Peter writes that true beauty comes from within, and is attainable for everyone, regardless of clothing, hairstyle, body-type, or anything external. There is a beauty of spirit that comes from trusting God, and letting your heart rest peacefully on Him. He gives the example of Sarah, who, though she failed sometimes, trusted God, and became beautiful in this way. God used Sarah to show the world not only inner beauty, but also that women are equally important as men, and that both men and women are necessary to show the world his glory.
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1 PETER #19. 1 PETER 3:1-7
Last time we considered the essence of a woman’s submission to her husband, which is that she entrusts herself to God by using her gifts to support her husband’s leadership of their family, and encouraging that leadership. Ultimately, her trust is not in her husband, but in God, and because of her trust in God, she makes room for her husband to lead. We also talked about the limits of that sort of submission.
In case I wasn’t clear last time, I want to make sure and say it clearly: this doesn’t mean that husbands get to control their wives, and tell them what to do, or organize their schedules for them, and so on. These verses do not advocate those sorts of unhealthy relational patterns, and abuse of any kind is always wrong. The main thing is not that husbands get to control their wives, but rather, that wives make room for their husbands to step up and take responsibility in healthy, godly ways. Submitting means that wives trust God to be at work in and through their husbands, and they support and encourage their husbands’ godly leadership of the family.
By the way, there are several other verses in the New Testament that apply these same principles to church leadership. That’s useful for us today in two ways. First, if you are a single woman, and you wonder what this might have to do with you, you can apply it in your church. Entrust yourself to God, and then make room for the men in your church to lead in godly ways. Support and encourage them, contributing your own talents to their efforts. Single women might also consider how they can make room for, and encourage their own fathers to be spiritual leaders.
Second, if you think about submission in terms of the church, it is easy to see the proper limits of submission. Your church leaders shouldn’t be telling you how to spend every moment of your day, and therefore neither should your husband. Your church leaders shouldn’t be dictating who you can and can’t be friends with, or where you should shop, or what food to eat. Therefore, neither should your husband. If the men in the church have any wisdom, they will ask for the wisdom, talents and skills of the women to help them as they lead. So, a wise husband should want his wife involved in leading the family. There are a few differences, of course, between marriage-life and church-life, but understanding how it should work in the church helps us to navigate how it should work in the home.
Peter adds some new thoughts, while he is still addressing women:
3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.1 Peter 3:3-4
Let’s be sensible about these verses. It should be obvious that Peter is not prohibiting braided hair. What he is doing is quite clear: He is encouraging women to focus on inward beauty more than outward decorations like clothing, jewelry and hairstyles. As it turns out, this could be a tremendously freeing and wonderful thing for women.
Let’s start with the way Peter says it: “Do not let your adorning be external.” The Greek word translated “adorning” is an interesting one. It literally means “world.” Without giving a Greek lesson, I think the idea here is like this:
Don’t let your world be arranged around external things like hairstyles, jewelry and clothes.(Tom’s literal-ish translation)
Peter is not saying that if you pay attention to your hair or clothes, you are sinning. He is saying that the focus of your world should be on internal qualities more than external things. He adds (my “expounded translation”)
Instead, arrange your world around the hidden beauty of your heart, your inner person. Do this through a composed and gentle spirit. This kind of beauty lasts forever, and is precious to God.Tom’s literal-ish expounded translation
Before we get to the details, let me point out that this means that true beauty is possible for every woman, no matter their age, genetic make-up or workout regimen. In fact, the very reason we are familiar with the idea of “inner beauty” is because of this passage of the Bible. It reminds me of another passage, this time about a man. The prophet Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king, and he came upon a big, tall, strong young man who looked like a king. He thought his search was over until God spoke to him:
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”(1 Samuel 16:7, NLT)
Our culture, by and large, does judge by outward appearances. Some of the most admired and envied individuals in our society are actually pretty lousy as human beings, but they are beautiful to look at. It’s been well established that there is such a thing as “tall privilege” (tall people get hired more, and are more likely to be promoted, etc). People who are considered physically attractive are also treated better than others. To our culture, outward appearances are very important.
Peter offers to free us from all of that. He says there is a beauty that touches the heart of God, and it is the beauty of the inner person. It has nothing to do with the size or brand of your clothes, or your hairstyle. It’s a beauty that will never fade, no matter how old you grow. You can’t lose it.
Writing specifically to women, Peter says that womanly beauty has something to do with a composed and gentle spirit. Where I write “composed,” some translations say: “quiet.” But just as “quiet” has shades of meaning in English, so does the word in Greek. It doesn’t necessarily mean “refraining from talking or making noise.” It means “remaining at peace,” or “not trying to control things.” It’s a piece of what we talked about last time when we considered submission. It means trusting God so much that you don’t have to try and control things. That trust leads to peace and composure in the inner person, which is a beautiful thing to God.
As an example of this, Peter names Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He says that Sarah used to make herself beautiful in this same way, as she too, entrusted herself to God’s work in and through her husband.
Let’s consider some of the details of Sarah’s beautiful life. (I’m going to call them Sarah and Abraham consistently, even though initially they were called Sarai and Abram). We probably need to start by acknowledging that much like her husband Abraham, Sarah was an imperfect person, who had ups and downs in her life of faith. Her worst moments came when she failed to trust God, or to make room for Abraham’s leadership, and instead, tried to control things herself. So, we’ll briefly consider the main negative example from Sarah’s life, because it has bearing on the rest of it.
God had promised a child to Sarah and Abraham. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. Finally, she decided that maybe God helps those who help themselves. I can picture it a little bit. She says to Abraham:
“It’s over. I’m done with my female cycle.”
“What do you mean?” Abraham might have been slightly clueless at this point.
“I mean that having babies is related to the fact that I bleed every month. Now, since I no longer bleed every month, my body has lost the capability of having babies.”
“OK,” says Abraham. He probably feels that he didn’t really want to know all these details.
“This just isn’t going to happen, Abraham, not by letting nature take its course. Nature has taken its course already, and has gone home to retire. Women my age don’t get pregnant. We have to do something.”
In this case, Sarah did not trust God. She tried to control things, and she made a hash of it. To make a long story short, Sarah decided that they should have a surrogate pregnancy. However, in those days, the only way to have a surrogate mother carry a baby for a couple was for the man to impregnate the surrogate in the “old fashioned way.” Sarah insisted, suggesting her maid Hagar as the surrogate. Abraham (and Hagar, apparently) agreed.
Hagar did indeed get pregnant, and this made her feel like she had replaced Sarah, whom she mocked. Sarah complained to Abraham, and blamed him for the strife, even though the whole thing was her idea. Later on, Sarah clashed with Hagar again. She certainly never bonded with Hagar’s baby, or considered him her own.
That was a dark spot on Sarah’s history. It occurred when she was not remaining at peace, or trusting God’s work. It happened when she tried to take control in order to get what she wanted.
However, for most of her life, Sarah displayed a remarkable level of trust in God, and that allowed her to support and encourage Abraham’s leadership. For instance, the story of Abraham begins in the land of Ur. I picture him coming to Sarah.
“Honey, I believe God has called us to move.”
“He didn’t say anything to me about it.”
“Where are we going?”
Abraham clears his throat. “Uh, I’m not really sure. God said he’d show me when we got there.”
“So, you have no idea where we’re going, or how long it will take?”
“Ah, that’s right, I guess.”
“How long will we stay there?”
“Um,” says Abraham. “The rest of our lives?”
“So I’m never going to see my friends or family again?”
“Well, uh, I guess not.”
“Why are we supposed to do this?”
“To have a land that will be populated with our descendants.”
“But we haven’t even been able to have children yet.”
“No. But God wants us to go. He says we’ll have lots of descendants.”
Sarah takes a deep breath. “OK. If you really believe this is what God wants.”
I can’t imagine the kind of trust in God she had to have to go along with Abraham at that point! What a beautiful picture of faith and peace!
After they got to the promised land, two different times, they had to stay in a city with a king in order to survive a time of famine. Both times, the kings noticed Sarah, and asked Abraham about her. Abraham was afraid they would kill him in order to take her into their harems, so, both times, he told a half-truth, saying she was his sister (she actually was either his step-sister or half-sister). He neglected to mention that she was also his wife. His lies actually put Sarah at great risk, since the kings did indeed want her for their harems. However, she trusted God, even when her husband was making mistakes, and God protected her in those situations, even though Abraham failed.
So, Sarah knew how to speak her mind. Submitting to her husband did not turn her into a doormat. She sometimes laughed at him, sometimes argued with him. But when push came to shove, she almost always chose to trust God’s work in and through her husband, and therefore to encourage and support Abraham’s leadership. Even her failures are an example to us, in that they show us she was human, and there is grace when we fall. We have no physical pictures of Sarah, but Peter calls her beautiful, because of her trust in God.
Part of this beauty, no doubt has to do with the image of God, and how God made male and female to relate to one another. All the way back in Genesis chapter 1, God declared this:
27 So God created man in his own image,(Genesis 1:27, ESV)
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Being created in the image of God means that in some way, human beings reflect the glory of God to each other and to the universe. But the image of God requires both male and female.
There is something else very important about Sarah. We know from the incident with Hagar that Abraham was able to have children without too much trouble. In addition, many years later, after Sarah died, Abraham remarried, and his second wife bore several children to him. So, when it came to having the descendants that God promised, it was Sarah’s body that was keeping it from happening. But notice this very significant thing: After Abraham had a son with Hagar as a “surrogate,” God said, “This is not the child I promised you.” This is highly important.
In the days of Abraham, women were considered to be of secondary importance to men. When it came to having children, the important thing, to most people, was the father. If Abraham had not been a follower of God, it would not have mattered who the mother of his children was. However, God showed that his promise was not just for Abraham, but for Sarah, too. The child of God’s promise had to be not just Abraham’s son, but also Sarah’s. Hagar’s son didn’t count, even though Abraham was the father. In other words, in the eyes of God, Sarah was just as important as Abraham.
In a time when women were considered less important, God used Sarah’s life to say: “Women are just as important as men. My promise is for men and women both. My whole plan of salvation must involve not just Abraham, but also Sarah.”
Today, it might seem obvious that women and men are equally important to God. But it certainly was not so in the time of Sarah. In fact, it is because of the Bible that today we understand that men and women are equal. God used Sarah’s life to show that men and women are equally important, equally valuable, in His eyes.
Last time, I promised you “braids, beauty and biology.” It seems we don’t have space for the “biology” part until next time. So, let’s look for applications for our lives right now. I suspect that the applications will be slightly different for men and women.
Women, one practical thing might be to remember that true beauty comes from within, and you can cultivate it by your trust in the Lord. You can be secure in your beauty, because it is not based upon how you look, or what sorts of clothes or hairstyles you can afford. Your calm, peaceful trust in the Lord can shine out true beauty. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what kind of genes you have.
Men, we will talk more about your part next time, but we might begin to apply this by recognizing and appreciating the inner beauty of the women in your life. When they entrust themselves to God by making room for your leadership, consider it a sacred responsibility to do your best to lead with sensitivity, love and consideration for them.
It might also be important to remember for both men and women that God designed his image to be reflected not in maleness alone, or femaleness alone, but in the two as they work together. Though we are different, neither one is more (or less) important than the other. We will talk more about this next time.