“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
The $56 billion cosmetic industry tends to thrive so much during economic downturns that rising lipstick sales have actually become a reliable barometer for financial recessions. The data is telling: If we don’t feel great about ourselves or our circumstances, we tend to splurge on things that we think will make us look good. Outward beauty, we sometimes believe, will save us. But that sort of thinking is deceptive.
EXTERNAL BEAUTY IS FLEETING
Have you ever looked in the mirror and wished you were more beautiful according to societal norms? Most of us have. We remember the pain of junior high teasing, the relationship that ended when we gained weight, the insecurity of acne. So we try all kinds of diets or dump our hard-earned income into age-defying facial cleansers and creams, hoping against hope that one day—if we just work hard enough—we will be beautiful.
But what is physical beauty after all? Various societies and cultures have considered heavy women beautiful (Hawaii), skeletally thin women beautiful (today’s fashion industry), strong women beautiful (ancient Amazons, Crossfit), pale women beautiful (Asian culture), and tan women beautiful (modern America).
If we put our hope in achieving an external standard of beauty, we build a house on shifting sands. While there is nothing wrong with looking beautiful on the outside, the Bible reminds us that surface beauty by itself is worthless. In Proverbs, the teacher says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion” (11:22). And in the New Testament, Jesus decries the religious leaders who strove to achieve outward success at the expense of their souls: “‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean’” (Matthew 23:27). If we’re going to pursue a biblical idea of beauty, we have to look beyond the exterior.
INTERNAL BEAUTY IS ETERNAL
The Bible extols internal beauty as the goal of a well-lived life. Most of us are familiar with the section in Proverbs that describes a woman of noble character. It highlights many aspects of a righteous woman’s life—her nurture and care of family, her business acumen, her diligence in housework, her compassion for the poor and alien. To sum up the chapter, the author writes, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
Jesus also saw beauty in ways the world doesn’t. Instead of focusing on the outside, He valued what was on the inside of a person—the beauty of character (Matthew 5:3–10). While dining at a Pharisee’s house, Jesus was anointed by a “sinful” woman. The self-righteous guests muttered to themselves about the woman’s scandalous past and Jesus’ questionable prophetic credentials since He accepted her gift. Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me’” (Matthew 26:10). Jesus looked beyond the external—the woman’s sinful past and perhaps her disheveled appearance—to the beautiful humility and worship of her heart.
Humility, South African minister Andrew Murray once wrote, “is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” Since we become like what we worship (Psalm 115:8), a humble heart worships the beauty of Christ and then becomes beautiful. As we cultivate spirits of humility, we will develop the “unfading beauty” described in 1 Peter 3.