The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
1 Timothy 2:9-10
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;
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Today if we were to describe the purpose behind the way people dress or the way they manage their appearance, we might choose words like comfortable, flaunting, enticing, and fashionable. Yet this is not something new to the world. Tertullian wrote a discourse on this subject at the end of the second century including jewelry, makeup, and dyeing of the hair. How is the normal Christian to dress? This shall be the subject of this lesson as we study the appearance of the normal Christian.
Does it matter what we look like or what we wear?
Before we study some precepts on dress, let us establish the importance of our appearance. Let us see just how important our dress and demeanor are.
Does our appearance play a part in salvation? No - we are saved by grace and not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we look at the things God has to say about the way we should dress, let us understand that our obedience to these principles are not required for salvation. However, because we are saved, we ought to dress right, like a saved person ought to dress (Ephesians 2:10).
Does our appearance hinder God from blessing us? The answer, surprisingly, is not necessarily. One can choose to disobey what God says about apparel and still be blessed and used of God. Samson was a man who often enjoyed the blessings of God though he was almost constantly in disobedience to God. Ahab was used by God to defeat the Syrians even though he was Israel's most wicked king (1 Kings 20). However, God may bless us more and use us in a greater way when we are obedient to him including in the way we dress. In addition, there will always be reaping as a result of disobedience to God.
Does our appearance affect our ability to please God? There are some things that people do which the Bible says are an abomination to God. For example, God says that homosexuality is an abomination to Him (Leviticus 18:22). Therefore we can dogmatically say that a homosexual is not pleasing to God. As we shall see, the word abomination is used in connection with our appearance as well. So, our appearance can limit our ability to be pleasing to God.
Does our appearance affect our fellowship with God? If we were to merely glance through some of the instructions given to the priests concerning their apparel, we would quickly see that God was very particular about what they were to wear. For example, the priest had certain clothes that he was to wear before he could enter into the Most Holy Place (Leviticus 16:4). Thus the priests could not come to where God was and enjoy fellowship with Him wearing the wrong type of clothing. Considering, as believers, that we are the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16), our dress no doubt makes a difference to our fellowship with God.
Does our appearance affect our testimony to others? Absolutely! Judah mistook his daughter in law for a prostitute because of the way she was dressed (Genesis 38:14-15). In direct contrast, Peter says that a woman's apparel can help to win her lost husband to the Lord (1 Peter 3:1-4). The way we dress says volumes about us!
If our appearance was not very important, then why did God have so much to say about it in Scripture? These churches which advertise a "come dressed as you are" kind of service have seriously missed the importance of dress to God!
Perhaps one of the hottest issues in fundamental churches today has to do with whether women should wear pants. However, this does not capture the full precept found in Scripture. God wants there to be a distinction between the way men and women dress. This is made crystal clear in Deuteronomy 22:5. God made a difference between male and female, and it is proper and necessary that this difference be maintained in the way we dress. Despite the clarity of this one verse, there have arisen many objections and we should look at a few of these:
1. Isn't that verse in the Old Testament?
Yes, this precept is given in the Old Testament. However, God says that cross dressing is an abomination. God abhors for a man to dress like a woman as much as He does homosexuality, for the same word is used to describe both. If it was an abomination in the Old Testament, and God does not change, it has to be an abomination today as well.
2. What about Deuteronomy 22:9-12?
The prohibitions given in these verses are not said to be abominations to God. The Law of Moses was composed of a Moral Law, Ceremonial Law, and Civil Law. The main purpose behind the Ceremonial Law was to teach spiritual truths. We who live in the New Testament do not need such laws to teach us these spiritual truths for we have the Bible and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Moral Laws are prohibitions against things that are contrary to the Holiness of God, and therefore are just as binding today. Anything that is an abomination to God must be something contrary to His nature and therefore part of the Moral Law.
3. Didn't everyone wear robes back then?
In the Old Testament, men and women had separate types of clothing which could be visibly distinguished. "The women's garment resembled floor-length dresses. These dresses did not accent the figure, and were even modest when ladies were bending over, working in the fields. The men's garments allowed much freedom of movement. The bottom of the garment could be brought up and girded about the waist to allow more freedom for working, running, or battle." (Dr. Mike Allison, Preaching Standards: Right or Wrong?)
4. How great must the difference be?
Years ago some women argued that their pants were different from mine because the zipper was on the side. If God wants there to be a distinction in dress, we ought to have enough respect for God to be as different as we can. The world has no problem understanding this distinction - just look at the pictures on bathroom doors.
One of the other fundamental precepts on dress has to do with modesty or shamefacedness (1 Timothy 2:9). As God has called us to be holy, our appearance ought to be holy. There ought to be two aspects of appearance which modesty forbids:
The Bible has a lot to say against nakedness. God told Moses that Israel was not to build an altar that a priest had to get to by steps because he did not want their nakedness to be discovered (Exodus 20:26). Modern America is full of nakedness and unfortunately even the church has succumbed to this. We ought to remember that Jesus said when a man lusts after a woman, he has committed adultery already with her (Matthew 5:28). It is important to realize that both parties are guilty. If a woman dresses to entice another man, she is just as guilty as the man who is enticed. The normal Christian doesn't dress to entice but rather governs their appearance according to modesty.
Many well meaning Christians are careful to dress modestly outside the home, but they have missed the importance of modesty in the home. Beginning in Leviticus 18:6, God deals with nakedness with respect to family members or near kin. You might recall that God cursed the son of Ham because Ham looked upon the nakedness of his father Noah (Genesis 9:22-25). Modesty in dress is not just something we ought to practice outside - it applies when we are among family members as well.
Now, just what is the Biblical definition of nakedness? The Bible uses the term "naked" from absolute nakedness to being clad only in undergarments (John 21:7). When used in connection with modest apparel, perhaps God did not provide a precise definition because we would probably do the minimum. Yet, we can deduce a few ideas from the way people dress correctly or incorrectly in Scripture. Notice particularly Isaiah 47:2 which uses the phrases "make bare the leg" and "uncover the thigh" in negative terms, and Jeremiah 13:22, "the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, and thy heels made bare".
What are some styles of clothing that we ought to avoid because of immodesty?
John says "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:16). If we are to dress modestly, with reverence and respect to God, we ought to avoid the appearance of being worldly. The normal Christian does not dress according to fashion but according to modesty.
One last precept concerning our appearance has to do with our profession. We ought to dress in such a way as to draw attention to Christ rather than to ourselves. When Peter discusses the appearance of women in 1 Peter 3:1-4, he does not prohibit outward ornaments and the wearing of gold for if he were, he would be prohibiting the wearing of apparel itself (see vs. 3). He is not dealing with a prohibition but a priority. The normal Christian does not dress to flaunt himself or his wealth, but to lead people to Christ! Though our appearance does not change our salvation, our salvation ought to change our appearance. One application of this precept is that we ought to look our best when we come to the house of God.
Here perhaps is a good place to mention the length of a person's hair. In Paul's discussion on subjection in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, he brings up the subject of hair saying "if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him". In the Old Testament, only a Nazarite would have had long hair (Numbers 6:5). It seems that a woman's long hair professes subjection to the husband as the long hair on a Nazarite was an emblem of a special subjection to God.