Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hidden Beauty of a Godly Woman (1 Peter 3:1-6)

What is beauty? It is a quality we value and esteem, yet it is difficult to define. The theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas said that beauty is “that which pleases in the very apprehension of it.” In other words, we know it when we see it (because it pleases us), but we all see it differently. After all, the old saying is “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Though we may all differ on what we perceive to be beautiful, we all have a category in our minds of what beauty is and we recognize it in a wide spectrum of real things. God is the one who has instilled within us the desire to seek beauty and the capacity to recognize it when we perceive it. He created us with an insatiable instinct to seek that which is most beautiful; and that which is most beautiful is God Himself. When we encounter something that strikes us as beautiful, what we are seeing is a reflection of the goodness and glory of God, who created all these things and left His beautiful fingerprints upon them. The beautiful things we perceive are messengers that God sends our way to call us to Himself. So what we desire is not the thing itself which we may call beautiful, but rather, as Christian philosopher William Dyrness suggests, we “deeply long” for a “relationship with the personal presence lying beneath such beauty. As a result, the experience of great beauty often moves unbelievers to seek God, just as it often moves believers to praise.”

Now, our perception of beauty is warped by our sinful nature. We do not perceive it perfectly; we see glimmers and fractions of it, like looking at it in a shattered mirror. Nor do we respond to it perfectly. For instance, rather than allowing the beauty of something in creation to lift our thoughts to the Creator, we may be tempted to worship the beautiful thing itself instead of its Maker. Or some perverted instinct in our fallen nature may cause us to corrupt and abuse the beauty we perceive by not appreciating its true value and purpose. Throughout history, artists have tried to depict the beauty of human beings in various ways. Over time, this is perhaps especially seen in the objectification and marketing of feminine beauty. We live in a culture that has become, in the words of some, pornified. Images of scantily clad women adorn magazine covers and billboards, they fill the television and movie screens, and they are found on advertisements for everything with a price tag. The obvious rationale is to harness humanity’s interest in beauty for capitalistic gain by exploiting the male desire to see it and the female desire to possess it. But, is this objectification of the feminine form doing justice to beauty, or is it corrupting our sense of beauty, and thereby corrupting our perception of the true beauty of God? I would argue that it is the latter.

So, we need a better perspective on beauty than our own eyes, our own senses, can provide. Through the revelation of God’s Word, we find a perfect and divine measure of beauty. We find stated in the pages of Scripture the things which God declares to be beautiful so that we can pursue and think on those things, and allow them to transport us spiritually to a higher plane where we can commune with God, who is ultimately beautiful and glorious, and who has made the beautiful things of this world to reflect His glory. We discover in Scripture that God finds beauty where man has difficulty seeing, namely in the inner person. When Samuel was sent out to anoint the successor to Saul, he took one look at Jesse’s son Eliab and thought that he must be the man. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:6-7). There is a hidden quality in humanity that God esteems, and in this text of 1 Peter today we discover that there is a hidden beauty that is precious in His sight. So what is this hidden beauty of a godly woman? Let’s discover that which God values so that we might have our perception of true beauty transformed by His Word.

I. There is hidden beauty in the character of a godly woman (vv3-4)

What could you do with $12,000? Perhaps you might make a down-payment on a house, pay off some debts, buy a new car, take a very nice vacation. Or you may do something more noble, like contribute more to missions or charitable causes. Or, in the case of the average American woman, you could buy your annual supply of cosmetics. Molly Faulkner-Bond of Sirens magazine cites a study that revealed that the average American woman spends $12,000 to $15,000 every year on cosmetics and salon services, contributing to a global cosmetics industry that is valued between 45 and 66 billion dollars annually.

The obsession with outward beauty is not a new phenomenon. In the first century, women made use of extravagantly expensive cosmetics, elaborate hairstyles and hair dyes, costly jewelry, and elegant clothing. Even long before that time, the prophet Isaiah called attention to the “anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils” that were worn by the daughters of Zion. These things were highly valued in the eyes of society, even as they are today.

Peter speaks here to Christian women here about their “adornment.” The word translated adornment in verse 3 is the Greek word kosmos, from which we get the word cosmetics. In its verb form, it means “to put in order,” thus also, “to adorn.” The noun is also used for “the world,” reflecting the orderliness that God has set in place in His creation. But in this context, it has the sense of beautification. But Peter says here that the Christian woman is not to be fooled into thinking that merely braiding one’s hair, wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses will make her beautiful. Though society may find beauty in her outward form as a result of these things, there is a beauty that is precious in the sight of God found beneath these external coverings.

External beauty fades over time. Fashions go out of style. But the beauty that God values is imperishable, as we see in verse 4. Like our eternal inheritance as children of God which is spoken of in 1:4, this kind of beauty will never fade away or become defiled or corrupted. This beauty is found in “the inner person of the heart.” It is not a beauty that can be seen in photographs. It is not the kind of beauty that can be enhanced by a visit to the salon or the department store. This is a beauty is cultivated through a life of devotion to the Lord. As Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.” As the Lord transforms the woman whose heart is fixed upon Him, her inner beauty becomes evident through her character.

Peter says that this beauty consists of “a gentle and quiet spirit.” This adjective, gentle, only occurs three other times in Scripture, and two of those are in reference to Christ (Matt 11:29; 21:5). The third refers to that quality that God has promised to bless in the Beatitudes of Jesus, saying, “Blessed are the gentle (or meek), for they shall inherit the earth.” It describes one who is “not insistent on one’s own rights,” or “not pushy, not selfishly assertive,” “not demanding one’s own way.” If we are inclined to protest here and think it is demeaning to think of a woman in these terms, we must bear in mind that this same word describes the Lord Jesus, and certainly we would not think it demeaning to call Him gentle in this sense. Since it is a quality of Christ Himself, it is something that should be reflected in the lives of both Christian women and Christian men. But it does not come naturally. We find the same Greek word as a noun, translated gentleness among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. This means that this quality must be developed within a person as a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But when it is found in a godly woman, it is beautiful in the sight of God. He sees in her the reflection of His glorious Son.

“Quiet” is, in this sense, not a command for total silence. The Corinthian Church of the New Testament was struggling with all sorts of disorder and dysfunction when Paul wrote the first epistle to them. One of those matters was that certain women were disrupting the meetings and worship services of the church by speaking in meaningless tongues. To these women, Paul said, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak” (1 Cor 14:34). There he used a different word than is used here. The issue in Corinth was not the gender of the person speaking, but their theological error in misunderstanding the gift of tongues, and their disruptiveness. Would that all people, both men and women, who are in theological error and disruptive in their speech, would be silent! In Corinth, the case happened to be the main perpetrators of such chaos were women. But this is not the issue here. Peter is speaking of a humble, tranquil demeanor. We need only think of the contrast between the sisters, Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10. There we find the every busy Martha firing off a complaint that Mary is not helping her. But Mary was seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to His Word. In her quietness, she was vindicated by Jesus, who said to her sister, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary possessed this tranquil quietness before the Lord, and her inner beauty was evident to Him even when it was not observed by her sister.

So we see here that a woman’s true beauty is not found in her outward adornments, lavish and costly though they may be. Her true beauty is found in the hidden person of the heart; it is a beauty that will never perish or fade away; it is a beauty that is produced by the Holy Spirit of God and demonstrated in a gentle and quiet spirit. God Himself has estimated this kind of beauty to be precious in His sight. It is a hidden beauty that is found in her character.

II. There is hidden beauty in the conduct of a godly woman (vv1-2, 5-6)

This past week, a church member told me that they had read the text ahead for this week’s sermon, and they felt that they should warn me that the last time I preached on wives’ submitting to their husbands, there were some who accused me of being a male chauvinist. I suppose if I was the kind of person who feared what others thought of me, I might try to avoid this passage today. But alas, I find myself ultimately concerned with being faithful to what God has called me to do, and that is to preach His word as it stands written. So, if you are inclined to disagree with what is said here, I can only say that I am happy that I will ultimately answer to God, and not to you, for my handling of the text. I did not write the Scriptures; God inspired the Scriptures as the revelation of His divine truth. My task is not to judge the Bible; the Bible judges me. My responsibility is not to argue against the words of Scripture, but to understand them, to believe them, to apply them, to obey them, and to proclaim them. I think if we would be humble enough to submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word, we would find that the teachings of Scripture on wives and their relationships to their husbands would restore a sense of honor and dignity to women in general, and wives in particular, even as it did in the first century when these words were first recorded. To disregard His word, to twist His word, to thrust our opinions upon His word, would open the door to chauvinism, both male and female.

The context of our passage is filled with discussion about submission. All Christians are called to submit to earthly authorities for the Lord’s sake. These might be governing authorities, they might be masters over servants, or they may be authorities that God has established in the home, or as Chapter 5 will indicate, in the church. Authorities exist because God establishes or allows them. Christian people demonstrate their faith and confidence in God by submitting to those authorities. Jesus Himself is given as an example of submission to authority, leaving us an example, says 1 Peter 2:21, “to follow in His steps.” So to submit to authority is not unchristian, as some may claim, but rather is the very imitation of Christ. And when speaking to Christian wives, Peter says that there is an expectation that the wife will be submissive to her own husband (3:1). Note that Peter is not saying that all women are to be in submission to all men. The context is restrictive – wives are to submit to their own husbands. This is done, in the same way, he says. Which way is he speaking of? He is speaking of the way of Christ, who submitted to authorities, both His Father and those who held earthly power in His day. And it is done in the same way as described in 2:13, for the Lord’s sake. Jesus is both the pattern and the motivation of this kind of submission.

It is not a new command among God’s people, though it was radically different from the societal norms of the day. Peter demonstrates that the pattern of life for the “holy women” who lived in “former times” was one of submission to their own husbands (v5). This was their adornment, their cosmetic. In saying this, notice that Peter is asserting that the submission of a wife to her husband is not time or culture bound. He is pointing his audience back to more than 2,000 years (which would be 4,000 years from our perspective) of redemptive history in events that took place in many cultures and countries and across many generations. The women of former times who lived this way were considered to be “holy women,” women who were set apart as precious unto the Lord. One specific woman is named as an example from this great multitude of holy women. This is Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He says in verse 6 here that Sarah “obeyed Abraham, calling Him lord.” You know that in certain cultures, the title of “lord” was used to confer honor and dignity on a person, not to equate them with deity. The same is true in some parts of the world today, like in England, where the title of Lord is given to certain men of distinction. In Kenya, we used the Swahili word Bwana to praise the Lord in church, and to get the attention of the waiter in the restaurant when we needed an extra fork or something. Sarah called Abraham “lord” in this sense of speaking to him respectfully and with honor. But notice that it is not her obedience and the calling of Abraham “lord” that Christian women in Peter’s day are specifically called to emulate. These are just demonstrations from her life of how she submitted herself to her husband’s leadership in the home. It is submission in general to which Scripture calls the Christian wife, and not slavish obedience and the use of honorific titles. Both of these can be rendered without respect or heartfelt affection. But genuine submission goes far deeper than these observable behaviors.

Some have laughed at the idea of Sarah obeying Abraham and calling him “lord.” After all, in at least three cases in Genesis, we find Abraham obeying or submitting to Sarah. In Genesis 16:2, he obeys her command to have sexual relations with the servant Hagar. In this case, we find that it led them both into disobedience of the Lord and created turmoil that is still being played out in the Middle East today, for the conflict over who has the rights to the land of Palestine is rooted in the rivalry between the sons of Abraham through Isaac (Sarah’s son) and the sons of Abraham through Ishmael (Hagar’s son). Again, in Genesis 16:6, Abraham yielded in allowing Sarah to continue to harshly mistreat Hagar and Ishmael, which cannot be said to be pleasing to God. It is only in Genesis 21:11-12 that we find God commanding Abraham to “listen to whatever Sarah tells you.” This is concerning the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael from among them, and in this case it is not because of the jealousy between the two women but because of God’s purpose to build a people for Himself through Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac. What we find elsewhere in the narratives concerning Abraham and Sarah is a picture of a wife who allows her husband to take the responsibility for family decisions, even though he sometimes uses poor judgment and reaps the consequences. Perhaps the best illustration of her submission to Abraham’s leadership is found in Genesis 12 when Abraham follows God’s command to leave the country of his people and go to the land that God is going to give him and his descendants. We often speak of the great faith of Abraham in following God into the unknown walk of faith, but let’s not forget the great faith of Sarah here, who trusted the Lord, but who also trusted her husband enough to follow him into the desert when he said God had led him to do so.

So, Peter says that the Christian wife becomes the daughter of Sarah when she does “what is right.” Her life of faith in God and trust in her husband is reflected in theirs as they submit to their husbands for the Lord’s sake. In Galatians 3, Paul says that all of us who have put our faith in Christ have become the children of Abraham. Perhaps Peter has this idea in mind here, speaking of women who demonstrate their faith in the Lord by doing as Sarah and the rest of the ancient holy women did. This is the “right thing to do” he says.

When we speak of submission in this regard, we do not mean to suggest that women are inferior to men in any way. The Bible tells us that both male and female are created in the image of God, and therefore both have equal value before the Lord as human beings. The Bible also tells us that salvation is freely offered through Jesus Christ to all mankind, whether slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. So both are equal as objects of God’s redeeming love. But within the bond of marriage, there are specific functions assigned to each: for the man to lead in a loving and Christlike way, and for the woman to submit to his leadership out of regard for the Lord’s will. Both are difficult; both require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as Paul indicates in Ephesians 5; both are equally held accountable to God for their obedience to these commands; and both bring glory to God in equal ways when they obey these commands. We might think of these roles within marriage as parallel to the unique roles that exist among the Persons of the Trinity. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are One.” By this He meant that they are of the same nature, equal in deity and power, equally worthy of worship, equally co-eternal and co-existent. But elsewhere, like in John 8:28, Jesus also said, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” So, even though they are equal in every way, there is a willing submission of the Son to the Father in terms of their function and their role in redemptive works. And you may remember the term we have used to describe this? Intertrinitarian Functional Subordination. So we may also speak of intermarital functional subordination, wherein the husband is commanded by God to lovingly lead, and the wife to respectfully follow. Is this demeaning? Again, we would have to ask, “Is it demeaning for Christ to submit to the Father?” We must agree that it is not demeaning for Christ, nor for wives who follow His example and pattern in this way.

Notice also here that this submission is to be carried out “without being frightened in any way.” What would a woman have to fear if she were to live this way? For one thing, most obviously, she may fear that her husband will take advantage of the situation, and perhaps abuse his authority or mistreat her in some way. This is a legitimate fear, and one that needs to be addressed. If she fears that he will abuse his authority, she must not forget that God will ultimately hold her husband accountable for that. Does he make foolish decisions that she disagrees with? Abraham did that as well, and God brought consequences upon him for that. God will be faithful to judge the man who selfishly abuses the authority God has given him in the home. Now, if she fears that she will be mistreated by her husband, we would advise that she may need to protect herself and her children by leaving the home. This does not have to mean divorce, but separation for safety sake, until such time as her husband comes to repentance and their relationship can be restored. But perhaps her fears are different. Perhaps she fears what other women will think of her if she lives this way. This is certainly a legitimate concern in our day, whether or not it was in Peter’s day. But notice he says “without being frightened by any fear” and that would include this one. Do other women make light of your submission to your husband? Then be glad that they are not your final judge, but God who commands this is; and He is their judge as well. So remember that the Proverbs say that the fear of man brings a snare; we fall into that trap when we let others dictate how we should think or act rather than God. Ultimately, the godly woman is one who, like the holy women in former times, “hopes in God.” Her hopes are not ultimately grounded in her social acceptance among other women, or in the security her husband can provide for her. Her hope is in the Lord, who will be faithful to her even in difficult times. She need not fear standing before Him and giving account for obeying His word concerning her submission in her marriage. This will be displayed as beauty in His sight.

Then finally, we are told here that there may yet be one other reward for her if she conducts herself in marriage in this way. Perhaps she is married to an unbelieving husband. Now, the Scripture forbids a Christian from marrying an unbeliever, so what is likely in view here is that the woman has come to faith in Christ after she was married. But her husband has not. In the situation described in verse 1, it is likely that her husband has heard the Gospel, but has not believed. Otherwise, he may be described as being ignorant rather than unbelieving. In this case, her hopes for his salvation are not found in incessantly preaching to him about his need for Christ, though certainly she (and other Christians) will want to speak to Him of this from time to time. But as we said, it is likely that he has already heard, and continues in unbelief. What is left is not for him to hear about the Gospel over and over again, but rather to see its effects upon her life. When he begins to see the inner beauty that God is developing in her, a beauty that outshines and outlives her external adornments, a beauty that consists of chaste and respectful behavior (v2), he may be won to Christ without a word. Our verbal witness to others is always reinforced by our behavior. If our lives are marked by disobedience to the Gospel and the Word of God, then we must not be surprised when people find our words unconvincing. But when the unbeliever sees that the Gospel and God’s Word has begun to shape us and develop in us a character and conduct that is entirely unnatural, then there is power in our witness, compelling enough even to persuade a disobedient and unbelieving husband to call upon Christ.

There are so many points of application from this text that I dare not try to list them all and risk short-circuiting some work that the Holy Spirit may desire to do in someone’s heart today. Perhaps you say, “Well what about the men? What about the husbands?” Stay tuned! That’s coming up next. We’ll get to him next Sunday. Suffice to say now that husbands should not take this Word to mean that God has given them a slave to boss around. He will hold you accountable severely if you should bruise the beautiful flower with whom He has blessed your life. And I will say more about that in a week. But maybe you are like many women today and deal with insecurity and low self-esteem or depression, and you think that you can elevate yourself in the eyes of others by dressing in nicer clothes or wearing finer jewelry or doing something different with your hair. Perhaps, but these are merely externals, and they appeal to a shallow culture that can only see the outside, while inside there are still things the Lord wants to change to make you beautiful in His sight. Allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate in you a life like this, marked by chaste and respectful behavior, a gentle and quiet spirit, and submission to your husband, and know that this is true beauty in the eye of the only Beholder that matters – this is beauty that God considers to precious in His sight. And only a fool would despise what God has called beautiful. Be concerned ultimately for His approval, not that of others in your life, be they your spouse or your peers. Young women, our society is throwing images and messages at you at the speed of light and sound, telling you how to be beautiful and attractive to others; perhaps how to win the man of your dreams. And young men, this same culture is trying to tell you what you should seek after in a woman. Don’t believe it! Believe what God has said. Let His definition of true beauty inform you as to what you should be, and what you should desire in others. Or maybe you find yourself today married to an unbelieving husband. You might say, “I’ve talked to him ‘til I am blue in the face, and he just won’t listen.” The Christian witness is one of show and tell. You’ve done the telling. Now is time for the showing. Let him see the beauty that God sees in you, and trust that God will use that to draw him to salvation. He might even be by your side today. Friend, if that is the case, and you come along with your wife to church but you do not personally believe, I pray that you would see the work that God is doing in your wife, and that the beauty of it would be compelling to you as you consider the fair offer of salvation that God is extending to you. Jesus died for you just as He did for her, and He lives again to save you both. Your life can be transformed alongside of hers, and you will experience, not only the beauty of a godly wife, but the glory of a godly marriage if you would surrender to Christ’s Lordship today.

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