The Surprising Meaning Behind Those Famous Modesty Verses

One of you recently asked, “How do you live 1 Peter 3:3–4? I have an idea, but I’m not sure.”

You’ve probably heard these verses before, but here’s a refresher:

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.

How do you live these verses?

Context is critical to understanding what the Bible means

Not without 1 Peter 3:1–2 or 1 Peter 3:5–6. Context is critical to understanding what the Bible means. So let’s check out the surrounding verses. The chapter begins:

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.

Ah! So Peter is writing to married women.

Sweet! So I don’t have to listen to and apply this passage yet because I’m not married, right?


But before we apply it to ourselves, let’s make sure we understand the original meaning of this text.

First Peter 3:3–4 is followed by these verses:

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.

Yowza. This passage is all about . . . submission! Before you start sending me hate mail, let me point out some good news:

  1. In the context of marriage, we are only commanded to submit to one man, our own husband. You don’t have to submit to other women’s husbands (re-read the first part of verse 1 to see this for yourself), although part of being a Christian is respecting and considering the needs of all people.
  2. God isn’t asking us to do anything He hasn’t already done. Did you notice the way 1 Peter 3 started with the word “Likewise”? Peter is comparing our submission to someone else’s. But whose? Flip the page in your Bible to the end of chapter two for the answer.

We are all called to submit to the authorities over us. Not only to those who are “good and gentle,” but also to those who are “unjust.”


Because Christ, our Lord, did so for you and me:

Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21–23).

Obviously there’s a whole lot more to get out of this text, but let me stop and try to answer this girl’s question about how to live out 1 Peter 3:3–4 as a single. I’d suggest starting with this:

  1. Submit to the authorities who are currently in your life while ultimately entrusting yourself to your heavenly Father. Make your dad and mom’s job easy. Seek to be easy to lead.
  2. Remember that your beautiful face will eventually go, but your character will remain. Don’t trust in your outer beauty to capture and keep a man.
  3. Ask God to help you not fear anything that’s frightening. Seek to grow your trust in Him so you don’t have to trust in yourself during frightening times, but can throw yourself on Him.

Now that you know a bit more of the context of 1 Peter 3:3–4, how else do you think you can begin to become this kind of reverent, fearless, God-trusting woman?

About Author

Paula Marsteller

Paula no longer tries to catch guys' attention by swallowing live goldfish, arm wrestling, and jumping down flights of stairs. (She's married to a wonderful man now!) She spends her days caring for her son, Iren, and writing for Revive Our Hearts. She's the author of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl: On Her Journey from Neediness to Freedom, and she and her family live in New York. You can catch all her writing on

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  • Chloe

    Wow there is so much more going on here than I thought! Clearly that was the whole point of the article 🙂 it’s amazing how much we tend to focus on one or two verses at a time, and puzzle over them when all we need to do is read the context around it! A really good lesson for me to remember.

    • phendricks

      Sweet, Chloe. Happy context searching!

      • Chloe

        Thank you! A question: which book of the Bible would you recommend for someone who has no idea where to start?

        • Allison

          Chloe, John is an absolutely amazing place to start. I have read through that book many times myself, and it does a great job laying the foundation for our faith. May the Lord bless you as you study His Word!


          • Chloe

            Thank you so so much!

  • Sara

    Hi Paula, I have a question for you. That passage you quoted above says that Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. Abraham told Sarah to lie, though, and she followed him into that lie and submitted to his wishes (Gen. 20). Do you agree that she should have submitted to him in this? John Piper, I believe, says that women should not follow their husbands into sin, the way that Sarah did. Do you have thoughts on this? Thanks!!

    • phendricks

      Wow, great question, Sara!

      I don’t know for sure, but my gut reaction is that in that particular instance, Abraham wasn’t believing God, and Sarah was right there along with him. But only God knows their hearts.

      One thing I do know, God is often VERY gracious to people. See Hebrews 11 for example. Or where He calls Gideon a mighty warrior.

      I like the way you’re thinking!


  • joenia25

    Hi, I got one question. Why is submission so important to God?

    • Carrie @ Revive Our Hearts

      Great question, joenia25!

      To submit simply means to lay down your will or desire for the will or desire of someone else, to yield to, or to let someone else call the shots.

      As followers of Jesus, God asks us to submit to Him. “Submit yourselves therefore to God (James 4:7)”. Why would we lay down our will for God’s? Because He’s the Creator. He’s the One who knows what’s best for us. And He loves us! He even sent His Son Jesus to die so that we might have a personal, intimate relationship with Him.

      Check out more on these posts:

      What’s the Big Stink About Submission (

      I am My Own Authority (

  • Amber

    I have a question. Are you going to finish the chapter because I love what you said about the first few verses?

    • phendricks

      I didn’t have plans to, Amber, but I’ll consider it. Thanks for your encouragement!