I still get some flak from my family concerning "my great idea" for a week long family mission trip over Christmas break, traveling to Yunnan, China, to help provide clean water to a small village. The work entailed digging a ditch about nine miles long… with shovels and picks.
Our “motel” had no heat and no hot water. Sleeping in our clothes, coats and hats for a week with no shower felt like a huge sacrifice. The reality? This was such a small price to pay to help. Despite my college age kids returning to the US sick, we have some amazing memories from that trip. One dinner conversation with a fellow colleague stands out. A conversation I have considered many times.
This business man faced a moral dilemma.
As a marketing agent he represented a large cosmetic firm seeking to grow their business in China. In performing market studies for this potential client, the agency discovered something remarkable: Chinese women believed they were beautiful. They had no felt need- no desire- for cosmetics.
How glorious! What an amazing discovery! A country of women who believed, “I am beautiful!” But what a moral dilemma. If he took this job, he would be telling millions of Chinese women-including the women and girls in the village where we serving- “You are not beautiful. You need help. You need cosmetics. You NEED my client’s outward adornment.”
Sobering, isn’t it?
Friends, when it comes to beauty, what messages are we buying? A lot! Today the global beauty industry is a $532 billion business. One U.S. company found that on average, women will spend approximately $300,000 on makeup in their life time. Three. Hundred. Thousand. Dollars.
Women make a pretty significant investment in outward adornment.
This is not meant to be a guilt trip, but perhaps we need a frank discussion about adornment. Peter’s message is not that we can’t enjoy some fashion, jewelry, or getting our hair done. But God’s Word often provides a heart check on our priorities. Here’s an opportunity to look within: Am I more concerned about temporary things of this “tent” or on things that are imperishable, unfading, eternal?
It’s interesting. If we put on our 1st century glasses, we find that a woman’s desire for outward adornment was no different in the Greco-Roman world. Writers give evidence that women “enjoyed the business of beautification.” They too "encircled their necks and elongated their ears" with sparkly jewelry. They used cosmetics and piled their hair into “numerous tiers and storeys.” (Satires, 6.457-60) Yep...up-dos!
In the context of speaking to wives, Peter speaks to all women about beauty:
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 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. I Peter 3:3-4
Our antennas ought to go up when we hear “imperishable beauty!” Imperishable, unfading beauty? Wouldn’t this be on the cover of every beauty magazine!
What is imperishable beauty? Why would we want it? How do we get it?
What is it?
The “hidden person” is not the inner side of the person. This is not about “clean” eating so that we can have healthy guts. Rather, this relates to our whole being as it is determined from within. The reality is this: the inside person does not remain hidden, but manifests itself in the way wives and women behave in everyday life.
I call “inside out beauty.”
Why would we want it? A good question! After all, sometimes it feels like women want to look like…J-Lo or Beyonce?!! First of all, Peter says that this inside out beauty is imperishable. Unfading. Secondly, inside out beauty is very precious to God! Meaning extremely valuable! God looks at the heart.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I Sam. 16:7
Paraphrased: God does not look at jean size, bra size or hair color! The Lord looks at the heart!
So how do we get it? How do we adorn the heart? In this chapter, I noticed three interrelated ideas about inside out beauty and how it manifests itself in our everyday behavior.
First of all: submission (v.1-6). The idea of being subject, surrendered, dying to self, dying to our own need to be in control- is a beautiful and rich theme for all people (not just women) taught throughout Peter’s letter. In I Peter 2, Peter teaches that everyone is called to submit:
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution. I Peter 2:13
Our penultimate example is Jesus Christ:
Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. I Peter 2:21
Jesus Christ willingly submitted to the Father’s will and to every human institution.
In I Peter 3:1, Peter continues his teaching on submission by specifically addressing wives:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Note: This is not about women submitting to men, but about a wife to submitting to her own husband.
Submission and inside out beauty go hand in hand. Unfortunately, throughout church history “submission” has been abused and misused against women. The term carries a whole lot of baggage. For today, I’m asking us to take off our 21st century glasses and erase our minds of all church tradition, ideas or experiences related to submission.
Putting on our 1st century glasses, we see that wives were viewed as human property. In our day and age that idea is difficult for us to hear and comprehend. I remember being shocked as my driver in China explained to me, “Madam, women are on the same level as animals.” The idea smacks us across the face. It’s foreign.
But in this Greco Roman society, “Household Codes” ruled the day. Disorder in the home was viewed not just a threat in the home, but considered a threat to society, a threat to Rome. Wives were expected to toe the line and worship her husband’s gods. A wife was not even to have friends of her own.
By directly addressing wives in his letter, Peter actually subverts the cultural expectations. He elevates her status to unparalleled dignity. How? He refers to her as an equal member of Christ’s spiritual house. He calls wives to submit not merely out of the expectation of Roman society or Greek moral philosophy, but instead, by the authority and example of Jesus Christ. How ironic that Peter’s words that empowered and affirmed women of the 1st century are now criticized as oppressive!
Peter is not saying: “Wives, be doormats." Or "Wives: obey your husband like mindless robots.” What a terrible distortion of Christian marriage! Rather, marriage is about husbands and wives submitting to one another.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21
If your husband desires to move to China, you willingly pray. Willingly discuss the pros and cons, and ultimately place your trust in God. A husband does similarly for his wife. Peter exhorts:
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. I Peter 3:7
Peter’s words to men are powerful, shocking... earth shattering! Heirs? Women weren't recipients of an inheritance! The imperative shines brightly: A husband MUST know, understand, honor, cherish his wife and her needs. Peter strongly tells men, "Look, the way you honor your wife affects your personal relationship with God Himself."
Bottom line, inside out beauty depends on our willingness to submit to Christ, to every human institution, to one another, and if married, to our husbands.
Second, our inside out beauty is reflected by our words.
Peter has lots to say in this chapter about words:
That they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives. v.1
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. v. 9-11
Inside out beauty is manifested by our words. Jesus said it this way:
A tree is known by its fruit... For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:33
Friends, out of the overflow of our heart, we speak. As my pastor says, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!” Do our words reflect the inside out beauty of hearts surrendered to Christ? Do our words “bless,” give a “gift” to the hearer?! I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way either. Words reflect evil. Words reflect life. Words tear down. Word build up. Words destroy peace. Words restore peace. A tree is known by its fruit.
Inside out beauty is expressed by our willingness to submit to Christ, by our words and by:
Ladies (and wives in particular), why do we feel the need to talk everything out? Okay, talking is necessary. And yet, sometimes talking may be less necessary than we realize.
Think about it: Does “talking it out” always work? Do words always fix the problem and successfully restore your relationship? The truth of the matter is that when we speak words, we are prone to speak them with our own agenda, insisting on our own way. We nag, complain, grumble, prod, whine and make a big fuss of things.
If talking things out is not working, if your relationship is on the same crazy cycle spinning back to the same arguments, if your words are becoming agitated, irritated, harsh, unhappy, unkind, unfriendly, and stemming from a riled-up spirit. Maybe it’s time to try something new. Peter’s advice is golden: Be quiet.
Shhhh! Let your conduct speak for itself.
Being quiet with our words displays the inside out beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit trusting in God. Fearlessness. Being quiet says to God, “I trust You. You are able to do in my husband’s heart and in my own heart more than I could ever begin to think or imagine.”
Quiet is not for the faint of heart. Quiet is not easy.
We often seek to control with our words. We long for relationship, but we shoot ourselves in the foot by our words! Why? Because we give way to fear. And sometimes we give way to fear over the silliest of things… like diapers! Generally, a dad’s diaper change will look different than a mom’s. Why freak out? What difference does it make? The baby lives to see another day!
What silly “diaper” issue are you facing? Acknowledge that all roads lead to Rome and there is more than one way to do something. Your husband’s way may be different. Let go of the need to control. Practice quiet.
God says, “Shhh! Trust me.”
For a number of years, I taught a marriage class. The practical week one assignment was simply, “Be quiet with your words.”
Having an effervescent personality and being a bubbly talker, I can only imagine how difficult it was for this particular young woman to practice quiet! Her husband liked to watch sports after dinner. This was not her thing, and she had made that clear on plenty of occasions. Longing to better connect with him, she decided to try something new. Instead of badgering him with words, she sat down and was quiet. This was hard. It felt like an utter waste of time.
She hung in there and did the hard work of submitting her own need to talk. She didn’t insist on her own way. Spilling over with excitement, she exclaimed, “Carmen, you’ll never guess what happened! After a half hour, he took the remote and turned off the TV! He turned to me and began talking! He wanted to know how I was doing! We had a great conversation and a great night.”
Friends, God’s Word works and is relevant to our everyday lives. Our willingness to submit, our words, our gentle, quiet, fearless spirits, affect our relationship with Him and with others.
One of our leaders shared testimony this week of a husband who began seriously seeking after Christ because of his wife’s respectful and pure behavior. When others see your inward beauty manifesting outwardly, they want it too.
Christ is our example. Fearless. Brave. Strong. Courageous. He Himself invested in inside out beauty to bring others to God:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. v.18
His own inside out beauty was manifested by:
His willingness to submit.
His words… he did not repay reviling for reviling.
His gentle and quiet spirit that did not give way to fear.
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 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. (I Peter 3:3-4)
Lord, we admire your beauty and fearlessness to submit. Help us to invest in your inside out beauty. Make us brave and fearless to follow You.
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