By Rev. Nelson Iluno, corresponding assistant to Prof. Herbert Eze
Special for ASSIST News Service
NNEWI, NIGERIA (ANS) – “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold pearls or costly garments’ but rather by means of good works, as befits woman making a claim to Godliness” (1st Timothy 2: 9-10).
I have written this article for women, but I encourage men to read it also. The reason for addressing this article especially to women is because Paul, in our text, (also Peter in 1st Peter 3: 1-5) addressed himself primarily to women. This is not to say that men should not dress modestly, and cannot dress immodestly. Apparently, Michal felt that King David had displayed himself in an immodest manner in 2 Samuel, Chapter 6, so it is possible. The truth would seem too likely to be by a well-dressed man, as by a partially nude one. Taking these matters into account we may conclude that the principles of modesty apply equally to men and women, but they are principles of which women especially need to be aware.
In the story of David and Bethsheba we have illustrated the usual pattern of immorality. Bethsheba displayed herself in an immodest fashion, and David looked on her with lust (2nd Samuel 1: 1-4). Both sinned in ways that are far too common on the part of men and women. Neither could blame the other for their sin, for each had to assume the responsibility for their particular wrong doing. It is the same way today. Men need to be warned against lust, but women need to be concerned about how they present themselves to men; whether modestly? This article deals with this issue. Which is one that goes beyond the question of skirt length and styles?
The aim of this article is not to designate those clothing that are modest, and those which are immodest. I am not going to be picking on particular type of clothing nor do I wish to answer such question as: how short is too short? How tight is too tight? How low is too low? And how little is too little? What I do want to do is to encourage you to think about what is modest, and what is immodest.
I believe Christian ladies, young and old, need to give thought to the question of modesty when they put on, and when they put off, their clothes. The fact that many do not is what concerns me most. This point was driven home to me a few years ago when I was pastoring a Church in the northern Nigeria. I asked teenage girls in the church to name some styles of dress that they would not wear because they viewed them as immodest. The young girls could not identify as immodest any styles. However, the alarming thing was that they rarely gave thought to the question of modesty in selecting their clothing. I told them what I am telling you now. I have desire to set myself up as the final authority on what is, and what is not modest. However, I do want to exhort each individual to develop a personal sense of what constitutes appropriate dress, with the full realization that they must give an account of the standard they adopt.
I know there are those who would not hesitate to name certain styles of dress as being immodest and if pressed to do so I could supply you with a list of my own. However, in doing so I believe I would be failing to really impress on you the message of our text. There are those fundamentalists who would tell you that it is a sin to braid your hair, wear jewelry, or dress in expensive clothes, and they would point to our text as proof of their position. However, by taking such a literal view of another text which deals with the matter of modesty, I can prove that a woman should not wear any clothing. Note what Peter says: “whose adoring let it not be that outward adoring of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or putting on of apparel” (1st Peter 3:3 (KJV) – emphasis mine).
If Peter’s words here are taken literally, then women sin by putting on clothing! I doubt that very many fundamentalists are going to want to take that position. To the contrary, most fundamentalists are more interested in putting more clothing on than seeing any taken off. In fact, any discussion of modesty will invariably focus on the matter of sexual stimulation; despite the fact, that doesn’t appear to be the primary emphasis of the two texts I have quotes.
Let’s hasten to make a point about what I am saying, before someone tries to misinterpret me. I am not saying that it is all right for women to take off their clothes, and that the potential for inciting lust is not to be a matter of concern. What I am saying is that a barrier against such misconduct will be better established by being true to the point of Paul and Peter’s words, than by using them as a pretext for setting ourselves standards of dress.
It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit is making the same point in both texts penned by Paul and Peter. The point being that Christian women are being noticed for their character, not their bodies. An attractive, well-dressed, well-manicured Christian woman is not a sinner. In fact, I believe Christian woman should be (and are) the most neat and attractive woman on earth.
However, their beauty is not to result from undue attention to their outward appearance, but as one of many products of their inward spirits. This exact point is made by Peter as we see when we complete the thought begun in verse 3: “And let not your adornment be merely braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses: but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quit spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women` also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being frightened by any fear” (1st Peter 3:3-6).
Those who would abuse Peter’s words here to place under restrictions on women who are aimed only at making them drab and unattractive might want to consider this. Sarah, whom Peter used as an example, was so attractive that Abraham was afraid Pharaoh would kill him to have her for himself (Genesis 12: 10-20). Also, Rachel’s good looks caused Isaac similar concern (Genesis 26). Finally, Esther not only entered the King’s beauty contest, but was declared the winner (Esther 2: 1-20). All of these examples should show one’s physical appearance to become the focus of attention in your own mind, and the thing which others are most aware of when they observe you.
In the context of what has been said to this point I would like to suggest two questions that every girl and woman should ask about their clothing and the manner in which they are presenting themselves. First, you should ask “how will others perceive me when I adorn myself in this fashion?
The first question is, perhaps, the more important of the two, and should be the more easily answered. It has to do with your self – image, and the emphasis of your life. I find it contradictory when woman complain about being viewed as sex objects, and yet direct so much attention to their physical appearance. While Paul was not speaking directly of modesty when he wrote that “bodily exercise is only of little profit, but godliness for all things “(1Timothy 4:8), I believe these words have a general application to our society, with its emphasis on physical attractiveness.
Those women who derive a sense of their worth only from the appearance of their hair, the slimness of their figure, the beauty of their face, etc, are to be pitied. We must also understand this tendency in light of the emphasis being given these matters by so many. The wonderful things about God’s commands are that they are always in our best interest. God’s commands regarding modesty are no exception.
The woman who understands God’s will on this matter escapes the “beauty trap” and the superficial value systems of our society, and is able to experience her real value as a child of God’s. While there are women who need to be rebuked for their blatantly seductive and suggestive ways, there are even more who need to be freed from the cross of feeling compelled to give undue emphasis to their outward appearance at the expense of an awareness of their true worth.
The second question, pertaining to how others will perceive you if you dress in a certain fashion, is a little more difficult to ascertain. In seeking an answer I would suggest that you speak with your husband, father, minister, or trusted friend (male or female) whom you know cares about the real you. If they see you as appearing coarse or vulgar, then you probably need to examine your heart and your style of dress.
I must advise you that there will always be those who will be critical, perhaps because of their own struggles with sin. However, if close friends see you as being immodest, or if a majority (or even a significant minority) of people know you more to your dress (or lack of dress, as the case may be) than they do to your Christian character, then you have a problem.
The goal of every Christian woman is not to be unattractive but to be attractive in a manner which God approves, keeping in mind that the ultimate aim of our existence is to give glory to God. The final word in respect to modest apparel may well be this verse from Psalms, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name, worship the Lord in holy array” (Psalms 29: 2).
Prof. Herbert Eze can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org