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Adorned with Proper Apparel

I was raised in northwestern New Mexico, near the four-corners area on the Navajo Indian reservation. From the time I was about 4 or 5 years old until I graduated from high school, this vast area was my home. 

Such places as Shiprock, Sheep Springs and Naschitti (which means “badger”) hold many fond memories. I remember hiking for miles with my little sister into the desert, when we were preteens, with no real concerns, for we knew the desert and the Navajo in the area knew us and would keep watch over us. My mom was a school teacher and my dad a principal, and the majority of their careers were spent working among the Navajo. We were so isolated that I could sit on our front step and shoot my .22 rifle at crows without breaking any “city ordinance” (there was no city), although one day my shooting caused a team of horses to bolt with their wagon, and I remember my dad was not pleased! However, there was great freedom on the reservation, which I came to love. In those years I also came to appreciate the simplicity of a people who loved the land and the beauty of the Great Spirit’s creation.

We had no video games, no DVD movies, no computers. Every month or so my dad would order a large reel-to-reel Hollywood movie, make popcorn in a big machine, and would show the film at the school building. The Navajo would come from miles around to watch the movie with us. It was a “big event.”

We got invited to a Fire Dance in the mountains one time (quite a rare honor for “white men”), and I remember the Medicine Man asking my dad to say a prayer! A fascinating mingling of cultures and religions! I also remember the task of helping my dad raise a TV antenna — I think it must have been 30 feet high, and was always waving in the wind, causing poor reception — so we could pick up a couple of stations from Albuquerque. My favorite show, and I couldn’t wait to get home from school to watch it, was The Dick Bills Show. He was a TV cowboy who lived in Albuquerque, and he hosted a show for the kids every afternoon during which he would show Roy Rogers and Gene Autry films, and also cartoons. I can still remember the theme song he sang at the beginning of every show: “Riding down the trail to Albuquerque, saddlebags all filled with beans and jerky. Headed for K-circle-B, TV ranch for you and me, K-circle-B in Albuquerque.” He would show a variety of great cartoons, but those days when Betty Boop appeared were especially memorable! They didn’t have girls like that on the reservation … well, they didn’t attend my school, anyway! There were names for girls like that, but I had never heard them, although I can still hear the sound of my grandmother’s gasp one day when she spotted Betty on the TV. Grandma obviously saw Betty in a different light than I did.

Betty Boop wasn’t real. She was just pen and ink put to paper and then to film in 1930. Harmless, right? Even though her sidekick was named “Bimbo,” which ought to have told us something. Yes, she was portrayed as a sweet, innocent, clueless but cute, girl; every boy’s dream, and every mother’s nightmare! It was not so much her actions, although she was certainly a bit flirty, as it was her apparel. Betty Boop dressed provocatively.

Her attire was guaranteed to entice and arouse those boys who beheld her, and generate whispered scorn among the girls. You see, there are girls that boys take home to meet mama, and then there’s Betty Boop! No matter how one might try to rationalize such attire, and the attempts are legion, it is nevertheless true that when women (or men, for that matter) dress in a provocative or enticing manner, they are making a declaration as to the nature of their character. Someone once observed, “You can tell a lot about a person by what they wear.” You can also tell a lot about a person by what they don’t wear. This brings to my mind Gene Kelly’s line in the classic film An American in Paris (1951), where he told a woman who was provocatively attired, “That’s quite a dress you almost have on!” When Shelly and I lived in Europe back in the early 80’s, we saw some very similar “fashion statements.”

As Christians we have a responsibility to behave in a godly manner. This includes how we dress. Yes, there will always be cultural variances in what constitutes “modest apparel.” A woman showing her face in an Islamic nation is viewed by many of that culture as immodest. Among some primitive peoples a woman is considered a “hussy” if she shows her ankle, although bare breasts are culturally acceptable. Paul talked about the disgracefulness of a woman having her hair cut short, or her head uncovered, at certain times (1 Cor. 11:5-6). However, in the passage even Paul implies that this is more a matter of diversity of culture than divine command. Christians are to be perceptive of their environment, and they should not seek to violate the standards of modesty of the cultures in which they live.

But it goes beyond that. There are some things, regardless of cultural dictates or norms, that are simply not appropriate to godly behavior. When someone seeks to entice the opposite sex into inappropriate sexual behavior by their actions or attire, that is sinful. If men or women intentionally expose themselves in such a way as to inflame the passions of those who look upon them, they have gone beyond what God deems acceptable behavior. We know this happens all the time in the world about us, but it becomes especially troubling when we see it happening with Christians. We ought to be living by a higher standard of behavior, but too often we follow the foolish fads of the worldly.

A rader of my column from North Carolina recently wrote, “Would you consider doing a piece on modest dress? I struggle with how to deal with a young sister in Christ (16 years old) who, in warm weather, typically wears revealing clothing to our assemblies. I find her clothing to be distracting, and I know other brethren do too. Her parents are clueless, having, I think, been desensitized themselves by worldliness.”
The Bible speaks clearly to the matter of what motivates us in the choosing of our apparel, and the manner in which we present ourselves visibly to others. Paul told the young evangelist Timothy that “women making a claim to godliness” (1 Tim. 2:10) should “adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly” (vs. 9, NASB). The NIV reads, “dress modestly, with decency and propriety.” There are three distinct thoughts conveyed in these few brief words:

“Proper Clothing” — The word translated “proper” by the NASB translators is the Greek word kosmios, an adjective signifying “well-ordered, decorous, honorable, respectable, tasteful.” This word appears only twice in the entire NT canon. The other appearance is in 1 Tim. 3:2 where it is listed as one of the qualities which must be evident in the life of an elder of the church. Paul is clearly telling women in this verse (and this applies to men as well) that when they clothe themselves with a view to going out in public, they must do so with decorum, their attire must reflect good taste, and it must present them before the public, as the children of God, in a way that brings honor and respect not only to themselves, but also to their God! In other words, put some thought into how you dress; will your presentation in public honor God, or shame Him? …. and will it honor or shame you?

“Modestly” — Those “making a claim to godliness” must present themselves to the public modestly. This is the Greek word aidos, which, in addition to the concept of “modesty,” contains the thought of behaving reverently. We are not only “on view or display” to the public, we are seen by our God!! Knowing that we are presenting ourselves before our God, as well as before the public, should cause us to behave in a reverent manner, presenting ourselves humbly. That is not accomplished by dressing as pimps and harlots, or other irreverent and disreputable types. As those who profess to be His children, we should practice what we profess …. and that includes how we adorn our bodies for public presentation. It must be done modestly, even reverently.

“Discreetly” — This is the Greek word sophrosune, which is a combination of a couple of different Greek words that, when combined, signify: “to be of sound mind; sane; thinking reasonably and rationally.” Let’s be honest, we have all seen people dressed in public in such a way that the first thought in our heads was: “What were they thinking? Look at them! Are they crazy?!” Those men and women “making a claim to godliness” don’t present themselves that way to the public. A sixteen year old girl who shows up for the worship assembly half-naked is not thinking rationally; a man or woman who dresses so provocatively that they entice others to sexual arousal is not evidencing a sound, healthy mind, but rather one given over to depravity.

In 1 Tim. 2:9, the apostle Paul goes on to list some aspects of one’s presentation, in that culture and time, that could very well be representative of a misplaced focus. He spoke of “braided hair” and gold or pearls or costly garments. These outward, flashy adornments are then contrasted (in vs. 10) with visible displays of “good works.” Paul is not specifically forbidding the wearing of costly garments (suggesting all our clothes should come from Goodwill), nor is he saying it is sinful to braid one’s hair or wear jewelry. He is talking about those whose whole focus is outward, rather than inward; who are more concerned with what they wear, than with the works of service they perform for the Lord and their fellow man. We can easily become so enamored with the former that we completely lose sight of the latter. That is Paul’s concern. A woman who spends all day braiding her hair and decorating her body, probably has little time to adorn the “inner being.” Aesop (6th century B.C.), in one of his fables, noted: “Outside show is a poor substitute for inner worth.”

The apostle Peter clarifies this for us in the following passage from his first epistle — “Let not your adornment be merely external — 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 quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful” (1 Peter 3:3-5).

A perfect illustration of this misplaced focus (outward rather than inward), and its inevitable consequence, is found among the people of Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah. Hear his words of warning, for they apply as much today as then — “The Lord says, ‘The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald.’ In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and ankle chains and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings, the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of beauty, branding” (Isaiah 3:16-24, NIV).

I suppose every congregation, at some point in their history, is forced to deal with members who choose to present themselves before men and God in something other than “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly.” What are we to do when this happens? May I offer the following suggestions; insights gained over the years, sometimes the hard way, from dealing with this situation and observing others doing so effectively:

Education — Ideally, congregations, and leaders of congregations (when such men are in place), should avoid crisis management scenarios. That means you confront the problem before the problem exists! Preventive medicine, after all, is the best kind. We need to be teaching with great regularity and boldness the principles of godly living. This should begin in the preschool classes, and should be reinforced at every stage of life. In addition to such teaching, we must not overlook the importance of example. Education by example is a powerful learning tool. Live godly lives before one another, and this will accomplish more than a hundred sermons and classes. It is the power of personal influence. Paul told the older women, for example, to train or encourage the younger women with regard to living sensibly and purely, in reverent behavior, “that the word of God may not be dishonored” (Titus 2:3-5). To the evangelist Titus he then wrote, “in all things show yourself to be an example” (vs. 7). Education takes many forms, but the goal is to change how we think, and, ultimately, how we behave. Attack the problem ahead of time through strong instruction in God’s Word as to the nature of proper behavior.

Expectation — I am personally convinced that one of the key problems in many congregations today, as well as in many families, is that we don’t establish and promote godly expectations. In other words, we need to expect those who profess to be children of God to act like it. Indeed, we should insist upon it. When congregations and families lower their expectations of their members, they will soon discover that some of these members will “live down” to those lesser expectations. Ours should be an upward call in Christ Jesus, not a downward spiral into the depths of worldliness. A congregation should educate themselves on godly dress and behavior, and they should expect no less than the best effort of every member to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).

Examination — The writer of Hebrews talked about the necessity of pursuing sanctification “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The word “sanctification” is the Greek word hagiasmos, which speaks of “moral purity; set apart as righteous; separate from that which is base and common.” The writer then immediately commands: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God” (vs. 15). It is critical that we “examine everything carefully,” and that we “abstain from even the appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). That means we examine those among us carefully and prayerfully, lest there be any among us who may fall short of God’s gracious gift of salvation. If one among us is behaving immorally … and I would consider provocative apparel, designed to entice lustful thoughts in others, to be something less than walking in holiness … then we owe it to that person, as well as to the congregation, to call them to more responsible behavior.

Consultation — I prefer the term consultation, rather than confrontation, as it implies a more reasoned response to unreasonable behavior, and suggests the overriding expectation of those involved is correction of the problem, not condemnation of the person. The young 16 year old girl, as well as her parents, should be asked to meet with the shepherds of the flock, or other spiritual leaders if there are no elders, for the purpose of evaluating the appropriateness of the girl’s attire in the worship assembly. This should be done with Bibles open, so that the precepts and principles of God are clearly presented as the standard, and not the personal “dress code” or biases of a few men. Not only must the girl be brought to an awareness of how to adorn herself with “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly,” but her parents also need to be educated as to the expectations of God regarding their responsibilities to their daughter as the spiritual leaders in the home! If such a consultation is done in love, and with God’s Word as the guiding standard, the problem may well be solved and precious souls steered back onto the straight and narrow.

Excommunication — When those “making a claim to godliness” refuse to live in a godly manner, and when they will not be swayed from their course by concerned brethren, the time will come when they must be removed from the communion of the church. This is a final, drastic measure prescribed by Scripture in cases where all other options to bring repentance have been pursued and have failed. The purpose of such removal is the protection of the church from worldliness and wickedness within its midst, and, hopefully, the ultimate repentance and return of the expelled member, who may be moved to reflection by the loss of sweet fellowship in the One Body.

Final Thought

The world is increasingly encroaching upon the Family of God. More and more of our brothers and sisters are reflecting less and less the image of Jesus Christ. The values and morals and behaviors of those walking in darkness are becoming our own, and it is sucking us downward into the mire. We are children of light, and it is time for us to evidence that reality in our daily living! Frankly, there is more of the world than the Word in a man or woman who seeks to expose as much flesh as they can get away with in an assembly designed to spiritually edify, not sexually entice! We have remained passive in the face of such perversion long enough, and we are not the better for it.

We who make up the church are the Bride of Christ Jesus, and Paul said his desire was to present us to the Bridegroom “as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2). Yet, if we go by the dress of some today, that “pure virgin” may come to Jesus attired as one who is neither pure nor virginal. I think our Savior deserves better than that, don’t you? We are to be holy, just as He is holy! “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God” (1 Thess. 4:7-8).

There are those among us, both young and old, both male and female, who, by their conduct, are falling far short of the grace of God (Heb. 12:14-15). We must “see to it” that no person surrenders his or her “birthright,” as did Esau (Heb. 12:16), for a moment of fleeting self-gratification. There is too much at stake to remain silent. That young 16 year old girl is doing herself no lasting favors by “parading her privates.” Yes, she will gain the attention of a certain element of young boys and men, and she will be “popular” with that same element, but the price she pays in the long term is not worth the small return she will experience in the short term. She, and others like her, need to have this impressed upon them now, before their flirtation with darkness reaps its inevitable reward of death!

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