What does it mean that women should have a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4)?

In his first letter, addressed to Jewish believers who were scattered around Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1), Peter encourages women to have a gentle and quiet spirit. This is part of Peter’s exhortation to his readers to keep their behavior excellent among the Gentiles so that the Gentiles would observe their godly behavior and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).

Part of the honorable behavior Peter promoted includes submitting to human authority or government (1 Peter 2:13). Believers were to live as those possessing freedom but not use that freedom as an excuse for wrongdoing (1 Peter 2:16). In that same spirit of concern for others expressed through submission, Peter suggests that his readers should honor everyone, love their brothers and sisters, fear God, and honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). In the same way, servants were to show Christlike behavior in humbling themselves toward those in authority over them (1 Peter 2:20). Jesus had provided our greatest example in demonstrating humility and enduring undeserved suffering for the benefit of others (1 Peter 2:21–22). Jesus suffered and died as a substitute for us so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin but made alive in His righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). All believers are expected to show this kind of submission to one another—as Paul puts it in Ephesians 5:21, believers should submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Both Peter and Paul remind their readers of Jesus’ example and then challenge believers to show Christlikeness in all their relationships. It is within this context that Peter urges women to have a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4).

After reminding his readers of Jesus’ example of humility (1 Peter 2:21–24), Peter instructs married women to show submission to their husbands (1 Peter 3:1). In this case, the purpose is so that even husbands who are not obedient to the Word might be won over by the purity of their wives’ attitude and behavior (1 Peter 3:2). Peter describes what that attitude and behavior look like: the woman’s true adornment is not about external appearance, but true adornment is in the inner character and is of imperishable quality. It is “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4).

The term gentle does not imply weakness, but rather self-restraint. If one is told to be gentle, the implication is that one has the ability to not be gentle. The woman has strength and expresses Christlike strength in meekness or gentleness toward her husband. Peter adds that the godly wife is not just gentle but also has a quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4). She has a peaceful or well-ordered spirit, which would allow her to speak and behave in a peaceful and well-ordered way. Peter is not suggesting that low volume is necessary, but rather a character of peacefulness.

This character is “of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4) and is imperishable—it lasts and has value in every generation. Even in years past, this is how women who hoped in God demonstrated their true adornment (1 Peter 3:5)—Peter uses the example of Sarah (verse 6). It is by a gentle and quiet spirit that a godly woman expresses submission to her husband.

As for the husbands, they are instructed to live in consideration of their wives—also as an expression of submission (1 Peter 3:7). Peter’s instruction here is similar to Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:21 and 25—that all believers are to show Christlike submission to each other, and husbands express this toward their own wives by love and consideration. As Paul and Peter explain how believers can fulfill their roles, they both emphasize specific qualities that will be helpful in their particular relationships. While all believers are to be gentle—as it is part of the fruit the Holy Spirit bears in all of us (Galatians 5:22), and all believers should live well-ordered and peaceful lives (1 Timothy 2:2), Peter emphasizes in the context of husbands and wives that the particular characteristic of a gentle and quiet spirit will be of great benefit.

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