The middle section of Peter’s first letter (chapter 3) begins with an instruction to Christian women that much of our modern society considers outrageously offensive and “sexist:” “…wives, be in subjection to your own husbands…”.
What this socially-aggrieved response does not generally take into consideration is the overall thematic context of the Holy Spirit’s instruction; the instructions in chapter three continue the theme that actually began at 1 Peter 2:11. This theme speaks to the motivation of each group addressed between 2:11 and 3:12, and it begins with the subject of a Christian’s example in the community (2:11-12), progresses to the matter of Christians’ responsibility to civil authorities (2:13-15), Christians’ behavior as servants or slaves (2:18-25), and now includes wives (3:1-6), husbands (3:7), and Christians in our personal conduct (3:8-12). Those who take offense at Peter’s words about wives frequently mischaracterize them as saying something like, “husbands should force their wives to submit to them,” which Peter did not say.
Chapters 2-3 present a series of instructions all built around the theme of submission to God (vs. 12). This theme speaks to the motivation of each group of people Peter mentions (not just wives), and it culminates in verses 18-22 where Peter points to Jesus as a role-model of obedience for the sake of Godly influence in the lives of others (and as the basis of righteous family and spiritual relationships).
Perhaps THE most important point to notice in verses 1-12 is that each of the Holy Spirit’s instructions is reflexive, meaning that they are things we are to do/apply to ourselves, by our own choice. Christian citizens should obey civil laws willingly (2:13); Christian servants ought to obey their masters willingly (2:18 – regardless of whether or not the master is a “good” one); Christian wives should be “in subjection to” their husbands – regardless of whether or not the husband is also a Christian (3:1- 6). The Greek word for in subjection (submissive, NKJ) means “to cooperate voluntarily.” Note that when Peter writes “Likewise…” in vs. 7, he is comparing a Christian husband’s “manner of living” to that of his (Christian) wife, AND to the submissivefor-the-Lord’s-sake behavior of faithful Christian citizens and servants in chapter two.
The fundamental lesson in 1 Peter 2-3 comes in 3:13-22, and it is quite simple: Being faithful as a Christian means paying a “price.” In vs. 13, the logical result of godly living should be a quiet, tranquil existence (cf. 1 Timothy 2:2), but vs. 14 acknowledges that sometimes it does not (neither sin nor its influence in our world are “logical” or “reasonable”). Whether our faithfulness produces a peaceful journey towards eternity or one fraught with danger, distress, and discouragement, Christians should remain focused on our heavenly goal, not on the circumstances of the moment in this life. Verses 15-16 remind us that, while we each “control” only ourselves (each of us chooses how we respond to the challenges of the world in which we live), we ALSO have a responsibility as Christians to live as examples of godliness and righteousness in our society. The Holy Spirit summarizes this whole section by pointing out in vv.17-22 that Christians who do these things – even to the point of willingly accepting suffering as the “price” of faithfulness to Jesus – are truly walking “in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21) toward heaven.