Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 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 own 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 3:3-6)
I’ve often heard people tagging this passage under the category of godly women submitting to men. In light of such an overgeneralized description, the traits of this kind of woman seem tied to the act of submissiveness alone, bringing out docility and passivity as key feminine traits.
But this oversimplified interpretation can’t be further from the very point of the passage! You see, when Peter brings submission into his argument, he is using it as a fruit of something bigger and deeper. Read in the context of the entire letter, we are learning that submission is not about us, but about God. Submission should exude from every new believer’s heart because of the new living hope indwelling their heart. Peter means to emphasize a new woman within, (as John Piper calls Peter’s description), transformed by the new birth in Jesus Christ, her Savior. Peter masterfully begins contouring the source of strength for this new woman which lies not in her strong submission to her husband, but in her hope in God. The crown of holiness for every woman—married or single, mother or childless, young or old—lies in her faith in God, not in the twists of her hair, the blush of her skin, or modern arts of submission.
So, how does Peter contour this new Christian woman? How is Christlike womanhood defined based on the biblical text? Here are four traits that jumped out at me as I was studying the text.
Hope in God
The deepest, strongest trait of any godly woman is her faith in God. Over the decades of the Old Testament stories, holy women lived by hoping in God first and foremost. So, how exactly did women of old hope in God?
Hebrews 11 commends Sarah for her faith in God who gives her Isaac as a child despite her old age. “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise” (v. 11). Sarah’s faith was never based on her merits but on God’s covenantal promises. And this was good news for Sarah for we all know she was far from being perfect. In fact, when I first read Peter’s lines on Sarah as submissive, I literally laughed out loud! I mean, Peter, don’t you know that Sarah, for instance, took things in her own hands and sent her maidservant to sleep with her husband, thinking she can “fix” what looked to her like God’s “failing” plan to bless her with heirs?!? Sarah acted pretty foolishly in Genesis 16, didn’t she? But come Genesis 17, God appears to Abraham and reaffirms his covenant. God explicitly speaks of Sarah, also, in this covenant. “I will bless [Sarah], and she shall become [the mother of] nations; kings of people shall come from her.” Combining this promise with the text in Hebrews, notice how Sarah’s faith was God’s own blessing on her from the very beginning.
In bringing Sarah in the discussion, Peter highlights an Old Testament covenantal promise that pours onto every contemporary Christian woman. As “daughters of Sarah”, we come to God not based on our own merits but rather based on Christ’s. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is God’s merciful appearance to Sarah, and grace to each woman of God that draws us into hoping in God. We hope in God as we respond to the message of the gospel and live for Jesus.
Are your faults and shameful acts keeping you from living out fully Christ’s living hope in you? Do you still live as if you can earn God’s favor based on your efforts? Would you pray that God would free you from reliance on your own works and bind you into His alone?
Women who hope in God turn fearless in their living. Fueled from within by the Holy Spirit and clothed in the strength and dignity of Christ, such godly women rise up daily from the fountain of God’s Word. Turning fearless in our century looks more like “laughing at the future” because the wise woman dwells in hope daily (Proverbs 31:25). And by “dwell” I mean she builds her home on the hope that is Christ in her—and inhabits that hope day in and day out! She can laugh at the future not because she misunderstands the dangers or underestimates the trials, but rather because she knows that her tough circumstances can’t ever shrink the courageous grace the Lord birthed within her through Christ. She knows to take her heart and mind to the foot of the bloody cross for the sweet Savior to renew and transform. Hope wisely stored in God can’t help but make a woman fearless. Fearless in today, in yesterday, in tomorrow.
What fears paralyze you? What fears do you have that the cross can’t affect? Would you commit to asking God daily to make you fearlessly hopeful in the gospel as you face your struggles?
Gentle and Quiet
Women who hope in God turn fearless, but they also turn to seeking to adorn themselves with gentleness and quietness as their most priceless inner treasures. Pursuing a new “heart-drobe” so to speak, is the most attractive beauty of this new woman within! When we dwell in hope, we can’t help but desire godly roofs, windows, and doors. Imagine building a home and hanging an earring for a window, or a dress for a door, and slapping some eyeshadows for the roof. Therefore, if anyone dwells in Christ, he has become a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
I don’t think Peter is on a personal vendetta against Jared, Clinique, or Gap-kind of stores when he urges women to not beautify themselves with jewelry, make-up, or clothing. But I do believe that in the sight of a holy God, a heart that doesn’t fret constantly, isn’t belligerent or flashy is more precious than a golden necklace, the perfect lipstick, or the comfiest cotton outfit!
What inner traits should you be pursuing more in the days to come? How has your focus on outer beauty helped you/deterred you from pursuing inner, godly beauty?
And lastly, placed in the hands and heart of such a mighty woman of God, submission can’t look any more attractive and beautiful! The gospel DNA of submission runs, not theologically skin-deep, but in the Spirit-filled affections of a new woman within. Submission fueled by Christological hope, unshakeable fearlessness, and extravagant gentleness and silence of heart—is what makes the gospel not only attractive to a watching world, but also relevant to an antagonistic, feminist world.
Where in your submission (to your husband, to authority) do you see areas for you to grow in the Lord? How are you using submission as a gospel tool to show to this world the beautify of God’s relevant Word?
Placed in the context of the entire 1 Peter letter, we learn that gospel submission is God’s plan not only for women but for the church at large. Even before women are called to submit to their husbands, Christians are called to submit to every human institution. Living in submission exposes God’s sovereign design for his people, a design that God exemplified through his son’s perfect submission. You see, right before Peter addresses the character of the new woman in Christ and her submission to her husband, Peter exposes the example of Jesus who submitted himself to God to be crucified for the forgiveness of our sins:
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Our submission as Christian women is tethered to Christ’s. Jesus’s submission to his Father was the fruit of his perfect hope in God, the ultimate act of courageous living, and the enfleshing of his holy character of meekness and gentleness in the face of sin and death. When God offered Christ as an example for us, he also gifted us his Spirit to redeem our submission and make it more about God’s character and grace, and less about our performance and merits. The new submission is about divine eternal attributes in our hearts, a satisfaction in him, more preciously beautiful than any highlights in our hair, gold in our ears, or dresses on our bodies.