An objective survey of our media, advertising, social media and popular culture reveals a culture obsessed with physical beauty. It is so obsessed with it that beauty has become everything and important things are neglected. When it reaches this point it is according to psychology professor Renee Engeln, a “beauty sick” culture. It amounts to a society-wide psychological illness. What we see in the mirror consumes so much time, attention, and emotional resources that becomes harder see other aspects of our lives. How we look (often measured by reactions on social media) is more important than who we are. The ugly truth about such beauty sickness is that it is physically, mentally and spiritually harmful. Anthropologists observe that obsession with physical beauty is a common phenomenon of societies in decline. Cultures have been here before and the Bible has great insight about such tendencies of the human heart. It points us away from beauty sickness to true beauty.
In 1 Peter 3:3-4 there is a contrast between spiritual and outward adornment. Following on from 1 Peter 3:1-2, the apostle gives two further directions to believing women for attaining the way to live that through the Lord’s blessing, might prove a means of gaining their unbelieving husbands. The one is negative, that they should not be too obsessed with adorning their outward person. The other is positive, that their great efforts should be to have their inward person adorned with the grace of God, especially meekness and a peaceable spirit in relation to their husbands.
Peter also urges that this is an ornament that will not grow old and decay as others do. It is also in very high esteem with the Lord, and therefore as they desire to gain their husbands by their outward conduct, their great care should be to attain to a right condition of spirit within. This does not mean that our outward appearance should be despised or that we should pursue an odd way of presenting ourselves but rather that it should not divert us from the main things. In the following updated extract, Alexander Nisbet explains further the nature of true beauty and why we should not be diverted from pursuing it.
1. True Beauty is Not Obsessive
Even the children of the Lord can be in danger of offending Him and others, in the matter of their clothing. This may involve pursuing novelty or strangeness whether in the type of clothing or in our way of using of it (Zephaniah 1:8). Or it may be when much time and expense are wasted concerning clothing, as is meant in the apostle’s words here. In all of this and similar ways, the Lord’s people are ready to offend in the matter of their clothing. and that because there is in them much unsubdued pride and vanity which is ready to manifest itself in that way (Isaiah 3:16, 18 etc) and because they forget, that clothing is given to make them ashamed in remembrance of their sin (1 Timothy 2:9, 14). The danger of offending (by wasting both time and expense) is meant by the apostle in dissuading them from outward adorning.
2. True Beauty is Not Excessive
The Lord allow those in eminence above others to have ornaments beyond necessity (Isaiah 22:20-22) and others to have more than ordinary at some special occasions (Genesis 24:30) and all of His people to conduct themselves in an honourable and decent way (Romans 12:17).
Yet, when any professing Christian becomes excessive in using their liberty in these things, they will be so far from commending religion to others that their practice will rather be a hindrance to others. They may or will readily take occasion to think that Christians have no better things to take themselves up with, than these on which they waste their time, effort and expense.
The apostle here dissuades Christian women from this evil if they wished to gain their heathen husbands. He implies that their vanity and excess in the matter of their adornment would rather hinder them than gain them to fall in love with Christianity.
3. True Beauty is Spiritual Beauty
They that would by their outward conduct, commend religion and win others to fall in love with it, must have their prime care exercised about their heart. If it is adorned with the graces of God’s Spirit in life and practice, the conduct cannot but be lovely to all rightly discerning onlookers. Having told those believing women before that it was their actions mainly which would gain their husbands, Peter now further explains the way of attaining such conduct.
Those that waste much time, effort and expense, in adorning their bodies, ordinarily neglect their souls, leaving these in a disorderly, sordid and filthy condition. In dissuading from the one, and persuading to the other, the apostle implies the inconsistency of such an adorning of the outward person, with the adorning of the inward.
4. True Beauty is Meek
That which mainly makes the conduct of a professing Christian a means to gain others to Jesus Christ is the exercise of the graces of God’s Spirit within, especially meekness and quietness of spirit. By meekness they keep down their passions from rising against others that wrong them or against the Lord’s dealings that seem harder towards them than others (Numbers 12:2-3). It also prompts them to all amicable and loving ways of reclaiming such as wrong them, before they go to the rigour of justice (1 Corinthians 4:21).
By quietness of spirit they do avoid all needless contradiction of others (Isaiah 53:7); all rashness in their actions; (Acts 19:36); all meddling with things not belonging to them (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and all expressions of discontent with that lot the Lord has appointed for them (Psalm 131:2). All of this is here required of Christian women bound to unbelieving and ungodly husbands, as a special means of gaining them to Christ. He exhorts them to put on the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit in order to gain their husbands.
Where such a gracious frame of spirit is within, it will have visible effects that may be discerned without. The apostle exhorts Christian wives to the pursuit of meekness and quietness of spirit, as a means to gain their unbelieving husbands, which it could not achieve unless the effects were visible in their conduct.
5. True Beauty Does Not Fade
The grace of Christ is such an ornament that having been put on the soul, never fades or grows old altogether. This consideration should make Christians more careful to have it in exercise in their hearts, than to have on the best of their ornaments which will soon wear out and grow old. In urging Christians to put on this adorning of God’s grace, the apostle affirms it to be that “which is incorruptible.”
6. True Beauty is Esteemed by God
Every grace is the Lord’s own free gift (James 1:17) and the most gracious cannot properly be profitable to Him (Job 22:2). Yet, He is pleased to esteem His own grace and graciously reward those to whom He gives it, as if it were of great worth to Him. This consideration should increase the esteem of grace in our hearts and stir us to effort for getting and increasing it. The adornment of a meek and quiet spirit is commended from this that it “is in the sight of God of great price”.
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