October 6, 2016

Addressing the Dressing VI: That Other Modesty Text

by Lyndon Unger

So let’s recap.

In the first post, we introduced the topic and gave a broad look at the categories of women in churches that have concerns about modesty (or a total lack thereof).  In the second and third posts, we looked at the biblical terminology from 1 Cor 12:23 and 1 Tim. 2:9.  I only did that because the verses with the term “modesty” in them are generally the passages that people talk about when the topic comes up.  At the end of that post, I brought up the myth that gold, braided hair was the mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture.  In the fourth post, we looked at the actual mark of a prostitute in ancient Roman culture; wearing the male Toga (often made out of thin, revealing Coan silk).  In the fifth post, we looked at what gold, braided hair indicated in ancient Roman culture; wealth and status.

status symbol

Now, I’m going to take a quick look at the other significant biblical text that addresses modesty.  This whole series would be incomplete without addressing it, so let’s explore 1 Peter 3:1-6:

1 Peter 3:1-6:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 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. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

The passage opens with “likewise”, which points the reader back to the previous section of 1 Peter 2:18-25 where Peter gives instructions to servants.  Peter urges them to be subject to both just and unjust masters (2:18) because this is a gracious and valuable behavior in the eyes of God (1 Peter 2:19-20) and befitting emulation of Christ (1 Peter 2:21-25).

So 1 Peter 3:1 urges wives to be like servants in that they emulate Christ in how he committed no sin with his mouth while suffering unjustly (1 Peter 2:22-23), didn’t return threats with threats of his own (1 Peter 2:23) and even suffered unjustly for Christians 2:24-25) due to the fact that he entrusted all justice “to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

Peter gives wives specific instructions here along those lines.  He urges wives to be subject to their husbands, even if their husbands are disobedient to the Lord.  The term “be subject” comes from the Greek hypotasso, which I unpack in depth here.  In 1 Peter 3:1, it’s a reflexive verb, meaning that it’s something that a women does to herself.  The reason for this is given in the second half of the verse: “so that…they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives

The second verse explains that sort of “husband-winning” conduct they need:

a.  Respectful – Interestingly, this word is phobos.  It means “fear”, and we get the English “phobia” from this term.  It’s a relatively common term, appearing 47 times in the New Testament, and it almost always means “fear”.  The idea behind this “fear” is understood once we get to verse 6.

b.  Pure – The term here is hagnos.  This term means “clean” or “pure”, and it comes from hagios, which is a very common term in the New Testament.  It means “holy”.

Then, 1 Peter 3:3 moves into the practical examples of what that “respectful and pure” conduct looks like.  The command is to “not let your adorning be external“, and the examples given seem familiar now: “braided hair”, “gold jewelry” or “clothing”.  As we saw in the second post, the term translated “braided hair” is the same in 1 Tim. 2:9 as it is in 1 Peter 3:3.  The issue with the jewelry and clothing is not that they make a person look like a prostitute, but rather that they’re external.

The external adornment is contrasted in verse 4 with the command to “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart”.  Rather than external adorning, a women should be adorned with “the hidden person of the heart.”  The term “hidden” is translated from kryptos, from which we get the English word “cryptic” and the (hidden) home planet of a popular superhero…


The term kryptos means “hidden” or “secret”.  The adorning of a woman that wants to win the heart of her disobedient husband is putting on the secret, internal righteous person that resides in her heart.  That’s the good you that nobody else really sees, and that part of your heart is what you need to bring out.  It’s at this point I need to point out something rather obvious:

That’s not something you do with a boyfriend.

This passage is talking about God’s divine strategy to win a disobedient fellow back to himself (with regards to his wife), not how single girls can find a guy who sorta obeys the Lord and give him a spiritual overhaul.

If you’re dating a guy who’s some sort of “in name only” Christian, dump him.

If you’re dating a guy who tries to push you physically into sexual compromise, dump him.

If you’re dating a guy who is unfaithful while he’s dating you, dump him.

If you’re dating a guy who is physically abusive, dump him and involve your church elders and the police.

Kick his butt to the curb.

butt kick

Don’t try to reform him: dump him.  This passage isn’t a recipe for reforming a bad boyfriend.

Guard your heart when you’re dating and don’t play “spiritual makeover” with a sinful jerk’s heart.

Okay.  I just had to make that clear.

Now what is the “secret” person that resides in a woman’s heart that she needs to adorn in order to win a wayward husband?  It’s the “imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”  What’s the idea here?

a.  The term “gentle” is praus, which means “meek”.  The concept of meekness involves someone being selfless and restrained.  The term is often found alongside terms carrying the idea of “gentle” or “longsuffering” (i.e. 2 Cor. 10:1; Eph. 4:2) and is contrasted with terms carrying the idea of aggression (i.e. 1 Cor. 4:21).  It’s not a hard term to understand, but most of the 1-word definitions that I’ve heard don’t really do the term justice.  It’s purposefully not drawing attention to something that’s worthy of attention, and making little of one’s own legitimate glories.

b. The term “quiet” is hesuchios, which is an interesting term that is a composite of echo (to have or hold) and hedraios (seated/steadfast).   The idea here is one where a person stays in their seat when challenged or confronted.  The idea is a graphic one: when someone raises a charge against you, you don’t jump to your feet in defense of yourself…kinda like  Peter describes in 1 Peter 2:21-24, hence he begins this passage with the word “likewise.”

Why should the Christian woman who seeks to win over her wayward husband chose this reaction to his waywardness?  It’s clearly the obvious temptation to cater to whatever that woman thinks he desires…and sinful men always are thinking carnally (which means “physical” in this context).  For many women, that will boil down to changing their clothes, hair, etc.  That’s not forbidden, but it’s not the real solution to the problem.

The wife who has a wayward husband needs to remember who’s really doing the work: God.  She needs to pursue God’s plan of action; although she can attract her husband’s wayward eyes or affections for a moment, only God can restore his wayward heart.  As sinful folks, we tend to constantly address the symptoms where as God is targeting the sickness.

As I’ve already suggested, this isn’t something foreign to God either.  1 Peter 2:18-24 comments on how Jesus himself exemplified this for believers, and 1 Peter 3:1-6 is the application of 1 Peter 2:18-24 in the specific situation of a God-fearing woman finding herself married to (or even trapped with) a faithless husband.


The secret godly woman, the “righteous woman of the heart” that others don’t see, is the woman that needs to come out for the faithless husband.  That’s the woman that God wants to cultivate in all women who find themselves in this situation.  God knows that a faithless dolt won’t typically see that “righteous woman of the heart” for what it is either, hence he comments on the “righteous woman of the heart” when Peter writes “in God’s sight is very precious.”   That is the anchor for the weathered and battered soul who finds herself married to a guy who sees her Godliness as foolishness and treats her servant heart as thought it were spinelessness.

God gets it.

God values it.

10 trillion years from now, there’s not a single woman who will regret obeying the Lord in this way, though right now that struggle is monumental.  God isn’t some myopic imbecile; He knows that the struggle many of these women face will seem utterly insurmountable.  To help the women in this situation, he gives them two truths on which to anchor their battered hearts.

We’ll explore those two truths in the next post.



Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
  • Maranatha

    Dear Lyndon, Thank you for being so sympathetic and understanding with married women. I really hope you think also of your own wife here… I married a man who was very carnal (still is) and struggled with irascibility before our conversion during matrimony but is highly intelligent and kind-hearted as well. So when Jesus worked with him at his main temptations, it didn’t really make sense to talk to him rationally – I had to learn to pray in silence instead. It has become much better since, but if we did not both love Jesus, I cannot imagine how hard THAT would be.

    • Lyndon Unger

      Thanks for that Maranatha. I definitely was thinking of my own wife while writing this. She has had to endure my sinfulness and idiocy to no small end. This is a struggle that all believing couples face, and it never really goes away; as we become more like Christ, we become aware and convicted of new and different sins, and the struggles just change.

      It does get better as we cultivate a habit of attempting to submit to the Lord, but it never disappears.

      I see many unbelieving couples in our immediate circles who fall into, and live within, the temptations and sinful responses that Peter warns about. I’ll just say that I somewhat understand why people get divorced so much: two self-worshiping sinners cannot possibly make room in their 1-God-pantheon for someone else. The resulting jihad under the banner of self is unbelievable, and horrifyingly heart-breaking.

      • Maranatha

        Dear Lyndon, do you know what is helpful at any time when enduring this discipleship training? A really fat bunch of HUMOUR. The LORD gave us 2 a lot of this. He knew why! :-))) That makes tears during character training lessons dry quickly. We definitely should step aside from ourselves and our “proud egos” more often. Jesus (and all angels and saints 1Cor 4,9) sees our world from outside (Heaven), so should we in analyzing our training lessons with Jesus. Don’t give in, she will understand. Kind regards to your wife with my sisterly greetings!

        • Lyndon Unger


          The amount of laughing in life is often most directly related to the amount of pain and frustration. At least for me.

          God bless Maranatha.

  • Mary Beth

    A point of clarification, please.

    “The wife who has a wayward husband needs to remember who’s really doing the work: God. She needs to pursue his plan of action; although she can attract his wayward eyes or affections for a moment, only God can restore his wayward heart. As sinful folks, we tend to constantly address the symptoms where as God is targeting the sickness.”

    Does the first “his” in the second sentence above refer to the wayward husband’s plan of action or to God’s?

    • Lyndon Unger

      God’s. I edited that to make it more clear. Thanks for help with clarity.

  • Ang

    Dear Lyndon,
    Thank you for all your work and for exegeting the scriptures. I have really enjoyed this series and look forward to the next one every day. I was wondering if you could help or point me in the right direction. I read today’s post and I see how often I fail, yet I also have been told that boundaries are important and I get the idea that sometimes when trying to serve quietly we are actually enabling a bad behavior or building up bitterness. If this is true, I don’t know how to reconcile these together. And does it make a difference if the spouse is believing or not? Any thoughts on this would be appreciated. In Christ, Ang

    • Maranatha

      Dear Ang, you have asked Lyndon but if “any thoughts” are helpful for you, I like to try to give you some out of my own experience. If you normally have a relaxed and loving relationship with your hsb, it should be possible to talk together after a discipleship lesson of silent service (I call it lessons because they are indeed). You have to find out each others needs, thoughts and duties in front of the Lord. E.g. in my matrimony sexuality is a very delicate topic, we have even argued a lot, lots of tears… I hate that but it is necessary. And the Lord helps always, doesn’t let you down. If you love and accept each other as children of God, beloved couple and sister and brother, this should work. Of course it is more helpful if both walk with Jesus. As I said, I do not know how much more pain and suffering it is if only one spouse is saved. I cannot imagine but think the Lord will bless such marriage as well if the woman acts the way He gives us His word in scriptures. Think of Abigail, she was with Nabal (=”idiot”) before she met David and God judged Nabal then. Or imagine Johanna, the wife of Herod’s Stewart (Luke 8,3), probably a Roman non- believer. There are some examples of “mixed” marriage in scriptures, perhaps you study them in detail and see the result (1Cor 10,11). God bless your efforts!

    • Dear Ang,
      Do you mind if I join Maranatha in answering? Navigating communication and differences in a marriage can be very difficult. I appreciate your desire to be a godly wife. Qualification – I’m not sure whether “bad behavior” is preference, perception, or habitual sin. Worst case scenario:
      From what I’ve read on boundaries the concept is self-protective and manipulative. In contrast, the Bible tells us to deny self in order to love others and God, even if we get hurt. First Peter 3 explains how a wife may do so, especially in context all the way back to at least 2:18. It means refusing to be overcome by evil, like by refusing to nag or argue or brood anger into bitterness (like Romans 12:18-21). If the husband is habitually sinning (“bad behavior”?), she must “do what is right without fear,” like “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) to her husband, and if he doesn’t change go to her church elders. She’s not responsible to make him obey God, only for her influence. Peter doesn’t tell her to set boundaries, but to edify her husband because she loves God and her husband. I recommend: Consult a biblical counselor (find one at Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, https://biblicalcounseling.com/counselors/). “The Excellent Wife” by Martha Peace talks about what submission is and is not and “win without a word.” Online lectures on marriage found at websites for The Master’s Seminary website and Biblical Counseling and Discipleship Association SoCal (bcdasocal.org).
      May the grace of our loving Lord be your supply.

      • Maranatha

        Dear Linda, you wrote “She is not responsible to make him obey God, only for her influence” – that’s exactly the point, Thank you. This is btw also the principle of any other gospel ministry – the difference is only the varying number of people whereas in matrimony the woman is ‘one flesh’ with her hsb. My personal recommendations as well to Br. Wayne A. Mack who is a very good biblical (marriage) counselor and wrote several books together with his wife Carol (www.mackministries.org).

        • Jennifer

          Ditto Linda. As someone who has gone through extreme marital discord and come out the other side, I would say that things began to turn around in my own marriage when I stopped trying to be the Holy Spirit. Both of us are believers, but we got seriously off track. I would tell him what the Bible says (which he already knew), and he would get angrier. So, I finally just stopped. I wish I had stopped sooner. For a man who knows the truth, the wife does better to simply be silent before him and let the Holy Spirit do the talking (and really, if he is not listening to the Holy Spirit, he certainly wouldn’t not listen to me). We were separated for 4 years, but are now reconciled and the Lord has effected an amazing reconciliation. One I never would have dreamed possible in the midst of all the turmoil. one of the very best books i have ever read and which helped me learn how to love my husband when he seemed unlovable is by Edward Welch. When People are Big and God is Small is a fantastic book. I read it with my teens. If everyone could get his concept of loving people more and needing them less, there would be a much lower divorce rate among believers.

          • Maranatha

            Dear Jennifer, what a GREAT GOD we have, don’t we?? Sister, please feel hugged together with your hsb about this! :-)) That makes me so very happy! Praise our LORD!

            I guess there are some more women who have (had) your problem, I am one of them (though not being through separation for that reason, but through a hard time as well). I really do love my man so very much, but I often felt like Manoahs or Zacharys wife (Judges13 / Luke1) regarding spiritual insight (this is not mentioned in the bible but you can very well imagine how the women felt, dealing with the imperfection of their hsb, Zachary even not being able to speak until John was born). Until today, I have serious problems with 1 Corinthians 14,35a) because that doesn’t work with me! I was always so much quicker in understanding than him but didn’t want to boast about this but only help him: WHOAH, what fail that was! E.g. if I read a book, I read (and understand and proof it in the Spirit) it in 2 weeks whereas my hsb needs 2 yrs to read the same text (I exaggerate not too much)…As I myself struggle with impatience very much, if sb needs more time than me to understand sth, I had to learn hard to accept my God-given place and WAIT in SILENCE and PRAY instead. As Jesus saved us, our family structure was pure disorder, as I was earning much more money in my old job and working outside, my hsb staying at home with the boy (7yrs then). We went through seven tough and poor years, learning much in faith and family order, hard work as well for us. The boy was our bright light during this period, witnessing Jesus among wicked public school mates and teachers. I stayed at home then, giving him spiritual food as much as possible (Proverbs 22,6) in having the mother of Timothy as inspiring example while my hsb had to exercise the spiritual warfare as Ephesian-6-training on the job outside. After some rebellious period of another 6 yrs during adolescence, when neither my hsb nor me could do anything but pray and stay firm against the kid, God did a miracle on him again (Matthew 21,29). — Regarding my place and role as woman and wife, Christ worked a lot on my patience and silence – but my hsb needed another 4 yrs now at home – while me again working and earning the daily bread in ministry and testimony outside – doing preparation and bible study for himself. This year, our son has left home for the first employment and life on his own and God gave us the time as couple now for “real” matrimony, sending the well-prepared man out in the battle again and giving the wife other fruitful duties at home, one of them being a kind of his armor-bearer (better: armor-“cleaner” :-)) and companion in rear echelon, which is hard work too because the world outside he has to struggle with is getting more and more chaotic today. Therefore, we have to oppose God’s order instead day by day and stay calm in the peace of Christ. This is really exhausting sometimes! But God healed our matrimony so much during the last years and gave us such a lot of joy (spiritual as well) with each other now that I can understand your own happiness very well.

            You see, the work, ways and needed time for every exercise differ, but the RESULT must be the same in believing families: LOVE must grow evermore until His return, no matter what our character and temperament, old life and sins, country or origin is/are and were before. That is the best testimony the world has to be astonished at (if not believing it, like usually). God bless you and your family, see you above soon! 😉