A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

1 Peter 3:6 — Sarah’s children do what is right and do not give way to fear

Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. (KJV)

like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. (NIV)

as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (ESV)

If a victim of abuse desires to obey scripture, she can feel herself to be perpetually knifed by the blade of the Word in 1 Peter 3:1-6. That was where I was for years. It seemed to say: Put up with the abuse no matter how bad, because if you respond out of fear you are failing in your Christian walk.

And a little later in that chapter, Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled (3:14 KJV) may seem to be an injunction to suppress emotion and stay in denial about the covenant-destroying pattern of conduct her husband is showing, and the damage it is causing her and the kids.

But there is a limit to what wives should suffer at the hands of ungodly husbands. The limit is set by Peter’s command to ‘do good’, to do the right thing, even in the face of intimidation.

Peter tells wives to do good and not give way to the fear of what their husbands might do.

We should submit to our husbands only in so far as righteous obedience to God will permit.

When a Christian woman who is being abused by her husband attempts to do good to her husband by (e.g.) admonishing him for his sinful ways, resisting his abuse, setting boundaries against his destructive conduct, etc., the abuser tries even harder to make her afraid of him so that she backs down and complies with his wickedness, which will enable him to continue in his wicked ways. Such a woman does good and the result is: her husband escalates and intimidates her even more.

Verse 6 addresses this situation. It tells such wives to nevertheless continue to do the good without backing down, without giving way to fear or intimidation. And bear in mind, it is not wrong to feel the emotion of fear; it is wrong to let the fear intimidate you into sinning. And *sinning* in this case, often takes the form of complying with the abuser and ‘letting’ him wield his wicked rule over her.

It does the wife no good to be further oppressed and downtrodden, because that leads to mental and physical and spiritual exhaustion not to mention all the health impacts on the woman’s body. And the same for the kids. And it does the abuser no good because it just enables him to become further entrenched in his evil ways and entitled mindset.

Note well: I am not blaming the victim here for ‘letting’ the abuser abuse. The abuser chooses to abuse and the abuser is always responsible for his own actions and attitudes. The victims, with immense creativity and problem solving, choose micro-moment by micro-moment how to navigate this ground of eggshells and minefields to try to avoid ‘trouble’.

Victims must never be held to blame for the abuser’s wrongful choices.

Peter is telling you, abused wife, that it is fine to judiciously resist the abuser’s power and control tactics, and to resist being intimidated into fearful compliance with the abuser’s coercive control.

Sometimes resistance is not safe. Sometimes compliance is the only thing that creates a margin of temporary safety. All victims know this — experience with their abuser has taught them this fact. And resistance can be hidden or visible, small or large. We pick our battles, and we elect to let some things go through uncontested and un-remarked upon. That kind of stuff is the normal diet for victims of abuse, and it explains why survivors are often such strong,  careful, astute people . . . especially as they come more and more out of the fog, sloughing off the self-blame and false guilt in which they have been shrouded, shamed, silenced, immured.

Abused Christian women can be confident that they in not complying with the evildoing of the abuser, they are being Sarah’s daughters: doing what is right and not giving way to fear.

* * * *

Related posts:

Should wives submit to harsh husbands just like slaves submitting to harsh masters? (1 Peter 2 & 3)

1 Peter 3 Does Not Command Victims to Remain in Abuse — Help from David deSilva

Is it a sin to feel afraid?

Honouring Resistance — a wonderful resource for understanding abuse

Nate Spark’s post Love and Respect and Proof-Texts contains some good analysis of 1 Peter 2:18–3:7, but please bear in mind that we do not necessarily endorse all of Nate Sparks’s writings.

32 Comments

  1. Stina

    “If a victim of abuse desires to obey scripture, she can feel herself to be perpetually knifed by the blade of the Word in 1 Peter 3:1-6. That was where I was at for years. It seemed to say: Put up with the abuse no matter how bad, because if you respond out of fear you are failing in your Christian walk.”

    Thank you for clarifying what doing ‘good’ really means.

    (I am new to commenting but have been reading here for over a year.)

  2. Denise

    Oh my gosh! These exact verses were used at the beginning of my captivity in my abusive marriage. There was a whole set taught at women’s group titled “Following Fallen Men” that focused on Sarah and how she was praised by God for obeying Abram and put her life on the line for him. I held to that for 16 years, the person I was inside died a slow painful death by each act of “obedience” to my husband who just wanted more and more, and I was never good enough.
    BUT GOD!! God cut through that, and now He’s using you to help dig up these old lies that are buried deep in my faith. They still play through my head from time to time, bringing up doubts and whispering that I’m a failure for not “sticking it out”.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for boldly speaking what so many women need to hear. Thank you for your ministry.

    • You’re most welcome, Denise, and thanks for the encouragement. Now I must go to sleep. It’s after midnight here and I just finished writing that post 35 minutes ago and have been writing posts most of the evening. I love writing! 🙂

  3. MeganC

    I am so blessed by how you have shed light on a passage that haunted so many of us for such a long time, Barb! I stayed in my first marriage, for so long, OUT of fear — fear of him, fear of God abandoning me, fear of being alone, fear of my family abandoning me, fear of living on my own, fear of the unknown. It is all understandable, I am sure. And, while many would say not to be hard on myself, I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I stayed for those reasons. Stepping out of that fear was incredibly freeing. Not easy — but freeing.

    • MeganC

      PS — Posting on Give Her Wings.

    • Ann

      Yes to all those for me too Megan. And worst of all for me, the fear of admitting and owning that I was wrong to marry him in the first place.

    • Thanks Meg 🙂

  4. Seeing Clearly

    Thank you for shedding a practical, correct light on scripture. When I chose to divorce in 2007, I had no one providing scripture to do so. I simply defined unfaithful as giving your love to someone other than your wife. My N ex definitely loved himself, selfishly, more than he loved me. I don’t know that a wise family member even agreed that it was scriptural, but said I needed to get out. I felt that God allowed me to go, but I assumed I may get “God’s second best” (whatever that is) for doing so. It seems the Christians in my world were living in a cloud and many, most still are.

    I don’t even risk using the word “abusive” with most people. In fact, it dawned on me recently, that my ex probably denies that he was abusive. There is something very strong going on, that he can’t yet tolerate to be in my presence. Only a sister is standing up to him for me, the rest just step aside.

    As I think of it, until friends, family and enemies are willing to embrace this true interpretation of scripture, they will stand mute. I do know that most ministers are going to answer for their arrogant dishonesty some day.

    • Ann

      Hello Carol,
      Your writing, “I simply defined unfaithful as giving your love to someone other than your wife. My N ex definitely loved himself, selfishly, more than he loved me” REALLY hit home with me! During some very serious and traumatic times I called my husband to please come home to be with me and the children (I even waited until lunchtime so as not interrupt his day and the events had happened early morning and he only worked 15 minutes from the house) and his answer was, “I need to stay here! with *my PEOPLE*!!! (the employees). I have been fighting multiple health issues and he has without batting an eyelash went out to help others while leaving me alone to do for myself. He relishes in his cruelty to me.

  5. Ellie

    This passage was so confusing to me for so long. Once I saw that X’s sin was destroying him and everything he claimed to love, I could see more clearly that “calling him lord” and allowing him to sin without being challenged, allowing him to present himself to others as a loving husband while being cruel to me when no one could see, was not loving to him. I could see that resistance was honoring to God. I appreciate your explanation of this passage Barbara.

  6. Trying To Understand

    Thanks for this post. I was so confused for so long about how to navigate those waters, when I was being accused of disrespect and insubordination by my husband to my pastors, and I was being counseled to submit to my husband unless he asked me to participate in blatant sin. I painfully made the statement to one of my advisors that I believe submitting cheerfully to abuse would be sinful enabling..that statement was misconstrued and came back to bite me later. But thankfully, God has heard my cries, and my husband is divorcing me. I’ve been told that some family members have been praying he would for some time. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when divorce is an answer to prayer. I want to say thanks to all the contributors to A Cry for Justice. You are doing great work toward helping especially traditionally fundamental believers know where to stand on these issues. Not to mention the balm your words have been to people such as myself who have been abused, shamed, slandered and alienated from sources of friendship and support. Thankfully God has provided a few that have cared and are there for me, but I still deal with crippling feelings of not being good enough for these people, I assume because of lifelong emotional trauma. Thanks again, keep up the good work! I look forward to reading your posts every day.

  7. Anonymous

    Just yesterday I received a birthday card from my husband’s mother. In the card was a note using 1 Peter 3:6 to remind me what my obedient response should be to her son. Sigh. Doesn’t quit hurting or making me feel incredibly guilty. And that guilt leads to some negative feelings towards God which of course I know isn’t right.

  8. Still Reforming

    I appreciate your post here very much, Barbara, because no matter how many years you have been away from the torment, you capture very well the feelings of those of us still in it. And then I chastize myself over and over again for not “being Christian enough,” which I know isn’t Biblically sound, but it’s that accusing voice saying I need to have greater faith, not fear so much, in spite of living with an abuser who’s erratic and unpredictable. In my head certainly I know that our God is not the author of confusion. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). And yet in spite of my mind’s knowing this, I fight with my heart that trembles still. I’m so grateful for these posts which help straighten my shoulders and lift my head a bit more.

  9. nessa3

    It is such a struggle to know the right balance. Because there are so many mixed messages in religous circles…Suffering with Christ,were to endure,pray,trust all things will work out only if you have the faith…On and on…you struggle with am I not praying hard enough, not faithful..believing, patient, Am I leaving because of my weakness or is this the right thing to do? How long is to long to stay? I mean you can go back and forth with so many thoughts….Its not always so black and white…
    If I were to measure my marriage against what Ive seen and know…its not so bad, but if I measure it against WWJD if he was my husband…no one can measure up to that.
    If you come from a disfunctional life…you wont see your marriage as disfuntional.

  10. Thanks everyone for your encouragement in this thread.

    BTW, I meant this to be the Sunday post, but I am sick with the flu and even when I’m well it’s not easy to keep my head wrapped around the date difference between Oz and the USA.

    So please don’t expect a post tomorrow. :/

    • Still Reforming

      Barbara,
      I do hope you return to feeling better very soon. Sorry to hear you have the flu.
      Thanks too for the Stockholm Syndrome link. That’s rather fascinating.
      I think many of us don’t have the same attachment, but I can certainly understand why people could or would. As for me, I’ve recognized the abuse for years and years, but only slowly came to understand that tactics (passive-aggression, then narcissism and its manipulative lying ways).
      Anyway, I’m blathering. All I wanted to really say was that I hope you get better soon.

      • Hi Stillreforming,
        I noticed your screen name. Would you please email me at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com. I have a question about it.

      • Thanks 🙂
        I’m on the mend slowly.

  11. I’ve added this link into the post:
    Love and Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser

    [good suggestion, Ellie :)]

  12. loves6

    Thanks for this post. I needed to read this.

    I now have a job. This being all a part of me becoming independent. It is only part time but God directed me to it and I love what I do.

    I’m do not like my husband a lot of the time. He annoys me. He has not had a wild abusive outburst for weeks but it rears it head in other ways.

    I’m biding time. I’ve done the counseling thing which made things worse at times. My husband has admitted to no empathy for anyone. He also has become more particular about certain things and has to have it his way. I am slowly learning his ways of abuse.

    I see the little boy syndrome. He feels so hard done by at times. I can see he has lost his way with God. I can see selfishness creeping in. I am no longer the ‘good girl submissive wife’. I will confront him when he is harsh with the kids. I also speak up when I don’t like something he says. Some of the fear has gone. I’m getting stronger slowly. When he acts a certain way I get triggered because of past trauma.

    He says to me he will not put up with my antics when I get stroppy and he goes out. When say my antics?, what about his antics all these years, he dismisses me and poohoos what I say, like it wasn’t that bad.

    I don’t know that I love him anymore, I don’t know what not loving anymore feels like. I don’t like him that’s for sure. When he treats me well and is nice I’m OK with him but the moment he starts to sulk, get angry with the kids, order us around, asks too many questions, smothers me etc etc I find him gross. His constant need to touch me is a total turn off. Is this a normal feeling for a woman at the place I’m at?

    Submitting to my pathetic husband is the last thing I want to do. I cannot do it. I probably sound angry and contemptuous. I am I am so angry at him.

    I did the counseling thing to show I had tried to save this marriage. I can see he is slowly going back to his old ways.. The advice of no counseling for abusive relationships I believe is a right one

    • His constant need to touch me is a total turn off. Is this a normal feeling for a woman at the place I’m at?

      Yes, it’s normal.

    • This touching thing is more while sitting on the sofa for example, I am sitting knitting while watching tv he has to reach and touch me on the shoulder. His hand stays there. I feel smothered. I move forward and change how I’m sitting to get his hand to move. I dislike it. If I say please don’t touch me all the time he gets very upset, feels rejected etc and I don’t hear the end of it. So I say nothing.
      He also wants a kiss goodbye even when he is just going outside to mow the lawn. I guess people that are really in love wouldn’t mind it. I do, I find it smothering and annoying. He finds my lack of enthusiasm rejecting and gets into a mood where he starts yelling at the kids or his other pathetic ways of acting like a child.
      As for sex that is another matter.

      • all those things you’ve described sound like ways he is subtly (or not so subtly) reminding you that He Exerts Control Over You.
        The hand on the shoulder — typical “innocent/inoffensive” gesture — but in the context of domestic abuse, no gesture is innocent, and many ‘innocent’ gestures are offensive.

  13. Sunflower

    Once your give-a-dam has broken, you detach and then touch seems yucky. But that is when they have to start touching you, both to get you engaged again (you can’t hurt someone much when they’re detached) and to just prove you wrong. Ask him to stop saying I love you, and he’ll say I love you more, etc.

    • Yes Sunflower. Im seeing this happening. Now I have a new job, as me working has always been NO WAY from him. He has had to conceed due to financial pressure. I think he maybe feeling slightly insecure as I am not at his peck and call during the day anymore. I was at home alot of the time (feeling imprisoned, smothered and controlled) and he could just drop in when he felt like it. This touching thing has just started happening in the last few weeks… makes perfect sense. He probably senses me detaching and becoming independent, which is something is fears.
      My councelor is a lovely christian lady and has helped me immensely over recent months. She has helped me to start believing in myself, have selfcare and to look for a job.

    • Maybe is another form of abuse? I was wondering if it was some sort of control thing, as Babara mentioned. The clingy overbearing thing Im sure is his insecurity and as Babara said a subtle form of control becasue he is so fearful of losing me. Slowly but surely I am detaching myself from the codependence thing, the stockholm sydrome thing, which im sure I manifest at times.

      I reread this post yesterday and this stuck out to me:

      Peter is telling you, abused wife, that it is fine to judiciously resist the abuser’s power and control tactics, and to resist being intimidated into fearful compliance with the abuser’s coercive control.

      Sometimes resistance is not safe. Sometimes compliance is the only thing that creates a margin of temporary safety. All victims know this — experience with their abuser has taught them this fact. And resistance can be hidden or visible, small or large. We pick our battles, and we elect to let some things go through uncontested and un-remarked upon. That kind of stuff is the normal diet for victims of abuse, and it explains why survivors are often such strong, careful, astute people . . . especially as they come more and more out of the fog, sloughing off the self-blame and false guilt in which they have been shrouded, shamed, silenced, immured.

      Abused Christian women can be confident that they in not complying with the evildoing of the abuser, they are being Sarah’s daughters: doing what is right and not giving way to fear.

      ….. these three paragraphs explain where I am at very very well. I am becoming a strong, careful and astute woman… Im obviously coming out of the fog, self blame is disapating slowly, false guilt is slowly being removed. My husband is very very good at coercive control. It is so subtle. Of late I realise that I actually spoil him, I spoil him by making sure his dislikes and likes are catered for. He has so many of them, they have to do with every day life, food, the way I do things, the way the kids do things, things I buy, the way I cook, and many many others. I am realising that I make my life more stressful by making sure he is happy.

      sorry for the long comment… I am thinking things through as Im writing this 🙂

  14. Here’s something I’ve struggled with in this passage, which I’ve never seen addressed:

    Sarah called Abraham “Lord,” and was blessed for it, after he:

    *impregnated her maid (I know, she instigated, and it was a different culture, but that still is hurtful sin against her)
    *allowed that maid to bully her
    *gave her to Pharoah’s harem because he was too scared to claim her as his wife

    Those things are abusive, yet she is “blessed” for calling him Lord in spite of it. That seems to clearly state that God blessed her for treating Abraham as her lord when he treated her grievously in several occasions. I must be missing something; can someone help?

    • Valerie

      Marah, that is a thought-provoking conundrum. I have questioned some of this as well. It is difficult when scripture does not expressly state God’s displeasure with sinful behavior but we can know it from God’s character. David was a man after God’s heart yet he had an affair and was a hit man. Clearly we know that God was not neutral on these aspects. Moses was a chosen instrument of God and miracles were performed through him. Yet though he was near to God and walked with Him, in anger he was disobedient with the way in which he struck the rock and as a result didn’t get to experience the Promised Land.

      When Abraham allowed Sarah to be a part of Pharaoh’s harem, he didn’t place her at his doorstep but rather his passivity and deception naturally allowed it to occur. This was shown to be not okay with God! In Gen 12:17-20 Pharaoh’s household was cursed as a result of the deception. Then when Abraham did it AGAIN in Gen 20:3-6 God spoke to Abimilech in a dream and told him that what he was doing was wrong (but also spoke to the fact that his heart was clean in this and so he did not allow him to touch her).

      It is also noteworthy that when there was trouble in Kansas with Sarah and Hagar because of Issac and Ishmael, God told Abraham to listen to Sarah and submit (implied) to “whatever she said” to do.

      Leslie Vernick also speaks to this same passage in her article here:http://leslievernick.com/does-god-want-me-to-submit-to-mistreatment-according-to-1-peter-3/
      One of the commenters (Caroline) aptly points out that we are not encouraged to do ALL Sarah did as when she mocked God when He told her she would have a baby or the act of her giving Hagar to her husband.

      I have heard it said that scripture was designed to not be easy to understand so that it is spiritually discerned. Designed so only those who truly want to know the truth of God’s word would diligently study and receive the blessings of its wisdom. How else to we make sense of the fact that God gave the commandment to not murder and then tells many of his people over the course of time to annihilate all the people in the region including women and children so that they make take possession of the land? If you told an atheist this account they would give it as evidence of the lunacy of faith. But as followers of Christ who have been given spiritual discernment we recognize that this account actually makes sense. God instructed these people to be annihilated because of their idolatry and opposition to God- which is the basis for the highest purpose of every law and commandment we are told to follow. Everything comes down to God being glorified! 🙂

    • Still Reforming

      Hi Marah!

      I don’t think I can do better than what Valerie has done in expounding the Word of God here, however, just off the top of my head with respect to your three specific concerns:

      1. impregnated her maid – you call this “sin” against Sarah here, however it is not “sin” in God’s eyes because the Law of God had not yet been given and it was not designated a “sin” as such. If you consider how people had to populate the Earth from the time of Adam and Eve, there had to be some intermarriage among families (even Sarah and Abraham are actually half-brother and half-sister – of the same father). So while it may have been “grievous” in your eyes, it was not in Sarah’s who insisted upon it to get a child. I would likewise imagine that Abraham’s and Sarah’s lack of faith in God’s providing them with a child would be more displeasing to God than the act itself to procure said heir.

      2. “allowed that maid to bully her” – I don’t know that Abraham really allowed this. It’s unclear how much he knew about it until Sarah told him to get rid of Hagar, and God instructed Abraham to listen to his wife in the matter – and Abraham did. I don’t know if Abraham can be faulted here for Hagar’s or Ishmael’s bullying – because we don’t know how much he knew – and when he did know, he dismissed Hagar and his son Ishmael, essentially to die (for all he knew) in the desert. Although knowing Abraham, he probably trusted God to take care of them (which He did).

      3.”gave her to Pharoah because he was too scared to claim her as his wife” – Yeah, that’s a tough one. Along with other toughies in Scripture, as Valerie astutely pointed out. He didn’t really lie (because she was his half-sister, in fact), but he did go against what I would have thought would be pleasing to God – to trust the Lord in the land above his own devices. We too do this, but of course that doesn’t excuse Abraham or any of us.

      Like Valerie pointed out, I don’t think Sarah is called blessed for calling Abraham “lord” based on his bad choices, but based on Abraham’s faithfulness to the Lord (“he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness”), such as offering his one true son Isaac up to the Lord when he didn’t know if or how the Lord would deliver his son from that death. It was, of course, a foreshadowing for all of us of God’s providing His own true Son, who also conquered death but by tasting it for us and delivering us all from it as well.

      Incidentally, I too had long struggled with part of this story – but my consternation came from the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness to die. Until one day it dawned on me: They had earned it. If only Ishmael had accepted his place in the family, he could have remained a part of it. It was a lesson for me too: If I can accept where God has me in His family and be grateful for it, no matter what my life’s story, then I can serve Him in the place He has me. (This does not mean I have to accept my abusive husband, mind you, but I can accept my yesterdays, my present, and my tomorrows. He is Lord of them all.)

      • StillReforming, yes, what Peter being referring to when he says “Sarah called him [Abraham] lord” is not clear. I have read many commentaries on that passage. Most commentators of repute examine the various anecdotes of the lives of Sarah and Abraham but then conclude that none of the anecdotes are the obvious allusion to which Peter is referring. I tend to think that Peter is just referring to Sarah’s general respect for her husband, but not to any particular anecdote from their lives. . .

  15. Nate Spark’s post Love and Respect and Proof-Texts contains some good analysis of 1 Peter 2:18–3:7

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