One verse that is often quoted to women is in the closing commendation of Proverbs 31: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised" (Pr. 31:30). As it most often gets quoted in the context of messages on beauty or modesty, I think most of us can mentally emphasize the first part of the verse and neglect to ponder the second part — "yeah, yeah, outer beauty fades, Christian women are supposed to have inner beauty, blah, blah, blah." But how often are we aware of the snare of the fear of man that trips us up in cultivating the fear of the Lord?
It's not accidental that Scripture pits the lure of physical beauty and all the praise it can elicit against the fear of the Lord. Physical attraction gets a lot of attention and praise — from other human beings. But that's not what our Creator praises us for. He will not praise us for the superficial, but for the eternal — our qualities and virtues that, by His grace, reflect our growth through His redemptive efforts.
To be praiseworthy women, I think we have to be able to clearly identify the manifestations of the fear of man. Here's what that snare can look like for women:
Do you change your normal behavior when you are around men you are attracted to?
Do you cancel plans because you feel you don't look very good that day?
Do you agonize over what to wear to an event?
Are you defensive when criticized, no matter how little or great the criticism?
Are you easily embarrassed? Do you find it hard to laugh at yourself?
Are you jealous of other people, their possessions, or their relationships?
Do you have trouble saying no to people when your resources (time, finances, health) are already maxed out?
Do you avoid some people?
Do you consistently second-guess your decisions?
Are you afraid of airing your true opinion about a decision?
Do you embellish certain stories or exaggerate the truth to make you look a little better than reality? Conversely, do you issue lots of little white lies?
Will you compromise standards of modesty or purity because you want to seem relevant or stylish?
Do you decline dates because you think others will not like or be impressed with the man who has asked you out?
These behaviors are guaranteed to make us dizzy and nauseated. We are looking into the eyes of everyone around us for approval, rather than steadfastly seeking the eyes of our Lord in the twists, turns, and spins of our lives.
But we don't have to be slaves to the opinions of other, fallen creatures. We can be set free by seeking the approval and praise of God. This is what defines a godly woman: "Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing — 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" (1 Peter 3:3-4).
That gentle, quiet spirit is not limited to a certain personality type. It's not like the God who made an enormous variety of people suddenly wants us to act like clones of each other — every woman wearing flowered skirts, sipping tea, and never speaking up.
This passage echoes the wisdom of that Proverbs 29:25 verse: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe." Some translations say whomever trusts in the LORD will be protected or exalted. The literal translation is "raised high" — either to a protective place or to an exalted place.
The point is, a gentle and quiet spirit is one who trusts in the Lord. That trust can be expressed through a wide range of temperaments, from quiet to boisterous. Like a dancer, it is not so much how the moves are made but where we are looking that expresses true fear of the Lord. The benefit is that we are released from being slaves to the opinions of others so that we can love them without strings attached. As Ed Welch writes:
The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are.... Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God). The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more.
A woman who loves for the glory of a very big God is truly worthy of praise.