Pastor, how much time do you spend each week in prayer — for your sermon, the church, the salvation of the lost who have visited your church, those marriages that are struggling, your own spiritual growth? Unquestionably, prayer is essential to the effectiveness of a pastor's ministry. We pray for wisdom, direction, insight, protection, and victory — and rightly so.
But consider this sobering prospect: what if God were ignoring those prayers? The possibility of such a scenario should horrify us, shaking us to our very core — what if all of our energies devoted to prayer were wasted? Yet, according to God's Word, if we do not fulfill our biblical responsibilities to our wives, our prayers are in fact "hindered." Consider 1 Peter 3:7:
Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered (HCSB).
Peter's warning of hindered prayer is not issued in a vacuum. Before raising the specter of unanswered prayer, Peter gives two commands that, when obeyed, offer our wives — and the world — a model of genuine, godly love. Our obedience in these areas also serves to help our wives become the women of God He wants them to be.
Know Your Wife, and Treat Her Accordingly
After instructing wives in 3:1-6 on their responsibilities toward their husbands, Peter turns his attention to men. He instructs us to be considerate as we live with our wives — but the English concept of being "considerate" does not adequately communicate the concept behind the Greek phrase. A husband may think he has fulfilled this expectation merely by opening the door for his wife, bringing her flowers on occasion, and remembering her birthday. In the Greek, the command goes far beyond merely being considerate as we know it. God expects us to dwell with our wives according to knowledge (kata gnosin). This requires that we first know our wives and then treat them accordingly.
The concept is not to know in the sense of being acquainted with, or having a cognitive data file on her. The Greek word for know suggests a thorough knowledge based upon direct, experiential, and sometimes even intimate, interaction with a person. It is the same word used sometimes for sexual intimacy. It is the word used of God's intimate knowledge of His children (2 Timothy 2:19).
We are expected to know our wife's makeup — to know what makes her tick — and then to govern our words and actions toward her accordingly. Now, this does not mean we must understand why she is the way she is. That's not going to happen! Men can't understand such mysteries anymore than women can understand why men are the way we are. Such glorious mysteries are solved only in the vast and mighty mind of God. Rather, this means knowing her intimately and completely, through direct, personal interaction, and then treating her and responding to her based on who she is, rather than the way we might want her to be. This knowledge applies to at least three areas:
Her Physical Makeup
We should understand that a woman's emotions can swing dramatically as a result of her physical makeup, and we should be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared for those changes. Hormonal changes, whether from a menstrual cycle, pregnancy, nursing a baby, or going through menopause, can lead to dramatic mood changes. To dwell with her according to knowledge means not taking it personally when her bad mood is linked to hormones, and not allowing it to lead to a confrontation or dispute. It means taking that chip off our shoulder, especially during those days. It means not questioning her love if she's not interested in sexual intimacy at certain times. It means being patient with her during those times, and being committed to tenderly and gently loving her, despite those occasional and temporary unpleasantries.
Her Emotional and Mental Makeup
Face it — in general, when it comes to the way they think and feel, women are wired soooo differently than men (no surprise to most who are reading this article). Many of us were shocked and dumbfounded when we first came face-to-face with those differences. But this passage does not teach that we must relate to, or identify with, their reasoning or feelings. It does, however, require that we acknowledge and accept these differences and not expect them to conform to our own reasoning and emotions — frankly, that's not very likely.
Personally, I'm a "fixer" — when something is broken I feel an obligation to try to fix it, whether it's a toy, an appliance, a relationship, or a heart. But after twenty-six years with my wife, I'm finally starting to understand that when she shares a burden or frustration with me, she's not necessarily looking for my advice on how to fix the problem. And to my utter amazement, I've found that she's not asking for, nor does she really appreciate, a three-point sermon complete with invitation! Usually, all she needs is an ear to hear her concerns — a companion who will empathize with her frustration. For me to merely listen without offering a solution is completely inconsistent with my natural inclination — but it is consistent with this passage's instruction.
Dwelling with a wife according to knowledge means realizing that her thinking, emotions, and personality can be influenced by a number of factors — things that we may have no control over. It means being patient with what we might perceive as insecurity or irrationality, or being patient when her mood or mind changes without warning. It means discovering what she perceives as demonstrations of love, then showing our love to her in those ways. It means knowing what her "buttons" are — then knowing which ones to push, and which ones to cover with a sign that says "DO NOT TOUCH — EVER!" It means loving and appreciating her for the beautiful person she is, including all of those magnificent and glorious differences.
Her Spiritual Makeup
Pastors are responsible to read and recognize the spiritual needs of their congregations, and then tailor their actions, responses, and prayers accordingly. What if we took this same approach with our wives, showing the same sensitivity to their spiritual needs?
Do you know where your wife is on her spiritual pilgrimage? Do you know the frustrations she faces in her walk with God? Is she spending time each day in the Word and in prayer? What portion of God's Word is she studying right now? What nuggets has she uncovered, or what questions might she have about what she is reading?
Are you praying for your wife? What does she need prayer for? What temptations does she face? Is she struggling with anger or resentment over the way some church members have treated you? Is she worried about the negative effect ministry could have on the kids? Perhaps she's worried about finances, or frustrated that the church doesn't pay enough to cover the cost of living and ministering in your community.
What situation is your wife facing in which she needs your support and encouragement? Has one of the saints at church criticized the way she dresses, or worse, been critical of the kids? Is she nursing one of the women through a severe family crisis? Has she been asked to lead a women's Bible study, but she feels absolutely and utterly inadequate and incapable? Is she struggling with thoughts that maybe God doesn't care any more, that maybe He has dumped you and your family on a ministry trash heap and has forgotten you?
Does your wife need a pastor right now? Not someone to scold her or preach at her, but a gentle shepherd who cares, who will encourage her, who will pray for and with her, who will help bear the burden — someone who will gently and lovingly remind her of the truth in these areas — someone who will put his arm around her and walk with her through those doubts and struggles — the same way you do with the rest of the members of your church.
Such would be dwelling with her according to knowledge.
Respect Your Wife
Peter then commands husbands to treat wives with respect and honor in two critical areas:
As a Weaker Vessel
Feminists would have a field day with this passage, but Peter is no chauvinist looking down upon women as inferior. The fact is that women, in general, are physically weaker than men. As such, they can be easily abused or victimized by men. Tragically, far too many have been. This passage shows God's concern for women in this regard.
Lest there remains any doubt in any man's mind, God forbids such treatment.
Such a reminder should not be necessary to pastors — any man who would physically harm his wife fails to meet several of the biblical qualifications of a pastor. That man has no business filling the role of a shepherd. If you are guilty, repent and stop it. If this is an ongoing struggle, get some help and get out of the ministry — at least for now.
As a Joint Heir
Just as a man who physically abuses his wife has no business being a pastor, so it is with a man who looks down upon his wife and shows her disrespect — publicly or privately.
The Bible is clear that there are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. According to Galatians 3:28-29, a person's race, social standing, and gender have no bearing on that citizenship — all have equal access to God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is no room within the Family of God for disdain.
If that is true for God's family, it is particularly true between husbands and wives. For a husband to insult or demean his wife, especially in public — and especially from the pulpit — is an offense to God. Humiliating our wives in public is neither cute nor funny. Cutting remarks about appearance, family background, inadequacies at home (or worse, in bed), past or current failures — these not only betray the offending husband's own character flaws, they betray his ignorance of, and disregard for, God's grace and place him in direct opposition to God.
But disrespect is not limited to insults — it has many faces. When a man is impatient or loses his temper with his wife, he shows disrespect for a joint heir. The same is true when he is curt, rude, or harsh. Such actions are inconsistent with the love, grace, and mercy God has shown us.
Pastor, if you are guilty, stop it — now — and apologize to your wife. If you know of a pastor who is guilty, lovingly confront him and remind him of this passage.
If for no other reason, based on their standing as heirs of the gracious gift of life, our wives deserve better.
God expects husbands to treat their wives in keeping with their makeup and with respect. But His Word goes on to declare the consequences of failure in these areas. According to this passage, if we disobey God in the way we treat our wives, our prayers are hindered.
Consider the implications of that. How many aspects of ministry do we pray for? At the opening of the article we mentioned prayer for sermon preparation, the church, the salvation of the lost, marriages, your own spiritual growth, wisdom, direction, insight, protection, and victory. You may think of other areas. Can we afford to position ourselves so the Lord does not respond to these prayers? The way we treat our wives is not merely a private matter — failure to treat them properly can actually thwart our ministry. Being a godly husband is an absolute essential for effective ministry.
On the other hand, when we understand our wife's makeup and treat her accordingly, and when we treat her with the respect due to a joint heir, we not only leave the door open for effective prayer, we contribute to the spiritual growth of the most beautiful person on earth. Rather than being an obstacle in the pathway of her spiritual pilgrimage, we become an aid, a facilitator, an encourager — a partner.
As a result, our wife is drawn closer to God, our children learn by example the nature of a godly husband, and the men in the church have a sterling model of biblical manhood.