How can a wife have the inner beauty of a meek and quiet spirit that 1 Peter 3:3-4 describes? Read or listen to this chapter from Your Marriage God’s Way to find out.
Table of Contents
- What About Jewelry and Makeup?
- Outward Appearance Is a Reflection of the Heart
- Greater Beauty Is Found Inwardly from a Meek and Quiet Spirit
- Jesus Was not Beautiful to the World
What makes a woman beautiful? Is it her physical appearance, such as her hair and face? Is it her mental acuity, such as her intelligence and education? Does it have to do with her emotions, such as her personality, or her spirituality, such as her heart for God? The apostle Peter answers this question for us, stating from a biblical standpoint what it is that makes a woman beautiful to God. That kind of beauty, of course, is the kind that a Christian woman should pursue and a Christian man should value.
As we read in the previous chapter, 1 Peter 3:1-2 makes the point that a wife’s greatest asset for winning over her spiritually immature or unbelieving husband is godly character. Then in the verses that follow, Peter lays out what such a godly woman looks like. He begins with her physical appearance because that is a good indicator of her spiritual health. It wouldn’t be too much to say that what comes forth on the outside is produced from the inside: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
The Greek word translated “adornment” is kosmos, which is related to the English word cosmetic. Kosmos is an umbrella term that encompasses everything related to the physical appearance—clothing, makeup, and jewelry. Note that Peter’s instruction does not forbid outward adornment—his use of the word “merely” indicates a woman’s beauty should not come only from her outward appearance. The NASB and Amplified Bible render the passage this way: “Your adornment must not be merely external.” Scripture is not instructing women to neglect their appearance. All of us, as Christians, do want to give attention to our physical appearance because every one of us—male or female, young or old—is an ambassador of Christ. We should care about what kind of Christian testimony we are presenting to others. Yet Peter says outward beauty should not be a woman’s primary focus.
What About Jewelry and Makeup?
If you have ever been made to feel guilty about any form of external beautification, let me point out that Scripture makes positive references to jewelry and fine clothing. Proverbs 25:12 states, “Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.” Gold jewelry is compared to the way an obedient ear accepts instruction. If outward adornments such as earrings were immoral, Scripture would not compare them to wise behavior. Likewise, the beautiful bride in Song of Solomon is complimented on her jewelry: “Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with chains of gold. We will make you ornaments of gold with studs of silver” (Song of Solomon 1:10- 11). If jewelry were wrong, Solomon’s bride wouldn’t be complimented on hers.
Also consider the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31—she was not complimented on her outward simplicity or plainness. Instead, she was applauded for the way she adorned her family and herself: “All her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple” (Proverbs 31:21-22). In that time, scarlet, fine linen, and purple were costly materials, which indicates this virtuous wife cared about her family’s appearances.
Isaiah 61:10 beautifully compares salvation and righteousness with fine clothing, ornaments, and jewelry:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
God would hardly compare salvation and righteousness with outward adornment if the latter were immoral. An even stronger positive reference comes from God’s proclamation in Ezekiel 16:11-13, where He describes His chosen people, Israel, as a beautifully dressed bride:
I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth.
We can be sure that God would not outwardly adorn His people as a gift if such adornment were ungodly. Having said this, we still need to strike a right balance—it’s fine to look nice, but we don’t want to be overly preoccupied with our appearance. In 1 Timothy 2:9, the apostle Paul gives instructions parallel to those found in 1 Peter 3:3: “Women [should] adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” Again, the emphasis is not on forbidding women from adorning themselves. Rather, they are told to adorn themselves, but in a modest and not an extravagant way. The Bible speaks positively of outward adornment while also commanding moderation and decency. Women must exhibit self-control with regard to their outward beautification. Focusing too much on one’s physical appearance reveals an unhealthy preoccupation, or worse, an obsession. A woman who wears excessive jewelry, makeup, or extravagant clothing can be as distracting as a woman who has made no effort to take care of her appearance.
Outward Appearance Is a Reflection of the Heart
Women should examine what they wear and why they wear it. Is the motivation to attract attention, or to be a good representative of the Lord? When a woman dresses immodestly, whether she is aware of it or not, she makes herself into a walking temptation who shows no regard for her brothers in Christ. A woman might dress immodestly because she is insecure, desperate for attention, or does not respect herself. Regardless of the reason, even though immodesty manifests itself externally, it begins in the heart. The way a woman looks outwardly says a lot about the way she looks inwardly.
The more modestly a married woman dresses, the more attractive she will be to her husband because more is reserved for him alone. Conversely, the more immodestly a wife dresses, the more she makes herself suggestively noticeable to other men, and the less she reserves for her husband.
Greater Beauty Is Found Inwardly from a Meek and Quiet Spirit
In 1 Peter 3, there is a strong relationship between what is said in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 describes the natural human tendency to be overly focused on outward appearance: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel.” Then in verse 4, Peter encourages women to be more focused on the inward: “rather let [your adornment] be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”
Women should give attention to their outward appearance, but they should give even more attention to their inward appearance. God is more concerned with the way a woman’s heart looks than with the way her face, hair, makeup, or clothing look.
Today’s culture tells women to “put it all out there” and to be concerned chiefly with outward beauty at the expense of inner beauty. That is how society measures whether a woman is beautiful. Tragically, this reduces women into superficial creatures with no dimensions of personality or inner worth. Contrast this with the phrase “hidden person,” which inspires women to have an inner or unseen beauty that requires looking and searching to find. To see and appreciate this beauty requires time and energy.
Inner Beauty of a Meek and Quiet Spirit Is Incorruptible
In 1997, 2.1 million cosmetic surgeries were performed in the United States; in 2011, 9.2 million were performed. In a 15-year-period, the number more than quadrupled. One particularly excessive example took place with a celebrity named Heidi Montag. After ten plastic surgeries in one day, she complained about the scars they left behind: “Parts of my body definitely look worse than they did pre-surgery. This is not what I signed up for!…I wish I could jump into a time machine and take it all back. Instead, I’m always going to feel like Edward Scissorhands.”
Even ten plastic surgeries did not give Ms. Montag the beauty she wanted, to say nothing about obtaining beauty that would last the rest of her life. CNN reported:
What recession? Despite record unemployment, rising health care costs and sinking home values, Americans shelled out more than $10 billion on cosmetic surgeries and other procedures in 2010…Almost half of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, but millions are running off to the plastic surgeon…What does it mean that despite the worst recession since the Great Depression, Americans spent more than $10 billion on cosmetic procedures last year?
What this tells us is that plenty of women—and men too—are pursuing a beauty that does not change with time. The problem is that physical beauty is corruptible. True, incorruptible beauty can’t be found outwardly. Inner beauty is the only kind that never fades because it doesn’t come from physical appearance; therefore, it doesn’t diminish with time or age. Proverbs 31:30 expresses it this way: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” In other words, physical beauty fades, but spiritual (found in a woman who fears God) does not.
Popular Christian writer J.R. Miller observes,
Only in Christ can women find that rich beauty of soul, that gemming of the character, which shall make her lovely in her husband’s sight, when the bloom of youth is gone, when the brilliance has faded out of her eyes, and the roses have fled from her cheeks. Only Christ can teach her how to live so as to be blessed, and be a blessing in her married life!J.R. Miller, The Home Beautiful (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1912), 57.
Inner beauty does not require any makeup, jewelry, or accessories to be attained. Conversely, when a woman does not have inner beauty, no amount of makeup, jewelry, or outward adornment can make her beautiful. A woman who lacks inner beauty might look attractive at first, but that will disappear quickly when the inward unattractiveness is revealed. Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion” (ESV). Just as a gold ring cannot make a pig beautiful, physical beauty cannot make an inwardly ugly woman beautiful.
Simply consider any book or movie with a male character who falls in love with a woman. The woman is typically presented as jovial, pleasant, and good-tempered as opposed to angry, unkind, or selfish. Why is that? Even the secular world recognizes inner beauty makes women outwardly attractive, while inward ugliness makes women outwardly unattractive.
Ultimately, there is a ceiling to what any of us can do with our outward appearance. No matter how well we care for ourselves physically and work on how we look, we will still be limited by factors beyond our control, such as our genetic material and aging.
In contrast, as Peter points out when he talks about a woman’s appearance, every woman has the potential to develop inner beauty, which is able to grow over time. Such inner beauty radiates outward with an attractiveness that transcends anything we can do to our external looks.
That brings us to an obvious question: What produces this inner beauty? It comes from the next quality described in 1 Peter 3:4.
A Meek and Quiet Spirit Is the Source of Inner Beauty
The phrase “meek and quiet spirit” can be puzzling to women who have more extroverted or talkative personalities, or who are gifted to lead and teach (such as my wife, Katie). But when Peter uses the term “quiet spirit,” he is not suggesting that women not speak at all. Consider the description of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31:26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” She is applauded for speaking. God created women with varying personalities and gifts, and we can be certain His instructions will not conflict with His own creation. Even women who are extroverted, talkative, and have the gift of teaching can possess a meek and quiet spirit.
If Peter is not discouraging women from speaking, what is he saying? He is discouraging women from speaking a certain way. The Greek word translated “gentle” is prays, which means “mildness of disposition, gentleness of spirit, meekness.” The word appears only two other places in Scripture:
- “Blessed are the meek [prays], for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
- “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly [prays], and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Matthew 21:5).
Looking at the three uses of prays, we see it is used to describe (1) those who will inherit the earth, (2) the Messiah’s own disposition, and (3) a godly woman’s true beauty. The use of this term in 1 Peter 3:4 describes the way a woman should handle herself and respond to situations in life. She is calm and in control. She is not easily wrought or stirred up.
In 1 Peter 3:4, the Greek word translated “quiet” is hesychios, which means “tranquil and peaceful.” The only other place this term appears is 1 Timothy 2:2, where believers are encouraged to “lead a quiet and peaceable [hesychios] life.” Women should not seek the limelight or intentionally draw attention to themselves.
How does a woman develop this type of spirit? Peter provides the answer in verse 5: “In this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves.” A woman develops a meek and quiet spirit by trusting in the Lord. Holy women of the past who demonstrated meek and quiet spirits did so through their relationships with Him. When a woman trusts God, her spirit will be peaceful and at rest. And when she’s not trusting Him, she will be filled with anxiety and worry. In this way we can see that while outward beauty is achieved through physical means, inner beauty is achieved through spiritual means.
God’s View of Inner Beauty
A key reason women should be motivated to pursue inner beauty is that, as 1 Peter 3:4 says, it “is very precious in the sight of God.” The word translated “precious” is polyteles, which means “very costly, excellent, of surpassing value.” The word appears only two other times in Scripture. The first example is in Mark 14:3, which says, “As [Jesus] sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly [polyteles] oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head.” The second example is in 1 Timothy 2:9, which has an important parallel with 1 Peter 3:4:
- “Women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly [polyteles] clothing” (1 Timothy 2:9).
- “Rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is very precious [polyteles] in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).
Polyteles is used in both verses, but in 1 Timothy 2:9 it refers to outward adornment, while in 1 Peter 3:4 it refers to inner beauty. It’s as though God is saying: “Don’t pursue outward, fading, expensive beauty, because it is your inner beauty that is truly precious and valuable in My sight.” This should encourage women to keep these two truths in mind:
- It is possible to be beautiful in man’s eyes and ugly in God’s eyes.
- It is possible to be plain or even unattractive in man’s eyes and very beautiful in God’s eyes.
First Samuel 16:7 confirms, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” To rephrase this verse specifically for women, we could say, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward adornment—arranging the hair, the wearing of gold, or putting on fine apparel—but the Lord looks at the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is very precious in His sight.”
Jesus Was not Beautiful to the World
A wonderful way for us to conclude our look at true beauty is by considering what Scripture says about our Savior’s appearance: “He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). By worldly standards, Jesus was humble in appearance. The Hebrew word translated “comeliness” is hadar, and it means “splendor, majesty, honor, or glory.” Jesus had none! He veiled His beauty when He became a man. While few people would intentionally try to be unattractive, modern society has made physical beauty something to worship. We should keep in mind that Jesus was able to succeed in perfectly pleasing and obeying His Father without it.
Many of the images or portrayals we see of Jesus in art or books or movies don’t represent what a first-century Jewish man looked like and put too much emphasis on physical attractiveness. According to Isaiah 53:2, there was nothing outstanding about Jesus’ outward appearance that would draw people to Him. He wanted people drawn to Him for other reasons, such as His humility, love, compassion, and—most importantly—the sacrifice He would make for them.
When we think of the inner beauty brought about by a meek and quiet spirit, how can we not think of Jesus? Isaiah 53:7 goes on to say, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” When Peter wrote about the same event in Christ’s life, only a few verses before describing a woman’s meek and quiet spirit, he similarly praised Him: “When He was reviled, [He] did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
Christ’s meek and quiet spirit is what compelled Him to go to the cross. He truly depicted the greatest manifestation of inner beauty, one that was “very precious in God’s sight.” His example encourages all believers to imitate Him.