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
Authority, submission, strength, weakness. We read a text like 1 Peter 3:7, and instead of seeing a knowing, loving Father’s care for his daughters, we see only one word - weakness - and it offends our contemporary sensibilities. But as the one who made us, God is most qualified to let us know who we are and what we’re like, and He has the right to tell us how we ought to live in light of that. So here in this text, God calls husbands to live in a certain way with their wives, considering them as the weaker vessel.
Submission to Authority
According to 1 Peter 2:13-15, all Christians are called to submit to “every human institution...that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” In light of this call to submission, the husband is called to live in a way with his wife that will put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Counter-culturally, God’s design for this silencing is to show her honor in specific ways.
Honor her as the weaker vessel
The first thing most of us see when we look at this verse is that the woman is considered “weaker.” We get so busy trying to figure out in what ways the woman is “weaker,” that we overlook the very reason Peter makes note of this weakness, whatever it is. Peter is calling husbands to a certain honoring of their wives. There is an honor due to the woman, not according to her strength, but according to her weakness.
Now let’s consider this word, weaker.
Honor her as the weakER vessel
The first thing that husbands must be take into consideration with regard to weakness is that they, too, are a weak vessel. They are breakable, weak vessels used to display the power and strength of God in their weakness as they depend on the strength and grace that God provides, not trusting in their own strength. They are a vessel, shaped by a great potter’s hands, and if they are a Christian, used for great and noble purposes, but a breakable, weak, vessel nonetheless.
Now on to how Peter describes the wife. He does not specify in what exact ways that he means the wife is the weaker vessel, but I think that at least two things are in view.
Honor her as the weaker vessel - Physically
First, and in general, that the wife is physically weaker. This seems self evident. Women do not (usually) compete against men in physical sports. Women are not (usually) on the front lines of physical combat. Women are not (usually) the ones doing hard physical labor like construction. And the reason for this is that women’s bodies are designed differently. Genetically, men, by-in-large, pound for pound, have more physical strength. So the woman is at a disadvantage with regard to physical strength in the marriage, and the husband is called to honor her weakness. Do not use your physical strength against your wife, but use it in favor of her. Protect her. Make her safe in your strength. Be the first one at the door when something goes bump in the night. Do not be the cause of your wife’s fear or pain, be her protector.
Honor her as the weaker vessel - Positionally
A second sense in which the wife is the weaker vessel is that she is placed in a position of submission, which is, in a sense, a place of weakness. When someone is in a position of authority over another, there is much room for abuse of that authority. When you take into account the wickedness of the human heart, this is particularly true. People in authority tend to “lord it over” those under their authority, to beat - whether physically, mentally, or emotionally - into submission those under their rule. And Peter has just exhorted the women to be subject to their own husbands, adorning themselves with the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which places women positionally in a place of weakness. They are to subject themselves to their husbands, for the Lord’s sake, to put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. So Peter calls husbands to honor their wives as the weaker vessel, one who is in a place where she can be taken advantage or mistreated, and calls them to humbly leverage their authority over her for her good. Think of it like the best elected official you can think of, who is to use their position to leverage for your good. They are in office to serve you, although their authority is over you. So it is with the husband. Serve your wife with your authority.
The Greatest Husband and the Weakest Wife
Husbands ought to honor their wives as the weaker vessel. They are to use their physical strength and their positional leverage for their wife’s good, and not to her detriment. Consider what the Lord Jesus Christ told his disciples when explaining to them what leadership looks like. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you.” There ought to be a distinction in the way that followers of Christ lead. They ought not be taking the authority given them by the Lord and using it to “lord over” those in a position under them.
Then He went on to explain further, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave...” The Christian life is full of great paradoxes, and here is one. The one who would be great, the one seeking the high place, the one in the leadership role, yes you - husband: if you would be great, you must be a servant. Use the strength, physical and positional, that you have been given to be a servant to your wife.
He continues, “...even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Christ took His strength and used it for the ultimate good of His bride, the church, namely her salvation. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)
So husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church, in an understanding way, showing honor to her as the weaker vessel, since she is co-heir with you of the grace of life.