1 Peter 3:1-6
February 6, 2005
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
“Beauty? Let me tell you something, being thought of as ‘a beautiful woman’ has spared me nothing in life, no heartache, no trouble. Love has been difficult. Beauty is essentially meaningless, and it is always transitory” (actress Halle Berry, one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people).
This is the first of two sermons dealing with Christian marriage. Today we will discuss Peter’s advice to Christian wives (3:1-6), and next Sunday we’ll look at Peter’s advice to Christian husbands (3:7). Even before I get to my text, you can see there appears to be a discrepancy since he devotes six verses to the wives and only one to the husbands. What’s up with that? Peter devotes more space to wives than to husbands because he is dealing with a very specific question. He is writing to Christian wives who are married to unsaved husbands. Primarily he’s thinking of those cases where both husband and wife were unsaved, and the wife came to Christ but the husband didn’t. How can this Christian wife win her unbelieving husband to Jesus? As the gospel spread across the Roman Empire in the first century, that was a huge issue. And because it happened so frequently, it deserves a detailed answer. However, if you boil these six verses down to their essence, they basically give us two words we need to remember. How does a Christian wife win her non-Christian husband? Inner beauty.
According to the Chicago Tribune (January 30, 2005), inner beauty may not be enough these days. In an article called “When Inner Beauty Simply Isn’t Enough,” author Wendy Donahue reports on the growing popularity of plastic surgery to improve personal appearance:
Blame the Baby Boomers for turning 50 at the rate of about 5 million a year. Blame the Hollywood Foreign Press for awarding a best-drama Golden Globe to an extreme-makeover soap opera.
But, like it or not, the nip/tuck trend is spreading like wrinkles and waistlines in this country. The number of surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures in the U.S. increased by 20 percent in 2003 to a total of nearly 8.3 million, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
“It’s not just Palm Beach socialites having procedures,” said Adam Sandow, publisher CEO of NewBeauty magazine. “At the end of the day, everyone wants to look better.”
It’s that last sentence that caught my attention: “At the end of the day, everyone wants to look better.” Hard to argue with that. But our text forces us to look in a different direction. Looking better from God’s point of view begins on the inside, not the outside. In the eyes of the Lord, inner beauty matters more than outer beauty, especially for a Christian wife who wants to win her husband to Jesus.
I. The Power of Inner Beauty
There comes a time when to keep on sharing the gospel aggressively becomes counterproductive.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (I Peter 3:1-2). Peter’s advice has two parts—a don’t and a do. Don’t nag him. That’s what he means when he says “if any of them (the unbelieving husbands) do not believe the word (he means the Bible, the Word of God), they may be won over without words.” Peter has in mind a husband whose wife has repeatedly shared the gospel with him. There comes a time when to keep on sharing the gospel aggressively becomes counterproductive. If he rejects “the Word,” you must commit yourself to winning him without “a word” (of your own). It would be hard to find more sensible advice than this. We all hate for others to nag us, especially when we know they are right. Human nature being what it is, nagging usually drives people farther away. No doubt Peter has some actual examples in mind. He is thinking about women whose lives have been uplifted by the Gospel of Christ. Women who have found forgiveness and freedom and dignity. Women who once sacrificed at pagan altars, but now go to church, learn the Scriptures, sing Christian songs, and have a whole new set of friends. They can’t seem to stop talking about their new faith. And here’s the poor husband. He not only doesn’t believe, he doesn’t even understand what all the fuss is about. To him, Jesus is just another deity. And who are these strange Christians his wife is hanging around with and why does she always want to leave him on Sunday morning? And why all this talk about him needing to be saved? And now she’s trying to drag the kids into it. On top of that, she doesn’t seem to have much time for his friends anymore. She doesn’t seem like the same girl he married at all. He’s right. She isn’t the same person he married. She’s a new creation. But he doesn’t understand that truth. All he sees is that this Jesus stuff has messed up his wife and upset his family. And now she wants him to get into it, too.
This sort of thing happens all the time. No doubt this describes some women reading this sermon. Your deepest desire is to see your husband come to Christ. And because of that sincere and good desire, your tendency is to really pour it on. Books, tracts, records, tapes, Scripture slogan placemats, Scripture verses on the mirror, Bibles everywhere, Max Lucado piped into your living room. Inviting, begging, pleading for him to come with you to church. Arranging meetings so your husband will just “happen” to run into the pastor. It gets old after awhile because the husband begins to feel that his wife is pressuring him into becoming a Christian. Peter’s advice is simple: Cool it. It won’t work. You can’t nag a man into the kingdom of God. You will either scare him off or make him angry. Either way you’re worse off than before. If you are married to an unbeliever, back off. Take it easy. It’s not your job to convert him. Only God can do that. The less you say the better. Don’t make him feel like a leper in his own home.
A godly wife who truly loves her husband is a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
So what do you do? Win him by the quality of your life. In verse 2, Peter mentions purity and reverence. Purity speaks to the moral goodness of your life, and reverence describes your genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ. The simple power of a godly life will be a thousand times more effective than all the high-pressure tactics. Is Peter guaranteeing the husband will be saved if you focus on purity and reverence? No. This is a principle not a promise. The husband still has to make the decision for himself. But what kind of environment in your home will make that decision for Christ more likely to happen? An atmosphere of high-pressure Christianity where the husband feels continually left out, or an atmosphere of love where the husband sees every day the change Jesus Christ has made in your life? If the husband is going to come to Christ, this is how it will happen. Not with a lot of talk but with a life of little overt talk. But one where affection and respect for the husband are joined with purity and reverence for God. A godly wife who truly loves her husband is a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit.
II. The Value of Inner Beauty
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (I Peter 3:3-4). Because these verses can be easily misunderstood, let’s look at them in two other contemporary versions.
From the Contemporary English Version: “Don’t depend on things like fancy hairdos or gold jewelry or expensive clothes to make you look beautiful. Be beautiful in your heart by being gentle and quiet. This kind of beauty will last, and God considers it very special.”
From the New Living Translation: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”
There is a kind of beauty that doesn’t depend on youth or cosmetics or plastic surgery because it is not external.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
The key word is “unfading.” It compares things that last with things that don’t. There is a kind of beauty that doesn’t depend on youth or cosmetics or plastic surgery because it is not external. Do you know why we have so many beauty parlors? Because you have to keep going back to them. One visit never finishes the job. Women go to get a “permanent,” but it isn’t. Even if they make you outwardly beautiful, the effect wears off in a few days. And that’s why we have so many nail salons. You have to keep going back to have your nails treated. And that’s why we have so many clothing stores in the shopping malls. Everything you buy eventually wears out or goes out of style. That’s not an indictment on the beauty industry. It’s just a simple statement of fact. And that’s why the fashion magazines continually feature new products. The old ones don’t last forever, and the new ones will soon be replaced. Check out any contemporary magazine for women and you will discover that the world’s view of beauty is based almost entirely on external appearance. The current issue of People magazine features page after page of attractive young pop culture icons, wearing the latest fashions and showing off their current boyfriend or girlfriend. There is a big spread on Donald Trump’s latest wife, the one he married a week or so ago, with extensive coverage of her wedding gown, a close-up of her enormous diamond ring, with lavish details about the ceremony and the reception with the champagne that costs $650 per bottle. I spent several hours this week leafing through three women’s magazines, looking at the ads and the articles. Here are a few things I found:
“Be whatever you decide. It’s beautiful.”
“Amazing body makeovers! Try the winning plan.”
“Her look says it all. Incredibly stylish. Irresistibly beautiful.”
“Want younger looking skin in 14 days? Reduce lines nearly 50% in 2 weeks.”
“I want to look pretty.”
“All your beauty questions answered.”
“Glamour Beauty: Expert tips and makeover tricks to get your best look now.”
God gave us the inner desire for beauty, design and order in nature.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
At this point I need to issue a disclaimer and a clarification. The desire for outward beauty is neither wrong nor unnatural. Everything God creates has its own sort of beauty. The word translated “adornment” comes from the Greek word kosmos, which means an orderly arrangement, from which we get the English word cosmetics. God gave us the inner desire for beauty, design and order in nature. I’m simply pointing out that the world puts nearly all of its emphasis on outward beauty. The women of the world emphasize the outward because they are empty inside. Their dress is a testimony to their bankrupt values. That’s why they place so much emphasis on their hair, their jewelry, their perfume and their designer jeans.
Their gentle and quiet spirit shines through so that as their physical beauty diminishes, their inner beauty remains.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
What makes a Christian woman truly beautiful? “The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” There’s a lot to ponder in that statement. What is unfading beauty? It’s beauty that doesn’t depend solely on mascara or eye shadow or lip gloss or silk skirts or contact lens or the latest fashions. It’s beauty that is just as beautiful when you’re 57 as when you are 17. It’s unfading and therefore never goes out of style and never has to be replaced. This is how women get more beautiful as they grow older. Their gentle and quiet spirit shines through so that as their physical beauty diminishes, their inner beauty remains. In the truest sense, they are more beautiful in the end than at the beginning. The word “gentle” translates a common Greek word that means meek. That’s a powerful concept that Jesus used to describe himself in Matthew 11:29. Meekness is “my power under God’s control.”
My lips under God’s control.
My eyes under God’s control.
My ears under God’s control.
My thoughts under God’s control.
My emotions under God’s control.
My actions under God’s control.
My attitudes under God’s control.
My responses under God’s control.
My relationships under God’s control.
The “gentle” spirit is one where the Christian woman lives under the moment-by-moment leading of the Holy Spirit.
The word “quiet” is an unusual Greek word that means tranquil or undisturbed, like the surface of a lake on a windless afternoon. It describes a heart that is not easily ruffled by the cares and concerns of life. If the husband is the head of the home, the wife is the heart of the home. She sets the emotional tone for the entire family. She sets the tone by her own spirit. Everyone else resonates to the note she sounds. If the home is peaceful, quiet, restful, it is because the wife has created that atmosphere. If the home is hectic, loud, disorganized and strident, it is also because the wife has set that tone by her own spirit.
Peter leaves a clue to his real meaning at the end of verse 6, when he says that Christian wives are the daughters of Sarah “if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.” The phrase “give way to fear” suggests an emotional state that is easily rattled by problems and quickly alarmed by the “what ifs” of life:
What if things don’t work out?
What if we run out of money?
What if my husband makes a bad decision?
What if I lose my job?
What if our children get sick?
What if we can’t find a place to live?
You can give in to fear or you can have a gentle and quiet spirit, but you can’t have both at the same time.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
If you are not careful, those legitimate questions can become so huge in your mind that they completely destroy your gentle and quiet spirit. You can give in to fear or you can have a gentle and quiet spirit, but you can’t have both at the same time.
We must not miss the great point Peter wants to make. Beauty is a matter of the heart first and foremost. Outward appearance matters less than the state of your heart. Notice that Peter says that this sort of inner beauty is both unfading and of great worth in the eyes of the Lord. Blessed is the woman who trusts in God and in her husband for she shall be called Beautiful.
III. The Example of Inner Beauty
“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” (I Peter 3:5-6). Peter takes us back to the book of Genesis, to the story of Abraham and Sarah. From the life of Sarah, he picks up one salient point: Sarah called her husband “master” or “lord.” The Greek word is kurios, which when applied to Jesus means “Lord.” But it was a very common word that could also mean “master” or “sir” or even “my dear husband.” It is a term of deep and abiding respect.
As I prepared this message, I discovered a fascinating fact. There is no passage where Sarah directly calls her husband “master” or “sir” or even “my dear husband.” The only reference to this term comes from Genesis 18. You no doubt remember that God had promised Abraham that one day he and Sarah would have a son. That promise was made when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65. By the time we come to Genesis 18, 24 years have passed. Abraham is 99 and Sarah is 89. That’s a problem because they were both well past childbearing age. Romans 4:19 says of Abraham, “his body was as good as dead,” and of Sarah, “her womb was also dead.” With that as background, we pick up the story in Genesis 18:10-12.
Then the Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Humanly speaking, Sarah was right. It was impossible. But God had promised a son. Note that even in her doubt, Sarah still calls Abraham “my master.” Note that verse 12 describes what Sarah was thinking as she heard the Lord’s promise. I don’t know if Sarah ever called Abraham “master” to his face, but it doesn’t matter. She said it in her mind, which reveals her truest feelings. That’s the connection to I Peter 3. When old Abraham said to old Sarah, “Let’s go to the tent a little early tonight,” she said, “Okay, but I think you’re crazy.” But she went. And the rest is history.
We can lay it out in a simple diagram:
Do I believe God is able to speak to me through my husband?</h6 class=”pullquote”>
God spoke to Abraham, and Abraham believed God. Then Abraham spoke to Sarah, and Sarah believed Abraham. Abraham believed God and Sarah believed Abraham. If you want to put it in one sentence: Sarah respected her husband enough to believe that God could speak to her through him. Not that God couldn’t speak directly to her. He could. But in this case, he spoke to her through Abraham. When Sarah called him master she was simply respecting him as the head of the home and was indicating that God was free to speak to her through Abraham if that’s what God wanted to do. Here is a point of decision every Christian wife must eventually come to: Do I believe God is able to speak to me through my husband? If the answer is no, then submission is not possible. If the answer is yes, then you can become a true daughter of Sarah.
There are two reasons why this is an excellent example for Peter to use. First, Abraham and Sarah were both flawed people. They weren’t “plaster saints” who never made any mistakes. Abraham lied about his wife—not once, but twice!—and Sarah dreamed up that bad idea of having Abraham sleep with Hagar, in a shortsighted attempt to help God out. These are imperfect people who nevertheless believed God and trusted each other when it mattered most. Second, we know from Genesis 12 that Sarah was a very beautiful woman. That’s the reason Abraham lied about her in the first place. When the Egyptians saw her, they called her a “very beautiful woman” (Genesis 12:14). She was no plain Jane. Sarah was beautiful by any standard. That helps us understand that Peter doesn’t mean to denigrate outward beauty. But Sarah is commended by the Lord, not for her outward beauty but for the inner beauty that allowed her to trust her husband in a difficult situation. Her inner beauty shines much brighter in her willingness to believe God and trust her husband.
What is God saying to all of us from this passage? The key lies in a phrase repeated in verse 1 and verse 7—”in the same way.” What Peter says to the wives in verse 1, he says to the husbands in verse 7. The phrase “in the same way” pushes us back to the closing verses of chapter 2 where Peter calls all believers to follow in the steps of Jesus himself. We all find ourselves in difficult circumstances we cannot easily change. How will we respond? With anger, complaining, bitterness, despair? No one was ever more mistreated than Jesus. Yet he did not attack those who mocked him nor did he curse at those who cursed at him. Instead, he “entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23). That’s the exact equivalent of “holy women of the past who put their hope in God” (I Peter 3:5).
Submission isn’t about you or your husband or your boss or anyone over you. Submission is about you and your relationship to God.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
Submission isn’t about you or your husband or your boss or anyone over you. Submission is about you and your relationship to God. To say that Jesus “entrusted” himself to God and to say that holy women of old “hoped” in God means the same thing as saying they submitted themselves to God. Jesus entrusted himself to God. Even while dying, he had a gentle and quiet spirit. He hoped in God. And through his righteous submission to his Heavenly Father, he became our Savior.
I close with one final question. Was Jesus beautiful? When I asked that on Sunday morning, I got varying answers from the congregation. The answer is, it depends on what you mean. Isaiah 53:2 says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” When Jesus was arrested, he was beaten almost beyond recognition. The soldiers scourged him until his skin hung in tatters. They pushed a crown of thorns on his bloody head and covered him with a purple robe. They beat him and then they beat him again. They nailed him to a cross and suspended him between heaven and earth. It must have been hard to look at him near the end. Finally, he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Then he bowed his head and died. The Father looked down from heaven and said, “That’s my beautiful son.”
Jesus was never more beautiful than when he died on the cross. By the world’s standards, he was a criminal. To those who believe, he is our Savior. To the Father, he was the Suffering Son who had completed his task on earth.
Living under the cross is beautiful in God’s eyes. Put your hope in God. Follow Jesus all the way to the cross, and your life will have a beauty that can never fade away. Amen.