Appearance can be accurate in its description, or it can be a lie. One of the most obvious and immediate aspects of our appearance is our clothing. What we wear or do not wear says a lot about us to those we meet. Clothing, makeup, and hygiene can accentuate one’s character, or they can grossly distort it.
In 1Timothy 2:9-10 Paul says,
“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
There are innumerable blogs out there telling women what they can and cannot wear “biblically” . Nearly all of these blogs are concerned primarily with the sexual signals a woman’s clothing conveys. If she uncovers too much, or shows too much shape, or uncovers the wrong part, it is assumed she is giving notice to men about her sexual availability.
The dress-code writers often use the word “modest” to describe a woman “properly” covered up. However, “modesty” in these verses has little if anything to do with sexuality.
“Modesty” in these verses is concerned with the outward expression of the inward condition of the heart. That is a mouthful but it essentially means one can be modest wearing anything or nothing or anything in between. Despite what the Christian sub-culture in the West has decided to call “modest”, there is not a spelled out dress code in scripture. The closest we can find are explicit dress requirements given to OT priests, but those are commonly understood to be ceremonial in nature and applied to the priests, not necessarily to the lay people and most certainly not to those in the New Testament.
Christians should be willing to dress according to who we are reaching. Christians should be “all things to all people” meaning that we should dress down for the poor, dress up for the rich, and overall dress according to the culture one is preaching to. If we adopt the clothing (and manners for that matter) of the culture we are evangelizing, it projects a loving attitude towards those we are hoping to reach with the Gospel. If we choose to ignore their culture it can display to them a lack of charity and love. We should not change our character or violate our personal consciences or Scriptural commands, but we are allowed to conform to the acceptable outward appearance and customs of other cultures to reach them (Timothy and circumcision).
Modesty and decency differs according to culture, where nudity or near-nudity is the norm both are “modest”. In a culture where it would be considered improper to expose a head or a thigh, it would be immodest and indecent to do so.
Does that mean we go naked to reach the naked? Isaiah went naked to make his point. Other prophets did so as well. It would not necessarily be wrong to do so. Is it required or recommended? No. We should only expose what our conscience allows.
In a less dressed culture, one should be willing to dress down as far as they feel comfortable in their own conscience, and in a more dressed culture one should be willing to dress up as much as they need to in order to prevent offense. If the culture you are reaching insists on head coverings and long sleeves, we should have no reservations about adopting both, no matter what our personal liberty allows.
What about make-up, jewelry, and shaving for women? In the 1 Timothy passage above, Paul specifically mentions hair and jewelry and seems to imply that women should have none of it.
Right or wrong, our culture values the appearance of “put togetherness”. Many women shave and wear makeup to feel “put together”. Many women will not leave the house without doing either. Culture has convinced them that to neglect either one is at worst a sign of rebellion against the good order of society, or at best an overt expression of slovenliness.
In our culture, when one neglects certain hygiene practices, such as shaving, it conveys a message of looseness and slobbishness. There is no doubt a double standard in this for males and females. Culture requires women to put a lot more thought into their appearance than men. I believe this has much to do with our over-sexualization of the (primarily female) body. Much of the “modesty” subculture actually increases the objectification of women by hyper-focusing on the sexual and nearly ignoring any other application of the word.
The male body is not nearly as critiqued as the female body. Men can get away with athletic wear or pajama pants where women are critiqued for it. Men can gain a beer belly and it is barely noticed. Men can also uncover more of their bodies and be socially acceptable.
Is it a lie for a woman to wear make-up or jewelry or to shave her body hair? Does it promote a false witness to others about who we really are? Again, as I said before, our outward appearance is an expression of the inward heart. If a woman feels beautiful inside I see nothing wrong with her expressing that beauty on the outside with the use of nice clothes, jewelry, or make up. The outward expression of her inward self can take many forms.
What does this say about the woman who does not do such things? It can tell us any number of things. Either she feels ugly and unkempt on the inside, or she feels that the normal cultural expressions of outward “beauty” are contrived and she can better demonstrate her inward condition through her smile or through her words or acts of kindness.
Sadly, because of feminism, many Christians would try to label her as a rebel against God. They assume she’s trying to push back against gender norms and trying to be male.
Maybe she is just a rebel against a godless culture which objectifies and over-emphasizes youth and sexuality in the female appearance.
Am I saying that all women who do such things are objectifying and over-emphasizing youth and sexuality in the female appearance? Not at all. They just value and prefer the culture’s preference for “put-togetherness” and do not want to give a false impression to others who may think by their appearance that they are internally wretched. They are presenting themselves externally to the world according to what they believe they are internally.
Many of us cover and hide our natural appearance with clothing and our scent with deodorant or perfume. Is this a lie? Or is it simply deference to culture? The culture should hate us for the Gospel, not for what we do or do not wear.
In 1 Timothy, Paul was writing to culture filled with pagan practice. Hairstyles and jewelry worn by the temple priestesses had no place in the Christian church. We ought to be careful to make sure our church clothing honors God and does not cause others to stumble back into their pagan roots. We ought also to project an appearance of humility in church. We do not want to offend the poor by showing off our wealth, nor do we want to draw attention to ourselves at the expense of the Worship of God.
We ought to be modest in more than simply clothing or adornment, we ought to be modest in our attitudes and treatment of others. Our clothing should reflect our inward person and project a love towards others that cannot be rightly opposed. Our appearance can be accurate in its description, or it can be a lie.
Be careful not to distort reality with your appearance.