“Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her, knowing that she is the weaker partner. Honor her all the more, as she is also a coheir of the gracious care of life. Do this so that your prayers won’t be hindered.”
1 Peter 3:7 (Common English Bible)
During a semester of study in Coventry, England, I was told that a prominent cathedral hosted a guest pastor one particular Sunday. Anticipation of this guest was created by his reputation as a preacher of considerable excellence. The cathedral that morning was packed with worshipers, all eager to hear from a preacher of an unusual caliber. At the beginning of the service, he stepped into the pulpit, looked confidently at the congregation, and spoke the familiar words of the liturgy, “The Lord be with you.” The usual response that followed would be, “And also with you.” However, there seemed to be a glitch with the sound system. No one worshiping could hear the pastor. He grabbed the microphone and adjusted it upward—closer to his voice—and repeated the liturgy. Again, the sound system failed to capture his words. With that second failure, the pastor looked back to the sound technicians, slammed his hand down on the pulpit, and shouted, “There is a problem with the sound system!” The glitch was now corrected, and everyone heard the pastor. They responded, “And also with you!”
In this passage of scripture, Peter turns his attention to the relationship between wife and husband. It is unfortunate that some interpreters of the Bible reflect more on the misogyny of ancient times than the primary thrust of these words. The primary argument here is that one’s conduct must be informed by a new life in Christ for a vital experience of prayer. Peter uses marriage as an interpretive tool. In the ancient time of Peter’s writing, only the husband had privileges. Women had few. William Barclay writes, “If you were to catch your wife in the act of infidelity, you could kill her with impunity without a trial; but, if she were to catch you, she would not venture to touch you with her finger and, indeed, she has no right.”[i] The operative moral code of that day placed all responsibility on the wife and all the privilege on the husband. Peter objects to this view and provides a new relationship dynamic shaped by the Gospel of Jesus. Prayers, therefore, must be made from one no longer captive to the old world order. Unless we approach prayer with a Gospel-shaped life, we experience a hindrance in our communion with God.
The privilege of prayer always demands a corresponding obligation. Anyone who prays for recovery from illness must match that prayer with a responsible diet, exercise, and rest. An actor or actress who prays for an opportunity to perform on a Broadway stage must match that prayer with hard work in acting lessons and rehearsal for auditions. Anyone who aspires to publish begins by writing the first sentence. Ernest Hemingway once commented, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”[ii] Effort must accompany prayer. Prayer without personal effort is merely wishful thinking or a belief in magic. That person remains captive to a sense of privilege without responsibility. It is a mindset that limits their access to God. Christian growth involves, among other things, getting rid of those attitudes, ways of speaking, and behavior patterns that elevate self above concern for others. Forbid yourself from indulging in thoughts that you deserve better. Those thoughts are self-destructive. Exchange such thoughts with gratitude and begin to affirm that God is active in your life, seeking to bless you.
The Gospel of Jesus has changed the moral code of relationships; the relationship of men to slaves and wives. For wives, this submission is one where men are to live with their wives “in ways that honor her.” More, the wife is now “a coheir of the gracious care of life.” The marriage is now hallowed and enriched, an equality of both the husband and wife established as sons and daughters of God. No longer are women inferior to men. This new relationship dynamic will be lived in a world that holds a very different view of the matter. This mutual relationship of honor creates a channel for God’s blessing to flow. Living as God intends, clothing one’s behavior in conduct that is in concert with God’s desire for us reshapes prayers that are made. Alignment of conduct with God’s values results in higher aspirations which experience fulfillment. If there is little room in one’s life for attention to Jesus, there is little room for the participation of God in such a life. If we feel that our prayers are hindered—are ineffective—the trouble may be that there is something wrong with us.
[i] William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976) 223.
[ii] Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition (New York, London, Toronto, & Sydney: Scribner, 1964) 12.