I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
I find Paul’s topics interesting. Regarding Christian men he used the example of lifting up holy hands. It was inconsistent for them to lead others in worship and be known for their anger and disputes elsewhere. So the witness of the men in Ephesus was hurt by their contentious spirit.
But when Paul comes to women, he focuses on their dress. Let me suspend this thought for a moment…
I am sure you are wondering about the word “modestly”. What is modest, decent and proper? When does a hairdo or jewelry become ungodly? And are these specific prohibitions for Christian women for all time, or cultural in nature?
In my opinion, they are both. I think Paul had a certain kind of woman in mind as he wrote. She was the kind of woman people in Ephesus could recognize immediately as one who was unholy. I have been told ancient Ephesus had a thriving brothel business. Were these the kind of women Paul was referencing? It is hard to know for sure without being a part of the culture. However, it is obvious what a woman wears can associate her with a lifestyle. The specific items Paul calls into question probably did have negative connotations and needed to be avoided.
Now back to women and dress as it relates to worship…since we are talking about those things “appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” The key word really is “modestly.” In the context of worship, modest dress doesn’t call attention to self. It is not flashy or revealing. It is not too much, or too little. Immodestly dressed women ruin worship because they become the center of attention and keep others distracted from their time with the Lord.
This is a complicated topic in many ways because standards of modesty in women’s apparel change. They change from generation to generation and from community to community. Beach communities, for example, have different standards than Midwest farm communities. European countries have different standards than Americans. And of course, each of us has individual tastes depending on how we have been raised.
There are also two extremes. It is not good to have clothing police who constantly condemn people for wearing items they personally deem inappropriate. On the other hand, it is unhealthy for one to say she has a right to wear what she wants. Yes, she does have a right. But she has also been called to discern when her personal rights might best be exercised by demonstrating greater modesty. There is a balance somewhere.
I will let you mull over the possibilities. But I can say this: immodest dress can prevent others from worshipping the Lord. So if we are making a statement with our dress, and trying to prove we can wear what we want, in the name of Christian liberty, we might want to reconsider.
Dear God, give me a perspective on modesty. In Jesus’ name, Amen.