The English word chivalry comes from the Old French word chevalerie, which originated in medieval times and pertained to the code of conduct required for knights. Chivalry is usually thought of as courteous behavior, especially men’s courtesy toward women. In days gone by, chivalry was expected in polite society. But, with cultural norms shifting, it can be difficult to know whether chivalry is still expected or whether it is gone with the wind.
Good manners are always appropriate for both men and women. Ephesians 5:21 tells the church to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” So, biblical chivalry starts with a humble spirit and a willingness to put the needs of others before one’s own needs (Romans 12:3; Philippians 2:3). And, while God created men and women equal in value, spirit, and intelligence, He also placed within the male heart a desire to guard and protect the women in his care. God created men and women differently in function and perspective so that we would complement, not compete with one another. Part of a man’s innate bent toward protecting and valuing the beauty of a woman is reflected through chivalrous acts. By deferring to the women in his company—holding doors, helping with coats, rising when she enters—a man is fulfilling that God-instilled part of him that needs to honor female beauty.
First Peter 3:7 alludes to the innate difference between men and woman, instructing husbands to treat their wives with consideration as a “weaker vessel” and a joint-heir to the things of Christ. We might say that husbands are to practice chivalry toward their wives. The term weaker vessel does not mean “inferior person,” as Peter immediately follows the term with the concept of spiritual equality. It this instance, “weaker” is better understood as “delicate without being frail,” much as an antique, highly valued Chinese vase is delicate but not frail. When changing the oil in your car, you would not use such a vase to catch the used oil because the vase is of such high quality. You might pour the used motor oil into an old tin can, which is stronger but not of high quality.
True biblical chivalry builds upon the concept found in 1 Peter 3:7 and expresses itself in dozens of ways by showing honor and deference to women. Chivalry is a way of demonstrating respect for God’s design, not the character of the woman in question. Many women do not conduct themselves in ways that invite chivalry, but that does not excuse rudeness on the man’s part. God’s instruction to women is that they strive for a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). A woman who conducts herself with such kindness and class finds that men often respond to her with acts of chivalry.
Chivalry is a choice men should make. A godly man treats women with respect because he recognizes they are created in the image of God and therefore inherently worthy of courtesy.