SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/The secret of true beauty
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 1:00 AM
"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. That is the way the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted (hoped in) God and accepted the authority of their husbands." (1 Peter 3: 3-5)
My good friend Rudy has written another book filled with humorous anecdotes from his family. In it he tells of the time when his wife Molly was pregnant with their third child, Eben, and she sought to prepare Jeremy (their second-born) for the time when he would become exposed to the image of his mother breast-feeding his new brother. Rudy writes: "Molly explained that God has given women breast for two reasons - one was to make them pretty and the other was to provide milk for babies. Jeremy (seven-years-old) looked up and asked, "Which one makes you pretty?""
Is it just me or do you agree that our culture's whole beauty industry has gotten out of hand? Boutique Salons and Cosmetology Clinics seem to be cropping up everywhere. Did you know that there is an annual growth of 9% in nail salons alone in our country, and that since 2008 over 20,000 new barbers have been licensed? On every side we see individuals getting laser treatments, face lifts, liposuction, botox injections, having their eyebrows plucked and wrinkles creamed - and that's just the men!
The women in our culture seem equally (if not more so) fixated on beauty and are willing to undergo painful treatments, at enormous expense, to recapture something of their youth. This craving is what makes the whole cosmetic industry the multibillion dollar enterprise that it is as "more and more younger girls are making themselves up in an effort to appear older" while more and more older women "go to great lengths to appear younger."
Have you ever stopped to consider the meaning of the word 'cosmetic'? It points to something that is decorative, ornamental, or superficial. It speaks of something which is visually appealing but in a shallow way as with a façade. Are we to be so easily satisfied with such external whispers of beauty? Shouldn't our real focus be upon the genuine thing - that which represents real loveliness?
The Apostle Peter, speaking here of "holy women in olden times" tells us that they "made themselves beautiful". Now, that sounds exactly in keeping with our modern industry, doesn't it? But as we read on in our text we see that "they made themselves beautiful" in that "they trusted God." In other words, the real loveliness of these women (such women as Sarah, or Abigail, or Hannah, or Ruth) was seen in their trusting relationship with God. The NASV rightly translates the passage to say that these women "hoped in God". They thought more highly of their internal spirits than their outward appearance. They placed more stock in the beauty of their hearts than their faces.
Peter's comments, of course, are very much in harmony with that image of the godly woman we find in Proverbs 31:25. Of her we are told; "She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future." In other words, this woman's true beauty is not an outward adornment, but a genuine display of inward strength of character and the loveliness of personal solemnity. She is able to laugh at the future (whatever the days ahead might hold for her and her family) because her hope is in the Lord. She trusts in Him. John Piper, in his book, This Momentary Marriage, writes of this godly woman: "She knows her Bible, and she knows her theology of the sovereignty of God, and she knows his promise that he will be with her and will help her and strengthen her no matter what. This is the deep, unshakable root of Christian womanhood."
Isn't that what Peter also attests to when he cautions, "You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious to God"? Listen, I'm not against make-up or efforts to make one more presentable. I go to Wilson, my barber, and get my hair trimmed every couple of weeks or so. I go to the fitness center almost daily to tone up and to work off as much of my middle girth as possible. I even like it when my wife fixes up her hair and puts on make-up. I can't, for the life of me, understand how it can take as long as it does, but it's nice that she wants to be beautiful for me. But none of these efforts really contribute to what the Scriptures identify as true or genuine beauty. Listen again to what is said of that godly woman of Proverbs 31: "Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised." That's the secret of true beauty and no amount of facial creams or botox can secure it.
For both men and women - as both were created in God's image - there should be a shared commitment to the nurture of inner godliness and a focus on the internal workings of grace. Only the loveliness that these things produce is considered to be of lasting worth by God and, therefore, should amount to that which we prize as the utmost value in our own lives. The poet, Keats, wrote that "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." Let us, therefore, give ourselves to the nurturing of such beauty within, by the grace of God! Let us say to a culture obsessed with the external façade of beauty that we know the secret of the genuine article - our abiding hope in the Lord - which fadeth not!
The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.