But Peter and the apostles answered,
“We must obey God rather than men.”
The previous chapter leads into a great and often troubling question. What should a woman do when she is commanded by a husband or father to commit sin? We know that the abiding principle in all relationships involving authorities that Yahweh has established is to obey. But what do we do when the authority of man contradicts the authority of God?
The opening verse of this chapter should give one answer enough, but more should be said about this matter. There is always a tendency to go to extremes in one direction or another. Some have mistakenly declared that if a husband or father is walking in disobedience that he is no longer to be considered an authority at all, and some have used such thinking to justify rebellion and the casting away of all earthly authority. Others have gone the other direction and have declared that a woman must obey her husband or father even when instructed to commit sin. We will see clearly from scripture that both of these views are in error.
Let us begin by looking at the latter error. It has been taught by some that a woman must ALWAYS obey her husband or father, even when commanded to sin. Some have used the example of Sarah as an illustration to support this conclusion. Since Sarah is given as an example for godly women to emulate in I Peter chapter 3, some have supposed that they are to imitate everything in Sarah’s life. However, Peter is quite precise about what aspect of Sarah’s conduct should be imitated. He states:
I Peter 3:5-6
For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
It is evident that Sarah’s reverent and respectful attitude toward her husband is the characteristic Peter is praising. He is not saying that women should do everything that Sarah did in her life. We are told on one occasion that when Sarah heard Yahweh declare that she would bare a child in her advanced age that she laughed. When Yahweh asked her why she laughed she replied that she had not laughed, lying because she was afraid (Genesis 18:12-15). We know that lying is wrong, so we cannot say that women are to emulate every action of Sarah. Wives are not justified in lying when they are afraid.
There were two occasions when Abraham journeyed into a foreign land when he asked Sarah to join him in deception. Sarah was very beautiful and Abraham was afraid that the rulers of the country would kill him in order that they might take his wife. He therefore requested that Sarah declare that she was his sister, since indeed she was his half sister. We find these accounts recorded in Genesis chapters 12 and 20. In both instances the deception of Abraham resulted in shame being brought upon him.
“Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house. Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels. But Yahweh struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? “Why did you say, “She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.
Can you picture this prophet and friend of God being escorted out of Egypt in shame due to his deception? Abraham had a greater fear of man than he had confidence in God’s ability to take care of him on these occasions, and his lack of faith rightly ended in humiliation. Did Sarah also act in fear, agreeing to participate in deception to save her husband, or did she act in obedience to her husband’s authority while manifesting faith in God to protect her?
It is often difficult to understand the motives of a person when the Scriptures remain silent on a topic. However, my own thoughts concerning Sarah’s actions in this matter are that she acted honorably while looking to God to protect her when her husband was experiencing a lack of faith in God. I cannot declare this to be the case definitely, but this understanding is attended by a peace in my spirit.
Consider again Peter’s words concerning wives, and his usage of Sarah as an example of a godly role model for women. Peter declared that Christian wives should manifest a chaste and respectful attitude toward their husbands even when the husband was walking in disobedience to the word and will of God. He instructs wives to let their husband be won, or persuaded back to a course of righteousness, “without a word,” without nagging, or verbal reproof, as they observe a continued attitude of honor and respect coming from the wife.
Peter declares these things in the midst of a passage on suffering. He says that a woman should be willing to suffer for the sake of obedience and righteousness even as Christ did when He went to the cross. Peter had also spoken about servants obeying masters who were unreasonable, and exhorted them that it would find favor with God if they bore up patiently when suffering unjustly.
This is the context of Peter’s words to women. It is also in this context that he mentions that Sarah is an example of one who did what “was right without being frightened by any fear.” I can think of a number of occasions in Sarah’s life spoken of in Scripture that would support such an understanding of her life in the mind of Peter. She followed Abraham obediently when he left Ur of the Chaldees to travel through foreign lands as an alien and a stranger. She also continued to honor her husband when his faith was wavering and he asked her to declare to others that she was his sister, rather than his wife.
What could Sarah’s motives in this matter have been? There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah loved her husband, otherwise the Scriptures would not elevate her as an example of a godly wife. I suspect that in observing the fear in her husband, and understanding his motives for asking her to declare that she was his sister, that her love for him played a part in directing her to obey his directions. I also suspect that her understanding of God’s will for women to honor their husbands also contributed to her decision.
In submitting to the will of her husband in this matter Sarah would have to look to God to protect her. She could confidently cast herself into the care of God if her own conscience was clear in the matter, and I believe it was. There are certainly some gray areas here that are difficult to discern. Was it transgression for Sarah to participate in her husband’s deception in this instance, or was the responsibility completely upon Abraham’s shoulders? After all, Sarah was not lying when she said she was Abraham’s sister. Did God look at the motives of each person’s heart and find error in Abraham while finding reason for praise in Sarah? Is it possible for two people to be involved in the same action for different reasons and be judged vastly different in the eyes of God? I think it is.
Lest we go too far in assuming that a wife should always go along with the counsel of her husband, we need to look carefully at another testimony provided for our instruction. The book of Acts speaks in detail concerning another husband and wife who entered into a deceptive practice and both were judged as transgressors by God. It is therefore not always the will of God that wives obey their husbands. The story of Ananias and Sapphira reveals the consequences of joining with another in sin, even if the person is your husband.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.
There is much to be gleaned from this account. We are told that it was Ananias, the husband, who decided to hold a portion of the money back. It was the husband who initiated the sinful behavior, but his wife Sapphira was fully aware of his actions. Ananias’ sin was not in holding back a portion of the money. The money was his to do with as he desired. He was under no constraint to give any of it. His sin was in being deceptive. He wanted to appear generous in the eyes of the church, so he gave the false appearance that he was giving the full amount for which the property had sold.
I am sure that before going to present the money to the apostles that Ananias asked his wife to agree with him in this deception, even as Abraham asked Sarah to agree with him. Abraham’s deception resulted in shame and humiliation for him. With Ananias and Sapphira the consequences were even more severe.
Because Ananias lied to the apostles and attempted to deceive the church about his gift, the Spirit of God judged him and he was struck dead on the spot. Later his wife Sapphira came in, not knowing what had happened to her husband and she told the same lie. When asked if they sold the piece of property for such and such an amount, she declared affirmatively that it was so, when it was not true.
Peter’s next question to Sapphira gives us great insight:
Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.”
If it was the teaching of the church that a wife should always obey her husband, even if he asked her to commit sin, then why would Peter find fault with Sapphira for agreeing with her husband? Why would the Spirit judge her as a transgressor equal to her husband? The answer should be obvious. There is no command of God that a wife or daughter should commit sin when requested to do so by man. We should always obey God when we are brought to a decision of whether we should obey God or man. In the opening scripture of this chapter we read Peter’s words:
But Peter and the apostles answered,“We must obey God rather than men.”
Some have innocently argued that God would protect a wife if their husband asked them to sin and they were to follow submissively in a desire to obey their husband. They refer to Sarah and they point out that Yahweh protected her when she was taken into another man’s house to be his wife. Yahweh did not allow either Pharaoh or the King of Gerar to have relations with Sarah. However, it would be wrong to imagine that she was completely protected from the consequences of sin. Sarah, along with Abraham, suffered great embarrassment in the presence of rulers and kings, and in the presence of royal courts as their deception was exposed. They were even forcibly escorted out of Egypt in deep humiliation.
We should keep in mind that the passage from Peter’s first epistle is written to inform the saints that there are times when they must suffer for the sake of righteousness. Sarah suffered, and I believe she did so for righteousness and has a reward from God. Yet Sapphira suffered for unrighteousness, and does not share the same reward. Peter goes on to contrast the suffering of righteousness and unrighteousness.
I Peter 4:15-16
By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.
It is difficult to build a set of rules by which we might judge every action of a man or woman. It is possible for two people to outwardly perform the same action while inwardly their hearts are vastly different. God looks on the heart, and judges the thoughts and intentions. Man often judges by sight and hearing and comes to a conclusion altogether different from that of God. It is necessary for the people of God to always be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit and to be directed by the Spirit in all that they do.
It is quite possible for two women to ask the counsel of a minister concerning some decision they are facing, and although the outward circumstances may appear very similar, the inner life of the women may be vastly different. God will not always provide the same counsel to every woman. We should always wait patiently before the Father until we are confident we have heard His voice and understood His will in a matter.
Some have also argued that if a wife is walking in obedience and submission under the governmental order of God that her husband will never ask her to do anything sinful, that Yahweh will restrain the husband from making such a request. This is merely wishful thinking. Ananias asked his wife to join with him in sin. God has not promised a woman that she will never be asked by a husband or father to sin if she is walking in submission to them. It can, and very well may, happen.
Sapphira could not argue that she was merely being obedient to her husband’s request. This did not absolve her of the consequences of her participation in the sin of deception and lying. The Spirit judged her just as surely as her husband was judged. She could have, and should have, refused to violate the command of God. She may have suffered consequences in her home, but she would have been justified before the Father.
This leads us to our next point: when we are brought to a place of obeying God rather than the command of men to sin, we must yet submit ourselves to the authority of man and receive the consequences of our obedience. Often we must suffer for the sake of obedience. When Peter and John told the Jewish leaders that they must obey God rather than man, they then had to suffer for their obedience.
And after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Yahshua, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Yahshua as the Messiah.
The apostles kept on doing that which Yahshua commanded them, but they also submitted to the punishment of wicked rulers. Not only did they submit themselves, but they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Yahshua.
It will happen on occasions that a woman or daughter will have to suffer for their obedience. A wife may be beaten even as the apostles were beaten. Many stories have been told of a daughter or wife who committed their life to Yahshua in some Muslim or Hindu nation and they were killed because they would not renounce their Savior. The Heavenly Father may not always spare us the consequences of obedience, but there is great reward to those who suffer in this way.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
I suppose that we can really not imagine the reward that awaits those who suffer for obedience in the name of Christ. There have been some awesome rewards given by men to other men due to some act of bravery or great service. But all the rewards of this earth pale in comparison to the reward that flows from the hand of the Creator of the Universe. When He bestows honor and reward it is something of such far surpassing value as to render the recipient speechless and to have them sink to their knees declaring that they are not worthy. Such is the reward of the Overcomer.
There has been a tendency to look at the above scripture and to think that it only applies to missionaries or evangelists or some Christian worker who is persecuted for their testimony of Christ. The scripture states, “blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” This is speaking of much more than evangelism. It is speaking of any occasion when we choose obedience to God over conformity to this world and the will of sinful man.
When a woman is put in a position of deciding whether to obey God or man, and she chooses obedience to God, she is a candidate to receive the blessing and reward spoken of here. Whenever suffering results due to a choice to remain faithful to Yahweh, there will be reward.
In the preceding chapter I spoke of the tragedy of a young girl whose father sexually molested her. A young girl should not willingly go along with such ungodliness. She should not be a willing participant. However, she may be forced by a man who is much stronger than she. When we take a stand for righteousness, we cannot always know the effect of our decisions. In some instances a wife or daughter declaring that something is evil and that they cannot participate in it may be enough to dissuade the authority they are under to not pursue this course. On other occasions it may simply infuriate the authority and lead to violent and abusive behavior. In all things we must entrust ourselves to the care of the one who judges righteously.
I mentioned previously the example of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who are more commonly referred to by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When they were instructed by the ruler of Babylon to bow down and worship an idol, they refused with the following words.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Such must be our own attitude when faced with a similar crisis. We must entrust ourselves to a loving Father who is well able to deliver us, but even if He does not deliver we must remain true.
We mentioned that there is another extreme when considering the issue of obedience to a sinful request. On the one side is a tendency to do anything that is requested, even if commanded to sin, and we hope that it is now evident that this is not the will of the Father. On the other hand there is an even more popular tendency to simply rebel against authority and to cast off all government. This is the mindset that is pushed by society at large and it has become very popular within the Christian church.
We need to be reminded that obedience to authority is the norm, and only in cases where sin is being commanded should we ever disobey authority. An authority can be walking in sin, but they are still an authority. In demonstration of this truth Peter gave wives the following command.
I Peter 3:1-2
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
If a husband or father is walking in sin then the wife and daughter must give room for Christ to correct them. Christ is the head of man and correction must come from the head, not from those under authority. There is too much of a temptation to enter into rebellion and insubordination when those under authority try to correct. We will look more at this issue of government in the following chapters.
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