Welcome back to the podcast. Well, how much jewelry is too much jewelry? It’s a question of concern on the podcast because you ask about it. More importantly, it’s a question of concern because it’s a topic of concern in the Bible, specifically in 1 Peter 3:3, a text that has provoked many emails to us over the years on how to limit adornments. Here’s a representative question I pulled out, from a husband and father. “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for this podcast! My wife and I are trying to figure out if it’s good to allow our daughter to wear nail polish. She’s 2 and loves to play dress-up. I don’t want this to become a necessity, but I suppose it’s fine as an expression of her childlike creativity. It’s ultimately a question for my wife as well. She doesn’t wear makeup or jewelry often and I’m happy with that. She does, however, enjoy having her toes painted. Considering 1 Peter 3:3–4, I don’t know many people who argue that all feminine adornments are bad. But clearly some are wrong. Where do we draw that line today?”
Let me start with a general observation and analogy from the New Testament and then talk about some specifics. Consider an analogy between adornment of hair and stylish clothing and use of makeup, on the one hand, and riches and wealth, on the other hand. Here’s the analogy. The New Testament does not call riches and wealth evil in and of themselves, but almost the entire New Testament has a trajectory away from luxury, away from opulence, and toward simplicity, toward a kind of wartime lifestyle that is aware of the dangers of money and the appearance of loving this world more than we love God.
Now the comparison or the analogy is this: the Bible does not call fashion or makeup or hair styling evil in and of itself. But the trajectory of the New Testament is toward simplicity and modesty and inward beauty of character and what you might call undistracting personhood-revealing — as opposed to body-revealing — apparel. That’s my general observation. Now let’s talk a few specifics.
Two Texts on Beauty
It would be good to put in front of us two of the most straightforward texts about a woman’s clothing and adornment and how she presents herself. And there are, as you can see in these texts, clear implications for men as well, but they’re addressed to women.
So, 1 Peter 3:3–4. He’s saying this to wives who are married to unbelieving husbands, probably because of the temptation to use their sexual reality to somehow influence this unbelieving husband. And Peter’s saying,
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.
Now here’s 1 Timothy 2:9–10:
[I desire] that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness — with good works.
Now, from these two texts, we can say the following.
Three Principles for Modesty
First, don’t focus more on the external beauty than the internal beauty. “Do not let your adorning be external . . . but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart” (1 Peter 3:3–4). So there’s the great principle for women — and, I would say, obviously for men as well. It’s like bodily exercise. We like to quote this: “While bodily exercise is of some value, godliness is of value in every way” (1 Timothy 4:8). And so outward adornment, you could say, is of little value, and internal adornment is valuable in every way. That’s the first thing we can infer from those texts.
“Don’t focus more on the external beauty than the internal beauty.”
Second, Peter’s and Paul’s restrictions are not meant to be total. And the reason we know that is because right after saying, “Do not let your adorning be . . . the braiding of hair and jewelry,” he says, “Do not let your adorning be . . . the clothing that you wear” (1 Peter 3:3). That does not mean, “Don’t wear clothing.” It means, “Don’t devote your main efforts and concerns to your clothing but to inner beauty.” It doesn’t mean no jewelry or no hairstyles.
Third, the language of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:9–10 about clothing is almost entirely about what is “fitting” or “becoming” or “appropriate” (these are Greek phrases that I made sure I got right):
- katastolē kosmiō: “becoming attire”
- meta aidous: “with respect for convention or what’s fitting”
- mē himatismō . . . polytelei: “not in costly attire, not lavish or gaudy”
- prepei gynaixin epangellomenais theosebeian: “as is proper for women who profess godliness”
Now, the implication of these guidelines seems to be this: within an ever-changing, highly corrupt culture then and now, with fringe elements of grunge and gaudy and provocation, focus on what your clothing and adornment and makeup say about you as a person, not you as skin or you as shape. Paul calls this “what is proper for women who profess godliness” (1 Timothy 2:10).
Now, back to the question about the little girl who wants to paint her nails. This brings up the issue — and it’s such a relevant issue — of male and female sexuality and what they are. What’s the difference between male and female? Twenty years ago, we might have felt like we didn’t need to talk about that. Everybody knew what that is. Well, now we need to be alert to the fact that our little girl should grow up with a happy, thoughtful awareness that God made her a girl and not a boy. And our son should grow up with a happy, thoughtful awareness that God made him a boy and not a girl.
So I will unashamedly say we should be happy when our daughter at 2 years old wants to paint her nails, and our son does not want to paint his nails. We should affirm her inclination toward this expression of femininity, and we should discourage our son’s dabbling in this expression of femininity (and there are sensitive ways to do that). And I use the term “expression of femininity” because I’m fully aware that nail polish is a cultural expression, not an innate one. It’s not in her genes that nail polish has to be on her fingernails. Girls aren’t born with painted nails.
But what is innate, God-given innate, is that healthy boys moving toward mature manhood are inclined by God-given nature to embrace culturally appropriate expressions of manhood. And we should help them with this. And healthy girls moving toward mature womanhood are inclined by God-given nature to embrace culturally appropriate expressions of womanhood. And I believe Paul teaches that very thing in 1 Corinthians 11:14. “Does not nature itself teach you?” he says. And he teaches the same in Romans 1, where he says people are acting against nature (Romans 1:21–28).
So I would be thankful that my daughter wants to paint her nails. And I would, along with my wife, train her up in how innocent and utterly insignificant nail polish is to her worth as a person and her influence in the world. We want her to have a worldview such that even if her fingers are all cut off in a machine accident, she would know she can be a beautiful, worthwhile, fruitful person as a believer in Jesus Christ and as the daughter of the King of the universe.
Drawing Eyes Upward
So besides getting our priorities right, besides embracing the goodness of maleness and femaleness, and dressing in ways that are becoming and fitting to our devotion to Christ, and dressing in ways that point to our personhood instead of our body, and besides avoiding the arrogance that seeks to defy convention in shocking ways — besides all that, I would add a special concern here that we raise our daughters and sons not to be sexually provocative.
“The eyes that are drawn to more skin are not drawn to more skin because it’s beautiful, but because it’s more skin.”
Now, that means exposing less skin, not more skin. And it means less tight-fitting leggings and shirts. And if a woman gets upset with me at this point and says, “I don’t need to calculate my clothing according to male sexual temptation” (which is such a common retort if you try to say anything about modesty these days), my response is, “Well, that’s true. You don’t have to calculate your clothing that way. But I would ask you this question (which I think women understand who want to embrace feminine beauty and feminine godliness): Do you believe that beautiful attractiveness is increased by the amount of skin you expose?”
Now, here’s my answer: the eyes that are drawn to more skin are not drawn to more skin because it’s beautiful, but because it’s more skin — period. More skin is not beauty; it’s a magnet. It has nothing to do with beauty. It has everything to do with pure, physical, magnetizing skin. The real test of whether one is beautifully attractive is not how sexy she can be or he can be, because sex and beauty are not at all the same. And a godly woman knows this. She does not want to be a skin magnet. She wants to say with her clothing, “I’m thankful I’m a woman, I love beautiful simplicity, and Christ is my greatest treasure.”