Theology of Beauty in Action: Action, Sacrifice and Community

Beauty and Balance

This section provides an important qualification for all that has gone before. There is nothing innately sinful about pursuing an outward physical appearance that complies with our culture. In other words, there is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and wanting to look nice. In fact, we are called to be good stewards of our bodies, which includes our physical appearance. The key here is perspective and balance. Mahaney explains,

“Seeking to please the Lord does not mean that we neglect our personal appearance. Pure devotion to God will produce an appropriate concern for physical appearance. A godly woman will seek to present an outward appearance that honors God and attracts others to her character. It is not wrong to seek to enhance our own appearance, but we need to evaluate our motives and our commitment to modesty. It is not necessarily evil to wear stylish clothing and an attractive hairstyle. It is not sinful to wear makeup and jewelry. The Proverbs 31 woman wore colorful, high-quality clothing. The bride in the Song of Solomon adorned her appearance with jewelry. We are told that Esther underwent twelve months of beauty treatments—six months with oil and myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. The Bible does not condemn wearing and using these things. It is wearing them for the wrong reasons that God’s Word forbids. As John Piper says in his book A Godward Life: ‘With God at the center—like the ‘sun,’ satisfying a woman’s longing for beauty and greatness and truth and love—all the ‘planets’ of food and dress and exercise and cosmetics and posture and countenance will stay in their proper orbit.’”

The two major problems we run into when it comes to outward appearance are misunderstanding true beauty and idolatry. As we deal with these issues we are better equipped to maintain balance in this area.

Beauty and Action      

In our culture we do not put beauty and action in the same category. Since we tie it to physical appearance it is something that a person possesses rather than something they do. We have seen from Scripture that it is in fact both. Beauty is something possessed and something dynamic. Action reveals character and character determines action. The two are inseparable, which means that beauty must be understood as both attribute and activity.

Practically speaking this means that we must learn to discern beauty in the things we often do not. There is beauty in feeding the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, helping the widow, and protecting the orphan. There is beauty in hospitality, writing a letter of encouragement, praying over someone, sharing the gospel, and weeping with someone grieving. Actions rooted in love are beautiful.

Beauty and Sacrifice

At the heart of our discussion on beauty stands the cross. I have suggested that the very core of beauty is sacrifice. We have seen in Christ the self-giving and sacrificial nature of the Triune God. Beauty is manifested in us as we take up our cross and give our lives away (both figuratively and literally). In our culture physical appearance is so valuable that we are encouraged to sacrifice in order to possess it or maintain it.

Jesus was willing to have his physical appearance “marred” to such a degree that he was unrecognizable (Is 52:14). He sacrificed everything for us that we might know grace. The beauty of this is not in the disfigurement itself, but in the heart and purpose behind it. The Holy Spirit labors to create within us this kind of heart. When we put our lives on the line for the sake of others we reflect this beauty.

Beauty and Community

In the West we tend to think of beauty as an individual thing. Either a person is beautiful or they are not. It has nothing to do with anybody else. Each person stands alone to be measured by the cultural yardstick of beauty. The mirror is the final standard of beauty, nothing else. As we have seen, this is a flawed perspective. Beauty is relational to the core. The beauty of God is the beauty of community. The beauty of the image of God is tied to relationship. The beauty of the church is a corporate beauty.

Practically speaking this means at least two things. First, if you have confessed Christ as Lord then you have been incorporated into his church. The church of Christ is his bride. Through his death and resurrection he has purchased and beautified his bride once and for all (Eph 5:25-27). Individually then you are a member of a body that is considered beautiful and pure in the eyes of God. You belong to a beautiful community.

This communal perspective on beauty is difficult for us to grasp. But we must grasp it if we would understand beauty. From God’s perspective it is this corporate beauty that seems to take precedence over individual beauty. If you read Revelation 19-22 with an eye to the beauty of God’s people you will see that the body as a whole rather than its individual parts is the focus. When Jesus returns to consummate his saving work the end result is a beautiful bride. There is beauty in belonging and we belong to the Triune God and to his church.

The second thing is that beauty is manifest in community through the way we relate. How we interact at home and in the church has everything to do with beauty. If beauty is seen in the way the Father interacts with the Son and the way the Son engages with the Father then certainly it will also be manifested through our interaction with one another.

As we interact with love, patience, gentleness, kindness, compassion, honesty, generosity, grace, forgiveness and selflessness we reflect the beauty of God in our community. If you want to assess your beauty the mirror is not the place to look. Turn your attention instead to your relationships. Let the mirror of community probe you and measure you.

A Humble God and a Humble Community

Spending time in 1 Peter 5:1-6 this last week. I have learned two very important lessons. This first one has to do with humility. Check out this text.

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,’God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

The exhortation to“all” to “clothe yourselves with humility” (5:5) seems to summarize this unit of Scripture. Humility is to be the hallmark of the Christian community as it is exhibited in every relationship. Note the various relationships in the community where humility is to be exhibited.

  1. Elders to elders (5:1–note that Peter does not reference his apostolic authority but considers himself as an elder speaking to other elders—there is humility here)
  2. Elders to congregation (5:2-3, 5)
  3. Chief Shepherd to church (5:4–the Chief Shepherd is the one who has exhibited perfect humility in the way he has saved and served the church. The exhortation to the undershepherds is ultimately grounded in the perfect leadership of the Son. He is the paradigm for all biblical leadership in the church. Joel Green says as much in his commentary. “As Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and elders are shepherds, so Jesus provides the “pattern” and elders a “model.”—1 Peter: Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. I think J has done a great job showing this.)
  4. Young to elders (5:5—It is interesting that he focuses on the youth here—why does he do this?)
  5. Everyone to everyone (5:5—this may in context refer to elders and the young)
  6. Church to God (5:6)

Jesus shows us that God is humble. His life is a window into the inter-relations of the Trinity. When we peak in we see perfect humility expressed one to another. It could be no other way since the Triune God opposes the proud (5:5). There is no opposition in the Trinity and therefore no hint of pride. The greatest display of God’s humility is in the incarnation and cross of the Son. Peter encourages us to view the entire life-work of Jesus as the work of a shepherd/pastor. He comes for lost sheep. He gives his life away for those sheep purchasing them with his own blood. He then protects, guards, feeds, and continues to serve that flock that belongs to him. This is humility. In Jesus we behold the perfect pastor. He is the only pastor that can save us. He is the hope of every undershepherd and every member of the flock. It is this humble shepherd that brings us into the fold of God and connects us into fellowship with the Triune God. Since we are the humble Shepherd’s sheep and we now belong to the humble community of the Godhead we are also to be characterized by humility. All of our relationships must be reflective of the pastor of pastors and the community of communities. Authority, age, gender, race, intelligence, economic status, and outward appearance must have no bearing on the way we engage one another in the church. Humility is the only appropriate garb for Christ-followers. God has humbled himself under us and served us—what a thought!! We now are called to humble ourselves under him and under our brothers and sisters. Humility finds feet in the community when we strive to outdo one another in honor. In this way we reflect the humble Triune God who created us.