Sunday, October 23, 2011

Walkin' the Walk of "Whoa"

No Olympic gold medalist got there on that stand holding up their medal in a year.  No professional athlete got where they are without failing or without practice.  It took hard work, dedication, sweat and tears and a deep passion for what they're doing.

Let's be real here.  Most Christians don't have a shadow of that same dedication when it comes to walking the walk with Jesus.  It's far too easy to be lazy, do one thing and think another or just not care.  That's the daily battle every person has with sin.  Some people don't particularly care whether what they do is right or wrong, and then you have those who try to do the right thing and fail and wonder why on earth they can't change their behavior.

An athlete first has to make the decision that he/she is going to accomplish a particular goal before they're going to make an effort to do it.  They realize they may not be the best, but they're going to do the best they can.  As disciples we're called to have an even higher dedication to following Jesus.  We recognize the fact that we're not perfect and that we're going to fail, but we are called to make every effort (Luke 13:24).  We have a savior who lived perfectly even though he went through the same temptations we face - he understands our struggles, and he makes it possible for us to try again without the guilt of condemnation for having fallen short the first time (Hebrews 4:15-16).  Not only that, but we have the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to succeed even through affliction (Romans 5:3-5).  He got Jesus through forty days of temptation (Luke 4:1-2).  He'll help you.

Our actions stem from our hearts.  The heart's desires form thoughts, thoughts breed words, words plant seeds that eventually grow actions that either do, or do not, produce good fruit (Job 33:3; Psalm 5:9).  It is possible to speak and behave in a manner that appears righteous and not have a righteous heart (Psalm 55:21).  Just as it's possible for an athlete to talk big about what he's capable of, but inside hold bitter resentment toward those who push him to do it.  Those disciples are few and far between because, in my experience, other disciples are Johnny on the spot when it comes to holding others accountable.

If we want people to take our word more seriously, if we want them to see us for who we are and what we believe and not the hypocrite they've got in their mind, what we have to do is not physically abstain from sin, but first capture our thoughts and force them to fall in line with Scripture (2 Corinthians 10:5).  You have a choice about how much free reign thoughts have in your mind.  How often do you entertain thoughts of impurity?  Things like inflicting self-harm, hurting others (verbally, emotionally, physically, etc.), anger and hatred, insecurities, doubts and fears?  It may seem that this is just how you are and how your mind works and that nothing can be done about it.  I'll tell you right now, that's a lie (Romans 8:5-6).  By setting our minds on things of the Spirit in all aspects of life, and not just on Sunday's or when it's convenient, our actions will begin to change (Colossians 3:2).  We see a shift in our mindset and, eventually, our behavior that wouldn't have been possible on will alone.

The Greek word for Mind(set) is "phroneo," which means, "to exercise the mind; by implication to be mentally disposed more or less earnestly in a certain direction; interesting oneself in (with concern or obedience); set one's affection on (do it from your heart)."  In other words, to have a mind set on something in biblical terms, is to be wholly dedicated to it from the heart, having a certain level of concern over the matter, and to be earnestly focused on it.  When you want to change, you have to first make up your mind to change, and in order to change your sinful mindset, you have to have something to strive for (Mark 12:30).  By first dedicating yourself to loving God with all you've got, you'll change your priorities in every other aspect of life, because that one goal is the most important and all things in life point to whether or not you're fulfilling that commandment.

It isn't easy (Mark 14:38).  But by changing our minds, by capturing our thoughts and doing what we can to make them obedient to Christ, we please our Father (Proverbs 15:26).  By turning our thoughts from our old ways and being entirely focused on the new, that is on Christ Jesus, our minds are renewed and we're able to put on an entirely new self that pleases him (Ephesians 4:22-23).

It's daunting, no doubt about it.  It's the kind of change, the kind of walk, that makes people have a single-word vocabulary for describing one's character who walks the walk - "Whoa."  But one thing I've found helps me when things get difficult, is when I remember the promise God's given me through his son, the grace that He gives and how I cannot lose that salvation as long as I am making every effort to love and follow him (1 Peter 1:13-16).  It's not about being perfect, but about making an effort and starting with your thoughts.  Getting directly to the root of where all deeds are formed - our thoughts (Matthew 15:18).

We're in a battle.  Even if you don't read your Bible, with all the sin and corruption in the world that's not exactly news.  The good news is that we can be on the winning team, and we do this by first aligning our thoughts, our hearts, with Jesus, by purifying them.  It'll be a fight, but it'll be well worth the effort (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Be aware of the fact that Satan will try to discourage and sledgehammer your desires to follow God with your thoughts as well as your words and deeds.  That kind of dedication is a threat to him, so we must be on guard, but do not be afraid of asking God for help!  If you're willing to do the work to live a life more like Jesus, why wouldn't he help?  (Philippians 4:6-7).

Finally, practice.  That's the only way we learn to do anything.  No one is an Olympic gold medalist after a few weeks of practicing their skill.  It takes years upon years of training and effort and guidance from other experienced people and failures in order to grow into the professional they are.  Aligning your thoughts with the will of God also takes practice (Philippians 4:9).  But it can be done, and just as the crowd at the Olympics says, "Whoa" when someone nails four spins and a flip on a half pipe, so will having pure thoughts lead to an entirely new level of integrity and credibility as a disciple of Jesus will inspire others.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lie: What you wear determines your beauty.

What we wear says a lot about us.  I was never more aware of this than yesterday morning while my clock warned me I was going to be late as I flipped through my closet having quite the time trying to figure out what to put on.  It was my first day as an usher at my church.  We’re a family, we don’t care what you show up in to church because you’re among family and you’re simply there, which is the point: to show up and hear the Word of God and fellowship.  However, because I was ushering, I was now the face - for lack of a better term - of the church.  I was the greeter, the passer of the contribution basket, the hander over-er of the communion, the one people came to when they weren’t sure where to go.  All of this meant I had to wear something that made me just as approachable to the married man in his forties to the old woman in her sixties to the children and teens.  It was daunting, really.
Frustrated by the whole ordeal, I decided to put the search on hold and padded through a quite house in my PJs to the coffee pot with my Bible.  I plopped into an oversized red chair, turned on the lamp, sipped my coffee - little cream, little sugar, tried to push aside blouse or sweater and began to read through the book of Galatians.  Not five minutes into my read I was struck between the eyes by 3:27.  “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (NIV; emphasis mine)
Here’s the thing, what we wear makes a difference.  Noah, the only one who found favor in God’s eyes to have been able to build an arc and keep humanity going, was found naked after he’d gotten drunk and passed out once they hit land after 40 days on the water (Genesis 9:21-25).  Isaac’s wife Rebekah deceived her husband by having their son Jacob put on his brother’s clothes (Genesis 38:13-15).  Tamar dressed like a prostitute to deceive her father in-law (Genesis 38:15) and John the Baptists clothing made it very clear about the kind of man he was (Matthew 3:4).
What do you think about when you put on your clothes each day?
I make an effort to dress in a way that would make those I’m around comfortable.  Every time I put something on I’m sending a message.  I have my standards, certainly, but for the most part the only message I make an effort to send is, “approachable.”  If I’m not approachable in what I wear, how can I possibly spread the gospel to people who want to hear it?  It may seem a little extreme, but I do it to make sure what I wear doesn’t make others feel out of place while being sure not to compromise what I believe says “Sam.”  I wish to be approachable, but once people have heard the gospel my hope is for them to look at me and see that my attire backs up what I’ve said.
I will admit, there have been times I dressed myself with completely impure intentions, both before I was a disciple and after.  I’m going out for a couple of drinks with the girls so do I pick that form fitting tank top and forego the jacket, or keep the jacket on the whole evening?  I’m going to work to teach middle school kids how to read and afterward I’m meeting a handful of people from my church for a Bible study.  Do I wear the tennis shoes and t-shirt I know will be more appropriate for my job as a teacher, or do I wear the heels and blouse because I’m gathering with men and women afterward and we might go grab food later?  Others may not be able to tell the difference exactly, but I do and so does God.
When I’m going on a date, what do I want my appearance to say to my date?  I want to be attractive and inviting certainly, but at what point do those things become inappropriate?  The question that always comes to mind when picking out my wardrobe is simply, what’s my motive?  Where’s my heart at? 
1 Timothy 2:9-10 makes a point to remind women that we aren’t to dress in the kind of attire that glitters and glints, but rather to be respectable and modest.  That’s not to say we should never dress up.  It’s merely asking, what are your intentions?  First focus on the matters of your heart, be respectable and modest, before you dress up the exterior.
  • Modestly (kosmois): orderly, i.e. decorous: of good behavior, modest - quiet and humble in appearance, style, etc.; not pretentious.  
  • Decency (aidos): A sense of shame or decency/modesty.  Shame - a painful feeling of having lost the respect of others (Jeremiah 8:12)
      • Aidos would always restrain a good man from an unworthy act.
What you wear is never just about you.  What I wear is never just about me.  When we dress modestly it shows respect for others (Philippians 2:3; Romans 15:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:21; Romans 12:10; 2 Corinthians 6:3-6).  We’re to dress with discretion, which means we’re to dress with propriety (Proverbs 2:11; 11:22).  Many have the misconception that propriety is conforming to what is proper, which isn’t the case here.  It has more to do with what you allow yourself to think about - having a constant rein on your desires and passions to be conformed to the mind of Christ.  The word for “propriety” is sophrosyne, which means sound judgment.  It’s a habitual inner self-government - and we all know how bull-headed the government can be.  The root word is sophrono, which is to be sober minded or safe or sound in mind; moderate as to opinion or passion; discreet and temperate.  Are you dressing with a sober mind each morning, aware of how your attire is affecting others?
I read Galatians 3:27 again and stared at the word “clothed.”  Isn’t it interesting that Paul would use such a word to describe how we’re to be conformed to Jesus?  We’re to clothe ourselves with him.  Does this mean we wear Jesus Freak t-shirts every day?  Do we sport the fish keychain?  Perhaps wear a “Jesus Saves!” beanie and tell others to do the same?  Hardly.  Another version of Galatians 3:27 says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (ESV; emphasis mine).  This does not mean we offer him a piggyback.  Some are simply far too inclined to take scripture literally.  
When we clothe ourselves, we’re covering.  When we put something on, we’re covering.  When we clothe ourselves with Christ, or put on Christ, we’re not just covering ourselves, we’re covering our sin with the character of Jesus.  What’s even better, is Christ doesn’t just cover our sin like we cover a stain on the carpet with a rug; he wipes it clean (Colossians 1:22) and makes us pure.  Think of Oxy Clean for our souls.  Christ’s death on the cross wipes out our sin.  When we clothe ourselves with Jesus we’re carrying him around wherever we go, and wherever we go we’re wearing his completely pure character.  I think about my trip to Tully’s this afternoon and about the woman I cut off trying to get into a turn lane and think, well that didn’t exactly carry the character of Christ...  and not every moment of the day will leave us blameless.  The point is that we clothe ourselves with Christ, we put on his character, and try.  We make our best effort.  With the power of the Holy Spirit we’re able to succeed.
So how do we tell if we’re clothing ourselves with Christ or not?  When I check to see if my clothes match or if I have the appearance I want before I leave the house, I look in the mirror.  However, clothing ourselves with Christ as a process that takes place in the heart and cannot be physically seen, so we use the Bible as a mirror for our souls (James 1:22-25).  When we make strides to live according to the Word of God, we’re putting on the character of Christ.  It’s daunting, because we will never measure up and be equal with him and live as he did (Psalm 53:3).  However, we can ask him for help (Psalm 51:10) and he’ll never stop guiding us toward living a pure life clothed with Christ to better spread the gospel to the world with our actions and not just our words (Psalm 48:13-14).
I went back to my room, pumpkin coffee mug in hand and stared at the closet lined with sweaters and jeans and shirts and jackets on hangars.  I sipped, savoring the bitter taste, and thought of how I could clothe myself with Christ and with the kind of modesty and dignity that would depict a woman of God (Proverbs 31:25) as I served as a doorkeeper for his house (Psalm 84:10).  I can tell you my sweater and jeans had little influence on the way I conducted myself yesterday morning as an usher.  
I wasn’t concerned about my appearance for men, didn’t compare myself to how other women looked, wasn’t worried about whether I was too casual or too business or if I should’ve gone with flats instead of heels.  Having clothed myself with Christ, I felt a refreshingly pure love for each person who walked through those doors, and my focus was on expressing that love with each greeting, gesture and embrace so that I had no concern for anything else.  The joy that followed was far more daunting than the earlier struggle over what to wear.  I felt beautiful, and according to the Word, I knew I was and it wasn’t because of my clothes, but because I clothed myself with Christ.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Beauty in Surround Sound

The other day I went for a run and, like most people, I enjoy the luxury of having my iPod with me on my 30 minute expedition.  Depending on my mood I might listen to film scores, perhaps a little Guns n'Roses, Christopher Jak or maybe Lecrae.  On this particular rainy autumn morning I decided it was a day for worship music.  The good stuff like Better Is One Day, Open the Eyes of My Heart, Here I am to Worship, and Blessed Be Your Name.  When I pressed the "play" button however, the music was coming through my headphones as though it were being played down a long tunnel and I was hearing it at the wrong end.  I turned up the volume, tried a new song, went back to the first, shook the iPod thinking it'd jiggle into place like a record player, and finally bumped the headphone jack.  The thing had come loose!  I plugged it securely in place and, of course, forgot to turn the volume back down and was therefore blasted with the loudest rendition of Mighty to Save I'd ever heard.

Being the Sam I am, I laughed at myself and my uncanny talent of being an airhead at 6am.  And being the Sam I am, one goof-up quickly led to a deep thought.  This one took me to my previous blog where I discussed 1 Peter 3:3-4.  While there were some expansion on the scripture, it's focus was how an imperishable beauty is defined as "a gentle and quiet spirit," which is exactly as the scripture says.  However, much like my iPod experience, I realized that I could've been giving a much clearer message.  I'd given you sound without lyrics, a tune without a melody, and the Bible has so much more to say about what beauty is.

The best way I can describe what beauty is, in surround sound, is through the example of Eve.

The significance of Eve is often, in my humble opinion, unfortunately overlooked.  In the six days of Creation she is God's final piece to the puzzle.  The cherry on the sundae.  She wasn't an afterthought, or someone God tossed in as though forgotten until that moment.  Eve was critical to God's plan for His creation (Gen. 2:18).  Despite every other creation God had made for Adam to rule over, there wasn't one fit to be a helper to Adam (Gen. 2:20-21) so God made Adam, Eve. 

When God created Eve, he called her an ezer kenegdo.  Hebrew scholar Robert Alter says the phrase, "It is not good for man to be alone, I shall make him [an ezer kenegdo]" is notoriously difficult to translate.  The various attempts in English are "helper" or "companion" or "help meet."  A dog can be a companion.  Helper reminds me of a designated helper in a kindergarten class.  The closest translation of the phrase is, "sustainer beside him."

In every other instance that the word ezer is used, the person being described is God himself when you desperately need him to come through for you (Deuteronomy 33:26, 29; Psalm 20:1-2; 33:20; 115:9-11; 121:1-2).  Most contexts are life and death and God is your only hope - your ezer.  Kenegdo means alongside, or counterpart.  God calls us to a life involving frequent risks and a lot of dangers where you need an ezer.  Jon Eldereidge put it this way in the book "Captivating":

"That longing in the heart of a woman to share life together as a great adventure - that comes straight from the heart of God, who also longs for this.  He does not want to be an option in our lives.  He does not want to be an appendage, a tagalong.  Neither does any woman.  God is essential.  he wants us to need him - desperately.  Eve is essential.  She has an irreplaceable role to play.  And so you'll see that women are endowed with fierce devotion, an ability to suffer great hardships, a vision to make the world a better place."

Each day of creation God created something new, and each day the creation glorified Him all the more.  Eve, as God's finale, is the crown of creation.  That's not to be some egotistical remark telling all the men out there to start treating us like the queens we are, but it's a perspective to consider when evaluating the value of woman created in God's image.

God is referred to as a "he" in the Bible, in discussion, in books, and yet at the same time He is in fact spirit (John 4:24) and everything He created says something about who God is.  In God's infinite wisdom, He created Eve and she bears the image of God in a way only woman can. 

Woman define themselves in terms of relationships and the quality of those relationships.  Only little girls rank their friends in regards to who is the "best best friend" and "best friend" and "bestest best friend" and "friend."  Boys couldn't care less as long as they have friends to practice "killing" at recess.  When I gather with a group of friends at a party, the men usually gather in the kitchen over the chips and dip and talk about the recent trick one guy can pull off on his Flybar, or the football stats of this years NFL teams.  Meanwhile, we women in the living room are curled up on couches talking about struggles with coworkers and coffee dates we enjoyed.  Women's desire for relationships reflect God's desire for intimate relationships (John 17:3).

You'll never meet a man as compassionate as a woman.  God created women to be compassionate, caring individuals to demonstrate HIS care for us (Isaiah 49:14-15; Jeremiah 24:7; Matthew 23:27).  As woman demonstrates her longing, God longs FOR us and to be loved BY us (Jeremiah 29:13).  Just as a woman yearns to be sought after, so does God (Mark 12:29-30; Matthew 22:36-38).  Looking at the example of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42, God yearns to be desired.  He was pleased with Mary because she desired to spend time with him, at his feet, while Martha bustled around trying to serve Him, all the while missing precious time with Jesus.  God wants to share a life of beauty, intimacy and adventure with us (Jeremiah 31:2-3).

God gave Eve essential qualities for relationship - that only women have - that speak also of God; inviting, vulnerable, tender, merciful, fierce and fiercely devoted.  Ever heard of the phrase, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?"  Imagine God's fury when we betray His love for us (Exodus 20:5).

Beauty isn't just a part of God, beauty isn't an addition to all that God is.  Beauty is the essence of God.  It only takes a look out your window to see it.  Nature isn't primarily functional - it's primarily beautiful (Isaiah 6:3).  Just as God is beautiful, women long to be and believe that they, too, are beautiful (Revelation 4:3,6).  All those jewels and beautiful clothes!  Women long to dress up in such things and be beautiful.  One of the most captivating moments in any film is when a woman who spends her days roping horses or fixing cars or putting out fires, cleans up, puts on a dress, jewelry and makeup.  The music crescendo's, the man's eyes pop out of his head, all the women in the theater grin and holler, "you go girl!"  Regardless of a woman's occupation or what others think of her, every woman's heart longs to be called beautiful.

What's most wonderful about this, is God uses Eve as a means to best portray his beauty.  She is not only beautiful in character, but in form.  How many pieces of art in a gallery do you ever see portraying a naked man resting on a couch?  There isn't any taken seriously because man isn't best portrayed in that way.  You see plenty of sculptures of men holding spears, paintings of men on horses riding into battle, displays of hardworking strength and the inner warrior God created men to be.  It's woman at rest, simply being, that her beauty is best portrayed.

Beauty speaks.  It says, "All shall be well."  St. Augustine once said, "I said to all these things, 'Tell me my God who you are not, tell me something about him.' And with a great voice they cried out: 'He made us' (Psalm 99:3).  My question was the attention I gave to them, and their response was their beauty."  In a dark and cruel world where sin overwhelms us to the point of death, beauty tell us things will be okay.

Beauty invites.  When you hear a lovely song, you keep the station tuned.  When you see a glorious sunset, you take the time to watch it a little longer.  It invites us to stay.  Just as a beautiful woman invites someone to be near.

Beauty nourishes.  Ever wonder why seeing a woman nursing her infant is such a beautiful sight?  There's something about a woman, formed perfectly by God to be able to give life and nourish it simply by being the woman God created her to be.

Beauty comforts.  I understood this best when I spent a week in Montana helping a friend who's mother had recently died.  We were sorting through her mother's things and my friend's stepfather would check on us and see if we needed anything.  For the most part I stayed holed up in an office, trying not to get in the way of his grief and organizing finances and paperwork he didn't understand while cleaning out those things he didn't know what to do about.  At one point he picked up a photo album that had recent pictures of the two of them together and he began flipping through it.  I didn't want to intrude on his memories, I'd never met his wife and didn't meet him until I came to help after the funeral.  When I stood to leave him with his thoughts, he asked me to stay.  "I could use the company of a beautiful woman," he said.  I wasn't certain how to take that from a man in his 70s, but I sat, and we sat in silence.  I was covered in dust, wearing sweatpants, running on three hours of sleep and still hadn't brushed my teeth - I was far from beautiful.  But this man saw my character as beautiful and my being there in his grief was a comfort to him.

Beauty inspires.  Consider the life of Mother Teresa.  Never has there been a woman who lived such a beautiful life, and she's still looked up to as an example, an inspiration for our own lives.  In the great romantic comedy "As Good As It Gets" Jack Nicholson's character tells Helen Hunt, "You make me want to be a better man."

Beauty is transcendent.  It's our most immediate experience of the eternal.  Consider a particularly stunning sunset.  Not ten days ago I witnessed one that had at least five cars pulled over so the driver could take a picture.  It's a reminder of the Eden we've never known and that there's a glory calling to you in particular, which means there has to be a source of that glory.

What makes woman, or Eve in particular, more beautiful than any creation, is that she's incarnate; she's personal.  Her eyes, form, voice, heart, spirit and life are all more beautiful than any creation God has ever placed on this earth.  One of the way a woman bears the image of God most deeply, is her mystery.  We long to be sought after (Jeremiah 29:13).  It's crucial to any woman's soul.  We long to maintain an attitude of, "You cannot simply have me.  You must seek me, pursue me.  I won't let you in unless I know you love me."  All too often we compromise that attitude for someone we think will be good enough because we want so desperately to be sought after, long after we've been known.

The Trinity is a mystery to be enjoyed, known with ever-deepening pleasure and awe.  It's not a problem to be solved.  Just as a woman is one of the most complicated, frustrating, ever-changing mysteries that can never be solved, she longs to be explored, enjoyed, and known with ever-deepening pleasure and awe.  Every woman has a beauty to unveil and just when you think you've unveiled it, there's still more to explore.

Every woman.  Because she bears the image of God.  That means you, my beautiful lady friend, don't have to conjure it out of thin air, get it from the salon, the plastic surgeon, the magazines at the grocery store or the tubes of goop on the shelves in the make-up aisle.  Beauty is an essence given to every woman, given to you in particular, at her creation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What does "beautiful" mean, really?

As I write this I’m sitting in a Starbucks with my laptop taking up one half of my tiny table and a stack of books taking up the other half.  Rain taps the glass and I’m listening to Christmas music – yes, I’m aware it’s October – and not five feet away is a table of three young teenage girls chatting over hot cocoa and cups of water, giggling about boys or school while they chew on straws and tear up napkins.  I can’t help but smile.

It got me thinking about the lunch I had with one of my closest friends.  We have one of those friendships that came as easily as summer eases into autumn.  Like the changing of seasons, it’s been a joy to get to know the many lovely sides of her.  When I mention specifics about her that I find particularly beautiful, she gives me the same response I tend to give others: a non-committal humph, the doubtful arch of the eyebrows and a grin and giggle to brush both comment and its reaction away.

Why on earth is it so difficult for us women to believe we’re beautiful?  We spend so much money on marketing things like makeup, fashion, exercise machines and diet programs.  Women are practically screaming for someone to tell us we’re beautiful!  From the prostitute on the street corner to the single mom who hasn’t gotten out of her sweats in three days because she’s too busy learning how to be a mom to a newborn, each of us is waiting and reaching out… but for what?  Approval?  From who?  Most women don’t even know so they’ll take anyone who looks appreciatively in their way.

As women frantically try to figure out how they can meet the criteria of being “beautiful” we find ourselves realizing we don’t have a clue who makes the criteria so we go with what we think will work.  The question inevitably arises, how much of a woman’s beauty is determined by her physical appearance and how much is her heart, confidence, attitude and actions?  Depending on who you ask, the answer varies.

The apostle Peter tells us what God says about women and beauty in 1 Peter 3:3-4.  “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.” 

Many women take this scripture a little too far and simply neglect their outer appearance, which isn’t what the scripture means at all.  The braiding of hair and wearing jewelry was common for women in upper class Roman society during the first century and (gasp!) still is today!  Peter is merely making the point that while taking care of ourselves and dressing up is just fine, our emphasis should be the state of our heart.  (V. 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.”

The original Greek word for “gentle” is epiekes, which is difficult to translate perfectly because the English language falls short in explaining it.  It includes the ideas of gentle (free from harshness, sternness, or violence), forbearing (holding oneself back especially with an effort; controlling oneself when provoked), yielding, equity (freedom from bias or favoritism), lenient (mild and tolerant disposition, exerting a soothing or easing influence), unassertive, fair, fitting, appropriate, suitable, proper… (!!!) Kind of makes me go cross eyed to think that’s just one word of the verse God expects us women to live up to.  Paul uses the same epiekes in his letter to the Philippians in Philippians 4:5 (ESV: reasonableness; NIV: gentleness; ASV: forbearance; KJV: moderation).

The original Greek word for “quiet” – used here in 1 Peter 3:4 – is hesuchios, which is similar to the Greek word eremos.  Eremos means “tranquil” or “tranquility rising from without” (used in 1 Timothy 2:2) while hesuchios (as used in 1 Peter 3:4) means “tranquility rising from within, causing no disturbance to others.” A quiet woman isn’t mute.  She’s merely not out to prove anything because she’s secure in who she is in the Lord.  She can be quiet and still be articulate and persuasive in presenting her point of view. 

Here’s the kicker – Peter says God considers a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit beautiful, and it’s a beauty that’s imperishable!!  It never stops being beautiful – not ever! 

That’s what’s precious to God.  The original Greek word for precious used in 1 Peter 3:4 is polutimos, which means “of great value; the very end or limit with reference to price; of the highest cost, very expensive.”  Consider what’s of great value to you.  Your family, friends, jewelry handed down through generations, a letter from a loved one now gone…?  You’d pay a lot of money to keep what you value most.  Now read 1 Peter 3:3-4 again.  Who you are on the inside is of great value to God, and yet God needs nothing (Acts 17:25).  Though He needs nothing, your heart is still precious to him.  A gentle and quiet spirit, as defined earlier, is precious to Him.  It’s certainly more precious to him than your wardrobe or how you apply your makeup.  To understand the word polutimos a little better, it’s used another time in the story in Mark 14:3-5.

Peter wasn’t the only one who made this point.  Paul says something along the same lines in Romans 2:29 and 7:22 that it’s what’s in your heart that matters most, not what you do or wear or how you present yourself on the outside.  Our bodies will gradually waste away.  Compare the appearance of a twenty-two year old to an eighty-two year old.  It happens!  We can exercise and eat right and yet, apart from thousands of dollars it takes to do plastic surgery – yuck – there’s nothing we can do to stall the process.  Paul tells us that even though we waste away on the outside, the work we do on ourselves on the inside will renew every day! (2 Corinthians 4:16).  That’s the beauty that lasts.  That’s the beauty that doesn’t fade.

I’m reminded daily when I meet with women of God, including the friend I spent lunch with today, how beauty is in fact determined by the health of our relationship with God.  The more secure we are in God, the more His love shines through us.  There’s nothing more beautiful than the love of God on display, and simply living life loving God according to His Word is what puts that love on display for others to witness.  Regardless of whether society finds these women beautiful, regardless of their flaws, God made each of them exactly as he planned (Psalm 139:13-16), and these women are absolutely stunning in their own God-given way.  Each has a beauty magnified by the love of God working in their hearts and lives. 

Best of all, it’s a beauty that’s able to be obtained by all women, and the process can be started by reading and following the Word that has relevant guidance for every turn in life and will let you know, quite bluntly, whether or not you’re living according to it (Hebrews 4:12).  The Bible will let you know whether you’re wearing the right attire for work today, how to respond to that co-worker that won’t stop asking you out to dinner, how to keep those images the media splashes over everything out of your mind, and how to recognize the many lies Satan tries to inundate you with every day (Psalm 89:22).