who gives people for each position until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into mature people measured by Christ’s fullness. If it is God who places people until we all reach unity and maturity, and we know that on this earth we will not because of sinfulness, then God’s places people in these positions ideally for life. Without this commitment, a church body will be unable to pursue unity or maturity in the faith. Without this, we are tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. No wonder churches struggle so much in our day. We don’t see God as the King who places people for His own glory. Instead, we hire people for our own glory and force the whole church, according to the way that we have organized it, to live in blatant sin before God; not recognizing His sovereignty. Paul continues, “…speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head- Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”
Modesty is mutual submission. In 1 Peter 3:7, we learn that without mutual submission, our prayers are hindered because we live as though God were not sovereign. We wonder why God doesn’t seem to answer the prayers of the church? Wonder no more. We are not obedient to God in our submission to one another, therefore our prayers are hindered.
Just as we saw in John 15, we see in verse 9 that if we are obedient to the sovereign God who has chosen us in Him from the foundation of the world, there will be great blessing. Brothers and sisters, we must change so that we are in line with the King’s instruction. We cannot continue to live as though we are sovereign. If we do, God will reserve His blessing for others. In our churches, in our homes, at work, and as citizens, let us begin to practice mutual submission to one another in Christ. He is king, we are not.