I will tell you truthfully this reading is not a top choice for the wedding liturgy. This, despite the fact that Peter links the Christian approach of slaves (1 Peter 2:18ff) and husbands (3:7) to that of the subordinate wife. What is a preacher to say about this?
First, let’s keep in mind the situation of slaves and women in ancient times being far different than today. How a person in a subordinate position can spread the faith and further the Gospel was foremost in the minds of those who ministered to married women. Perhaps one could argue they should have been agitating for the revolt of wives against the cultural status quo. At any rate the argument is mostly dead; this situation is more than nineteen centuries old.
Let’s read, then comment some more:
You wives should be subordinate to your husbands so that,
even if some disobey the word,
they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct
when they observe your reverent and chaste behavior.
Your adornment should not be an external one:
braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes,
but rather the hidden character of the heart,
expressed in the imperishable beauty
of a gentle and calm disposition,
which is precious in the sight of God.
For this is also how the holy women who hoped in God
once used to adorn themselves
and were subordinate to their husbands;
thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him “lord.”
You are her children when you do what is good
and fear no intimidation.
Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding,
showing honor to the weaker female sex,
since we are joint heirs of the gift of life,
so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic,
loving toward one another, compassionate, humble.
Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult;
but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called,
that you might inherit a blessing.
What’s good about this passage? Quite a bit. A person might certainly opt to win over a non-believing spouse by example, rather than by coercion or verbal persuasion. Peter’s emphasis on the “hidden character of the heart” is preferable as a Christian sensibility than our culture’s obsession with externals.
Is the author a hopeless misogynist? Some Scripture scholars deny that allegation. True, Peter seems to spend six verses telling wives how to behave and only one for the husbands. But on the other hand, the author uses the example of wives first and husbands second. Additionally, the appeal to tradition is through a woman, and the reference to Sarah includes the image of the Christian wife as a child of Sarah, not as an offspring of the patriarch. I suspect the early Christian approach was more tolerant of the cultural status quo than an endorsement of it. Of the world’s many religious cultures, let’s not forget feminism has made the most inroads, and done the most good where Christianity flourishes.
The advice at the end of this passage introduces another section (3:8-12) that details general community behavior. Good for husbands, wives, family members, or even the guests.
So maybe it’s too bad this passage doesn’t get chosen. It prescribes inner calm and confidence in the face of trials, difficulties, or uncomfortable situations. Taking a deep breath before exchanging insults might prevent much harm in today’s marriages. We need to hear that more often than not, I think.