Beauty and Strength

This passage means exactly what it says, and that’s good news for us.

myra.schmidt on January 28, 2024
Beauty and Strength
January 28, 2024

Beauty and Strength

Passage: 1 Peter 3:1-7
Message By:
Service Type:

I could make this sermon really quick today by just saying, “This passage means exactly what it says. Let’s pray and sing and go home.”

I hope you know I’m joking, but I’m also pointing to something important there. This is one of those passages that might make some of us feel uncomfortable, just because of how different this teaching is rom the things our world accepts and believes today. And it might make some of us wonder, “Does this really mean what it says?”

It sure does. And let’s just ask: based on everything we’ve seen so far: should we be surprised when Christian teachings seem strange to the world in which we live? Haven’t we seen from the opening of 1 Peter that we are exiles, strangers, foreigners in this world? That our faith in Jesus makes us stick out as much as if we just landed here from another country? Remember Damian’s story about the people wearing snowsuits in September?

A passage like today is a perfect example of that. In a world drowning in feminism and gender confusion, believing and obeying today’s passage is about as strange as you can get. And that shouldn’t be a surprise, because followers of Jesus are strangers.

At the same time, we should remember that this isn’t all that strange. This is truth straight form the Creator who made us. If God’s word runs into conflict with our modern world, it’s our modern world that should be embarrassed. What this passage is saying is good. We need to celebrate it.

And that’s what we intend to do in the next couple of weeks.

And yes, it’s going to take us a couple of weeks. We’re going to spend most of this morning’s sermon just walking through the text and soaking in what it says and how Peter says it. But then next week we’re going to unpack some of the many, many implications of this passage for you and I. This passage has something to say to each one of us, in whatever various situations we’re in, but it’s going to take a bit of time to get at that.

2 Timothy 4:2 suggests that this applying of a passage to our lives is a key part of what preaching involves. So we’re going to make sure we take as much time with this as we need.

So today, let’s begin with the absolutely important step of really hearing and understanding what God has said to us through Peter.


1. TO WIVES

This passage begins with instruction for wives, and begins with the word “likewise.” And we might wonder right away if Peter is comparing wives to slaves. Just as slaves submit to their masters, likewise, wives submit to their husbands.

But that’s probably not what he means, because in verse 7 he uses the word “likewise” for husbands, and makes no mention of submission at all. We’ll see the same thing in chapter 5:5. “Likewise” doesn’t mean “do the same thing for the same reasons.”

But there is a connection here. Something is “likewise.” What is “likewise” about wives and husbands right after a discussion about slaves and masters, and before that citizens with the government?

Let’s remember the pattern here. Peter is telling Christians that even though they follow Jesus and are citizens of His holy nation, they still should keep doing some of these things which were expected of them by the Roman Empire. Roman culture expected citizens to submit to the government, slaves to submit to their masters, and wives to submit to their husbands.

But Peter is showing that while we do these things, we do them for totally different reasons than everybody else. We submit to the government because Jesus, our real king, told us to. Slaves submit to their masters not because their masters are superior and slaves are trash born to serve, but rather because by submitting and suffering they follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

So Peter has been telling his readers to follow the old rules but for new reasons. And as he gives these reasons, he’s subtly but directly challenging the belief system of the Roman world.


a. Submission
(v. 1)

And so it is with his command to submit. The Roman world expected wives to submit to their husbands. The Roman world gave husbands complete control over their wives. In fact, for a wife to have a different religion than her husband was a big no-no. For her to have different friends from her husband was a big no-no.For her to do anything different form here husband was not acceptable.

Here’s how one writer, living around the time of Peter, put it: “A wife should not acquire her own friends, but should make her husband’s friends her own. The gods are the first and most significant friends. For this reason, it is proper for a wife to recognize only those gods whom her husband worships and to shut the door to superstitious cults and strange superstitions.” [Plutarch, Conj. praec. 19, Mor. 140D, cited in Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003).]

A wife becoming a Christian without her husband would have been a big scandal. According to Karen Jobes, “the husband and society would perceive the wife’s worship of Jesus Christ as rebellion.” She goes on to say, “If the wife persisted in her new religion to the extent that others outside the household learned of it, the husband would also feel embarrassment and suffer criticism for not properly managing his household. This could seriously damage his social standing, even to the point of disqualifying him for certain honors and offices.” [Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, ed. Robert W. Yarbrough and Joshua W. Jipp, Second Edition, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2022), 204.]

So for Peter to address and affirm Christian wives was making a statement. He is challenging the Roman ideal that a wife had to follow her husband’s religion. He’s challenging the idea that a husband has total control over everything his wife does and thinks and believes. He is affirming that a Christian wife is first and foremost not under the authority of her husband, but under the authority of the Lord Jesus. She is not bound to follow her husband’s gods but is bound to Christ.


Why?
(vv. 1-2)

And yet she is to submit to her husband. And if we ask the question “why,” we see the first part of that answer half-way through verse 1: “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” (1 Peter 3:1b-2).

Wives are to submit to their husband, even if their husbands are not believers, because their respectful and pure way of life could be something the Lord uses to “win” or “gain” their husband’s soul. Don’t miss that instead of worshipping her husband’s gods like people expected her to, she’s trying to win her husband to her Lord, the real Lord, Jesus. And she does that by being submissive, and living, conducting herself, in a respectful and pure way, as verse 2 says.

“Respectful” there in verse 2 is actually the word “fear.” And if we understand it that way, we’ll know that Peter isn’t just telling wives to respect their husbands—although that’s a good idea. He’s telling wives to conduct themselves in the fear of the Lord. Remember 1:17? “Conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Same words. Peter is reminding wives to keep on doing this as they live pure lives before their husband’s eyes.

It’s hard to miss Peter’s emphasis here on the wives’ actions. Now, of course, some words would need to be spoken. The husbands know their wives are disciples of Jesus. But Peter encourages these wives to not try to convert their husbands with many words, but rather, “without a word” to conduct themselves with submission and purity in the fear of the Lord. And that may be the thing the Lord uses to soften their hearts and win these men over to faith in the Lord Jesus.

“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” (1 Peter 3:1–2).


b. Adornment

So that’s Peter’s first instruction to the wives: to submit to their husbands, even if they don’t obey the word. In verse 3 Peter moves from talking about how wives are to submit to their husbands, into a discussion about how women are to adorn themselves.

“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” (1 Peter 3:3–4).

This might seem like a change in subject, but we know it isn’t because of verse 5 which says, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.” Peter has not changed the subject. Instead, he’s moved down a level to talk about the fundamental heart attitude that makes submission possible in the first place. A wife submitting to her husband is just one example of a gentle and quiet spirit, which a woman should seek to adorn herself with.

Which means that a wive submitting to her husband is not just about playing a game in order to try and get him into the kingdom of God. More fundamentally, it is appropriate for a wife to submit to her husband because submission is an expression of genuine feminine beauty which is precious in God’s eyes.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s look carefully at how Peter instructs women to adorn themselves.


i. Not External (v 3)

First, Peter says in verse 3 “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear.”

“Yikes, Peter. Don’t you know that it’s inappropriate for a man to be giving instruction on these things to women? Men aren’t allowed to have opinions on women’s issues, let alone talk about those opinions, let alone express those opinions to women. You’re going to get in trouble for mansplaining. And Peter, isn’t it sexist to assume that your female readers are even interested in clothing and hair and jewelry in the first place?”

That’s how a lot of people think today. But I hope that we don’t buy in to the wisdom of the world. I hope that we can think clearly through that fog and understand that Peter is speaking about and assuming some very basic and very normal realities here. Peter is assuming the fact that God made women beautiful, and this beauty is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Peter also assumes it’s a normal thing for a woman to seek to underscore or highlight their natural beauty through “adornment.” But Peter also understands the way in which a focus on external beauty can distract a woman from what should be the real source of her beauty.

Particularly in Peter’s day, he understood the way in which women were dressing and adorning themselves not just to turn heads but also to flaunt their wealth. It wasn’t just about “everybody look at how beautiful I am,” it was also largely about “everybody look at how rich I am.”

That’s a big part of what’s going on her win verse three when Peter talks about “the braiding of hair,” it’s not that there’s something inherently sinful about taking your hair and separating it into three pieces and weaving it together. This phrase points to the elaborate braiding arrangements which were popular in those days. It wasn’t just simple braids to keep the hair out of your face. It was complicated structures that were copied from the wealthy women in Rome who would develop these hair styles which were then imitated by women all over the empire. Just like Instagram, just slower.

But here’s a part of the issue: there was only a specific kind of woman who could do this kind of thing with her hair. It was only a very wealthy woman who could afford to have slaves who did all the household work while she did her hair, or, most likely, had a slave do her hair.

A woman who was not wealthy did not have the luxury of putting her hair up in fancy hairstyles. In a world without electricity and indoor plumbing, just keeping a household going was a lot of work, all the time. You know those days when you just do something quick with your hair because you have too much else going on? Imagine that day, with no fridge and no microwave and no laundry machine. That was normal life.

So when a woman in that world walks around with these fancy braided hair styles, she’s making a statement. She’s inviting you not just to notice her beauty but to notice her wealth and status.

The equivalent today could be something like plastic surgery. Girls in their 20s today are spendings thousands of dollars to make their faces and bodies look like the filter in their phones makes them look. And it’s not just about the beauty. It’s about having the disposable income to afford those treatments in the first place.

Peter goes on to talk about “the putting on of gold jewelry.” Gold was money. One gold coin was about 25 days worth of wages. Wearing gold jewelry was literally wearing wealth on your body for everybody to see.

Finally, Peter mentions “the clothing you wear.” He doesn’t mention what kind of clothing, but in the context here it’s not hard to see that he’s talking about clothing that would draw attention to yourself and turn heads because it was lavish or expensive.expensive clothing.

And Peter tells his women readers that their “adornment” should not be in these outward, external forms—hair, jewelry, clothing. This should not be the focus or the main way that they seek to beautify themselves.


Ii. But Internal (v. 4a)

Now it’s very interesting what Peter does next. Or rather, I should say it’s interesting what Peter does not do next. He does not tell the women, “Instead of all of this, you should dress in a plain and simple way with only boring colours and only messy hair.”

I’m sure we know of groups throughout history who have done this—who have tried to combat the wrong kind of adornment by giving strict rules for simple dressing. And the problem with that kind of thing is that it has the opposite effect. When people who dress intentionally plain go out into the world, they’re still drawing attention to themselves. Everybody is still staring at them. They are still sticking out. Just for different reasons.

And so it makes sense that there would be a balance—not over-doing it, and not under-doing it. But that’s not actually what Peter talks about at all. Instead, he shifts the whole focus away from external adornment to internal adornment. “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 3:4).

Do you want to be beautiful? Here’s how. Focus on internal virtue. The “hidden person of the heart.” Who you are inside. Do you remember what the Lord said to Samuel when he wanted to anoint one of David’s brothers? “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7). Or do you remember what Paul says? “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Or that verse almost right at the end of Proverbs? “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

That’s what Peter is pointing to here. Imperishable inner beauty.

Let’s just state the obvious here: by talking about “imperishable beauty,” Peter is acknowledging the fact that physical beauty is perishable. Our bodies change as we get older, and nobody looks at eighty or ninety the way they looked at eighteen or nineteen.

The way our world deals with this problem is with cosmetic surgery and health products and billions of dollars spent by people trying to pretend that they are not getting any older. Peter’s solution is to say, “Focus on the beauty that doesn’t fade. Focus not on the outer person but the inner person of the heart.”


The Essence of Feminine Beauty
(v. 4b)

And specifically what Peter draws attention to is the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” This is how Peter sums up true, inner, feminine beauty. A spirit that is described as gentle and quiet.

So what does a “gentle and quiet spirit” mean? Honestly, I struggle to define this because these words feel like such a beautiful treasure and I feel like by picking it up I’m going to get fingerprints all over it and mess it up. So I want to be careful here.

Let’s start by recognizing what these words don’t mean. “Gentle and quiet” doesn’t mean being passive and limp and shy and permanently silent. Jesus describes himself as “gentle” in Matthew 11:29, and he was no doormat. “Quiet” is often used in Scripture not to speak about “absolute silence,” but to describe peace and rest. Luke when 1 Timothy 2:2 speaks about us leading a “peaceful and quiet life.” And besides, the Bible is full of women’s voices. So quiet doesn’t mean, “don’t talk.”

One of the safest ways I know how to describe what these words do mean is by looking at the many good examples of feminine beauty in the Scripture. Look at Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 who comes to stop David from a sinful battle, but does so in the most respectful and thoughtful way. Think of Priscilla, who heard Apollos making some big mistakes as he taught in the synagogue, and instead of making a scene she went with her husband to take him aside and explain to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:26).

Scripture is full of women who are not doormats—they play a vital part in God’s work—but they do so in a way that highlights feminine beauty and is not marked by aggressiveness or loudness. There is a disposition towards meekness and peace.

And that’s my best attempt at defining this. As I do so, even as we reject the stereotypes, I know that some people still push back against this. Especially in the world today where women like Ashley Judd are celebrated for going on a platform and bragging “Yeah, I'm a nasty woman — a loud, vulgar, proud woman.”

And there’s all kinds of ways we could talk about that. But let’s again notice Peter’s mic-drop moment when he says, at the end of verse 4, “Which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Regardless of what anybody else thinks, God thinks that a gentle and quiet spirit is precious. This word for “precious” here is used two other times in the New Testament, both times translated as “costly.” This is the word used of the ointment the woman put on Jesus’ feet in Mark 14:3. This is really valuable, of great worth.

And ladies, I hope that God’s opinion of you matters the most. Peter assumes that it does as he encourages women not to focus on  turning the eyes of people but on cultivating the inner beauty that is precious in God’s eyes. This is real beauty which doesn’t fade with time. In fact, a gentle and quiet spirit only gets better with time.


Examples of this Beauty (v. 5-6)

What Peter does next, in verses 5-6, is give examples of this beauty. He wants his women readers to stop copying the wealthy influencers from Rome, and have a different set of role models. And so he says, in verse 5, “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands.”

We’ve already done this a bit as we’ve talked about Abigail and Priscilla. Look at these examples. Peter specifically points to the way in which the “holy women who hoped in God” adorned themselves “by submitting to their own husbands.”

Look at how Peter’s come full circle. Like we saw earlier, this shows us that submitting to a husband is what a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit does. Submission is the fruit that grows from the root of a gentle and quiet spirit.

And one specific example of the holy women who did this is Sarah who, in verse 6, “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”

We walked through the live of Abraham and Sarah last spring, and so hopefully much of this is fresh on our minds. Sarah had a general pattern of submission to her husband. Peter even says “obey.” Submission is more than obedience, but it includes that idea. Did you know older marriage vows often included the wife promising to obey her husband?

According to Peter, that’s a good thing. He holds up Sarah’s obedience to her husband as an example to follow. According to Peter, Sarah even went so far as calling Abraham “lord.” Now this doesn’t mean that she was calling him “God.” “Lord” was a title of respect and authority in the ancient world.

It’s pretty interesting when we think about where Sarah actually talks this way. It comes from Genesis 18, when the three visitors tell Abraham he’s going to have a son through Sarah, and she’s listening from the tent door. And we read in verse 12, “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 18:12).

Some Bible scholars say, “Look at that, she’s not even talking to Abraham. Peter is taking this verse out of context to prove a point.” But that’s not what’s happening. Peter is actually showing us Sarah in a moment when she is by herself, making an off-the-cuff statement about how old her husband is. And she still shows respect to him. Thomas Schreiner writes, “We see from this that even in casual situations Sarah respected Abraham’s leadership, revealing thereby that her honor of him was part of the warp and woof of her life.” [Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 156.]

Honouring, respecting and yes, obeying Abraham wasn’t something Sarah did once in a while when she had to. This was her default mode. And Peter points to this as an example to follow for the women in his day as they seek to cultivate true inner beauty.


Sarah’s Courageous Daughters

“And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” he says at verse six concludes. Peter understands that submission is scary. When you submit to someone else, you take a risk. How do you know that they’re going to make the wisest decision? How do you know that it’s going to work out for you?

Peter understands that submission takes courage. So he says, you’re Sarah’s daughters if you do good and face the uncertainty of submission with faith-fuelled bravery.

These words in verse 6 come from Proverbs 3: “Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught” (Proverbs 3:25–26). Wives are able to submit even to ungodly husbands when they know that the Lord is their keeper and their protector.

Now—all kinds of questions might arise here. What about submitting to an abusive husband? What about? We’re going to talk about that next week. But don’t miss Peter’s big idea here. Submission of any sort is scary, and the answer to that fear is found in courageous faith in the God who sees you and loves you.


2. To Husbands

Verse 7 finds Peter turning his attention to husbands. “Likewise,” he says. Just like wives have God-given responsibilities to their husbands, so husbands have God-given responsibilities to their wives.


Live with Understanding

And what does that include? Living with their “wives in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman as the weaker vessel.”

Husbands are to live with their wives “in an understanding way,” or, more literally, “according to knowledge.” In other words, think, brothers. Think. Think about who she is and what it’s like for her to live with you and submit to you. Know her. Know what God expects of her and of you. Live with her in an understanding, knowledgable, considerate way.


Show Honour

Living with understanding, according to Peter, connects to showing your wife honour “as the weaker vessel.” Peter just takes for granted the idea that men are stronger than women. This is a fact. There is a reason that there are separate sports leagues for men and women (or at least used to be). With a few exceptions here an there, God built men with more physical strength than women because he very obviously had different kinds of jobs in mind for us.

But what this means is that women are more vulnerable than men at a physical level. Women are far more often injured by domestic violence, for example. And Peter calls husbands not to use their physical strength to take advantage of their wives, but to honour her.

Why? Why should a husband not use his strength to do whatever he wants?

There’s two reasons Peter gives.


Because She’s a Co-Heir of Eternal Life

First, “Since they are heirs with you of the grace of life.” Whatever differences might exist between men and women physically or otherwise, there is no difference in this: both men and women are equal heirs of salvation. This language of inheriting life probably points back to chapter 1 and the “inheritance that is… kept in heaven” for us. Men and women are going to inherit this gift of eternal life equally. Being stronger or weaker on earth has no impact on what kind of inheritance you’ll receive in eternity.

Husbands, honour your wives, because she’s going to live forever with you.


For the Sake of Your Prayers

Second, husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, showing honour to them as the weaker vessel, “so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

Men, let’s make this very simple: if you treat your wife poorly, God won’t listen to you. That’s the idea here. God won’t answer your prayers.

God is the protector of the weak and the Old Testament gives us many examples of God blocking his ears to the prayers of hypocritical oppressors. So do you want the living God to hear you when you pray? Live with your wife in an understanding way, showing honour to her as the weaker vessel.


Conclusion

Folks, there’s so much more to say. This passage has so many implications for all of us—young or old, married or single. This passage has implications for how we raise our children and how we treat each other and there’s so many layers we want to unpack.

So I encourage you to pray for me as I spend this upcoming week getting ready for the second half of this message. Feel free to send any specific questions to me, and maybe they’ll fit their way into the message.

But for now let’s just end by confessing our dependence on the Lord. Husbands and wives in particular have been given some very specific instructions in these passages. All of us have been shown a pattern to follow. And this is hard. We can’t do this on our own. We can’t make this passage a human-effort-driven to-do list. We need the Lord.

And so, as we press pause at this point, we humbly ask the Lord for help to live out these truths together.