Gentle and Quiet

Last week I wrote about modesty and its relation to 1 Peter 3:3-4:

“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.”

I want to tackle another part of this passage that I find particularly challenging: what in the world is a gentle and quiet spirit?

A surface reading of these verses might suggest that God intends for women to be silent and weak. For too many years in history—and still in many places around the globe today—women have been relegated to second class citizens and told that their insights are not valuable and that their voices need not be heard. Some would argue that the Bible and Christianity purport a similar notion, but this grave misunderstanding of scripture needs correction. Is God’s intention for women really that we be the subservient sex?

Certainly not! In fact, there are many examples of women in the the Bible whose bold speech and actions God used powerfully for His glory. Queen Esther spoke up on behalf of her people, risking death to present her case before Xerxes. Ruth, a foreigner caring for her Jewish mother-in-law, claimed her right to a kinsman redeemer by sneaking into the place where Boaz slept to essentially propose that he marry her. The woman who anointed Jesus’ head with expensive oil, though intruding on a male-only dinner party, was praised by Jesus himself, who said, “she has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matthew 26:10).

In many times throughout scripture, God works through bold women to affect change, to provide for His people, and to rebuke the sins of others. In fact, as Christians, both men and women are called to act courageously for their faith.

So if Peter doesn't mean to suggest that women keep silent, then what do these terms "gentle" and "quiet" really mean?

The word used in 1 Peter for “gentle” is actually the same as the word used in 2:2).

Rather than a suggestion for segregation and silence, Peter’s words laud the kind of peaceful heart that is only possible when we rest in the gospel. He isn’t talking about a certain personality type or favorable set of behaviors. Though it is tempting to juxtapose his caution against focusing on external beauty with a charge toward beautiful deeds (as I used to hear growing up, “beauty is as beauty does”), Peter reaches deeper than our appearance, and deeper than our works too, to examine our character. The beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is imperishable because this God-grown depth of character is unencumbered by age, circumstance, and even death.

For women trying to live this out, a gentle and quiet spirit manifests in all spheres of life. The mom at home with boisterous young boys, her days filled with reenacting Transformers or executing tickle-attacks, may be anything but gentle and quiet in enthusiasm and personality. But if her anxieties about their safety and development are quelled by her trust in God's design for her family, this shows evidence of a "tranquil and quiet life." Her spirit is peaceful, even if her activities aren't. In the same way, the teacher may be stern in commanding her classroom and the business exec fierce in negotiating a deal, but if she patiently listens to her struggling student or frustrated employee and knows how to offer a kind word in season, she has learned from Christ to be "gentle and humble in heart." The friend who destroys in a game of beach volleyball and the roommate who instigates a de-stress dance party and the engaged citizen who makes her plea before the community council may all seem loud or firm or aggressive in the task at hand, but none of these actions necessarily stand in opposition to a gentle and quiet spirit.

Because of the firm foundation we have in Christ, we can find peace amidst life's circumstances and a truly beautiful spirit that can be both bold and at rest. This is a much more accurate foil to a heart that clings to the hope of appearances. It only follows that Proverbs 31:30 would conclude, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”