Question: My friend noticed that I do not wear jewelry and asked me why. I was raised in a conservative church where the ladies do not wear jewelry because of what the Bible says in 1 Peter, but I do not know how to talk to my friend. What should I say?
It is admirable that you respect your church’s perspective on jewelry, seek to obey the Scriptures, and aspire to talk with your friend in a wise and gracious way. Romans 14:17-19 says that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” When discussing secondary issues such as jewelry with our Christian brothers and sisters, we should approach our conversation in a way that leads to mutual edification and strengthens our shared love for Christ. A few thoughts come to mind that may be helpful to you.
Make sure that you understand the relevant Biblical passages. In the New Testament, 1 Peter 3:1-6 (to which you alluded) and 1 Timothy 2:8-10 are especially important. Throughout history, Christians have varied in their interpretation of these passages. Many have considered these to be absolute prohibitions against jewelry (e.g., some of the early church fathers, John Wesley, and the Puritans who influenced Wesley). I believe that there are good exegetical and practical reasons to favor this view. I highly recommend reading “Pleasing God – Adornment” where Nathan Brown expounds the passages with disciple-makers in mind. Even if you do not personally wear jewelry, you should wait to talk to someone about the issue until you understand the Scriptural reasons for your position. It is never wrong to ask your friend for time to think, study, and pray before discussing the issue further. In fact, she may respect you more for doing so. You should think seriously about other perspectives and weigh all of the arguments in light of the Bible. Consider asking your pastor for help in this process.
When you discuss the relevant passages, do so in context. In both 1 Peter and 1 Timothy, the context of the apostle’s writing on jewelry is women’s relationship to men. Peter focuses on the wife’s submission to her husband while Paul addresses a woman’s appearance when worshipping alongside a man in a public worship service (note the similar context in 1 Corinthians 11). Both make the same fundamental point that a woman’s external appearance should be consistent with her internal attitude: one of humility, meekness, and submission. While a quiet and meek spirit is of great value in the eyes of the Lord, and submission is a godly virtue, our contemporary culture is very confused by this Biblical emphasis. Healthy submission is often conflated with control and abuse. Before you can discuss jewelry with your friend, you may need to discuss why submission, humility, and meekness are the appropriate attitudes for Christian women. Be sure to emphasize that men and women are fully equal in worth and competency, and that men are called to submit in certain areas of their lives.
Discuss jewelry in its broader biblical context. There is no virtue in putting off jewelry simply for the sake of looking plain or fitting in to a particular Christian subculture. Even if you think that you are right, you should not want your friend to stop wearing jewelry simply because you say so. Your sincere desire should be for her to make every lifestyle choice as an act of loving worship to Christ. God wants us to adorn ourselves properly to image his glory and exemplify gospel values. Our appearance is a signpost to Christ’s righteousness. If we do not help our friends to see this—or if we fail to see it ourselves—then we will not glorify Christ by our standards. To help a friend understand how adornment fits into the big picture of God’s plan for his people, I might say something like this:
God sent Jesus to save a holy people for his glory. As his chosen people, we are called to show his goodness and grace to a corrupt and lost world. We do this by honoring Christ and pursuing holiness in every area of life. As we pursue the inward beauty of a pure heart and Christlike spirit, it has implications for the way that we dress. Our outward appearance should be consistent with our inner person. God has given us principles for adornment, and we should follow them carefully.
Sit down with your friend in person and turn to the relevant passages in a physical Bible. Even if your friend ultimately disagrees with your perspective, they need to wrestle with what God says. The best thing that you can do is to engage in a respectful conversation that centers on God’s words in Scripture. As you explain your position, avoid a condescending tone. Do not suggest that they “do not have the light yet.” Even statements such as, “just keep your heart open” can come across as patronizing. Simply show the person why you believe what you believe, then trust the weight of your arguments, the words of Scripture, and the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to influence your friend.
Adjust your approach based on your friend’s spiritual maturity. If your friend is not a mature Christian, she may be unable to have an honest discussion about jewelry. If she is contentious about controversial issues, has glaring sin issues in her life, or is not truly seeking to please God in everything, the discussion will probably be unfruitful. It may be better to set aside the discussion for some time and focus on leading your friend to a deeper knowledge of Christ. Or, if you are tactful, you may be able to use the conversation on jewelry as a bridge to the more important issues of the heart. Help your friend to see that Paul and Peter’s admonitions only make sense to Christians who are radically sold out to living holy lives that are worthy of their Savior.