Weaker Vessels, Strength, and Understanding

(1 Peter 3:7  ESV)   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.

Ok, I am treading on dangerous and easily misunderstood ground here. I remember discussing this verse years ago in a Sunday School class and having a younger gal take great offense at the adjective “weaker”. I don’t pretend to understand completely what Peter meant here — but as this is the inspired Word of God, I do know that it can’t be a sinful, male, woman-demeaning slam. Obviously the context is just the opposite. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Peter’s words haven’t been butchered and misapplied. They have. Many times. “You know those women. They are weak.” Meaning, more often than not, weak of mind, right?  Maybe that’s why this lady got so upset. She may have a history of being hammered by someone on this point.

I do know this from my experience with my own wife, and with women who have been incredibly abused year after year after year….women are anything but weak. Yes, they are sinners too and as such some can certainly be the “weak-willed” women that Paul talks about — the kind who are sitting ducks for the deceiver who goes from house to house. But as a whole, I have to say that women are often much stronger than men. Some women are stronger physically than some men. But what I mean is emotional and spiritual stamina in extremely difficult circumstances. Just consider the last days of our Lord’s earthly ministry. The men deny Him and bail out for the most part — and we have mostly women there at the cross. So “weaker vessel” doesn’t mean weaker in a negative way — at least that is my opinion.

Here is my thesis for this post:

In the conservative church, men are the pastors and Elders and in our homes, husbands. Men and women are different. Joint-heirs in Christ, yet different as men and women. When men are functioning in these capacities, they need to remember — when helping, dealing with, counseling, etc., — women, that this person in front of them is a woman. And that they are men. And then these men need to guard themselves against a DIS-honoring manner and demeanor toward the woman.

Now I’ve probably confused everyone. What I am trying to say is that it is very easy and terribly subtle for a man to dis-honor a woman by thinking of her as a “lesser” creature. Often, she is physically weaker than a man. Not always for sure, but often. She possesses less privilege and power in most societies. She is the one who is supposed to “submit” to her husband. And she is a descendant of Eve, that “crafty, sneaky Eve who got us all into this entire mess by seducing poor old Adam into eating that fruit.” And we have within us then a tendency to patronize her. To regard her and her ideas as, well, weak. So that even the most well-meaning man can really treat her like a child.

In contrast, God’s Word to us here is that husbands, for example are to honor their wives. And this throws huge light upon the meaning of the phrase “weaker vessel.” If “weaker” means inferior or weaker in mind or something like that, why would it be a reason to honor her? It wouldn’t. You don’t honor something that is defective. No. This weaker-vessel idea leads to honor. So what is it? What does it mean to be a weaker vessel?

The Greek word for “vessel” is a very broad word that can mean something as general as “a thing. An object.” It is used for all sorts of items in the New Testament. The human body. Paul as a chosen instrument. Equipment used in the temple service. The clay jars called vessels of honor or dishonor in Romans 9. Whatever this item is here in 1 Peter 3:7, it is something that is due our honor. Our care.

Weaker. Not weak, but weaker. Weaker than what? Well, she is called here a “woman.” So the contrast is to the husband. The husband as a man. And as such, husbands are to live with their wives with the understanding that he is not living with one of the guys. Pastors, Elders, church leaders — we are to remember when we are ministering to women that they are women. What does that mean? All kinds of negative notions start filling your head at this point, right? “Hey, treat her like anyone else! What do you mean, treat her as a woman? That’s demeaning.”

No it isn’t. Not if properly understood. Remember, whatever it means, it leads to honor. So let me make this suggestion and you can tell me if you think it has any merit or not. In a culture — and this is how it is in most all cultures — women are weak. They don’t have many of the advantages that men do, regardless of what abusive men would have us believe. As Bancroft notes, it really is not a woman’s world. Men possess the power. So, in dealing with our wives, in dealing with women in our churches, we need to consciously step down from our misconstrued platforms of power and intentionally, in an understanding way, give honor and ear and credibility to women. We need to stop lording it over any person who is without power — and I mean the kind of power the world gives. Isn’t this perhaps why Scripture emphasizes so often the widow, the orphan, and the stranger in the land? What do they have in common? Lack of power. Lack of money and assets. Lack of ability to pay us back. But Jesus says these are the very kind of people He wants us to particularly rescue!

Now, no doubt there is more to this weaker vessel idea here in 1 Peter 3. Does it mean she is a priceless, fragile vase that we don’t just throw around or use as a spittoon? It certainly could be. But for now, my thoughts are on this idea — that as husbands, as men, as church leaders, we need to actively and intentionally notice when we are living with our wife or serving the women in our churches, that they need us to be their advocate, not their master. And until we do this, we are going to continue to patronize and dismiss and mistreat abuse victims who come to us for help.

Let me know what you think. Throw some tomatoes if you want, but lob them easily.

[March 16, 2023: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to March 16, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to March 16, 2023 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to March 16, 2023 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (March 16, 2023), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

3 thoughts on “Weaker Vessels, Strength, and Understanding”

  1. I remember shortly before we were married, when the pastor advised my to-be-husband (now to-be-ex) to treat me like he would a beautiful, fragile rose. I was slightly embarrassed at the time, because it sounded so incredibly poetic and romantic and I felt that my to-be-husband would mentally disparage these remarks. I’m quite sure he did. But I knew what the pastor meant….he couched these feelings in a poetic but practical way. He wanted my soon-to-be husband to treat me with respect and honour. Surely he had 1 Peter 3:7 in mind.

    This thought has just appeared….I was embarrassed at the time because the pastor might have thought that my to-be-husband was not inclined to be so willing to treat me in a respectful and honoured way.

    I’ve never thought of this verse as thinking women were weaker-minded than men. Never!

    Research has shown that men are naturally stronger physically than women. Their muscles are “built” differently. God made them to be the protectors of women, but if need be, women can and do take on responsibilities that are above and beyond their usual capabilities. This happens when the Lord gives us the strength and courage to do so. Women’s and men’s brains are also “wired” differently….I’ve researched this in a lot of ways but won’t go into any of the differences….suffice for me to say that the Lord is His wisdom knows what He is doing and it is very good.

  2. I think you make a valid point.

    A very kind black gentlemen who had recently married once told me, “I never realized until recently — women are discriminated against more than any other people group.” Then he laid out his case, point by point. It was actually quite a revelation at the time.

  3. Monthly menstrual cycles (that take place MONTHLY for DECADES), pregnancies that deplete our bodies, then the breastfeeding afterwards, all this taking place simultaneously while raising older children who require our mental as well as physical abilities, and husbands poking around after the lights go out expecting to be rewarded for bringing home the bacon that keeps them all afloat. Thank GOD that He wrote down that women need to be shown honor as co-heirs! I am tired just writing this! And this is in optimal conditions (good nutrition, enough rest, loving spouse, no other medical conditions like constant bleeding or anemia, enough money and a safe place to live etc.). I AM WEAKER PHYSICALLY! Don’t forget this men as you’re posing and posturing and competing with other men, women need extra care!

    Being raised by psychopaths, any “weakness” was equated to being considered less valuable than others, stupid, and worthless. This also meant that those of us with a conscience (weakness) should expect to be abused and treated like garbage or learn to toughen up. When God ripped my world away and left me with Him alone, He showed me that the sweet little heart that I had learned to hide away was actually more valuable than all the money on earth. The heart that belonged to Him, that psychopaths considered worthless, meant the opposite to the Lord. When men love their wives as Christ loved the church, they are helping keep their wives hearts open to the Lord which will, in turn, help to nourish the children and their husbands, both spiritually and physically. Get it?

    It is only in the minds of those obsessed with being “the best” or “god” that conclude that “weaker” means less than. For people like me, when I hear that someone has a disability or malady or some other thing that means that they aren’t able to be on the same level of whatever’s going on, I immediately start to protect them in my mind. They are weaker and need extra thought and consideration. Just goes to show you how very different those who are evil (without conscience) are from those who belong to the Lord.

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