1 Peter 3:1-6 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- 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing- 4 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. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Good morning. Having made our way through the first two chapters of Peter’s first letter, we’re now three sermons into chapter three (all of which have focused on 3:1-6).
In the first of these sermons we considered what Peter meant by the command, “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (3:1). Specifically, we saw that he really meant it; that wives really are meant (not in theory only, but also in practice) to be subject to their own husbands. But we also saw that this charge has nothing to do with the value or worth of either the husband or wife. It is not as if, for Peter, men are naturally superior and, therefore, God requires women to submit to them. Indeed, as the surrounding context makes clear, the subjection of a wife to her husband within the institution of marriage isn’t mainly about the husband or wife at all. Instead (according to 2:21-25), it is about ordering our lives (in every area) in such a way as to point most clearly to the sacrificial suffering of Jesus. Instead of making a value distinction, a wife’s submission to her husband is to simultaneously make people think of Jesus’ willing, sacrificial submission to his crucifiers and to the Church’s willing, joyful submission to Jesus. That’s a tall order, ladies, but it’s one God has graciously empowered you to fulfill.
In the second sermon (last week) we looked more closely at the significance of this command (to be subject to your own husbands) for Christian wives of non-Christian husbands—which is the point of the middle part of 3:1 (“so that even if some do not obey…”). For Christian wives of non-Christian husbands especially, Peter wrote, their subjection is meant to be done as a ministry to their husbands (“…they may be won…”). In particular we saw that Peter calls Christian wives to do so (minister to their husbands in their subjection) not primarily through their words, but through their quiet and gentle actions. What’s more, these quiet and gentle actions most directly relate, according to this passage, to the ways Christian wives choose to adorn themselves.
This morning, we’re going to dive a bit deeper into the first of the two types of adornment Peter addresses: external adornment.
With that, let’s pray that the truthfulness, goodness, beauty, and superiority of God’s Word on this matter (and all matters) would be exceedingly evident this morning. And let’s pray that as a result, this room would be filled with wives eager to put this into practice, husbands eager to make it easy and natural, and a church who will help both when that is not the case.
MINISTRY THROUGH MODESTY
If we hadn’t already covered the heart of this passage, and you didn’t already know the answer, how do you think Peter would end the following sentence: “If you are to honor God in your marriage by ministering to your disobedient husband, the first thing you must get right is…”.
I can easily imagine him saying, “the gospel” (make sure he knows how he might be saved from his sin), or “protecting your children” (make sure your kids don’t suffer on account of his sinfulness), or “your attitude” (make sure that you fight against ungodly anger or bitterness or unforgiveness). All of those would certainly be consistent with the teaching of the rest of the bible.
Again, however, none of those things are what Peter actually wrote. Somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), Peter wrote to Christian wives, “If you are to honor God in your marriage by ministering to your disobedient husband, the first thing you must get right is your external adornment. That’s what he means when he writes,
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- 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. [and here’s the key passage for this morning] 3 Do not let your adorning be external- the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing…
As you can see, Peter’s command is negative: “do not let your adorning be external”. In other words, once again, wives, if you want to see your husbands trust in Jesus and turn from their sins, make sure that your primary focus isn’t on developing an impressive appearance. Peter specifically mentions three external things that Christian wives attempting to win their husbands to Christ are to avoid: 1) Braided hair, 2) Wearing gold, and 3) Putting on clothing.
There is no great explanation needed for the meaning of Peter’s three prohibitions. Braided hair meant then what it means today. Peter told them not to focus on that. Likewise, wearing gold means what you think it means (necklaces, earrings, rings, jewelry). Peter told them not to focus on that either. By putting on of clothing he wasn’t of course commanding them to walk around naked. He was instead telling them not to focus on elaborate dress (1 Timothy 2:9).
On the surface, that might seem like a strange answer. Of all the things he might have said, why this? Why start here. To answer that question, we need to ask another question first: why might the women of his churches have been tempted to do this in the face of their husband’s disobedience? Why would Christian women be drawn to respond to their husband’s disobedience/unbelief by braiding their hair, wearing jewelry, and putting on extravagant clothing? Clearly, enough women in Peter’s day were tempted to do this that he felt the need to address it. But again, why?
I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this, but my guess is that they all somehow connect to a faulty goal. What I mean is this: when Christian wives are forced to endure the hardships caused by their husbands’ disobedience, it is easy to imagine the temptation to accept things like calmness or distraction as victory. The more disobedient your husband is and the greater turmoil it causes, the greater the temptation must be to just want peace or to do something to make yourself feel better. And if your aim is merely to pacify your husband or find a quick distraction, putting your main energy into being as physically attractive as possible might be a good strategy. Most guys can be relatively easily disarmed (at least temporarily) by such tactics and most women gain a sense of relief (at least temporarily) by pampering themselves. But pacifying your husband, and pampering yourself isn’t what either of you really need and, therefore, they aren’t what Peter calls you to.
Instead, as we can clearly see in 3:1, your main aim must be—not temporary calm around the home or surface-level relief, but—to win your husband to Jesus. And that is not done, Peter says, by external adornment. Being pretty and well put together isn’t a bad thing, and it is certainly a good thing in some ways, but it is never sufficient to meet your husband’s greatest need: reconciliation with God. And that, Peter writes, does not come from doing things that those without Christ do naturally.
If that’s not the answer then, what is? If Christian wives are not to focus on external adornment to win their husbands to Christ, what are they to do? Peter’s answer: the opposite. That is, they are to focus on internal adornment. While external adornment is attainable by anyone with a little money and time to spare, internal adornment (at least the kind Peter writes about) comes only through the transforming work of the gospel. As I mentioned last week, Peter offers this as his first instruction to wives because he knows that if your husband is to be won to Christ it will be because he is able to observe the power of the gospel in you. Your husband isn’t going to be amazed by God’s reality and transforming power by watching you give yourself to things that those who do not even claim the name of Jesus so easily give themselves to. And that is why he calls wives instead to focus on the internal adornment that can only come from the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
But what does that look like? Peter gives two answers to that question; one is implicit, the other is explicit.
First, implicitly, if Christian wives are not to attempt to win their husbands to Jesus by focusing on braids, jewelry, or clothing—that is, if they are not to focus on cultivating external, worldly, adornment; immodesty—the implication is that they are instead to focus on cultivating internal, godly adornment; modesty. That’s what we’re going to focus in on this morning: considering a biblical picture of modesty. Second, explicitly, Peter calls the wives of disobedient husbands to focus on the hidden person of the heart, imperishable beauty. That is what we’ll consider next week.
With that, consider with me the following definition and reflections on modesty (first the definition).
The word “modesty” (as I mean it here) is only translated as such one time in the bible (in 1 Timothy 2:9). “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness- with good works.”
Though the word “modesty” only occurs in this passage, the fact that its language so closely parallels our passage for this morning (which doesn’t explicitly use the word “modesty”) ought to tip us off to the idea that the concept is found in far more places than the word. I have in mind passages like:
Deuteronomy 22:5 A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak…
Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
2 Corinthians 5:12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.
2 Corinthians 5:20 we are ambassadors for Christ, God [is] making his appeal through us…
1 Peter 5:5 Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another…
Titus 2:10 …in everything…adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.
1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
I’m not going to walk through every one of these passages this morning, but I do believe that from them (and others like them), a picture of modesty gains clarity. In addition, throughout this week I read a number of other modesty definitions offered by different pastors and theologians. In light of all of this, my best attempt to define the biblical picture of modesty is this: modesty in the bible is a Christian virtue that seeks live in such a way that every facet of our lives is meant to draw attention to God (not ourselves), as a blessing to others, and as a result of the transforming power of the gospel.
Christian modesty, therefore, is internally-originating, all-encompassing, ministry-minded, culturally-sensitive, godward-focused, and gospel-driven.
And from this definition we can conclude a number of things, all of which are offered as a means of explaining this passage and helping Christian wives to win their husbands’ to Christ in their subjection.
Consider the following nine observations on modesty.
- That modesty is a virtue means that modesty experienced always begins internally and objectively. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve encountered as it relates to modesty in the Church is that (sometimes) well-meaning Christians attempt to begin modesty discussion or application with clothing and preference, rather than sanctification and scripture. It is impossible to be god-honoringly and husband-ministeringly modest if our understanding of modesty is nothing more than dressing slightly less seductively than the world around us. That is, it is only possible to be truly modest when our understanding of modesty is informed by God’s word and is an expression of genuine heart-transformation.
- That modesty is culturally-sensitive means that modesty expressed always ends externally and (mainly) subjectively. As is the case with the rest of God’s sanctifying work, modesty begins in the heart, but always works its way out in real, visible ways. Modesty that is not expressed is not modesty. What’s more, modesty expressed always takes into account the surrounding culture. Genuine modesty is always at least partially shaped by culture. In Peter’s day braided hair, evidently, was considered immodest. I’ve not met many who claim that it remains so today. That said, this point must be closely followed by the next two.
- That modesty seeks to bless others means that our personal desires and preferences are not at the center of things. When the bible addresses the issue of modesty, the focus is never on the “individual’s rights” or the priority of “individual expression”. It is always on a gospel-driven desire to bless others and point to Jesus. It’s easy to see this in our passage for this morning. The aim of modesty in 1 Peter 3 is ministry to unbelieving husbands. Practically, Grace, this means that in every way we present ourselves to one another and the watching world, we must ask, am I making it easier for others to believe the gospel.
- (The second point that must follow closely behind the culturally-sensitive nature of modesty is the fact that) where modesty ends, other Christian virtues (like sexual purity) usually begin. Modesty is not primarily a sexual thing, but that does not mean that the bible has nothing to say about sexual expression. Modesty isn’t the only Christian virtue we must take into account when considering how to present ourselves.
- That modesty includes every facet of our lives means that we are always being either modest or immodest. The way we present ourselves is always drawing people’s attention to something. When people spend time with us, or even just catch a glimpse of us or hear a word from us, we are pointing them to something.
- According to the above definition, modesty is not primarily a female thing. Men and women alike are called to be modest and avoid immodesty. Modesty in the bible is a charge for every follower of Jesus. And yet, we would be unwise to miss the fact that the vast majority (maybe all) of the direct biblical addresses are to women (like our passage for this morning and Paul’s in 1 Tim. 2). Women, I don’t claim to know exactly why that is, but I do think it ought to make you especially vigilant in guarding yourselves against immodesty and pressing in to modesty.
- Modesty is not primarily a clothing thing. It includes speech, behavior, clothing, and everything else that gets projected from us to the watching world. Modesty, beginning in the heart, is mainly seen in the ways we present ourselves to the watching world…all of them. We can be either modest or immodest in the way we talk about our successes and failures, the things we wear (or don’t wear), the way we carry ourselves around others, etc. It is never less than our clothing, but it is always more.
- That modesty is gospel-driven means that the power and goal of this kind of modesty is the gospel. In an attempt to pursue genuine, sanctified modesty (for ourselves and others), we are always in danger of falling off the gospel path into man-made, religious rule pits on one side (nothing goes), and worldly, antinomian pits on the other (everything goes). Or, as Peter puts it, the gospel frees us, but we must not use our freedom for evil 2:16). Being modest doesn’t make you a Christian, but being a Christian will make you modest. Any actions that are not produced by the transforming power of the gospel cannot be modest. Likewise, actions that do not have as their goal the gospel displayed cannot be truly modest. The gospel is the power and goal of all true modesty.
- And finally, that modesty is ultimately meant to draw attention to God means that a modest life once again causes us to live outside of ourselves. It means that we are never only or mainly representing ourselves. As I said earlier, we are always pointing people to something. That something must be God. As people meet us and interact with us, if we are truly modest, they will leave thinking more of God than us.
Remember, modesty is something that all Christians are meant to pursue. It is, as I said in the beginning, a Christian virtue to be cultivated if we are to accurately represent Christ to the church and the world. Ultimately we are to pursue it as an expression of our gospel-produced likeness to Christ, for the glory of God and the good of everyone around us.
Finally, the point of our passage for this morning is that God uses modesty as a tool for accomplishing his specific purposes through specific groups of Christians. As Peter says in our passage for this morning, one such group is Christian wives of non-Christian husbands. That is, in 1 Peter 3:1-6 Peter particularly charges Christian wives of non-Christian husbands to pursue modesty for the particular purpose of winning their husbands to Christ. He does so because modesty, in this sense, can only come from the transforming power of God in you, and that is a powerful tool for demonstrating the reality and goodness of God.
And so, Christian, be modest in the power of the gospel, for the sake of the gospel. And Christian wives, be subject to your own husbands, in order that through your respectful and pure conduct—specifically, through your modest conduct—he might see the power of the gospel in you and be won to Jesus. Amen.