…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.
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.