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Dr.Henry B. Waiters: Christian thinking about modest apparel

The Christian’s wardrobe is no small matter. The daily statements we make with our clothing, intentional or unintentional, interpreted correctly or incorrectly, are among the boldest statements we make. Our children, siblings, coworkers, classmates and fellow church members cannot help us see our clothing. Everyone notices if we are sloppy or neat, simple or glamorous, provocative or modest. Clothing can both affect our self-image and shape other people’s perceptions of us — that is why we spend so much money purchasing nice clothes.

There are two obstacles that sometimes prevent Christians from even considering this subject: the belief that any discussion of clothing is inherently legalistic and the belief that such discussions are unnecessary. In too many places today, simply to raise the subject of immodest clothing is to set off every legalism alarm available. How regrettable!

We do not understand holiness if we think applying Colossians 3:17 — “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all ion the name of the Lord Jesus” — to the subject of clothing is somehow wrong. The person who says, “Jesus will not be Lord of my clothing” is little different from the person who says, “Jesus will not be Lord of my money.”

It is not legalistic when God’s people endeavor to obey God’s instructions. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says well that if the grace we have received does not help us to keep God’s laws, then we have not really received grace. Without a doubt, Christians can handle the subject of immodest clothing in a clumsy, unbiblical and grace-denying fashion. That is a major problem. But to ignore or reject the subject is not the solution — by doing this, we imply there is no such thing as inappropriate clothing.

God’s people cannot afford to ignore this issue, because Christians who think unbiblically about this issue do not naturally gravitate toward more modest clothing. As is true with other aspects of living the Christian life, we never drift forward. Holiness and spiritual maturity must be pursued (Heb. 12:14). That pursuit of godliness should be marked by diligence (2 Peter 1:10; 3:14). Our mind’s default settings are not godly; renewing our minds produces spiritual transformation (Romans 12:3).

Often Christians dismiss the issue of modest clothing as trivial. It is not. It was God who noticed the first clothing ever made, judged it inadequate and intervened to replace it with apparel of His own making (Gen, 3:7, 21). No one can deny that much of the clothing available in stores today is scandalously immodest.

Some God-fearing Christians dress immodestly, even though they have no wish to offend others, flaunt their sexuality, or turn heads with their skimpy apparel. They often think they are dressing modestly. The problem? They take their fashion cue form the world. They permit the clothing industry and entertainers to define both what is beautiful and appropriate apparel. The result? Stylish attire that runs afoul of biblical principles. Clothing that reflects the world’s values can be immodest, regardless of the wearer’s motives. Innocent motives change nothing — unintentional immodesty and “immodesty out of ignorance” are still unbiblical immodesty. The Christian might truthfully say, “It is not my intention to dress sensually or seductively,” and yet still dress that way. Surely biblical principles — not worldly fashion designers, movie stars and celebrities — should set the standards for Christian clothing.

Husbands and fathers, the God-ordained leaders of families: it is impossible to be too concerned about this subject. When a Christian teenager is seen immodesty dressed, the first question should be “Where is the father? Why is the father asleep at the wheel?” When a married Christian woman does not dress modestly, the first question should be, “Why is the husband so unconcerned with the Bible’s teaching regarding modest clothing?”

A man has a God-given responsibility to be the high priest of his home, to represent God to his family and his family to God, and to protect his wife and children. Immodest clothing invites the wrong kind of people to pay the wrong kind of attention to our family members. Improper apparel is sometimes a way to express sensuality in an inappropriate (and public) manner. Men dare not ignore these matters.

A man also has a responsibility to protect others from the stumbling blocks that his wife and children may create with their immodest attire. This is true in all places and at all times, but it is especially true with regard to corporate church meetings. Many Bible-believing Christians ask, “Why can’t we have at least one safe haven from tight clothing, cleavage, bare shoulders and short shorts? Why can’t people respect God’s sanctuary and dress modestly when they attend church assemblies?”

God has given us instructions regarding clothing: 1 Timothy 2:9 says “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold or pearls or costly array.” Perhaps the most obvious truth in this verse is one that is often denied today — God does care about our clothing. In this verse, modesty is specifically linked to how Christian women adorn themselves with clothing.

1 Timothy 2:10 says the Christian woman is to “adorn herself not with improper clothing, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” Professing means to make a public announcement or to convey a message loudly. Our lives make public announcements. The godly woman’s public announcement must consist of good works, not questionable clothing. Jesus describes the public function of a Christian’s good work in

Matt. 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

The implication here is that both good works and improper clothing have a Godward element: one provokes men to praise God while the other encourages men to demean Him. The upshot of 1 Timothy 2:10 is that God’s reputation is at stake in our public professions. God’s glory is more clearly seen when we abound in good works, but it is obscured and misunderstood when we make public announcements with improper clothing. Again, it is not only our reputation that is at stake; God’s reputation is also at stake.

Dr. Waiters can be reached at 704-636-3369. 

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