9 Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God. (1 Timothy 2:9-10 CSB)
I start our discussion of 1 Timothy here in part because it’s the first thing Paul says about women in this passage, but also because I had a personal moment recently when God encouraged me. Throughout Scripture God repeatedly urges us women not to put our focus on our outward beauty, but on our character – as expressed in our relationship with Him and our treatment of our fellow humans. Unfortunately it has been the case throughout history and across many cultures that, because of sinful humanity, women are valued for their physical beauty more than for their character. Here in 1 Timothy 2, Paul reminds women to focus on good works rather than on their appearance.
Yesterday, I was at the gym. As a 61 year old women it is healthy for me to lift weights. Weight lifting prevents bone and muscle loss and I need strong bones and muscles in order to continue serving God and people. But I confess; a large part of my motivation to go to the gym is also to look good. As I was stretching, I looked down at my body and noticed how my skin was wrinkled and sagging and I was immediately horrified. But on the heels of my horror, I believe God brought to mind Proverbs 31:30, which reads, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting (YEAH, it really is!), but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” That’s what the Word of God affirmed to me. And the passage goes on: “Give her the reward of her labor, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”
This is so opposite our culture! Periodically, I see a magazine headline listing “The 10 Most Beautiful Women” or something similar. Of course, all of these women are celebrities of some kind.. I don’t think I have ever seen a list of the “10 Most Godly Women”, or “The 10 Most Generous Women.” Our world is constantly evaluating women according to their looks. But God evaluates us not on our looks, but on our relationship with Him. Furthermore, this is how He evaluates all human beings. I hear in this verse, and the surrounding passage how deeply He affirms that I am made in His image, and that He looks not on my outer appearance but on my heart. It is in my heart and by my actions that I can produce, with the help of the Holy Spirit, an imperishable beauty.
Now back to 1 Timothy 2 – there may be some particular cultural and historical things going on in this passage. I will write about them in a future post. What we know for sure is that God is directing women to follow Him and to practice goodness, rather than to focus on our appearance. Focusing on our outward beauty takes time and money. I remember reading one of those articles I mentioned above and finding out that one of the beautiful celebrity women spent four hours daily at the gym! All for a beauty that will fade with time. And all that time spent on beauty leaves much less time for good works!
Good works also require us to be generous with our time and money. But they yield a reward that is not fleeting, and the Maker of the Universe takes notice of them. Good works are an investment in other human beings, who bear God’s image and live eternally. Women and men are called to use their time, money and talents for the good of God’s kingdom. No matter how hard I work out, I cannot stop the process of aging. But one beauty I can cultivate is an ever increasing fitness for wise and kind actions carried out in love for God.