Running through the tapestry of human history is a sexist thread that says women are weaker and inferior to men. They are second-born and second-best.
This is what the philosophers and rabbis taught, as did the Church Fathers and theologians. John Chrysostom said the women in the Bible were occasionally admirable, “yet did they in no case outstrip the men, but occupied the second rank.”
John Calvin, the so-called reformer, said:
Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection, and not take it amiss that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex.
Were there ever more shameful examples of male arrogance? Of course, we would never say such things. We know better.
The stronger sex?
Are women weaker vessels? Science tells women have better immune systems, better genes, and they live longer than men. They experience less stress and lower heart disease, and they are much less likely to start wars. Women perform better academically (when given the chance), companies run by women are more profitable, and countries led by women do better at surviving pandemics.
Are women different? Sure.
But weaker? Not a chance.
Yet here’s a phrase I’ve heard from the pulpit: “Women are ill-equipped to preach and lead. Women have more compassion, which makes them vulnerable and prone to deception. It’s all part of God’s divine order.”
Which is a roundabout way of saying that women are inferior to men.
And since women are weaker, they should never preach. Which makes perfect sense because God only uses strong capable people, right?
If God chooses the weak to shame the strong, wouldn’t that make women better leaders than men?
Weakness is no barrier to God. He can demonstrate his wisdom and power through anyone. But who says women are weaker? Apparently, Peter did:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)
Peter is not saying women are too weak to preach or lead. He’s saying careless husbands can render their prayers ineffective. But how do they do that? And what makes a woman the weaker partner?
Made by God
When God made the first man and woman, both were very good. One wasn’t weaker or inferior to the other.
But after the Fall, everything changed. Suddenly, men and women were no longer on an equal footing. “He will rule over you” (Gen 3:16). Because of the curse of sin, the woman found herself at a disadvantage. If women are in a weaker position, it is because they have been oppressed by a fallen world that favors men.
When Peter refers to wives as the weaker partner, he is not saying that men can do more push-ups or that females are feeble. He’s saying women have been victims of an ancient patriarchal prejudice.
And he should know.
Every time he went to the Temple, Peter passed through the outer Women’s Court on his way to the male-only Court of Israel. Every time he went to the synagogue or every time he saw a woman get stoned for adultery, Peter was reminded that women have not had a fair shake. From the day women were born, their rights were weaker, and their prospects were bleaker.
Taking his lead from Jesus, Peter spoke out against this injustice. He encouraged women to prophesy and speak as though speaking the very words of God. He treated women with respect, and he told husbands to treat their wives as fellow heirs of grace.
This was a radical notion for Jewish men. Even today some men have trouble accepting their wives as fellow heirs and equal in the Lord.
“My wife is equal with me? I don’t think so. She’s a weaker vessel who needs to know her place.”
If that’s what you think, your prayers are going to be hindered, because God opposes proud men (1 Pet. 5:5).
Pride hinders our prayers because those who think they need nothing from God get nothing from God. This is why religious superstars are often further from grace than tax collectors and prostitutes (Matt. 21:31b).
As D.L. Moody once said, “It is to the needy that God opens the wardrobe of heaven and brings out the robe of righteousness.”
Like racists, sexist people see others as weaker or inferior. They may not say it aloud, but in their hearts they speak the language of the Pharisee.
“Thank God I’m not a foreigner or a woman.”
If you are not enjoying the grace of God in your life, it may be because you have lorded it over your wife (or husband) when you should have been treating her (or him) as a fellow heir in grace.
Grace for your marriage
Do you look down on your partner or do you submit to them in love? Do you make all the important decisions alone, or do you receive the wisdom that God gives to your other half?
Some men treat their wives poorly because that’s how they were raised. They don’t know any better. If this is you, what can you do? Peter gives practical instruction:
Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground. Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. (1 Peter 3:7–8, MSG)
It’s one thing to be humble before the Lord, but Peter exhorts us to be humble with each other and with people who are different from us.
Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another. (1 Pet. 5:5)
Women are not inferior, and neither are foreigners, Catholics, Protestants, Democrats, Republicans, divorced people, old people, young people, and single parents.
If you want more of God’s grace to flow in your life, learn to see others as Jesus sees them. The world may dismiss some people as weaker or inferior vessels, but God’s grace flows through flawed and broken people.
Even our spouses.
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