1 Peter 3:6 — Sarah’s children do what is right and do not give way to fear
Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. (KJV)
like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (NIV)
as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (ESV)
If a victim of abuse desires to obey scripture, she can feel herself to be perpetually knifed by the blade of the Word in 1 Peter 3:1-6. That was where I was for years. It seemed to say: Put up with the abuse no matter how bad, because if you respond out of fear you are failing in your Christian walk.
And a little later in that chapter, Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled (3:14 KJV) may seem to be an injunction to suppress emotion and stay in denial about the covenant-destroying pattern of conduct her husband is showing, and the damage it is causing her and the kids.
But there is a limit to what wives should suffer at the hands of ungodly husbands. The limit is set by Peter’s command to ‘do good’, to do the right thing, even in the face of intimidation.
Peter tells wives to do good and not give way to the fear of what their husbands might do.
We should submit to our husbands only in so far as righteous obedience to God will permit.
When a Christian woman who is being abused by her husband attempts to do good to her husband by (e.g.) admonishing him for his sinful ways, resisting his abuse, setting boundaries against his destructive conduct, etc., the abuser tries even harder to make her afraid of him so that she backs down and complies with his wickedness, which will enable him to continue in his wicked ways. Such a woman does good and the result is: her husband escalates and intimidates her even more.
Verse 6 addresses this situation. It tells such wives to nevertheless continue to do the good without backing down, without giving way to fear or intimidation. And bear in mind, it is not wrong to feel the emotion of fear; it is wrong to let the fear intimidate you into sinning. And sinning in this case, often takes the form of complying with the abuser and ‘letting’ him wield his wicked rule over her.
It does the wife no good to be further oppressed and downtrodden, because that leads to mental and physical and spiritual exhaustion not to mention all the health impacts on the woman’s body. And the same for the kids. And it does the abuser no good because it just enables him to become further entrenched in his evil ways and entitled mindset.
Note well: I am not blaming the victim here for ‘letting’ the abuser abuse. The abuser chooses to abuse and the abuser is always responsible for his own actions and attitudes. The victims, with immense creativity and problem solving, choose micro-moment by micro-moment how to navigate this ground of eggshells and minefields to try to avoid ‘trouble’.
Victims must never be held to blame for the abuser’s wrongful choices.
Peter is telling you, abused wife, that it is fine to judiciously resist the abuser’s power and control tactics, and to resist being intimidated into fearful compliance with the abuser’s coercive control.
Sometimes resistance is not safe. Sometimes compliance is the only thing that creates a margin of temporary safety. All victims know this — experience with their abuser has taught them this fact. And resistance can be hidden or visible, small or large. We pick our battles, and we elect to let some things go through uncontested and un-remarked upon. That kind of stuff is the normal diet for victims of abuse, and it explains why survivors are often such strong, careful, astute people . . . especially as they come more and more out of the fog, sloughing off the self-blame and false guilt in which they have been shrouded, shamed, silenced, immured.
Abused Christian women can be confident that they in not complying with the evildoing of the abuser, they are being Sarah’s daughters: doing what is right and not giving way to fear.
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Nate Spark’s post Love and Respect and Proof-Texts contains some good analysis of 1 Peter 2:18–3:7, but please bear in mind that we do not necessarily endorse all of Nate Sparks’s writings.