Modest Attire

…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, (1Tim 2:9).

The subject keeps coming up. Previously, I wrote about the source of sin, and encouraged men to examine their own hearts (see here). Sin never comes from what another person is wearing. You cannot blame women for your lust, period. As Jesus said,

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. (Mar 7:21)

But then the question arises, are women responsible for how they dress? Did not Paul command women to dress modestly?

One of the reasons that I am writing about this is that I truly hate the multiplication of laws. God gave us ten, and added no more. It is the spirit of the Pharisee that seeks to hedge the law about with the traditions of men and it always leads to bondage and further sin.

The scripture commands us to flee and hate all adultery and fornication and everything that entices towards that. I teach and preach that without hesitation. Where things bog down is when we start prescribing what sort of clothing or body parts lead to adultery…

And this is where it gets more complicated. First of all, a man is alone responsible for his own heart, as I have said.

But a woman is responsible for her own heart as well. If a woman is dressing for the specific reason of arousing lust she must answer for herself to God, just as a man must answer to God. But, to be fair, I have never known a woman to say to herself, “Hey, I bet if I wore a sleeveless dress the horny old preacher will get turned on. I should do that….”

Much of the motive attributed to women comes from the unquenchable pride of the heart of man, I believe. Men, do we really believe that teenage girls dress the way that they do in order to cause you to lust? Deal with your own heart, you adulterer!

“But what about 1 Timothy 2:9???”

Paul is addressing a pastor and teaching him how to instruct his congregation. Many converts of the early church were slaves and had no opinion or choice in what they wore at all. A slave generally wore a toga if the master was generous. Some slaves wore nothing at all, which is why Jesus spoke so often of clothing the naked.

The attire of a prostitute had nothing to do with how much skin was showing. In some places, a prostitute wore shoes that stamped “follow me” in the sand as they walked. The attire of a prostitute, then as now, was a sign advertising what was for sale.

It has nothing to do with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. We must be careful not to read OUR cultural battles into the text of scripture. We have to read the scripture in the context of the day.

Paul concern was NOT how much skin was showing. If that were the case, most slaves would have been shamed into staying home. They had nothing else to wear. Such, by the way, is the state of our witness to our culture. We must be careful not to shame people into staying home for want of “proper attire”.

Paul’s concern was something else entirely. In that day, status was everything. Where you were on the social ladder was a matter of great importance. When one achieved a status, it was mandatory in that culture to advertise your importance. The number of slaves you owned, how expensive your clothing was, how many jewels, how fancy the hair – all of it served to advertise your importance in the pecking order.

This whole way of thinking is a denial of the communion of the saints and the first principles of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). The doctrine of the church and the communion of the saints is here: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, bond or free.

The apostle James warned of the same thing from a different perspective:

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.
  2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
  3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”
  4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
  5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
  6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
  7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
  8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
  9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
  10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (Jam 2:1-10 NKJ)

When we fight for status and recognition, when we dress to highlight our own personal importance, when we seek to elevate ourselves above our neighbors, we have, in effect, denied the blood of Christ who bought us.

To be “immodest” in apparel, according to scripture, is to advertise our importance, wealth and social standing through our clothing, jewelry, hair, makeup, etc. THIS is what the apostles warned of.

3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward– arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel–
4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
(1Pet 3:3-4)

We are not given instructions on how much skin to cover, or what kinds of clothes are appropriate or inappropriate. That all is cultural. Sexual attraction is a complicated matter, and far more in depth that covered collarbones or shoulders or exposed knees. We are making fools of ourselves.

And yet, how often do we advertise our importance and wealth and standing through our clothes? Do we shame those who don’t own suits or Sunday best into staying home?

Do we shame those who are seeking refuge from the assaults of the world into fleeing from us because they don’t have the right clothes? This is Paul’s concern far more than how short a skirt is.

We should dress as beautifully as we can (appropriately and well-arranged), but with “shamefacedness” – an old fashioned word. It means, “Not so impressed with your own importance”.

This is the heart of what meekness is. And all Christians should be meek as Jesus was meek.

Remember, in that day, most people only had one garment.

13 Comments

Filed under modesty

13 responses to “Modest Attire

  1. Ann

    Thank you for this, Sam. There is so much here that resonated with me. I can remember as a teenager sitting down with the Gothard ATIA handbooks studying the sections about how I was and was not to dress. Coming out of that culture and the fundamental thinking that sees rules for every area of life has been exhausting. What a novel thought- to simply be loved and accepted because of your value as a person created in the image of God and not because of your success of being able to jump all the extra hoops in order to become “acceptable”. I’ve been doing more reading and chewing lately on this idea of how we have been guilty of adding to the laws of God in myriads of unrecognized and traditional ways and the ramification of this for our own faith, the faith of those around us, and its impact on the world’s understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This article fit beautifully into that and I’d love to hear more of your thoughts in other writings.

  2. Jennifer Bales

    Thank you

  3. Natalie

    My daughters and I don’t miss the long, hot denim skirts and hip length hair.

    Even though I carefully followed the “modesty dress code” and the submissive, obedient wifely behavior, never saying no, my husband cheated… A lot. And called me a whore whenever he got angry or caught.

    No amount of righteous living on the part of a woman will change the heart of a man.

    I notice the men who most ridgidly insist on all these rules for women and girls are the men who are hiding the nastiest sexual sins.

    • I agree completely. It is telling that the Christian sect with the highest rates of incest, molestation and rapes is the Amish. There are continual disturbing reports coming out of those communities.

    • Beth

      Natalie,

      I’m glad you shared your experience. I’m sorry that was done to you. You deserved better.

      “No amount of righteous living on the part of a woman will change the heart of a man.”

      You speak truth, sister!

      Same thing goes with wife abuse. No amount of praying and hoping and changing their behavior to suit the batterer’s latest whims will stop the abuser from being a wife-beater, and abusing his victim.

      I only disagree with you on the last part, as one can hardly fathom the nasty sexual sins other, less conservative or religious, men are doing. The depravity that exists in the world is overwhelming. It’s shocking when it comes from within religious or conservative communities, though, and gets a lot of attention because of that, but be assured, the men and boys outside of the church circles are worse, way worse.

  4. Jane Edelman

    As a teen more than 30 years ago, my son was turned away from his friends’ large Baptist Church because he was wearing denim shorts and a polo shirt. He swore he would never step foot in a Baptist church. So far he hasn’t, and I’m sure he never will.

  5. Walt

    But a woman is responsible for her own heart as well. If a woman is dressing for the specific reason of arousing lust she must answer for herself to God, just as a man must answer to God. But, to be fair, I have never known a woman to say to herself, “Hey, I bet if I wore a sleeveless dress the horny old preacher will get turned on. I should do that….”
    Much of the motive attributed to women comes from the unquenchable pride of the heart of man, I believe. Men, do we really believe that teenage girls dress the way that they do in order to cause you to lust? Deal with your own heart, you adulterer!

    You start out admitting that women have some moral agency then take it away at the end. They dress that way to get attention from certain men they are interested in or to compete with other women.

    It has nothing to do with Paul’s instructions to Timothy. We must be careful not to read OUR cultural battles into the text of scripture. We have to read the scripture in the context of the day.
    Paul concern was NOT how much skin was showing. If that were the case, most slaves would have been shamed into staying home. They had nothing else to wear. Such, by the way, is the state of our witness to our culture. We must be careful not to shame people into staying home for want of “proper attire”.

    This is quite a novel interpretation. “Bling” is certainly being addressed by this passage but let’s not allow pretend our own culture is not in view. Man’s culture has not fundamentally changed since Paul or Romans 1-2 are wrong. Therefore we must not read our cultural battles OUT of the text either. The passage certainly addresses modesty in other ways, including showing too much skin.

    Many converts of the early church were slaves and had no opinion or choice in what they wore at all. A slave generally wore a toga if the master was generous. Some slaves wore nothing at all, which is why Jesus spoke so often of clothing the naked.

    Indeed. If it’s true that slaves had nothing to wear, there would be numerous reasons to give them garments when they showed up to church for them to take him. “When I was naked, you clothed me.”

    • The passage I address has nothing whatsoever to do with showing too much skin. I would suggest you look at the original word in the Greek.
      I don’t quite understand your desperate need to make sure that Women understand that THEY ARE SINNERS TOO!
      No one has denied that. In fact, the opposite is true. The conservative evangelical has made sure that every perceived JEZEBEL is loudly shouted down quite enough, thank you.

      so when I come along and try to bring some moderation by looking at what the text actually says, for some reason you are afraid that a woman might be getting away with something somewhere.

      So, let me ask you this. At what point do you know for certain that a woman is dressing to turn on a specific man? Do you automatically assume that they are trying to attract you?
      Perhaps it is flannel shirts that attracts the man. Is that a sin, then?
      What about boots for the man with the foot fetish? Are those sins?

      I, of course, already said that a woman who seeks to sexually attract a man contrary to the 7th commandment is sinning.
      But are YOU now the omnipotent moral busybody that must ensure that they comply.
      Is it what turns YOU on that makes it a sin for a woman? And where have you published that list?
      Collarbones? Short skirts? Sleevless?
      Or is it knees and ankles?

      Do you see where i am going with that?
      You could have them all dress like the Amish, but the Amish have the highest rates of incest and sexual abuse and rape of any Christian denomination.

      I have already said, and i will say it again, a woman who seeks to sexually turn on a man contrary to the seventh commandment is sinning. But this has to do with the heart, which I have not been given the privilege to see. That is why she is responsible for her own heart and not me. I have no intention of publishing a list of what I find attractive and what i do not find attractive in order to put the burden of my lust on the shoulders of my sisters. Instead, I will deal with my heart through repentance and continue to treat them as sisters in Christ.

    • Alyssa

      I’m with you, Pastor!

      In Bolivia, this particular Mennonite community had a series of rapes back a number of years ago where several men were taking chemicals used to tranquilize cows and misting them into homes at night and then proceeding to gang rape the women and girls while the entire was sedated, if not unconscious. Nothing of the sort has ever occurred with women doing things like that. Men have way more sexual sins and depravity than women. They just do. Probably has a lot to do with the sexism and misogyny they are raised with and society inculcates them with and such makes for entitled predatory perverts who have a litany of sexual sins to be confessing and all.

      Also, some girls, especially teenagers, dress in immodest ways as part of pushing boundaries, trying out new fashions that are presented by the world as being particularly ‘cool’, rebelling against parental control, or just experimenting with different looks. If fashion wasn’t so sexualized as it is, there would probably be more conservative looks. But one look at the market and one can see even babies’ clothing is made into sexy versions, there are tiny bikinis avalable for toddlers, etc. Boys’ clothing isn’t like that.

      In short, I can safely say I’ve never known any girl who goes about her day thinking about how to turn old men on. And yet I’ve known about plenty of old men who go about lusting after and sexually harassing young teenage girls. I don’t see old women doing anything of the sort to teenage boys.

  6. Walt

    I can’t tell if you blocked my IP but there’s no point in asking questions if you don’t want answers. Anyways, you can read Calvin’s commentary on 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and clearly see that modesty for the purpose of chastity is also in view along with the things you’ve said. There would obviously be a problem if a church was full of people dressing like they’re headed to a nightclub just as if there would be a problem if they were all dressing like they were headed to the horse track or a party in the Hamptons to exclude poor people. Paul is striking this balance as Calvin explains.

    If you want to know my motivations for rebutting you, just ask.

    Mostly, you need to read what I wrote much more clearly and not attribute motives to me that you don’t know and you’ll find the answers to your questions therein.

  7. Anu Riley

    Pastor I had no idea about the cultural based attire of slaves OR prostitutes from that time period, thank you for that. The “visibility” factor of skin you brought up was also enlightening.

    Status is everything in this day and age as well, IMO. We claim to have learned so much from history, yet we seem determined to either repeat it, or simply continue in it. How often do we “rate” the worth of others based on anything BUT who they are on the inside?

    It works both ways: this person can’t be in need. They aren’t dirty or disheveled enough. Or, this person can’t be insecure or unloved. They are too pretty and put together. So, you’re destitute only if you LOOK a certain way. You’re insecure only if you LOOK a certain way.

    James 1:14 gives one of the best descriptions of how temptation can lead a person to choose to sin. There is no wiggle room to point fingers or shift blame or shame onto anyone but ourselves.

    The point of this post was NOT to start a fashion discussion. We’ll never come to a unified, absolute consensus. What is skimpy in your eyes may be considered sufficient for others. This is about how we treat one another.

    Here are some hypothetical statements we might hear:

    Scantily dressed women are “asking” for it. If you cover up, nothing bad will happen to you.

    Victims range from infants to the elderly. So, did that baby wear a revealing “onesie,” or was grandma pushing a “sexy” walker? You can’t apply the clothing argument solely to young, attractive females. Also, ever heard the expression: “undressing with the eyes?”

    Males are more “sexually” wired so females must take great pains to not dress or act provocatively. Purity comes at a cost.

    If you take great pains to humanize the female gender from an early age, males will learn how to respect them. Seeing one another as Christ sees us is the best antidote against dehumanizing one another. It is harder to aim for this, easier to condemn females for supposedly making so “hard” to humanize them.

    You also cannot lay the burden of responsibility on an entire gender to curb and control the sinfulness of the opposite entire gender.

    Females dress and act in certain ways to get attention. They thrive on it. It is a source of power. They use their sexuality to get what they want so they cannot claim to be victims of their own undoing.

    Intent is hard to prove. It’s dangerous to assume how a mind is or isn’t working. Plus, there ARE females who confuse sexual attention with love. She is far more than curves and a bosom. Perhaps no one bothered to tell her that, and you want to perpetuate that?

    I’ve heard the idea that women supposedly play “cat and mouse” but then cry foul. The defense is: she kept acting like she wanted it; how is she a victim?

    I’ll use myself as an example. I DID “tease” and sadly confused sexual attraction with positive attention. I did NOT want intimacy, but I wanted them to WANT to be intimate with me. It came down to a simple fact: If I was not mature enough to be honest and direct, I should not be taken seriously until I grew OUT of such nonsense. Don’t lay a hand on me until then. BOTH genders should be taught this. And by the way, no one DID lay a hand on me. Do not tell me that males don’t have the ability to think straight.

    If a woman drinks and becomes overly intoxicated or passes out, she is to blame if she is victimized. Bad things tend to happen to bad girls.

    Hospitals are full of comatose and very weakened persons. If you sanction preying on a drunk girl passed out on a bed, by proxy you are sanctioning preying on those lying on a hospital bed.

    And you can’t say that those in hospital beds didn’t do anything “wrong.” You don’t know that. Not only that, but now you are saying it’s OKAY to hurt people based on their behaviors!

    The best defense against victim blaming or shaming is Christ Himself. To aim for nothing less is encouraging and enabling oppression, which He hates.

    Does anyone really and truly believe that WHEN (not if) we each face Him, He is going to justify the oppressor, punish the oppressed?

    For the oppressor: live in fear.Your day is coming.
    For the oppressed: live in hope. Their day is coming.

  8. Alyssa

    I was thinking about this. Not only is it God’s Word, but it’s good for a person and a society overall. Think about how much of one’s life is devoted to status. In fashion, it’s this particular brand versus another. What level of luxury are your accessories? Do you have the expensive watch? The expensive purse? What label is affixed to your shirt?

    If people were to be shamed for conspicious consumption, things might be radically altered. What if people changed from seeing things as a keeping up with the Jones competition (do you have only designer labels for clothes, do you drive the expensive car) in consumption and materialism, but rather went the opposite.

    What if everyone refused to chase after such goods? What if millionaires and most especially billionaires (who shouldn’t exist) were hated, instead of worshipped? What if things were flipped and people acted in service to the community where people would be too ashamed to allow themselves wealth, when others in the community were struggling, even starving? What if the competition for status was altered into who could do the most for others and be the kindest, most decent person?

    Probably nothing changes. Still, all is vanity.

    Thanks be to God this is not our home, we are but foreigners, and that we as His children will be perfected in death/resurrection so we won’t be a part of these pecking order competitions, or vanity, or anything else, someday, as we’ll be without sin, forever in the presence of Almighty God, in our heavenly home.

    I had no idea about the nudity of slaves and the shoes of the prostituted. I always learn things when I read this blog. Many thanks to you, Pastor.

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