How do we know if someone is beautiful or handsome?
Societies and cultures around the world and through the ages have had different ideas about what is beautiful or handsome. And a society’s standard of beauty can change as time goes by. You can pretty much tell what our current American culture believes about beauty by looking at advertisements. For decades that standard of beauty has felt unachievable for many women, causing emotional shaming and guilt. A recent study suggests that our American standard is changing! That is a good thing.
As we have seen already this week in our posts here and here Peter in 1 Peter 3:1-7 is talking about roles in marriage. In verses 2-6, again talking to Christian wives, Peter brings up beauty standards. In so doing, I believe Peter reveals what true beauty is, no matter what culture or era you live in. So what is true beauty? Let’s see what Peter says.
He starts by saying in verse 2 that Christian wives will be much more likely to “win over” their non-Christian husbands if they live a particular way. By “win over”, he is talking about the process of helping their husbands choose to become followers of Jesus. How should wives live, then, so that they might win over their husbands? Should they preach at them every day? Condemn their husbands for following a different belief system? Withhold sex until the husbands relent and follow Jesus?
Of course not! Peter says their lives should be marked by Purity and Reverence. Be pure. Don’t cheat on them. Stay faithful to your spouse. Be reverent to God. Follow the life principles and actions of Jesus.
And that opens the door for Peter to talk about beauty. It would be very natural for wives to think, “If I want to win my husband over, I’ll need to make my body beautiful.” Peter responds to that in verse 3, and what he says is “Yes, you do need to beautiful! But beauty might be different than you think. It is not ultimately outer beauty that is important but inward beauty.”
Verse 3 is often misinterpreted as Peter banning braiding and jewelry and fancy clothes. That is not what he is saying. He is simply saying that your beauty ultimately doesn’t come from outward adornment.
Peter is here telling us that we Christians have a different standard for beauty.
In verse 4, he calls it unfading beauty. Outer beauty fades, if you abide by the current standard. Older actresses will tell you that. They were once queens of the movie screen, but as they age, they are no longer considered to be desirable because they cannot adhere to a standard of beauty that prizes youth. So what is this unfading beauty that Peter is talking about?
Peter says beauty can be unfading when that beauty flows from within. He calls it “a gentle, quiet spirit that is of great worth in God’s sight.”
In verses 5-6 he illustrates this inward beauty, this gentle quiet spirit, by saying that it is the way women of old put their hope in God and made themselves beautiful. This is a significant point. They put their hope in God rather than in outward adornment. What are your hoping in to make yourself beautiful? You can spend a lot of time and money on skin and hair treatments, exercising hours every day, purchasing new stylish clothing, all striving for a temporary cultural standard of beauty. Peter counters and says, “Place your hope in God.”
Chasing outward beauty is not all wrong. It is good to exercise, to eat healthy, and to dress with style. There is nothing wrong with that. Where the pursuit of outward beauty can go wrong is when we become addicted to it, when we hope and believe that if and only if we achieve a high level of outward beauty then we are actually beautiful. I personally don’t know where to draw the line. But I know this: way too much money can be spent the empty promise that outward beauty will bring you respect and attention from the opposite sex, or from people in general. If you pursue beauty like that you will likely achieve notice, but ultimately it fade, leaving you frustrated and empty inside.
Instead let us believe what Peter says, “Put your hope in God.” When you remember that you are loved in his eyes, you can know that you have everything you need, and you can pursue unfading inner beauty.
The difficulty over the years has been how we interpret what Peter means when he says that wives should express their inner beauty through a gentle quiet spirit. This has been understood that wives should never talk, and it has been used to repress women. But men and women are equal in God’s eyes! Why, then, does Peter say women should have a quiet spirit? Is he adding to the repression of women?
It seems that women in the brand new Christian church were embracing their freedom and equality in Christ, but they were taking it too far for that culture. Theirs was not a culture that viewed men and women as equals. Peter knows this. He knows that if women in a deeply patriarchal culture start upending the cultural norm of women being submissive to their husbands, they will ruin their ability to win their husbands for Christ. Peter knows that they will never be able to create a better, equal situation for women if the husbands are not on board. Instead, it will likely ruin the Christian movement.
In other words, he is asking the women to maintain the cultural norm for the time being so that they might win over as many of their husbands as possible. As we have seen already this week, the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven is Peter’s focus.
So both men and women in our society would do well to see where their true inner beauty comes from. Let us be followers of Jesus that are not deceived by the beauty standards of the world around us. May our beauty flow from within as we practice purity, reverence and place our hope in God.