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God, My Heart, and Clothes, Part 1

The following article, “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” is adapted from a chapter in Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

When it comes to fashion, I’m deliberately out of step. I don’t care if what I’m wearing is trendy or not—in fact, it’s my goal to resist the influence of others (from Paris or Hollywood or anywhere else) over my wardrobe. Like any man’s man, I relish being out of style.

I want to feel comfortable in what I’m wearing, which is why my stained In-N-Out Burger T-shirt and old gray sweatpants are the most well-worn items in my closet second only to my single pair of jeans, which I wear any place a T- shirt and sweatpants would be inappropriate attire.

If you ever see me sharply dressed in public, it’s only because my wife and daughters, out of great concern for my appearance, buy me clothes on my birthday and for Christmas.

My wife and daughters, in contrast to me, do care 
about what they wear. They are lovely women with impeccable taste. Each one has her own unique style of dress, and I enjoy trying to find gifts that fit their individual styles.

“Adornment and dress is an area with which women are often concerned,” writes George Knight (who must have had teenage daughters). This is a good thing. God created women with an eye for making themselves and everything around them beautiful and attractive. But, as Mr. Knight goes on to observe, dress is also an area “in which there are dangers of immodesty or indiscretion.”[1]

Many young women, though, are unaware of these worldly dangers. Several years ago I preached a message to our church from 1 Timothy 2:9 entitled “The Soul of Modesty.” Eventually, that message made its way into the hands of a young woman named Jenni. Prior to hearing my sermon, Jenni had no idea what God’s Word said about the clothes she wore, if anything at all. “Modesty used to be a foreign word to me,” Jenni later admitted in a testimony to our church congregation:

“My friends aptly nicknamed me ‘Scantily.’ When choosing what to wear I thought only of what would flatter me, what would bring more attention my way, and what most resembled the clothes I saw on models or other stylish women. I wanted to be accepted and admired for what I wore. I enjoyed my attire, the undue attention I received, and the way it stimulated my feelings.”

Perhaps you can relate to Jenni. Maybe modesty sounds unappealing to you. If we played word association you’d come up with “out of style” and “legalistic.” Maybe you think God is indifferent about the clothes you wear. What does he care?

But, as Jenni ultimately discovered, there is “not a square inch” of our lives— including our closets—with which God is not concerned. Even more, he cares about the heart behind what you wear, about whether your wardrobe reveals the presence of worldliness or godliness.

The evidence comes from 1 Timothy 2:9 where Paul urges “that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” Like 1 John 2:15 this is a verse we’re inclined to ignore or reinterpret to escape its imperative. But we must not snip 1 Timothy 2:9 out of our Bibles. Rather we must carefully seek to understand how it applies to our lives, our shopping habits, and the contents of our closets.

Now, this article is primarily written for women, not only because that’s who 1 Timothy 2:9 addresses, but also because this is a topic of particular concern for women. George Knight is correct, and a woman’s experience will tend to confirm the relevance and importance of this topic. However, modesty does have application for men—increasingly so in our culture. And especially for fathers, whose primary responsibility it is to raise modest daughters.

I write this chapter as the father of three daughters, now grown. I write as a pastor with a growing concern for the erosion of modesty among Christian women today. I write because God’s glory is at stake in the way women dress. I write about modesty because God has first written about it in his eternal Word. So let’s take God to the Gap.

The Attitude of the Modest Woman

Any biblical discussion of modesty begins by addressing the heart, not the hemline. We must start with the attitude of the modest woman.

This emphasis on the heart is front and center in 1 Timothy 2:9. Note the phrase “with modesty and self-control.” All respectable apparel is the result of a godly heart, where modesty and self-control originate. Your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. And if you profess godliness, you should be concerned with cultivating these twin virtues, modesty and self-control.

Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality.

Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.

Self-control is, in a word, restraint. Restraint for the purpose of purity; restraint for the purpose of exalting God and not ourselves. Together, these attitudes of modesty and self-control should be the hallmark of the godly woman’s dress.

In Paul and Timothy’s day, modesty and self-control were foreign to many women walking through the local marketplace, just as they were to Jenni and are to the majority of women at the local shopping mall today. And these concepts are certainly foreign to modern fashion designers, whose goal in clothing design is sensual provocation.

But for godly women, modesty and self-control are to be distinctly present in the heart. The question is, are they distinctly present in yours?

Such an attitude will make all the difference in a woman’s dress, as pastor John MacArthur has observed:

How does a woman discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and dressing to be the center of attention? The answer starts in the intent of the heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood?…. Is it to reveal a humble heart devoted to worshiping God? Or is it to call attention to herself, and flaunt her…beauty? Or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually? A woman who focuses on worshiping God will consider carefully how she is dressed, because her heart will dictate her wardrobe and appearance.[2]

Any conversation about modesty “starts in the intent of the heart.” So consider for a moment, what is the intent of your heart in purchasing clothes to wear? Does a humble heart and a servant’s heart dictate your wardrobe and appearance? Is your shopping informed and governed by modesty and restraint? Or is your dress motivated by a desire for attention and approval from others? Does your style reflect a lack of self-control?

There’s an inseparable link between your heart and your clothes. Your clothes say something about your attitude. If they don’t express a heart that is humble, that desires to please God, that longs to serve others, that’s modest, that exercises self-control, then change must begin in the heart.

For modesty is humility expressed in dress.

To be continued…

This post is part 1 of 5; the entire series is also available as a downloadable PDF.

[1]. George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 133.

[2]. John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, The MacArthur New Testament Commentaries (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 80–81.