Karen's hair

True Adorning

Karen Beilharz

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives—when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

(1 Peter 3:1-6)

To be beautiful these days, you've got to put in the effort. You've got to not only get the perfect style cut, it's got to look smooth and silky, like something out of a Pantene ad (“It won't happen overnight but it will happen!”). You've got to make sure that your skin is not only blemish-free, it has to be supple, soft and “younger-looking”, all the wrinkles covered up with Olay Total Effects (“Love the skin you're in!”). You've got to not only choose make-up in the latest fashion colours that won't clash with your latest fashion outfit, it's also got to bring out the highlights your eyes, accentuate those marvellous cheekbones and sparkle on your lips like it's made out of diamonds and pearls (“Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline”). You've got to look young, you've got to look naturally gorgeous and, most of all, you've got to make it look effortless.

But it's not just looks, it's personality too. You've got to have a good sense of humour, you've got to be intelligent and fairly in-the-know about current affairs, you've got to have a good career going for you and you've got to be earning your way decently through the world to afford the trappings of a beautiful lifestyle (nice jewellery, nice house, nice cars, nice holidays). If this means a few sacrifices when climbing the corporate ladder, so be it. Women can do anything. Give it a bit of girl power!

It strikes me that, in comparison to our modern perspective on femininity, the Apostle Peter's beauty tips are pretty shocking. Writing to Jew and Gentile Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor in the early 60's AD, Peter was keen to lay down for his readers the example of Jesus as a model of suffering (see particularly 1 Peter 2:21-25). They were, no doubt, enduring persecution for following their Lord, but, for Christ's sake, Peter was encouraging them to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the one who had suffered unjustly on their behalf. So Peter devotes a considerable amount of vellum space to reminding his readers of what happened to them when they became Christians, who they are now as God's people and how they are to live as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (2:9). He even specifically singles out slaves, husbands and wives for special instruction.

Okay, but what does this have to do with beauty tips? What could Peter possibly have to say to us about beauty? Well, it comes in the beginning of chapter 3 where he addresses wives. In the Greek, the word for “wives” is the same as the word for “women”, but even though it's pretty clear from the context that Peter is addressing wives (e.g. verses 1, 5 and 7), a lot of what he says can be applied to unmarried women too. So single girls, please don't tune out!

In verse 1, Peter does the very politically incorrect thing of urging wives to submit to their husbands: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands”. But his command should not be seen in isolation from the rest of the letter for wives are not the only ones who are called to submit; in 2:13 Peter urges his readers to submit themselves to the earthly authorities (they must even submit to the emperor who is persecuting them); in 2:18-20 he tells slaves to submit to their masters, even when they treat them unjustly; and in 2:21-23 he presents Jesus, who submitted to the will of his Father and endured the humiliation of the cross, as the ultimate paradigm of what submission should look like. The meaning is clear; if it's good enough for Jesus, submission is good enough for us—even when we are being treated unjustly as citizens, as slaves and, dare I say it, even as wives.

(That said, if you are a wife who is enduring abuse—physical, mental or otherwise—from your husband, submission to him does not mean staying in the same house with him. I would urge you to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible and seek help. You can still remain faithful to your marriage vows from a safe distance.)

Nor is Peter's command to submit without reason; he says the whole point of it is “so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives”. Judging from other passages like 1 Corinthians 7:10-31, it was common in the churches to find married men and women whose husbands or wives were not Christian. The Corinthians seemed to have questions for Paul about whether or not they should divorce their unbelieving spouses and Paul's answer is a firm “No”; if he or she is willing to say, do not be separated from him or her. But if he or she wishes to leave, let him or her go. No doubt there were many—especially amongst the Christian wives with non-Christian husbands—who longed earnestly for the day when their spouse would accept Jesus as Lord and enter into the inheritance of eternal life. These were women who may have given up much to follow Christ—close friendships, when they forsook pagan temples; social standing, when they stopped practicing certain socio-religious rituals; respect, when they started doing what was deemed socially unacceptable (like associating with Gentiles, the poor or the sick) ... these were women who may have been regarded with scorn by their husbands for putting their faith in such a foolish thing as a crucified malefactor who people claim rose from the dead. Peter was addressing women such as these. And he was saying that submission to their husbands could help change the husband's heart.

To be a Christian woman, you see, is to cultivate “respectful and pure conduct” (verse 2). The adjectives “respectful” and “pure” are not words used to describe the behaviour of today's women—particularly today's young women. We're taught to rebel—we're taught to thumb our noses at authority. “Stick it to the man!”, as they say. Don't let yourself become a doormat. Do what feels good, and if you've got it, flaunt it. Stuff whoever has a problem with it! To be respectful and pure just isn't cool. But, interestingly, to be disrespectful and slutty is a very ugly thing indeed. Have you ever heard a girl mouth off behind the wheel of her little red Mini in the middle of rush hour traffic? Have you ever seen 11-year-olds decked out in halter tops and G-strings with henna tattoos on their ankles? Have you ever witnessed a wife talking back to her husband, or nagging him from here to Timbuktu? All these things aren't pretty; they're downright ugly.

And here is where we find Peter's most important point about beauty—Peter's radical bombshell beauty tip: beauty, you see, is all about submission. Specifically, submission to the Lord Jesus Christ and therefore submission to those who who rightly require it: the government, your boss, your husband, etc. Beauty is, in fact, an attitude of the heart: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing,” he says (verse 3). Why does he say this? Because the world is obsessed with externals: how you do your hair, what jewellery you wear, what clothes you drape across your body. “Celebrate you!” says Michael Hill Jewellers. “Because you're worth it!” says L'Oréal, Paris. What you do to your outside will affect your inside. As this site claims, “Perfect beauty is an elusive concept, but if you can feel good about yourself by enhancing your looks, you may find more joy in your life”.

No, says Peter: “[L]et your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (verse 4). But what is “the hidden person of the heart”? In other parts of the Bible, the heart is the place where the true thoughts and intentions of a person are to be found. (See Proverbs 16:1; Matthew 12:4; Mark 7:21 and Hebrews 4:12.) “Hidden person” (literally “man”) just reinforces the idea that a person's true nature or personality is to be found in the thoughts, desires and intentions of the heart. And there a woman who has given herself in submission to her Lord cultivates “a gentle and quiet spirit”—a spirit which is “imperishable”—which has the same quality as the “seed” from which we were born again (1:23), the inheritance we will one day receive (1:4) and the bodies we will have when we are resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:32). This is eternal beauty that will not spoil, fade, sprout wrinkles, require facelifts or necessitate covering over with foundation. This is eternal beauty “which in God's sight is very precious”—more precious than gold, like our faith (1:7).

What's on the outside does not make you beautiful, says Peter. But just in case we have doubts about whether his formula works, he provides some endorsements from famous women: “[T]his is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands”. What holy women? Well, there was Zipporah, wife of Moses, who saved her husband from being put to death by the Lord in that rather bizarre episode in Exodus 4:18-26; there was Naomi who followed her husband into a foreign land (Ruth 1:1-5); there was Hannah who petitioned the Lord for a son and gave him up into the Lord's service, just as she had promised (1 Samuel 1); there was Abigail who compensated for her husband's foolishness in showing proper hospitality to the Lord's Anointed, King David, who eventually made her one of his wives (1 Samuel 25); and of course there was Mary, the young woman chosen by God to bear his one and only Son (Luke 1:26-56).

But perhaps the most significant holy woman in the Old Testament was Sarah whom Peter puts forward as the prime example of wifely submission: “as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”. At first glance, Sarah seems like a funny example. Wasn't she the one who got her husband to sleep with her handmaiden in order to pre-empt God fulfilling his promise of children? Wasn't she also the one who had that same handmaiden kicked out of the camp—not once but on two separate occasions because the whole sorry plot had backfired? But this was also the same Sarah who, at the age of 65, up and went with her husband far away from her homeland in Ur of the Chaldeans to go to some seemingly godforsaken place where there was no one she knew, there was hardly any water and they had to move around a lot, always living in tents. This was also the same Sarah who agreed to tell strangers in Egypt and Gerar that she was her husband's sister and not his wife in order to protect his life, even though that put her at risk of violating her marriage covenant (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). And I guess this is also the same Sarah who finally learnt to trust in God when, at the age of 90, gave birth to Isaac, that promised son who ended up giving her such delight (Genesis 21:1-7). Sarah's hardly a young and gorgeous supermodel but then Peter has already made it clear that true beauty is not derived from youth.

Sarah may have come late to motherhood but Peter says we can name her as our our mother if we follow her example: “And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (verse 6). I once heard someone said that fear is the opposite of submission. That may be true in a sense, for often we can be the least submissive when we intervene and do it ourselves because we're afraid that he'll stuff it up, or when we jump in and speak up because he doesn't know what he's talking about. Our husbands may stuff things up and they may not really know what they're talking about, but that is not an excuse to usurp the role he has as head of your little family. Seizing the wheel and taking control may seem like what's best pragmatically but that isn't what's “precious” or beautiful in God's sight. Beauty comes within—from the hidden person of the heart—from a gentle and quiet spirit—from a respectful and pure conduct—from a submissive attitude, trusting and unafraid.

What Peter would have thought of our world's obsession with hair, skincare, make-up, jewellery and fashion I don't know. However, I think he would have still passed on the same message to us as he did to the Christian women of his day: what makes you beautiful is not what's on the outside but what's on the inside. Don't obsess about the externals, obsess about your heart and cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit. Looking good won't help you to feel good, but being good and submitting to your heavenly Father and your husband will. It may take more effort than getting your hair, your skin or your make-up right, but in the end it's worth more than all the diamonds in Goldmark.

For 27 years Karen has failed to attain the knowledge of the correct application of lip gloss, however she thinks she's making a bit of headway with the submission thing.


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