Reading Peter’s description of the model Christian woman used to send me onto yet another personality diet. Desperately wanting to be the sort of woman who was beautiful in God’s sight, I would attempt to reduce the number of opinionated words I spoke, subdue my boisterous spirit, and lower the level of leadership I naturally took. But try as I might to fit my rotund personality into the tiny box that this passage seemed to construct for me, it was only a matter of time until I would come bursting back out.
Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 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 3:1-4
Discouraged and defeated, I prayed that God would re-create me as a more passive, demure version of myself. My picture of His ideal was a soft-voiced woman, listening intently to the men around her and unobtrusively serving their physical needs so they could go on doing the significant spiritual work God had called them to. Next to women who were naturally endowed with quiet natures and gifts of service, I felt less godly. If God wanted me to be a mild, behind-the-scenes woman, then why did He curse me with a sharp mind, pastoral heart, and assertive nature?
Obviously many of my jagged edges were in dire need of sanding down, as God saw fit do through painful but purifying life experiences. As any young leader has to learn, my tongue did need some reigning in, my Tiggerish traits did need more self-restraint to prevent me from bouncing all over others, and my will needed to be trained in submission before it could be qualified for leadership.
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
1 Peter 3:5-6
But coming out the other side of all that, the question still remained: what kind of woman does God like best? I wish I would have read that 1 Peter passage more carefully years ago, because through more recent study I finally noticed the hearty clue it drops at the end. Who were these holy women of old who were being held up as examples for first-century Christian women to imitate? What was it that God commended these Old Testament women for in their own lifetimes? By examining their life stories, especially the way they used their voices, did or did not assert leadership, and related to the men in their lives, I hoped to better interpret what Peter had in mind when he what he wrote what he did.
And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.
Starting with Sarah, the matriarch of our faith, I see a woman who heroically spoke up before kings to protect her husband by offering her own body in place of his. Far from being a passive pushover, she proactively embraced the promise God had made to her husband, travelling homelessly with him at her own peril and (albeit abusively) seeking to produce a descendent for him through her own servant. In honor of her faith, God insisted on establishing His holy nation through her, not just her husband. He also named her in the Hebrews hall of faith.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse…
The Hebrew midwives stood up to the King of Egypt, using their voices to protect the unborn. Likewise Rahab stood up to her male authorities, covering for the foreign men who had come to her brothel for shelter. These women were expressly commended by God for the proactive leadership they took, not giving in to fear but by faith entrusting themselves to God. And, as He did for Sarah, God established their lines in reward for their faithful service, even naming Rahab in His own Son’s genealogy.
God’s kind of women are those who do what is right and don’t give in to fear.
Deborah completely turns my docile picture on its head. Though appropriately reticent to take leadership of the army, she had no qualms about judging the Israelites who voluntarily came to her for wisdom, justice, and a word from God. Her voice was one that God expected these men to heed, not to silence. General Barak got seriously shamed for ignoring her words. And contrary to how we often hear her story interpreted, the author of Judges presents her position as prophetess and judge as perfectly normal, even for a married woman. It wasn’t through her husband that God chose to speak to His people—it was through her. The victorious outcome of her story stands as testimony to God’s delight in this godly woman’s bold leadership and outspoken faith.
“The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. …you are a woman of noble character.
David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day…
1 Samuel 25:32-33
Abigail overrode her foolish husband, going behind his back to save it. Ruth no longer had a husband to save but instead dedicated her initiative-taking, competent self to saving her dead husband’s mother. Both of these women took leadership through their bold words and their heroic deeds, gently shaming great men into doing what was right (or in David’s case, stopping him in his tracks from doing something horribly wrong). And both the landed-gentry Boaz and his warlord great-grandson David thanked these unexpected leaders for their kindness and considered themselves blessed beyond rubies to get such noble women as lifelong-allies.
My goal as a woman is to blossom within the full range of beautiful role models God has given me to imitate.
This will have to suffice for now as a representative sampling of the holy women of old. But what stands out to me is that these women were a far cry from the silent, second-string players that I had assumed God likes His women to be. They raised their voices, engaged their minds, and asserted their strength for the good of those around them, even when that meant functioning outside of cultural norms and established authority.
The point is to rightly divide God’s word so that we don’t squeeze it into our own culturally preconceived box.
If these are the sorts of examples that Peter was holding up for us in his call to a feminine, unflappable faith, then there is room for my personality in God’s definition of beauty, too. The point isn’t to change God’s Word to adapt to all shapes and sizes, but it is to rightly divide God’s word so that we don’t squeeze it into our own culturally preconceived box. My goal as a woman is no longer to conform to the objectified ideal of the Sunday school magazines, but rather to blossom within the full range of beautiful models God has given me to imitate.
After all, as the passage in 1 Peter concludes, God’s kind of women are those who do what is right and don’t give in to fear.
16 thoughts on “God’s Kind of Woman”
We are studying I Peter 3 in our Bible study this week. I love God’s timing. I also love how He continues to form your (and my) understanding of Biblical womanhood. An infinite Creator has crafted a diverse people to conform to His image in a myriad of ways 😀.
Yes, it would be interesting to revisit some of our conversations from university days and see how we have changed. And yes, if there is anything that I take away from this it is how very much more diverse His definition of beauty is than ours tend to be. Love to you, Christina.
Good and balanced perspectives!!!
Thanks, Mike. Much of this material is coming from the Women in Leadership and Ministry course I recently facilitated in South Asia. Regards to your wife and children.
Smiling because I’ve said that on my tombstone I want the words: “Demure At Last.” I love your list of strong and faithfulled women from Scripture. One of my favorites is Huldah — completely dedicated to the truth and to the Lord’s renown.
I’m so glad you mentioned Huldah! I will include her in next week’s post looking at Old Testament women’s roles in the community of worshippers.
And I’m not so sure you will be demure, even in the grave. 🙂 Silent, perhaps, but the personality God has hard-wired you with is part of the seed of what you will be in the New Creation. The good news is that then, even our lack of “demureness” will have been purified by fire and will come forth shining like gold.
What an uplifting view of things to come! I’m thankful that we have so much to look forward to!
Beautiful perspectives and truth. After decades of standing in the shadows, because I thought that’s what a good church girl was supposed to do, I’ve reached the point of being more concerned with what God has called me to. We can fulfill our purpose while still being respectful, considerate, and grace-filled. Visiting from #GraceandTruth today.
Nice to have you, Karlene. And I like your emphasis on coming out of the shadows graciously rather than vindictively. This issue can often become polarizing when we swing from one extreme to the other. But when our shift is driven by God’s calling (which always comes wrapped in a blanket of love), then our willingness to challenge conventions will be driven by concern for others rather than by the need to assert or fulfill ourselves.
I often ponder the same questions and my youngest daughter comes to me often asking if she is too boisterous and un-lady like! I love seeing the desire of you and my daughter’s heart! A desire to be the woman of God He has called you to be! Thank you for your insight. I really enjoyed visiting with you today:) Visiting from Grace and Truth!
Welcome, Lisa. Directing external behavior is a lot easier than discerning internal motivation, and I admire you as a mother for going the harder route. Encouraging your daughter to seek after God’s approval rather than man’s may liberate her (and at the same time bind her) to be all that God designed her to be. Of course that will involve discipline, redirection, and change (as it does for all of us no matter what our personality starting point may be), but hopefully it will cast a vision for her to grow into the fullness of Christ rather than to shrink into any stereotypical/cultural box.
Gosh, sometimes I can wonder why I’m not more assertive or wish I had better leadership skills… but God gives us all sorts of personalities– we are all fearfully and wonderfully made in His image– and He can use each and every one of us.♥
Oh Heather, don’t we all look longingly at the other side of the fence! I have such admiration for women like you. It’s a good thing we aren’t all assertive leaders, or nothing would ever get done (and no one would get along). Following is way-underestimated–I think we should courses in it! May God bless you with a greater understanding of His good purposes for you.
Tiffany, I’m always so thankful for your perspective, as you have a refreshing mix of relatable humility and biblical authority. You’ve shared so insightfully here, and I’m honored to feature this post at A Divine Encounter on Friday. I pray that your words will bless many more women (and men!) as they have me. Thank you for ministering to us!
Wow-thanks, Jennifer. My concern with a post like this is too encourage women who don’t fit the mold of what their Christian culture may expect of them. The danger with this is in any way communicating that those whose personalities are gentler and quieter are somehow inferior. The fact is that God creates us with such diversity–both in personality and gifting–to more accurately display the many facets of His own glorious nature. And you are a beautiful example of that!
Great article! You’ve very ably expressed some very good and important points for us to understand as women!
God wants us to use the gifts He has given us for His glory, not to stifle them to fit into some “Christian” cultural norm. I think that stifling is sad; it keeps us from truly presenting the excellent service to God that He intended for us to give Him.