Yesterday we took a look at some verses concerning clothing in the Bible. Most were taken from the Old Testament. The New Testament does give some direction about dress, particularly in 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3.
These texts deal particularly with women, but they can apply to men also. 1 Timothy 2 is mainly about prayer. In verses 1 Timothy 2:8-15 the deportment of men and women is discussed. Men are to “pray everywhere lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Timothy 2:8). They are to have a life characterized by prayer, lifting up their hands as a sign of their holy life.
The women are also to be in constant prayer and holy living, as we see from the word “likewise” in verse nine. Three principles are given for their dress: modesty, propriety and moderation. Then four things are advised against: braided hair, gold, pearls and costly clothing.
Three principles for dress
The lesson here is, “don’t draw attention to yourself.” The point in 1 Peter 3 is that women are to adorn themselves in a way that makes the gospel attractive to their unsaved husbands (1 Pet 3:1-2). Their clothes then should not draw attention to their figure. By dressing modestly they were telling their husbands that they were only interested in sexual attention from their spouse. Their time and focus were to be spent on letting their spiritual qualities shine out.
A wise older sister I knew used to say, “with any talent you have you can either make people think ‘you are interesting’ or ‘He is wonderful.’” Peter seems to be saying the same thing. This principle would also prohibit some who would like to dress outlandishly to a church meeting in order to stir the pot about the dress code issue.
2. Propriety, also translated “reverence.”
The idea here is, fearing God. This word, αίδώς (aidōs), is found in one other place in the New Testament where it has to do with the Christian’s service for God (Hebrews 12:28). It makes sense that if we are going to serve God, we should dress in a way that would please God.
We also need to keep in mind that neither 1 Timothy 2:9 or Hebrews 12:28 are specifically talking about church meetings. Believers are to dress in the fear of the Lord all the time.
W.E. Vine explains that this word, σωφροσύνη (sōphrosunē), has the connotation of “habitual inner self-government, with its constant rein on all the passions and desires, which hinder the temptation to these from arising.” In other words, keeping a check on your vanity so you don’t fall into sin.
Again, there is no special item of clothing, dress or suit, that will keep you from sinning. But we need to evaluate our motives for what we wear. Someone can sin by wearing a suit or dress as much as they can sin by wearing a gold necklace and silk shirt if they do it to flaunt their wealth. The point isn’t so much about what you wear, as why you wear it.
Not to be forced
These three principles should not be used to force a standard of dress on others. They should be taught to believers so that each one can make wise choices about how they present themselves. There is no dress code taught in the New Testament for anyone, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about what we wear. The question we have to ask ourselves before the Lord is, “why am I wearing this?”
Don’t judge others based on their dress
James 2:1-13 is the only time dress is mentioned in particular relation to a church meeting. Like other passages on dress in the New Testament, the focus is not on clothing, but on motivation. What makes this passage unique is that it is not talking about those wearing the clothes but on those who judge because of what others are wearing.
Here we come to the heart of the matter. Should a church set a standard for dress? Once more the emphasis is not on the outward clothing but on our inner life. This make sense if the church is the Lord’s spiritual people, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). James is very clear in teaching us not to show partiality to people because of their dress.
Looking only on the outward
An almost identical incident used by James actually happened to a friend of mine. He is an evangelist and was out doing some gospel work and heard that there was an assembly nearby having gospel meetings. So he stopped in after a day of door-to-door to hear a gospel message. He came in wearing casual clothes at the same time as a man who was wearing a suit and tie.
Everyone stared at my friend and he was talked to after the meeting by several men about the state of his soul. He assured them that he was saved, but while this was happening he noticed the man he had entered with was slipping out the door. He caught up to the man and talked to him and found out the man wearing the suit was unsaved!
Everyone had apparently assumed he was a believer because he dressed the part. We can certainly commend that assembly for having a gospel meeting, but it is a sad day when we think we can judge the state of someone’s soul based on their fashion sense.
This post may not change the way you dress at church, but that’s not really the point. In Romans 14:1-13 believers in Christ are taught not to judge each other about their personal convictions.
To put it in a modern context we might say: some observe holidays, others don’t, some eat blood sausage, others don’t, some dress up for church, others don’t… whatever you do, don’t judge others because they don’t share your convictions. Rather we should look out for the well-being of others and not hurt their conscience by forcing our convictions on them.
The Lord told us that in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” He did not say they would know us by the style of music we play, what our building looks like or how we dress. With the world increasing its rate of moral decay and hatred for God, sinners should progressively be able to tell where true love can be found.
We have that love in Christ. Lost sinners don’t care what you wear if you love them. The Lord clearly cares about what we wear, but He cares a lot more that we have love for one another. And if we truly share that love it will be a shining testimony to the lost regardless of our clothes.
If they come into our midst and see a bunch of people from various age groups, ethnicity and even clothing styles that all love each other and welcome them, it will be a tremendous testimony to the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
While the clothing issue may be a big deal in some assemblies it isn’t a big deal to the Lord. He asks us to have our own personal convictions, live by them and not judge others who have a different conviction. I hope this is true in your life.