Christian Perspectives on Strength and Beauty

Today I chatted with Jane, an elderly Catholic believer who often sits on a doorstep near my office. Jane volunteered the story of a young woman from her church who offends by showing cleavage, too much leg, and too little discretion with her beauty. Jane went on to say that girls shouldn’t dress that way in God’s house. I commented that the whole world is God’s house and asked Jane if she could talk to the girl about modesty. Jane said she would never do that. Unfortunately Jane was willing to tell me about this girl, but hadn’t the courage to persuade the girl to save the display of her valuables for her husband. If only we would have courage to apply Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-20 to this area of life as well.
After work, the neighbor kids dropped by to show me their puppy. The brother showed me how the puppy can growl, while I asked the sister (7th grade) what she thought of a recent Bible club we hosted. I explained again that we are all sinners, but the good news is that Jesus has forgiven our sin. She turned the subject to her previous pastor, saying he had judged her for wearing immodest clothing. I reflected how to answer her as she stood before me with skin tight shorts, sassy T-shirt, her hands on cocked hips, and her navel suggestively revealed. I asked her if she judges herself.
Following is a challenge that we would judge our own display of strength and beauty, saving us the embarrassment of correction by others or the pain of God’s discipline. And that we would have the courage to exhort those in our care to be humble with strength and modest with beauty.
Strength and Beauty Fallen
Strength and beauty in man and woman is an incredible reflection of the engineering and artistry of God our creator. All creation proves God to be the master of function and form. Consider God’s brilliant engineering in a simple tree or flower, as well as the beautiful artistry. Likewise, consider God’s creation of man and woman, the reflection of his own image!
Yet since our eviction from the Garden of Eden, the strength and beauty we see today is defaced by the corruption of sin. There is absolutely nothing existing in this world today close to the perfection of strength and beauty found in Adam and Eve before they ate the forbidden fruit. Since then we see strength and beauty marred by weakness, ugliness, brokenness, sickness, disease, obesity, and genetic weakness. Yet, perhaps through the fortune of youth, a good pedigree, hours in the gym, pounds of makeup, hours in front of the mirror, and the help of Photoshop experts we can imagine a glimpse of the strength and beauty in that perfect garden so long ago. Yet even so, the strength and beauty we lust after today is a thin veneer of cosmetic painted over corrupt and blackened hearts, some of whom would sell their souls to Wal-Mart magazine racks for a buck or worse, parade their sexuality like a runway model in my friend Jane’s church and churches all across the land from liberal Catholic to conservative Baptist.
In truth a veneer of strength and beauty painted over a sinful heart is even more revolting and sinister than outright weakness and ugliness. Suppose I handed you a piece of tempting cake from the Death by Chocolate recipe book and just as you raised a huge fork-full to your lips I say, “The cake is more than meets the eye. I also added a cup of Botulinum.” You then ask, “What is Botulinum?” I then answer, “Botulinum is the deadliest poison known to mankind.” You then freak out and scream, “What, are you a mad man?!” I try to calm you down saying, “Ok, ok, just relax. We don’t have to eat the cake, but let’s just leave it on the counter so the rest of the family can enjoy its beauty.” You then push me out of the way with a singular determined goal to strip the icing from the cake and expose the poison so all can avoid the danger. Strength and beauty, like everything, is fallen and a veneer of strength and beauty over a rebellious heart is still poison. We lust after the strength and beauty we see in the men and women around us, but it is icing over a cake filled with Botulinum. If we take a bite we will suffer and die.
Strength and Beauty Idolized
Americans spend millions if not billions on cosmetics, diets, gyms, fashion, plastic surgery, and more. The lust for strength and beauty and the praise they get from this world grips America’s heart. Man and woman is the pinnacle of God’s creation, so the worship of strength and beauty in man and woman is certainly not an unexpected idolatry. However, to replace worship of God with worship of even the best of his creation saddens and angers him. For example, Romans Chapter 1 explains that God punishes idolaters by handing us over to homosexuality.   When we praise men and women for their strong and beautiful bodies instead of praising God for his wonderful design, God throws a wrench of perversion into our lives. God is not vindictive in doing this, but his love demands that our eyes be captivated by him. Thus he may hold our rebellious heads under the filth of sin until we repent and gasp for forgiveness.
We should be gripped in fear by these concepts. However, too often we do not read the Bible, or if we do, we blind our eyes to the blazing passion God has for our hearts. He is white hot with burning love for our full devotion, and will burn every idol that stands in the way to ashes.  Inconceivably he wills us to pervert his own good creation should we idolize it.
Furthermore, if we happen to be graced with strength and beauty in this fallen world shouldn’t we be humbled if not embarrassed by such a gift when so many do not have strength or beauty? What if a father gave one twin son a brand new Mustang convertible for Christmas and gave the other a bike from the junk yard? If hearts were right the Mustang boy would immediately negotiate with his father about this and have compassion on his brother, while the bike boy, though disappointed, would also trust that his father knew best and be content with the bike. However, if hearts were not right the Mustang boy would cruise down the street showing off his gift with no thought that his brother had less and little thanks to his father. Likewise the bike boy would throw his bike in the trash in anger at his father and envy towards his brother. But we know that our Heavenly Father is not this cruel. He is not cruel at all, but he is crafty! In this world he is not Santa Claus, but the tester of our hearts and he does this very thing all the time to test our hearts. Are you passing the test? Are you modest with the strength, beauty, and other good things God has given you?  Are you asking God for compassion on the weak, ugly, and those that have less or nothing?  Or are you angry at God over the broken things in your life?  God is planning an eternity with every tear wiped away and all his children will be graced with perfect strength and beauty with no one lacking one desire. However, until then he tests our hearts with inequity and suffering. He does this to build charity in his disciples. He commands us to bow to him in dependent prayer without anger and to dress ourselves with good deeds instead of immodesty, II Timothy 2:8-10. He commands us to deny man’s praise for superficial strength and beauty and instead to boast in our weakness to receive praise from him. Paul shows us how in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
Strength and Beauty Graced
Do not lose hope or give way to pursue the idols of strength and beauty in the human body. We have his promise that our bodies will be perfected in strength and beauty in eternity! Paul writes,
42) So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown perishable; it is raised imperishable. 43) It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44) It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is also a spiritual body.
I Corinthians 15:42-44 (WEB)
Consider another father who promised his sons brand new race cars when they reached maturity. One doubted his father’s promise, and so gave his life to earning money to buy his own race car. Sadly in the effort he ignored his family, sacrificed his friendships, and had no time to visit his dad. However, the other believed the promise and so drove a beat up car, saving his time and money to serve his family, be with friends, and visit his dad. But we are not discussing auto bodies, but instead desire for strength and beauty in our physical bodies. A wise person will care for their used car investing just enough oil changes, wax jobs, and inspections to maximize its useful life. However, he also knows that one day the car will hit the junk heap and cars are not as important as people. The same is true of our fallen bodies, for they too will hit the junk heap one day and bodies are not as important as souls. A foolish person, however, idolizes their car as a status symbol for man’s praise, or hopes for status from a strong beautiful body rather than from Christ. 
Two Extra-Biblical Parables
A good father raised three sons and wanted each to be a trophy winner. In fact this is the very father who invented trophies. He also loved to see his sons excel in sport. But the father grew concerned about a subtle competitive spirit between his sons. The sons never quarreled openly, but just below the surface anger and envy undermined true brotherhood. So the father designed a crafty plan, a foot race between his three sons with three trophies to be awarded. The race was finished and the first son received a large trophy. The second son also received a large, but slightly smaller trophy. The third son received a tiny trophy. The two sons’ joy over their big trophies ended the competition between them initially, but a different competition began. The sons with big trophies took their trophies out of the display case more and more, craving the attention that the beautiful trophies created among their friends. The second son with the large but slightly smaller trophy also figured out how to carry his trophy so that his friends couldn’t tell that his was smaller. The new competition created a worse situation as the boys became more self-centered, thinking only about showing off their trophies at school, work, and church. Now the third place son was utterly humiliated with his tiny trophy. He kept his trophy locked in the display case at all times telling everyone that he was more modest than his brothers. He pouted saying that he did not want a big trophy, though no one believed him. A friend then said to the father that the foot race seemed a terrible idea in the end. The father smiled saying that his crafty plan to expose the hearts of his sons was only just beginning. You see this wise father cared more for the hearts of his sons than his reputation and so he dared to expose their selfishness and envy so it could be cured. Years later the three sons’ eyes were opened to their selfish pride because they became vile even to their friends who first admired their trophies. So the three sons asked forgiveness of each other and their dad. Their father then rewarded all of them with grand trophies, the foremost being the heart of gold he gave them through his crafty plan.
An incredibly rich father died and left an inheritance to his two sons. The father not only was the wealthiest man that ever lived, but he also was the wisest and wanted his sons to be wealthy and wise as well. And so he left $999,999 to his youngest son and $1 to his eldest son. Both sons were men of character with hardly a flaw perceptible. However, their father, who knew them best, noted that the elder was at times self-righteous toward the younger. When he received $1 for his inheritance he was more than disappointed. Yet he fashioned a bold smile of gratitude for his $1 and buried his anger toward his father and brother down so deep that he forgot he was angry himself. The father also noted that the younger was at times irresponsible, leaving the work for the older. When he received the $999,999 his joy over the inheritance left little room for concern over his brother. He imagined that his father arbitrarily chose him for the greater gift and he gladly received it. However, over time the younger brother’s irresponsibility became manifest. He became indiscreet with his wealth. He allowed his big bucks to bulge out of his wallet and shirt and pants pockets. It seems stupid that he would flaunt his wealth rather than keep it safely, but his unscrupulous friends actually encouraged the behavior because they enjoyed looking at his money. The older brother, however, became indignant; saying that money was evil and he wanted nothing to do with it. Yet their father had carefully explained that not money, but the lust for money is evil. Eventually the irresponsible sons’ wealth shrank and his insensible friends left. He had learned how to display his big bucks to get the attention of others, but now with the bucks gone he confessed his error and turned to a sensible friendship with his older brother. The older brother took pity on him and brought him into his home. The meager inheritance of the older brother taught him to serve, and he became wealthy with cheer and hospitality. Imagine their surprise when a relative visited with the remainder of their inheritance handing $1,000,000 to each son with a note from their father. “My sons do not fret the past inequity for that was not really your inheritance, but my investment in your character. My older son, I hope you have learned that money is not as important as wisdom and good friends. My younger son, I hope you have learned that wisdom and good friends are more important than money. Now take your true inheritance and serve others with wisdom.” Prayerful humility and modesty is virtuous with all kinds of wealth, from the possession of big bucks to the possession of strength and beauty.  
A Biblical Strategy for Protecting Valuables
Paul counsels, “Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction [training] in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16 WEB). The Bible is useful to teach ourselves what to believe and how to behave. If someone believes or behaves wrongly they must be reproved. When they repent they should be shown the correct way. Christian character is trained by repeating this process as often as needed. Why does God want us to bow our strength in prayer and reserve our beauty through modesty? What valuables is God protecting? We save our strength and beauty to serve God’s purpose. We protect our bodies from abuse or misuse by ourselves or evil men. We save our consciences from defilement by disobedience. We respect others who have less or nothing.
Strength bowed in prayer and beauty reserved by modesty is not to hide what is weak or ugly, but to protect and preserve what is good, the strength and beauty that he has given us. A Christian perspective on strength and beauty should cause us to fear the Lord’s discipline if we idolize his creation, to humbly and modestly serve God and others with the good things we have as God directs, to compassionately consider others who have less or nothing, to boast in our weakness and ugliness rather than our strengths and beauty, and finally to wait prayerfully for the day when all God’s people will be perfected in strength and beauty for all eternity. We should behave thus, but sadly we still remain sinners. We often do not gain his strength in prayer, but raise our strength in anger. We often do not gain his beauty with good deeds and modesty, but display our beauty immodestly. God help us to obey the Lord and receive his fatherly protection in our lives.
A summary handout follows.
Admired in men
Admired in women
Their Movies
Action adventure
Chick flick
Their Goal
Be a powerful stud
Be a beautiful babe
His Command
I Timothy 2:8
Prayer, not anger or force
I Timothy 2:9-10
Good deeds, not immodesty
His Warning!
Isaiah 22:16-18
Mighty man may be hurled
Proverbs 11:22
Beautiful woman may lack
Our Pitfalls…
Judges 16:18-21
Trust in his own strength
Hide insecurity with strength
Strength w/o wisdom is lame
No true satisfaction
Ezekiel 16:15
Trust in her own beauty
Hide insecurity with beauty
Beauty w/o discretion is ugly
No true satisfaction
Value Now?
I Timothy 4:8
Some value
Proverbs 31:22
Finely clothed
His Wisdom
Jeremiah 9:23-24
Boast that you know God
I Peter 3:3-5
Inner beauty of great worth
Our Goal
A man who prays
A woman who serves
Our Prize
I Corinthians 15:42-44
Raised powerful, glorious
I Corinthians 15:42-44
Raised powerful, glorious