Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)
Sometimes Scripture blindsides me. Because Scripture agrees with itself and the grand narrative is consistent throughout, it is easy to fall into the trap of reading it like a book you have already read if you aren’t paying attention. The way to avoid this travesty is to look at each word as the intentional message from God that it is. The “therefore” and “and” and “so that” and every other word is an intentional word spoken to us by God through the pens of men.
While this tendency to miss details is certainly there, God has weaved shocking statements into the Bible that do not leave it possible to run through them quickly. They grab us and tell us something we could not have guessed, and we must grapple with these truths.
So it is with 1 Peter 3:7. You read along following Paul’s logic. Okay, he just established in the preceding verses that wives should submit in love to their husbands and that the conduct of a woman is deeply powerful to influence a man. (Amen?) And then he addresses husbands. Okay, as our wives submit we should honor them as fellow heirs of grace in Jesus. Beautiful truths, but nothing shocking as yet.
Then Paul throws an unexpected hook.
If we don’t honor our wives and bear with them, if we don’t love them with our entire heart, our prayers will be hindered. This is abrupt. It almost seems harsh. I mean come on, God. I am a fallible man and I’ll do my best to love my wife but you’re going to hinder my prayers if I don’t?
Two things are at work here. First, I believe that God cares so deeply for his daughters that he will not have them treated as anything less than the masterpieces they are. A father does not give his daughter away to a reprobate with a blessing. He might sooner have the “I have a shovel and a .45” conversation with the man unfit for his wife. So it goes with my wife. She is a beloved daughter and God means for me to treat her as such. And he will help me do that (thankfully). The Spirit will move and convict and encourage me when I fail and the grace of Christ will cover me when I sin against her. We husbands aren’t required to be perfect, but we are required to be dependent upon God and devoted to our families.
Second, the man whose heart is given to Christ will naturally show the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The believing husband has the Holy Spirit living within him and thus his heart should drip with the fruits of God’s presence. His wife should see this. And thus, the husband, though he is imperfect, will honor and love his wife as a natural outworking of his relationship with Jesus.
I have been married for almost 10 years now. And I can imagine given my track record that there are times that my prayers have been hindered. But God didn’t hand me his daughter and just say “good luck.” God goes with us as husbands and helps us to love and honor our wives, and we have a desperate need for his guidance and power if we are to play our part well.
If a domineering or passive husband has hindered prayers, I surmise that the loving and devoted husband will have effective prayers. The prayer of a righteous person has great power (James 5:16), so we husbands can trust that when we pray over our household and our marriage that God will respond. When we pray for protection, done. When we pray for our wives to flourish, done – but the answer will likely include some work for us to facilitate their spiritual health and wash them in the word of God. Answered prayers will often include some faithful work for us men.
The disposition of the heart is the point, not mere behavior. If a husband’s heart is toward his wife, by God’s grace he will find more tools in his arsenal to love her as he should. This is God’s design.