Could Modesty Be This Simple?
1 Timothy 2:8-10
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness — with good works.
1 Timothy 2:8-10
English Standard Version (ESV)
The direction given by Paul in this passage may be hard for moderns to take. It is not difficult to understand, when modern prejudices and cultural norms are set aside. And this is always the discipline of the good Bible student: to read and study a text without the baggage of preconceived interests or popular culture.
Timothy is to give direction to men and to women. This is written right on the page: “…the men should…,” and “…women should.” Any questions yet? It is elementary so far.
Men “should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” Other passages indicate that women can should pray in appropriate settings. All Christians enjoy that avenue of access to God. Women can and must pray. Beyond these verses, there is the instruction to women to not “exercise authority over a man,” (verse 12). That accounted for, women certainly have the same avenue as men to pray to God. But this verse is about men engaged in this, and the manner is described: lifting holy hands (reverence)*, without anger or quarreling. No controversy here.
Women “should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and fold or pearls or costly attire, but what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” Other passages imply that men must guard against immodesty. But this passage is directed to men: “…women should!”
Every woman I’ve ever known, who gives priority to being godly and pure, has had no problem with this passage. Every godly woman I know today wants to follow this instruction. No matter what is fashionable in the world, godly women are driven by their devotion to the teaching of the apostles of Christ, including this passage. No controversy here among those with godly ambition.
In a notable narrative from the book of Proverbs, Bible students remember the description of a woman “dressed as a prostitute,” (Prov. 7:10). The surrounding context leaves the clear impression, this was not good! In fact, the point of the passage is – young men should keep their distance from such immoral women. They are “wily of heart … loud … wayward … she lies in wait,” is seductive and has many victims, who were taken to the chambers of death! She is not a godly woman. She dresses according to her evil intent. Any mystery about that? It is clear.
So, there is the woman described in Proverbs seven – and in contrast – the other kind of woman who wants to “adorn” herself “in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with that is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.” There is no prohibition against gold or pearls here, nor any specified price guideline or ruler guideline, because women who have determined to be godly understand all this and are not inclined to quibble the “legalisms.” Good women know what God wants them to emphasize in their outward appearance.
And good women don’t have two closets! There is not, in their home, the harlot closet and the modest closet; only the later. Their purchases and selections of attire coincide with their inner submission to God.
“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, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — 4 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. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 1 Pet. 3:1-6
Any questions? The bible has the answers.
* “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (1 Timothy 2:8). Although Paul’s words might have implications for a common posture of prayer for early Christians, they say more about the posture of the heart. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). There will always be hypocrites in God’s church, but their prayers are not heard. How can any child of God devote himself to filth on Saturday night and then sing “Purer in Heart, O God” on the Lord’s day morning? It is an abomination! We are all sinners, but God has graciously given us the opportunity to repent and confess our sins (1 John 1:8–9), rather than continue in the lie (1 John 1:6).
- - - Wilson, M. (1992). Things to Bring to Worship. In Christianity Magazine: July 1992, Volume 9, Number 6 (24). Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine.
God is Concerned About Our Appearance
Though God may not be concerned about a person’s size, physique, figure, color, or facial features (1 Samuel 16:7), the scriptures from cover to cover indicate that God is concerned with how we choose to appear in public.
God was not satisfied with the fig leaf girdles of Adam and Eve. “And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
In the Mosaic age, God decreed: “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing” (Deuteronomy 22:5). The lower limbs of the priests were to be adequately covered when they went up to God’s altar “so that they do not incur guilt and die” (Exodus 28:42–43).
In the New Testament 1 Corinthians 11:4–16 and 1 Timothy 2:9–10 indicate God’s concern about the appearance of men and women in worship.
One’s outward appearance indicates the contents of the heart, it affects one’s influence on others and it can cause others to sin.
Apparel to be Avoided by Christians
Extravagant and Ostentatious Clothing. 1 Timothy 2:9–10 suggests that “women professing godliness” will not attempt to draw attention to themselves with “braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” Such outward appearance detracts from the impression they wish to leave by their good works and disguises “the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4). It can also be a source of embarrassment to others who are not able to dress so expensively. “Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:4–5).
Seductive Clothing. The “attire of an harlot” (Proverbs 7:10) serves her purposes of seduction. Similar attire worn by a virtuous woman will serve the same purpose even though she does not intend it. Bathsheba may not have intended to seduce David, but her carelessness doubtless contributed in a major way to David’s sin. Much that passes for fashion today is intended to be seductive. The designers have found ways to expose more flesh and to do so more seductively than in any previous generation in our history.
Modern technology has created materials that reveal every feature of the body while still technically covering it. The appeal of such apparel is clearly sensual and those who conform to such fashions are clearly being “conformed to this world”.
Christians do not have to dress this way. In the sixties, all dresses purchased in the shops were short and many a Christian woman kept a sewing machine busy to provide dresses of reasonable length. Today, however, there is a choice. Christian women can cover the body sufficiently, even to the ankles if they desire, and still be fashionable. Why should they choose to do otherwise?
Shorts have become popular for most informal occasions. The argument is made that when they are knee-length they are as modest as dresses. Perhaps so—when one is standing—but all too often a sitting posture reveals far more than the wearer suspects. Good women would do well to assume their usual sitting posture in front of a mirror before they decide whether clothing is suitable for public wear. Older women need to do more teaching of the younger women regarding what to wear and how to sit in public.
Clothing that is Disrespectful. In many societies, people have only one change of clothing which must be worn on all occasions. In our more affluent society, we have different clothing to wear for work, for sport, for formal occasions or for casual affairs. How an individual chooses to dress indicates something of his attitude toward the activity in which he is engaged. Jesus told of a man who was punished for failing to dress appropriately at a wedding (Matthew 22:12–13). One can dress respectfully without being extravagant and ostentatious. One does not have to be prosperous to be clean. It would seem that anything we would consider disrespectful to wear to the funeral of a friend would be disrespectful at the memorial of our crucified Lord.
Clothing Suggesting Sympathy with Sinful Practices. Clothing or accessories do not have to be immoral within themselves to be wrong. Some of the Old Testament prohibitions involving certain materials or haircuts must have been because of their identification with heathen practices. Today, there are items of clothing and jewelry and markings of the body that are identified with rebellion, with homosexuality and with hedonism generally. Christians have no business wearing such symbols. There is nothing sinful about a rabbit, but wearing the familiar little bunny’s head in a lapel identifies an individual as a playboy—the opposite of the impression a Christian wishes to make.
Paul wrote, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our goal should be that those meeting us remember not what is on us but Who is in us—Christ in us is our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). What we wear or do not wear will contribute to our success in reaching that goal.
-- Hall, S. (1997). Hallmarks: God Is Concerned about Our Appearance. In Christianity Magazine: September–October 1997, Volume 14, Number 9/10 (5). Jacksonville, FL: Christianity Magazine.
Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 21.2; February 2014