Summary: Modesty in women’s dress is no accident. It is the result of training and adherence to biblical standards of decency in order to strengthen the witness of women.
“Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”
A 54-year-old British woman tried to pet a lion in the El Arca wild animal sanctuary in Spain. The lion “bit off” her arm. It is a story that seems to be repeated more frequently than one might imagine. A Siberian tiger bites off a woman’s arm when she attempts to feed it. A Polish man using his cell phone to take a close-up of a tiger lost his left arm when the great cat seized it and ripped it off. A German woman apparently wanted to be near the polar bears, and she was bitten severely. All these incidents illustrate a truth that appears to have been often forgotten: large animals—especially animals with sharp teeth and huge claws—are dangerous. Such animals are not to be petted; they are to be respected.
Some sins are just as dangerous—if not more so—as the beasts described moments ago. Coddling such dangerous sin invites permanent injury for the unwary who imagine they can play with sin. Though contemporary society ignores biblical mores, mankind always does so at the risk of individual and social welfare. One “beast” that will bite you is provocative dress. Immodesty is ubiquitous in contemporary society. Moreover, it seems to be seldom addressed from the pulpit. Pastors fear offending parishioners with blunt language, though those same parishioners fill their ears with even more offensive language through television shows each evening. I suspect that pastors don’t want to turn off the youth of the congregation, so they adopt a Pollyannaish attitude that by avoiding confrontation of the sins of the youth; they seem to believe that things will eventually “work out” and the youth will become godly. Finally, though parental controls appear to be woefully lacking in modern society, those same parents, perhaps out of massive feelings of guilt, become overly protective of the “feelings” of their children when they believe they are confronted by authority. This is despite the failure of parents to exercise consistent and biblically based discipline for those same children.
In order to understand the instructions Paul provides, we will need to consider the context. At this point in the letter, he is outlining in broad terms Christian responsibility toward the state and toward society in general. Toward the state, Christians are to demonstrate loyalty through praying for those in authority. The reason for this command is the desire of believers to live peaceful and quiet lives that are “godly and dignified in every way” [*verses 1, 2*]. In this way, we provide an environment that is conductive to salvation for the lost.
A key to understanding the verses under consideration is the phrase “godly and dignified in every way.” Christians are to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects divine parentage. Adult males are to give themselves to prayer, especially asking for grace to lead holy lives as is fitting for the context. Turning his attention to the women of the congregation, the Apostle begins by saying “likewise.” It is a literary device that reminds us that he is continuing his discussion concerning conduct in the assembly of the saints. In the Christian assembly, adult males are responsible to take the lead in praying and in seeking a holy life for all. In the same way, women are responsible to dress modestly, exhibiting self-control. Christian women are commanded to endeavour to reflect the inner beauty that attends a godly life, not depending on external features to reveal the beauty of Christ. Let’s consider Paul’s instruction to women.
*Dressing to Please God* — I am not a fashion maven, nor even a connoisseur of style. Anyone who knows me will know that I have little appreciation of style; I have difficulty coordinating colours. At the risk of alienating the women of the congregation, I am bold to say that there are certain clothes Christian women should never wear. Ever! Whether miniskirts, hip-hugger jeans or skin-tight shirts—they should be avoided. Christian women have a biblical obligation to dress modestly and to reflect holiness. Immodest clothing is not necessary to be fashionable—but one would not know that from multiple examples of professed Christians.
I have witnessed during the course of my life among the people of God a transformation of women’s dress within the assemblies. There is a trend to more casual dress at church, and I am not certain that is all together bad. However, there is a parallel movement toward immodest dress for Christian women. Perhaps this tendency arises from a desire to hold onto our youth. While men are not totally immune to the desire to cling to youth, women, in particular, appear to make a concerted effort to hold onto their youth. One way this is done is through attempting to dress according to the code of youth, which often means revealing sweaters and skirts, bare midriffs and tight jeans, or other items of revealing clothing.