Paul speaks in these verses about Christian marriage. It is astoundingly different than what you will hear in the world today. Everyone doing what is right in their own eyes with respect to marriage has had severe consequences in families, evidenced by the societal breakdown we are witnessing around us.

Marriage is an institution, a creation ordinance of God that has great benefits to mankind. Many secular or non-religious men and women have enjoyed the blessings of marriage, and it is a restraint on sin. Nevertheless, it is the sinful propensities of men and women that frustrate the blessedness of marriage as God designed it.

Christ came into the world to redeem men and reverse the curse of sin and death. So all who come to him, who belong to him, are to die to their ways, and submit to the Lord’s ways. He gave them life, forgiveness of sins, and favor with God. Now their lives belong to him, and this of course extends to their marriage.

Paul gives simple instructions to man and women in marriage as Christians. But we should first remember the context of these duties. In verse 17 Paul said; “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We must apply the duties of all Christians that came before this verse to our marriages. Paul had instructed Christians to put on their new self of “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” 

If we apply this spiritual disposition in our marriage the commands the Lord gives us for marriage will not be burdensome, but joyful. The Lord’s design always leads to blessedness, because he is full of wisdom and goodness. He is the Lord. 

Paul begins with the wife saying, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord.” God made man as the head of his wife, and the wife as his helper. The husband is the head of his wife, whether he lives it out or not (1st Cor. 11:3). It is a statement of reality. It isn’t fitting to the Lord for a wife to be the head of her husband, so a Christian wife is not to strive to be head of her husband.

Women are co-heirs of eternal life, equal in the image of God, but God made people male and female. He is not the author of confusion and disorder. His design was for the husband to be a loving, compassionate leader of the marriage and the wife to be a devoted helper, the two becoming one flesh as well as joined in mind and spirit.

The wife has the harder part in this fallen world, men being what they are. Nevertheless, Peter directs wives “to be subject to their husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word (of Christ) they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” The wife isn’t called to endure abuse or infidelity from her husband, but plainly if she would please the Lord she is to practice a humble disposition toward her husband.

Paul directs the husband, “Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.” The wife may have the harder part, but the husband has more accountability. To whom much is given, much is required, and the Lord counts a wife as favor from Him. The standard of love is as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5). 

Christ laid down his life for his people, promised not to leave nor forsake them, delights in their company, intercedes for them, and protects and provides for them. He does all this from love. And in these ways and more, the husband is to love his wife. 

The husband is not to be “harsh” with his wife. The word has the sense of bitterness or sourness. It tends toward resentment and oppression.  An ancient commentator on this text wrote, “A husband who is harsh with his wife invokes God’s displeasure, his prayers are hindered, gives foothold to the devil, hardens his own heart, and makes wreckage of his conscience.”