This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on I Peter 3:1-7 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday December 3-4, 2011.

This passage raises many sincere debates about gender roles. What does it mean for a wife to “submit” to her husband, especially with a husband “who does not obey the word (v. 1)”? How unhealthy can a marriage be and this principle still apply? How far away from the God’s Word can a husband’s leadership get and a wife’s submission not be trumped by her call to honor God?

Many more questions can be raised about good gender roles. But I find that these discussions usually get off on the wrong foot (at least in my opinion). They begin with a discussion of what it means to lead and what it means to follow. I do not find that to be the first question Scripture typically asks. In the predominant passage about Christian leadership, character is emphasized over function (1 Tim. 3:-13). Even in this passage Peter’s description of the husband’s role seems to emphasize his character over his authority (v. 7).

If I were to teach on gender roles in marriage (and I will be teaching a seminar on the subject this Spring – stay tuned to the blog for dates, details, and then videos), I would start the conversation differently. Here would be my outline (headings only for now) of the “job description” for a husband and wife.

1. Character qualities required of every Christian to foster mutually blessing relationships. This would be a practical examination of a balanced expression of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24) cautioning against both the aggressive and passive distortion of each character quality. If a husband or wife is not pursuing these in increasing measure, his/her primary concern should not be how their spouse is responding to him/her.

2. Expectations of a Christian in all relationships. These responsibilities would outline the “one another” commands of the New Testament. Too often we neglect to treat those in our own home like we are called to live in every relationship. Anything that the Bible teaches about the marriage relationship would be built upon an enrichment of these foundational pillars of health and vitality for all relationships. When we miss this, we think these are things we have to do because our spouse gets upset when we don’t, and then we use our obedience as a bargaining chip to gain leverage in the marriage.

3. Mutual responsibilities of a husband and wife towards one another in marriage. This would look at the paragraph that introduces Paul’s most famous writing on marriage roles – Ephesians 5:15-21 – which concludes with the description “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” These responsibilities of the job description would look at the components of married life that are shared and do not contain any biblical precedent for gender preference. Who does what house chores? Who administrates the budget? These kinds of things can be done by either spouse, must be managed within a marriage, and should be done as matters of mutual service or blessing.

4. Gender specific responsibilities of husband and wife. This would build from the headship and submission we see modeled in the Trinity as the example of how to apply the unique gender roles for husbands and wives found in passages like Ephesians 5:21-33, I Peter 3:1-7, and others. It is only those responsibilities that fall under this fourth heading that would be different between the “Biblical Job Description for a Husband” and the “Biblical Job Description for a Wife.” If both spouses are not committed to fulfilling the elements in headings 1-3, then any application of headship and submission will be uncomfortable and broken.  No one will like it, and no one will be happy.

I believe the best way to begin the conversation about I Peter 3:1-7 is to realize that Peter is saying that apart from safety concerns (remember his role of government in 2:14 affirmed by Paul in Romans 13:1-7) maintaining consistency with God’s design in “Heading 4” is healthiest for the entire family even when the husband is not fulfilling his “Headings 1-3” responsibilities.

The point of this outline is to illustrate my premise for where we begin wrongly in debating a passage like I Peter 3:1-7. We begin with the function of the husband and wife rather than the character of the husband and wife. Peter’s point was not that the husband of verse one was a bad leader (part of heading 4), but that he had a bad character (headings 1-3). He was instructing the wife on how God would have her exert influence over her husband (see “may be won” in verse one) while maintaining her own character and devotion towards God.