“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:3-4 NASB
Beauty. Vanity. Purpose. I believe many people take the meaning and intent of our focal passage of scripture too far, making it a legalistic rule that brings struggle to the heart it condemns.
This passage is talking heart issues of pride and fleshly vanity. It is talking intent and purpose of action. It does not mean that “adornment” is sin. It warns that the heart attitude and purpose behind adornment makes for either sin or true beauty.
“Your adornment must not be MERELY external…but let it be the hidden person of the HEART….” It’s not saying that dressing nice – fixing the hair, putting on makeup, wearing jewelry – is sin, but doing so as our SOURCE of beauty is sin.
True beauty comes from who we are as dictated and directed by our surrender to and reliance on the Spirit of God. Fixing face and hair, practicing self care, is just a reflection of our nature. Some people have flamboyant personalities and their way of dress reflects it. Some, like me, are more quiet and subdued. We don’t stand out in crowds, and our manner of dress reflects that. Neither is wrong if the heart is right.
But there’s another aspect for dress and appearance that I think more important. For me, looking the best I can physically is medicinal. When I, not feeling well, am unkempt, walking by a mirror depresses me, making me feel worse. It is a challenge enough walking surrendered in the Spirit when I feel bad physically. Add a dose of depression and it is harder still. The depressed are often grouchy and don’t want to be bothered. They find it hard to give a sincere smile, much less to truly care about others.
I can help myself feel better just by washing my face and combing my hair. Add a little eyeliner and mascara to brighten eyes dulled by sickness or tiredness, and it helps even more to lift my mood, rather than depress it.
Self care is an act of love: for self as it uplifts me, and for others encouraged to see me looking my best, smiling more, and better able to love on them.
An example in scripture for me is Jesus’s instruction to those who fast. In Jewish tradition, fasting before God was a somber affair. They sat, weeping and wailing, often covered in sackcloth and ashes. It became a showy act of pride for many who wished to be seen as pious observers of Levitical Law and practices. Jesus countered the practice, instructing His followers to wash their faces and anoint their head so as not to stand out to men, but rather, to catch the Fathers attention with a right heart toward Him (Matthew 6:16-18 NASB).
My understanding of “anoint your head” has two meanings: 1 Fix you hair. Make yourself look the best you can. 2 Get self right with God and under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God, who anoints our spiritual head. (Ephesians 1:13-14 NASB; Luke 4:18-19 NASB; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NASB; 1 John 2:26-29 NASB)
Using products that help soften wrinkles that make me look and feel tired and weary; dressing to look the best I am able: these things give aide to my heart attitude toward myself, and that uplifting helps me more readily focus on the needs of others. That’s not pride, arrogance, and vanity. That is God’s gracious provision that helps me to feel and do my best self for Him. And as I more readily focus on the work of the Spirit in me, desiring my God as my first, most vital need and necessity – to know and live Him above all else, true beauty emerges, pleasing the God I love and serve first and foremost.
A heart FOCUSED on looking my best with belief that there is where true beauty lies is pride and does not push me to seek after God. But, with heart FOCUSED on pleasing God and walking in the power of His Spirit, I am moved to look my best and be my best for His glory. That’s the heart of humbled adornment.