Thinking Like a Christian About Modest Apparel
Written by Robert Spinney
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Reformed Practice - Modesty and Dress

The Christian’s wardrobe is no small matter. The daily statements we make with our clothing—intentional or unintentional, interpreted correctly or incorrectly—are among the boldest statements we make. Our children, siblings, coworkers, classmates, and fellow church members cannot help but see our clothing. Everyone notices if we are sloppy or neat, simple or glamorous, provocative or modest. Clothing can both affect our self-image and shape other peoples’ perceptions of us: that is why we spend gobs of money purchasing nice clothing. Thinking Christianly about clothing involves many issues...

We must first remove two obstacles that sometimes prevent Christians from even considering this subject: the belief that any discussion of clothing is inherently legalistic and the belief that such discussions are simply unnecessary. In many places today, simply to raise the subject of immodest clothing is to set off every legalism alarm in the building. This is regrettable.

We do not understand holiness if we think applying Colossians 3:17 (“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus”) to the subject of clothing is somehow wrong. The person who says, “Jesus will not be Lord of my clothing” is little different from the person who says, “Jesus will not be Lord of my money.”

Nor is it legalistic when God’s people endeavor to obey God’s instructions. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well when he said that if the “grace” we have received does not help us to keep God’s laws, then we have not really received grace. To be sure, Christians can handle the subject of immodest clothing in a clumsy, unbiblical, and grace-denying fashion. That is a problem. But surely, ignoring the subject is not the solution: by doing this, we imply there is no such thing as inappropriate clothing.

God’s people cannot afford to ignore this issue. Why not? Because Christians who think unbiblically about this issue do not naturally gravitate toward more modest clothing. As is true with other aspects of living the Christian life, we never “drift forward.” Holiness and spiritual maturity must be pursued (Heb 12:14). That pursuit of godliness should be marked by diligence (2Pe 1:10; 3:14). Our mind’s default settings are not godly: renewing our minds produces spiritual transformation (Rom 12:2).

Sometimes Christians dismiss the issue of modest clothing as trivial. It is not. After all, it was God Who noticed the first clothing ever invented, judged it inadequate, and intervened to replace it with apparel of His own making (Gen 3:7, 21). And no one can deny that much of the clothing available in stores today is scandalously immodest. “If you’re blind or from another planet,” writes Barbara Hughes, “you may conceivably have missed the fact that modesty has disappeared. It is dead and buried! If you don’t think so, go shopping with a teenager.”

A third issue also deserves attention at the outset of this discussion. Some God-fearing Christians dress immodestly, even though they have no wish to offend others, flaunt their sexuality, or turn heads with their skimpy apparel. These believers often sincerely think they are dressing modestly. The problem? They take their fashion cues from the world. They permit the clothing industry and entertainers to define both what is beautiful and what is appropriate apparel. The result? Stylish attire that runs afoul of biblical principles. Clothing that reflects the world’s values can be immodest regardless of the wearers’ motives. Innocent motives change nothing: unintentional immodesty and “immodesty out of igno- rance” are still unbiblical immodesty. The Christian might truthfully say, “It is not my intention to dress sensually or seductively,” and yet still dress inappropriately. Surely biblical principles—not worldly fashion designers, movie stars, and celebrities—should set the standards for proper clothing.

To whom is this booklet addressed? I suppose to every reader who wears clothing. However, it seems that we tend to direct messages like this at younger women. This strikes me as inappropriate. The message in this booklet is aimed primarily at husbands and fathers, who are the God-ordained leaders of families.  When I see a Christian teenager who is immodestly dressed, my first thought is, “Where is the father? Why is the father asleep at the wheel?” When a married Christian woman does not dress modestly, my first thought is, “Why is the husband so unconcerned with the Bible’s teaching regarding modest clothing?” A man has a God-given responsibility to protect his wife and children. Immodest clothing invites the wrong kind of people to pay the wrong kind of attention to our family members. In addition, improper apparel is sometimes a way to express sensuality in an inappropriate (and public) manner. Men, we dare not ignore these matters.

Similarly, a man has a responsibility to protect others from the stumbling blocks that his wife and children may create with their immodest attire. This is true in all places and at all times, but it is especially true with regard to corporate church meetings. More than one Christian has asked me, “Why can’t we have at least one safe haven from tight clothing, cleavage, bare shoulders, and short shorts? Why can’t people be sure to dress modestly when they attend church meetings? I expect to be tempted by scandalous clothing when I go to a college campus, but God’s people shouldn’t have to face that kind of temptation at worship services. Can’t Christians be more considerate of others?” That is a legitimate request. Men have an added responsibility: they should explain to their wives and older children how easily men are tempted to lust by immodest clothing. Our families may think that we never battle with sexual temptations. Tell your family the truth! I have spoken with Christian women who simply did not know that Christian men are tempted to sin by immodest clothing. Once they understood, they gladly dressed more modestly.

Has God given us instructions regarding clothing? The answer to this question is yes...The inspired Apostle writes in 1 Timothy 2:9, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.” Perhaps the most obvious truth in this verse is one that is often denied today: God does care about our clothing...In 1 Timothy 2:9, modesty is specifically linked to how Christian women adorn themselves with clothing.

Every discussion of modest and immodest clothing at some point asks what could be called The Line Question: Where exactly is the line between acceptable and unacceptable clothing? How do I know where the line is? I will not cross the line, but could you please define precisely where the line exists? The word [shamefacedness] addresses The Line Question because the modest Christians say, “I don’t want to get near the line! I may not know exactly where the line is between acceptable and unacceptable clothing, but I know approximately where it is . . . and I will stay away from it.”

The word [sobriety]...speaks of exercising restraint over one’s thoughts, preferences, and desires. The discreet Christian does not give free rein to his passions; he knows how to bridle his desires. The Bible is exposing something here that many simply do not want to admit: some use their clothing as non-verbal expressions of their own sensuality. They deliberately turn themselves into an object of lust: they walk into a room with the intention of turning heads. Instead of practicing self-control, they openly flaunt their sensuality with their apparel. Dressing [with sobriety] means we do not express our private sexual desires with our public clothing.

Why should believers practice self-control when it comes to their apparel? Indiscreet clothing surely affects others (by tempting them to sin). But both Christians and non-Christians have noticed how clothing affects the wearer as well. “Dress changes the manners,” wrote the French philosophe Voltaire, who was no friend of Christianity but nonetheless a shrewd observer of the human condition. The English writer Virginia Woolf  agreed: “There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we them; we may make them take the mold of arm or breast, but they would mold our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”

This is one of the intangible aspects of clothing that we have all experienced. Donning a new outfit or dressing sharp- ly imparts a sense of confidence and positive self-esteem. By the same token, racy, provocative, and revealing clothing emboldens us to flaunt our sexuality. Christ’s disciple must exercise self-control over his sexual passions, so he must also exercise self-control over apparel that would “mold his heart, brain, and tongue” in inappropriate directions. A built-in cultural application accompanies this command in 1 Timothy 2:9. Notice the verse’s final words: “not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.” This instructed Christian women not to imitate the outrageous dress and hairstyles that were commonplace among the Roman nobility. In Paul’s day, some women wove precious gems into their hair to create hairstyles costing the modern equivalent of hundreds and even thousands of dollars. They also wore dazzling clothing that easily cost $10,000 in today’s money. This was the unofficial uniform for Roman court women, a uniform that was distinctive and attention grabbing. At the same time, these Roman courtesans were notoriously immoral when it came to sexual matters. These women did not dress properly, modestly, and discreetly. Everyone knew that their lives were characterized by sexual impurity. God’s Word says to Christians, “Do not imitate the appearance of these famous and immoral people. No flashiness, gaudiness, extravagance, and flaunting of wealth. No association with these court women of bad reputation. Do not regard these ‘court women’ as your fashion role models.”

Consider the piercing words of Stephen M. Baugh, who is the professor of Greek and New Testament at Westminster West Theological Seminary. Baugh applies these final words in 1 Timothy 2:9 to modern readers: “Today, it is the equivalent of warning Christians away from imitation of styles set by promiscuous pop singers or actresses.” That means that if we want to apply this verse practically, Christian women should not imitate the appearances of salacious “Hollywood court women.” The very next verse—1 Timothy 2:10—amplifies the Apostle’s instruction. The Christian woman is to adorn herself not with improper clothing, “but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” The [word professing] is from a Greek word meaning to make a public announcement or to convey a message loudly. Our lives make public announcements. The godly woman’s public announcement must consist of good works, not questionable clothing. What is the public function of a Christian’s good works? Matthew 5:16 says that believers must live in such a manner that men see our good works and therefore glorify our Father Who is in Heaven. Numerous verses state that the Christian’s good deeds are valuable not only for the assistance they bring to men but also for what they demonstrate about God’s glory (1Pe 2:12; 3:1-6; Mat 9:6-8). The implication here is that both good works and improper clothing have a Godward element: one provokes men to praise God while the other encourages men to demean Him. The upshot of 1 Timothy 2:10 is that God’s reputation is at stake in our public professions. God’s glory is more clearly seen when we abound in good works, but it is obscured and misunderstood when we make public announcements with improper clothing...It is not only your reputation that is at stake when you wear improper clothing: God’s reputation is also at stake.

From Dressed to Kill, published by Tulip Books, www.tulipbooks.com. Robert G. Spinney is Baptist minister and associate professor of history at Patrick Henry College, Purcellville, VA. This article was taken from the Free Grace Broadcaster on Modest Apparel published by Chapel Library. Additional copies may be obtained free of charge from:

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