Beautifully Brash or Beautifully Modest?
May 14, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Miscellaneous Sermons
Topic: Expository Passage: 1 Peter 3:3-4
Since today is Mother’s Day, we’re going to take a break from Romans. I’m not primarily going to talk about mothering, though what I have to say is very significant for parents, especially, parents of girls. Rather, I want to discuss God’s perfect, original vision for feminine flourishing. God’s vision is very important because he designed our every detail down to our most basic intuitions and desires. He knows us, and he knows how to make us thrive.
However, girls today are not thriving. In February, the CDC released a massive report on the mental health of American adolescents. One of the key findings they highlighted in the press release and the one that grabbed national headlines was, “Teen girls are experiencing record high levels of violence, sadness, and suicide risk.”
The statistics are startling. The report states, “Nearly 3 in 5 (57%) U. S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021—double that of boys, representing a nearly 60% increase (since 2011).” As well, “Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago.” “1 in 5 (18%) experienced sexual violence in the past year—up 20% since 2017, when CDC started monitoring this measure.”
These are tragic numbers! We should grieve, and everyone wants to see these trends change. But success demands real solutions. So, it was almost comical that of all the solutions the CDC could highlight, they chose schools as the best solution. The release states, “Safe and trusted adults—like mentors, trained teachers, and staff—can help foster school connectedness, so that teens know the people around them care about them, their well-being, and their success. Schools can provide education that equips teens with essential skills, such as understanding and ensuring true sexual consent, managing emotions, and asking what they need.”
Yes, teachers often make a huge impact on children’s lives, but there’s no mention of families or churches. Of course, they refuse to acknowledge the parallels between these trends and our cultures growing hostility toward biblical manhood and womanhood. That hostility has placed girls under increasing pressure that they cannot possibly handle well. As if adolescents weren’t hard enough, girls today must be sexy, and they must show it off on Instagram. They even must decide if they are girls or not along with a host of other identity choices.
It may sound fun and liberating, but it creates overwhelming pressure. And that pressure doesn’t just affect young ladies. Our culture pressures every woman to create a sexy, brash identity that demands attention. It teaches parents to encourage their children to explore their sexuality from a young age. And all this shapes what men and boys value in women and what they expect out of a relationship. The statistics are clear that it is all increasing our levels of depression, loneliness, violence, and abuse.
Therefore, we desperately need to hear from our Maker about how women can flourish, and we need constant reminders of what he has said. So, this morning’s text is 1 Peter 3:3–4. These verses are packed with timeless biblical wisdom. Notice that Peter’s concern is with a passion that most women share.
I. The Desire: Captivating Beauty
This passage is about a woman’s adornment. Yes, there are many exceptions, but girls usually have a much stronger desire for beauty and style than boys. We experience that contrast every day in our home. Our boys want to be comfortable and occasionally cool. The only thing they enjoy about department stores is hiding in the clothes’ racks. Our daughter is very different. She cares about styles and colors, and she wants to be beautiful.
That’s a good thing. Beauty, creativity, and color are all good gifts of God that reflect his glory. However, sin and Satan easily twist them into destruction and rebellion passions.
Apparently, this was happening among some of Peter’s readers. Verse 1 says that some of the women were married to unbelievers, probably because they got saved in adulthood.
This arrangement would have been terribly difficult because Greco-Roman women didn’t have the same rights and freedoms as women today. Plutarch was a Greek historian during the first century, and he said, “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.”
It’s not hard to see how those assumptions would create big challenges for a Christian woman trying to honor the Lord. Therefore, notice the challenge he gives in vv. 1–2. Peter urges them not rebel against God’s design; instead, win hour husband with a consistent Christian testimony.
And vv. 3–4 imply that Peter was also concerned that they might try to manipulate their husbands with their appearance, or they may use their appearance to get the attention elsewhere that their husbands were not giving, through a flashy show of beauty.
Ladies, your situation may be quite different, but you may still feel the tug Peter mentions. You have a strong desire to grab attention, whether that’s from your husband, other men, and from your lady friends, by being beautiful and stylish.
So, consider, what do you want to be known for? And what stands out when people first meet you and then as they get to know you? What are you known for? What adorns your life? Is fashion your passion, or is it something else?
Guys, let’s not pretend like we are immune to this even if it may look different. Most guys care about their image. They want to be adorned or known as tough, strong, athletic, mechanical, intelligent or something else. We all must be weary of the pride of life which dwells deep inside us all. And we must ask, “What identity am I trying to cultivate?” Do Instagram and other worldly peer groups drive how I present myself, or does the Word of God shape my priorities? These are crucial questions you need to ask.
So, God understands us. He knows that Satan can easily abuse a woman’s passion about her adornment, her desire for captivating beauty. Therefore, he responds by prohibiting one focus and by commending another. First, Peter condemns the temptation to grab attention.
II. The Temptation: Grab Attention (v. 3).
The more obvious contrast between vv. 3–4 is between a focus on externals vs. internals. That’s clearly an important part of Peter’s concern. However, v. 4 indicates that Peter is even more concerned about chasing status and attention vs. chasing godliness and letting God take care of people’s opinions.
That’s so important because when we think about modesty, we often immediately jump to how much skin is showing and how tight something is. But immodesty is first a heart attitude of demanding attention. You can wear a potato sack and still have an immodest heart.
Therefore, when Solomon warns his son in Proverbs about the wrong kind of woman, he talks a lot about her boisterous, immodest spirit. For example, he warns, “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Prov 5:3–4). Solomon warns about her seductive spirit and speech, not just her words. Notice also the warning in Proverbs 7:6–13. Again, Solomon is more concerned about this woman’s spirit than he is about her appearance.
And Peter is also more concerned with an immodest heart than he is immodest dress, though a modest heart must lead to modest dress.
Therefore, he warns Christian ladies not to grab attention and status with their dress and appearance. First, he mentions, “braiding the hair.” Peter is not thinking of simple braids like little girls wear today but of elaborate, over-the-top hair styling that was common among the upper classes in his day.
Next, he mentions gold or fine jewelry. There’s probably never been a culture where women didn’t love fine jewelry. Third, he mentions “putting on dresses.” He is specifically thinking of elaborate, showy clothes.
Ladies, I’ll put you at ease right now and say, that Peter is not saying a lady can never have a nice hairstyle, wear fine jewelry, or have nice clothes. Afterall, Song of Solomon praises all these things. The primary issue is not the items themselves but the heart behind them.
Peter is also not saying it’s godlier to be messy or to be a plain Jane. God is orderly, everything he does is excellent, and he loves beauty. You don’t honor him by neglecting your appearance or your health. Rather, true beauty reflects his glory.
So, men, be careful to give your wives space and resources to be beautiful. Sometimes, we can be so cheap and practical that we can squelch good desires in our wives. So make sure that you foster godly and responsible desires and be sure to compliment her efforts.
So, Peter is not condemning beauty; rather, he condemns a vain value system that worships beauty and uses it to honor self rather than to honor God. I hope we understand the difference. We know people and we see people all the time who worship their appearance.
When they walk into the room, you can see it on their face and in how they carry themselves. They are proud and often defiant. They want to make a show of themselves, not to honor the Lord and love others.
So, Peter primarily condemns this immodest heart attitude, which, BTW, also afflicts many men. He challenges Christian women to be very careful not to become slaves of the fashion game.
Proverbs also warns us about how vain it all is. Every teenager, male and female, should memorize Proverbs 11:22, “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” I grew up on a hog farm and trust me when I say that a pig’s snout is disgusting. They use it to dig through anything and to eat anything. It ruins the appeal of a gold ring.
Similarly, God says that physical beauty can’t possibly compensate for foolishness, flightiness, and vanity. Proverbs 31:30 adds, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”
Please hear what God is saying. Girls, the worlds of Hollywood and Instagram say you must highlight and enhance every sexual feature you have. “Assert your power as a woman through your sexuality.” It’s proud and sinful. It’s also terribly destructive. God didn’t make you to live under that kind of pressure. The statistics say it will crush you and leave you despairing and lonely. Don’t buy the lies.
And boys, learn to value what God values. If your only goal is to get the hottest girl possible on your arm, you may succeed and have a lot of fun for a moment. But if that’s all she is, it’s a ring of gold in a pig’s snout. It probably won’t last, and she won’t bring you nearly the same joy as a truly godly woman. Learn to love what God loves.
So, v. 3 warns women not to fall prey to the temptation to be defined by your physical appearance. Rather, v. 4 challenges you to embrace the cure. Cultivate a godly heart that deserves attention.
III. The Cure: Focus on godliness (v. 4).
I’d like to offer 3 challenges from this verse. First…
Invest in the heart. There is a powerful irony in this first statement. Ladies, your adornment, your most outstanding, noticeable quality should not be anything visible. Instead, it must be “the hidden person of the heart,” something no one can physically see.
This statement is the center of vv. 3–4. Peter challenges wives and by extension all Christian women not to primarily invest in their physical appearance but in cultivating a godly heart.
That’s where you must focus your efforts. God commands us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness;for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:7b–8).
The world says that you and your children must be beautiful, fit, stylish, athletic, intellectual, and successful. All of these have their place. But don’t forget that God’s judgment on the last day is the only one that really matters. And he will shine his greatest spotlight on godliness.
So, consider your priorities for yourself and your children. Where are you investing your time, energy, money, and passion? Are you “disciplining yourself (and your family) for the purpose of godliness”? Are you investing in character and in hearts, or have you become distracted by other things? What would your family say is most important in your home? Nothing will matter more in eternity than godliness. So, make sure that you invest in the heart above all else. The 2nd challenge of v. 4 is…
Cultivate meekness. Peter says that instead of trying to put on an outward show that demands attention; godly women will cultivate “a gentle and quiet spirit.” That’s very interesting language that demands our attention. It’s true that everyone should be humble, and gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. Yet both qualities are the unique gifts of godly femininity.
Gentleness is more obviously so. I see it all the time in the contrast between how I naturally handle my children and how Heidi does. That’s why they generally run to mom when they need comfort. God made women more naturally gentle.
On the other hand, “a quiet spirit” comes more naturally to some ladies than others. God warned Eve in Genesis 3:16 that part of the curse would be that wives would resist their husband’s authority. We saw in Proverbs that Solomon warned his son about the boisterous woman. Yet godly femininity leans toward quietness in keeping with submission.
I want to emphasize that Peter is not saying a godly woman cowers in the corner and never does anything. The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is very strong and industrious. Women need to be tough, thoughtful, driven, and even opinionated.
But the Proverbs 31 woman is also a team player. She isn’t a rival to her husband; instead, she loves and supports him, and her energy is focused in the home, not outside it. That’s a big reason why she is so valuable and why both her husband and her children praise her.
Therefore, God commands Christian ladies to foster a gentle and quiet spirit. That doesn’t have to look the same in every woman just like strength doesn’t look the same in every man. But these are important focuses of biblical womanhood. By God’s grace, every woman and every little girl should cultivate them. The world says that’s chauvinistic and oppressive, but is it possible that our Maker might know best how we flourish? I think he does.
And then as you cultivate meekness in your heart, work to reflect it in your appearance and your manner with others. Again, that’s very counter-cultural. The world tells you to use your sexuality to assert your power. Be bold. Be yourself. Demand attention. Stand out from the crowd.
But the irony is that if you are bent on standing out from the crowd, you have made yourself a slave to the crowd’s opinion. What do you do if you are asserting your power, but no one cares or even notices. There’s no joy there.
And that attitude is deeply rebellious against God’s authority and God’s design. You didn’t make yourself; God made you. You don’t own yourself; God owns you. And you will never find rest in your own ambitions; you will only find rest in God’s purpose and in God’s smile.
So, ladies in particular, but men also, what is your goal in how you dress, in how you carry yourself, and in how you speak with others? Are you trying to gain attention for yourself, or are you trying to point attention to your Savior by modeling him before people?
Your goal should be that when people meet you, they aren’t primarily impressed with your beauty, style, sexuality, wit, or audaciousness. No, your goal should be that they see the beauty of Christ in you.
That means that you want to highlight the fruit of the Spirit, not your sexuality, your sense of style, or your bold taste. Again, I’m not saying you must wear a potato sack around. Appropriate beauty, style, and excellence all honor the Lord.
But if the goal is to point people to God’s transforming grace it’s not hard to see how there’s conflict of interest if they are drawn to your sexual features. So, ladies, cover them and cover them generously, not with the tightest thing imaginable. Bring people’s attention to your face and to the joy of the Lord and the love of Christ that hopefully radiate from it.
I could go on and on, and if we opened up the floor for questions and comments, we could be here for hours! There’s no way I can address every issue or answer every question. But I want to challenge you to recognize that as our world becomes increasingly hostile toward biblical manhood and womanhood and so many other biblical values, it’s going to come out in what the world creates and in its assumptions about how you should behave.
You must work to make sure you are standing firmly and proudly on biblical values and convictions. It won’t happen accidentally. That means you must live in the Word. We need healthy, loving, and sometimes direct conversation among believers so that we help each other think well and expose our own blind spots. Then, we need to think constantly and be aware because the world’s current is always pushing. You will drift if you are not watching.
So, ladies, invest in your heart more than your appearance and, specifically, cultivate the meekness of true biblical femininity. Do so for your own good but primarily because the verse says, it is “precious in the sight of God.” This brings me to the 3rd challenge of v. 4…
Conform your values. The world mocks meekness, especially in women because it hates God’s rule. But ladies, if you have a godly, meek heart that displays his glory, you are “precious in the sight of God.” He smiles on you and approves of you. That’s worth far more than the smile of the culture. Be satisfied in him.
Men, let’s also conform our values to God’s. Give thanks if God has blessed you with this kind of women. Praise him and praise her. Her worth is great.
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