When we talk about modesty– assuming we’re not lamenting the lack of modesty in society at large– we’re usually doing one of two things: talking about how immodesty causes our brothers to stumble, or how to be modest yet fashionable. While these are worthwhile discussions, it seems we often neglect to examine the actual scriptures on the subject. We read them as an obligatory part of the conversation but don’t dig into their depths. So let’s remedy that, shall we? This series of lessons will look at 1 Peter 3:3-6 and 1 Timothy 2:9, 10. Since Peter addresses the attitude, we’ll start there. Open your Bible to 1 Peter 3:3-6 and study along with me.
First, a little background is in order. The context of this section really begins back at 2:11 with a discussion about keeping our behavior excellent among the Gentiles. Our section is point three in Peter’s exhortation on the subject. First, he admonishes us to submit to every human institution (2:13-17). Second, he directs servants to be submissive to their masters (2:18-25). Third (our pericope), he tells wives to be submissive to their husbands (3:1-6). Finally, he commands husbands to live in an understanding way with their wives (3:7). He sums up the whole discussion with instructions for all brethren in 3:8-13.
The pericope we find our few verses in deals primarily with how a wife interacts with her husband, specifically a husband who is not a Christian. She is encouraged to win him over to the Lord by her chaste and respectful behavior. It is in this context that Peter admonishes wives regarding their dress and adornment. Though this passage speaks to wives, its parallel passage in 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 doubtless applies to all women. Thus there is no reason for the unmarried to disregard the discussion.
In 2:3, Peter says, “Your adornment must not be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses.” The word for “adornment” (KOSMOS) is an interesting one. Aside from one’s external adornment or decoration, it’s used to refer to the world and the universe. It speaks to the orderly way in which God has arranged all things. Likewise, Peter speaks to the arrangement and decor we choose for our outer self. He says that our beauty should not depend on what is seen by the eye. Peter reminds us that a woman– especially a Christian woman– is more than what she wears or how she looks. He is not forbidding attention to external beauty, but does not want the focus to be on the external.
Next Peter lists some of the outer adornments common to his day: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry and putting on dresses. The first question we have here is whether or not it’s okay for us to braid our hair, if it’s okay to wear a gold ring or bracelet and whether or not it’s alright for us to wear a nice dress. Really, we’ve already answered the question. Peter is concerned with what we are most concerned about. Is your outward appearance your prime consideration in what makes you attractive? For the Christian, the answer must be no. For the Christian wife, what she uses to make herself beautiful to her husband should be the hidden person of the heart and what qualities adorn it (3:4). So to braid your hair isn’t necessarily a no-no, but to be obsessed about your hair is. To be more concerned about what is on top of your head than what is in your heart is not appropriate for a holy woman of God (and if you are a Christian woman, you are to be a holy woman of God). One cannot spend hours selecting and arranging the perfect hairstyle, fail to spend time adorning her heart with godly qualities and then say that she is concerned with things of God. With the right perspective, a Christian woman understands that the external is fleeting, but the qualities of the heart are imperishable. Her pursuit should be a gentle and quiet spirit which is not only long-lasting, but also precious to her God.
The godly woman’s spirit is gentle. She is not overly impressed with her own self-importance. She is considerate and humble, just as Christ was. While Christ could have paraded around announcing His greatness to all, He rather chose to speak with a neglected Samaritan woman (John 4:7ff), to embrace little children (Mark 10:13-16), wash His disciples’ feet (John 13:3-12), and suffer the humiliating death of a criminal (Luke 23:32, 33).
Her spirit is also quiet. It is tranquil and nothing external is going to shake her inner peace because it is founded in God. These are the qualities which God finds precious. Ultimately, isn’t God the one whose approval we most desire? If it is God whose admiration we want, then we mold ourselves into His image and likeness. Young girls often take up a sudden interest in whatever band their sweetheart favors. His sport becomes her passion and his preferences become hers. But molding oneself to a mere man is folly. Molding oneself to God, on the other hand, is how we become excellent, even in the sight of Gentiles (2:12) and precious in the eyes of our Lord.
Peter harkens back to women of old and their adorning. These are women whose hope was not in earthly things, but in God. It was not perishable things they sought, but rather they placed their expectations for the future in the Creator Himself. Peter says their focus on inner qualities and their submissiveness to their husbands– these things were the true source of their beauty. Scripture records that Sarah was so beautiful, her husband feared for his own safety and two kings sought to take her as wife (Genesis 12:11-15, 20:1, 2), yet according to Peter her adorning was not that which could be seen. What made Sarah beautiful was her obedience and respect for Abraham. Peter says that we can be her children– that is, we can be like her– if we do what is right and are not frightened by any fear.
To do what is right is what we, as Christians, were made for (Ephesians 2:10). These good works and obedience should be carried out despite things that might frighten. The people Peter was writing to were suffering greatly under trials of persecution, intimidation and reviling. This whole epistle is intended to shore them up and encourage them to persevere, even under their terrible circumstances. He tells them– and us– that we can be beautified by doing what is right, by doing good, without being frightened off by things that cause fear.
In our world today, beauty is highly prized. Everyone seems to be dieting to lose weight and look good. Women spend days shopping for the perfect outfit. Hours are wiled away in beauty salons. Yet their spirits sit… and sit… and sit, neglected and unadorned. They have no peace and they pride themselves on how much better they are than Suzie down the street and Polly two cubicles over at work. Yes, their hair is never out of place, their handbag and shoes always match, their jewelry is perfectly suited to the outfit they spent hundreds of dollars on and their toes are painted to match… but in the sight of God, what is most precious is lacking. And to Him, they stand unadorned and unbeautified.
But what about us, sisters? What are we striving for? Are we aiming to be like these women who look so perfect, or are we concerning ourselves with good works despite what others think or say? Are we busy shopping for a great deal on the “right” clothes, or are we working toward inner peace founded in a Biblical hope? Are we trying to be noticed or are we seeking out those who are neglected? Ladies, let’s make sure our adorning is not merely external. Rather, let us strive to beautify the inner person. Let us seek the imperishable qualities of humility and peace that God sees as precious. Remember Sarah whose outer beauty may have been great, but whose submissive spirit and respect for her husband landed her in the roll call of the faithful (Hebrews 11:11). Let us strive to be like her that we may be found in the book of Life and cause other names to be written there as well.
By Erynn Sprouse
Erynn and her husband, Jeremy serve with the Patrick Street church of Christ in Dublin, TX . Her husband is the pulpit minister and evangelist. Erynn is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom to their four-going-on-five children (Jaden, 7; Isaiah, 4; Isaac, 4; Ean, 22 mo’s; #5 due in September). They are 2003 graduates of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver.