A Long Article About Short Clothes

Intro

I don’t think I have to convince anyone that modesty is a heated topic, but the thing that scares me is that it’s one characterized by arbitrary definitions and a certain air of hyper-sensitivity. This hyper-sensitivity is found on both sides of the aisle. People being accused of immodesty seem to quickly clam up with a kind of obstinate anger that anybody would accuse them of such a thing. On the other hand, it’s not hard to find accusers of immodesty who are prowling for young women whom they might rebuke for wearing less than they think is appropriate. The scriptures on the other hand lovingly correct both of these, and even redirect and expand our focus from merely modesty to biblical adornment.

The Misunderstood Command

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, with modesty and self-restraint, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly clothing, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women professing godliness.”
— 1 Timothy 2:9–10

This passage, and its sister passage in 1 Peter 3:3–6, are the primary texts on biblical adornment, and they are steeped in misconceptions and misapplications. The first, and possibly most important, thing for us to realize is that this is fundamentally a positive command. This is about expression, not suppression. Fundamentally the command from God is, “I want women to adorn themselves.” The word ‘adorn’ used here, is the same word used to describe the adorning of the temple in Jesus’ day. Luke 21:5 says of the temple, ‘that it had been adorned with beautiful stones and dedicated gifts.’ The root of this Greek word for ‘adorn’ is also where we get our English word ‘cosmetic.’ The point is that this is a command for adornment, for beautification.

Now hopefully you are sensing some tension. How can Paul’s command be to adorn yourself, when it is immediately followed up by a command not to adorn yourself by dressing extravagantly? Further, the fact that the term used for ‘adorn’ is the same used for the temple only serves to aggravate this tension even more. The answer is simple: The adorning and extravagance which God commands, is a beautification of the inner person, not the outer person.

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on garments; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible quality of a lowly and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
— 1 Peter 3:3–4

1 Peter 3:4 makes it crystal clear where a woman’s adornment should lie. It is the ‘hidden person of the heart’ which should be adorned. The adornment God commands re-writes our value system. While the external may be precious in the sight of man, it is the internal heart which is ‘precious in the sight of God.’ 1 Timothy 2:10 explains to us how to actually do that: “By means of good works, as is proper for women professing godliness.” God commands that women adorn themselves, as is proper for women professing godliness; this is done upon the inner person, by the means of good works. This is similar to how the saints will be clothed at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7–8).

None of this means that women shouldn’t dress beautifully or that they should be ashamed of their beauty; quite the contrary. Beauty is praised by God when it is stewarded well. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all said to have had beautiful wives, a seeming gift from God to the patriarchs (Genesis 12:11, 14; 24:16, 29:17). The Bible says of Job that, among his two-fold blessings received at the end of his book, ‘in all the land no women were found so beautiful as Job’s daughters (Job 42:15)…’ The Proverbs 31 woman is praised for her ability to discern quality (Proverbs 31:11–13, 18, 21–22, 24, 26, 30–31), but especially of note for our study is the praise allotted to her because of her discerning fashion sense, both in the pragmatic qualities of clothing (Proverbs 31:21), and in aesthetic beauty (Proverbs 31:21–22). Both of these qualities of discernment are praised as a sign of her excellence (Proverbs 31:10). While the text emphasizes the work ethic and character qualities of the excellent wife far above her aesthetic standards, we shouldn’t fail to recognize that among such qualities Yahweh thought it necessary to include her eye for beauty as well. Beauty is not evil or shameful in the slightest. However, beauty which is not stewarded well, is never praised. “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who turns away from discretion (Proverbs 11:22 ).”

Put On’s

Now let’s look at the put on’s. 1 Timothy 2:9 has three elements in it: Proper clothing, modesty, and self-restraint. Before we get into defining what exactly proper clothing is, we should first recognise that this is still part of the command to adorn oneself. The put off’s haven’t come in the verse yet. In other words the commands to wear proper clothing, to be modest, to exercise self-restraint are all expressive; they are all put on’s. These aren’t self expressive— obviously since ‘self-restraint’ is in there— they are expressions of godliness; that’s what the end of verse 10 means. When reading the passage without the put off’s, it reads like this, ‘I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, with modesty and self-restraint, by means of good works, as is proper for women professing godliness.’ He says that it is good and proper for woman who say that they are godly to show it, and so beautify themselves, and that this is expressed through proper clothing, modesty, and self-restraint. Paul isn’t listing two distinct means of ornamenting oneself— by means of proper clothing or by means of good works— rather one is an expression of the other. Biblical adornment is not expressed in anything less than clothing, but it is expressed through clothing, and through much more, namely good works.

Put Off’s

Let’s look at the put on’s and put off’s of 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Peter 3. Both passages are nearly identical; citing almost the exact same things to wear and not to wear. Beginning with the put off’s, it might seem like Paul is listing four different things to avoid: Braids, gold, pearls, and expensive clothing. In reality it is two things: Braids that have gold or pearls woven into them, and expensive clothing (the LSB, NASB, NET, and ESV all show this). The picture painted here is of wealthy women who were flaunting their riches, and, in context, presumably doing so at church. It’s one thing to dress nicely, it’s another thing to walk into church wearing a jewelry cabinet on your head. And again we have to recognize that wearing jewelry or expensive clothes isn’t inherently evil; certainly the ancient Priests wore very expensive clothes (Exodus 28). The point is that a woman’s adornment shouldn’t come from their clothes (1 Peter 3:4). You are displaying yourself as less lovely, less beautiful, less precious if you circumvent God’s prescription for beauty. Often modesty is looked at as the ridicule of beauty. Nothing could be further from the truth! Biblical adornment is a command to be as beautiful as possible, but that only happens from the inside out (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6).

Adornment

It’s crucial that we understand what Paul is saying, and just how different it is from the ideology of our day. Women are not adorned by clothing. Adorning comes from good works. Now one of those good works is dressing properly, with modesty, and self restraint (1 Timothy 2:9), but that fruit must come from the roots of being an act of good works to Yahweh, otherwise it’s quite literally only skin deep. Proverbs 31 just screams this truth! The whole chapter is emphatic about the character— far above the physical appearance— of the excellent wife. She is indeed called the ‘excellent wife,’ not the ‘beautiful wife,’ (Proverbs 31:10). It’s by this adorning, by a true adorning of the inner person by means of good works, that one is more and more precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4).

This adorning will also render someone more and more precious in the sight of other believers; those who value what God values and find attractive what God declares precious (2 Corinthians 3:18). Conversely, we have no reason to expect those who are perishing to value such true beauty, and it should be no surprise if an unbeliever ridicules the adornment of the good works of modesty and self-restraint as repulsive. Indeed they scorn the greatest of good works ever done in such a way as well (Jeremiah 17:9, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2:14). How could we expect a spiritually dead person to value the adornment of a spiritually living person (Ephesians 2:1–7)?

Back to the Beginning

As we think about the commands of 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3 more closely, namely the ideas of proper clothing, modesty, and self-restraint, inevitably we have to talk about what we wear in very practical terms. Yes, the adornment which Paul and Peter speak of is the adornment of the inner person of the heart by means of good works, but the voiced concern of both of the Apostles is how that is expressed in the clothing of the women (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6). So then, in order to get a better biblical understanding of clothing, we need to look at its origins, all the way back in Genesis 3. The third chapter of Genesis sees the invention of clothing as a fearful response to the shame produced by sin (Genesis 3:7, 10). Prior to this, humanity was unclothed and unashamed (Genesis 2:25), and it was knowledge of their own nakedness which eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil most immediately produced (Genesis 3:6–7).

The effect of the knowledge of nakedness was shame, and soon after, fear, when God approached (Genesis 3:7–10). The response of Adam and Eve to this shame was to sew together loin cloths made from fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). It’s the response of God that interests me though. After the couple is found out, and the curse is pronounced, God re-clothes them (Genesis 3:21). This act of re-clothing, or re-adorning, signals to us that God viewed their clothes as inadequate, and it is with this replacement of clothing that we will be able to see more of how God wants us to think about how we adorn ourselves through dress.

Looking at the difference between the coverings God creates and what our first parents create teaches us a number of things. The most obvious difference between the two types of garments is how much they cover. Adam and Eve take a minimalistic approach to covering, and it’s not enough. The sewn fig leaves are described as loin coverings (Genesis 3:7). Even the couple themselves recognize their coverings as insufficient, shown by the fact that they hid themselves behind the trees in the garden when hearing God approach (Genesis 3:8–10). Contrast this with God’s craft, the tunics (Genesis 3:21). To put it plainly, there is an evident difference in square footage which distinguishes these two approaches to covering. The immediate reaction of the couple to their sin is to cover their sexual organs, however when God sees their attempt at covering themselves He does not contradict the notion of covering, He expands it. More covering is necessary than simply obscuring the means of sex.

The difference between the types of material is important as well. Fig leaves are quite different from skins (Genesis 3:7, 21). The garments crafted by God were made of skin, presumably animal skins, which, given the context, implies not only the death of an animal, but an animal sacrifice. What a beautiful thing this is! The first covering for sin, also provided covering for the effects of sin (the alterations to the environment and man’s ability to cope with it). The fig leaves did not adequately address the effects of eating the forbidden fruit. The knowing of good and evil— and coming to know it in the way that Adam and Eve did— is directly tied to their fear (Genesis 3:10) and desire to cover and hide themselves (Genesis 3:7, 10). There is a clear pragmatic superiority to the material of the coverings God provided as well: God’s coverings would have lasted longer, been stronger, and more protective. The kind of coverings God provided Adam and Eve were superior in every way to their loin cloths.

In addition to pragmatic superiority, God’s coverings were also spiritually superior. The coverings which Adam and Eve created were theologically inferior to God’s design. If the skin garments required an animal sacrifice to create them, then God’s provision of coverings for our first parents was the institution, instruction, and depiction for the need of the sacrificial system. Additionally, this was also a foreshadowing of the method by which He would fulfill His promise in Genesis 3:15 (Hebrews 10:10). This might help explain how early believers knew to sacrifice animals as a covering for sin (Job 1:5). It’s not merely sin which needs covering— as if sin was divorced from the sinner. We, as sinners, need covering (Titus 2:14). This covering must come through the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22), it must come from God (1 Timothy 2:5), and it must cover more than we often think we need (Genesis 3:7, 21). We choose inadequate means for covering, we choose improper sources of covering, and we insufficiently fail to cover all that is necessary. But God has provided skillful coverings, from a pure source, that covers all that is necessary.

The Standard

There’s another important observation to make from God’s re-clothing Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:21. By replacing their clothes— and replacing them with something completely different— God is in effect saying that biblical adornment, and by extension, modesty, goes far beyond covering the sexual organs. Our clothes aren’t not judged as modest or immodest based solely on whether or not the sexual organs are visible. However, since God personally provides replacement clothes (Genesis 3:21), we have a case study for an outfit that we are absolutely sure is modest.

The word Moses uses to describe the garb God provides to Adam and Eve is ‘tunic.’ This means that, at least generally speaking, the common design of an Old Testament tunic, particularly in Moses’ day, was modest. What then was the design of an ancient tunic? Well, obviously we know it covers more than just the loins (Genesis 3:7, 21). Exodus 28:40–43 speaks of the priestly ‘undergarments,’ and even gives measurements, saying that they must ‘reach from the loins even to the thighs.’ That’s right, boxers are biblical. Joking aside, by virtue of these being undergarments, they must actually lie underneath the priest’s tunic (Exodus 28:40, 42). Therefore, a tunic must have extended at the very least to the thigh/knee. Various texts speak of ‘long-sleeved’ tunics, which suggests an ordinary tunic was either short-sleeved or sleeveless (Genesis 37:3, 2 Samuel 13:18, Song of Songs 5:3). Additionally, Job 30:18 references a mouth or collar on Job’s tunic, and Deuteronomy 22:12 mentions the ‘four corners’ of a tunic which suggests a sort of front to back symmetry in its design. If we put all this together, the garment we’re left with is basically a long shirt, covering, at the very least, from the base of the neck to the thighs or knees. If a tunic was indeed sleeveless, then it was basically a shoulder width rectangle, covering from the neck to the thighs or knees.

Now that we have come to understand just what an ancient tunic covered, how are we to think about that fact in our context today? Firstly, I want to say that I‘m not arguing we all walk around wearing Old Testament tunics. We shouldn’t enter into legalism with this. By studying the scriptures to understand what God clothed Adam and Eve with, we’re not given a meticulous standard of modesty. Instead, what we do know for certain is that the tunic God provided for Adam and Eve is modest. It’s not necessarily the standard, but we do know that it meets the standard. We don’t know if the tunic covered the bare minimum amount of their bodies to be considered modest, or if it had considerable wiggle room. What we do know is that it was modest. Therefore, if we cover at least what an ancient tunic covered, then we know we are being modest (at least in the sense of having covered enough of ourselves).

Again, this is a general principle, not a meticulous checklist. And if God commands his children to dress a certain way, then we should expect to find some sort of instruction on what that would actually look like (2 Timothy 3:16–17, 2 Peter 1:3). Additionally, as a word of caution, while this is a general principle which I think has some wiggle room, I have to say that in all my study I never found an account of anybody being praised for wearing less than what is described above. However, there are clear stories of people who were corrected or described as insane for covering less than a tunic would (Genesis 3:21, Luke 8:27). In Moses’ day, people were even prohibited from stepping up the altar lest it allow for someone to see even their undergarments (Exodus 20:26).

The Impact of Other Commands

We’ve taken a detailed look at an example of modest clothes, but let's take a step back for a moment. There are some general commands that usually get left out of this conversation which should impact how we dress. Every single aspect of what we do or do not wear will either glorify God or glorify something else (Matthew 23:5, 1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s a very broad statement, so let me give some biblical examples. Not all of these are explicitly about clothes, but I think all of them impact how we dress.

Do we visibly confess our gender with what we wear? Our clothing should be a display of worship as we confess our submission to God’s design in making us either male or female (Genesis 1:27, Deuteronomy 22:5, 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Do we dress in a way so as to stimulate one another to love and good works, or do we dress in a way to stimulate one another towards envy, or lust and good sex? Our goal every morning when we get dressed is to dress in a way that if someone sees what we are wearing, they would love and want to serve God more (Hebrews 10:24, 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Do we dress in a way that treats sexual desire like it’s a sleeping friend, who we’re desperately trying not to wake up until the right time? This might sound like an odd one… Song of Songs, the great love song of the Bible, says three times, ‘…do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time (Song of Songs 2:7 CSB, cf. 3:5, 8:4).’ Our constant goal in how we dress should be to preserve the slumber, or in many cases put to bed, the sexual desire of any on-looker who is not our spouse (1 Corinthians 7:3–5).

These are just a few commands that impact how we dress, and they all paint the picture that this is about God. Our entire lives are supposed to be reflections of God, declarations of His law and love, acts of submission to Him, and billboards pointing to the King of kings. We do this through every facet of our lives, through our speech, our work ethic, our thoughts, and through our clothes (1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6).

Modesty & Self Restraint

Both 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3 give a command for all women to dress in proper clothing, regardless of any factor other than if they are a believer or not (1 Timothy 2:10, 1 Peter 3:5). So then, how is this to be applied? Thankfully, 1 Timothy 2:9 explains itself by saying that proper clothing is to be worn with modesty and self-restraint. MacArthur has this to say about these two qualities, “‘Modesty’ refers to modesty mixed with humility, which carries the underlying idea of shame… ‘Self-control’ basically refers to self-control over sexual passions. Godly women hate sin and control their passions so as to not lead another into sin.”

One way the principles of modesty and self-restraint apply is inordinate extravagance. The point is not to adorn the body and make the body seem more precious, but to adorn the inner person and make it more precious (1 Peter 3:4). Peter describes this inner person as ‘incorruptible,’ in contrast to the aging and corruptible nature of the outer person, the body (Proverbs 31:30, 1 Peter 3:4). This means that we shouldn’t wear things just to be noticed for our wealth, spirituality, or the like. We should dress humbly. Jesus Himself implies this when indicting the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:5, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” Phylacteries were basically prayer boxes (as the NLT puts it), and the tassels being mentioned were a sign of remembrance of God’s law (Numbers 15:37–41). The scribes and Pharisees expanded both of these items of apparel as a way of gaining attention, and they are rebuked by Christ Himself for it. Therefore we should dress humbly, and with motives focused on the glory of God, rather than our own glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Another way we should apply modesty and self-restraint is by intentionally covering ourselves. There is no shortage of times where the effect of clothing is described in the Bible as ‘covering’ (Genesis 9:23, Exodus 28:42, Deuteronomy 22:12, etc.). That is one of the goals of clothing; to cover. This is why the standard we examined earlier of what an ancient tunic covered is so important. As was God’s goal in the garden, our goal when we dress ourselves is to cover what would be shameful to show (Genesis 2:25, 3:10, 21), and to visibly confess our need for Christ’s sacrifice as a spiritual covering (Genesis 3:21).

Think with me about what it means to cover, since it will give us insights into some of the more practical elements of proper clothing. To cover means hide or obscure, and that’s important both for what it covers and for how it covers. For one, obviously clothing that’s transparent or translucent— or so thin that it nearly becomes so— would be out of the picture.

Covering is also different from clinging, cradling, or cupping. The tighter something becomes, the less it obscures the body, and the more it actually reveals it. Neither of these meet the biblical criteria of covering. We shouldn’t cover loosely only small patches of our bodies, or think that just because the sexual organs aren’t visible, then we’re wearing proper clothing. We also shouldn’t think that just because we have fabric on top of most of our skin that we are covering properly either. If something is so tight that it no longer covers your skin but rather clings to it, this too is unbiblical.

Now certainly different people have different body types, and some are more attractive than others. The Bible recognizes that some people are more physically beautiful than others, and it’s not wrong for us to recognize that fact as well (Genesis 29:17, 2 Samuel 11:2, Job 42:15, Ezekiel 23:42). So when we talk about covering— both in the sense of the amount of fabric and in the sense of the tightness of a garment— we have to recognise that some of the applications for our study are going to be different for different people. These applications will even change for individuals as their own body changes due to growth, or age, or fitness level. Some of us have more to cover than others, and more to save for our spouse, but each must do well with what God has given them (Matthew 25:14–30).

There is a distinct element in both sides of modesty and self-restraint which is others focused. Regarding immodest extravagance, we can’t act like the Pharisees who would wear and do things to be noticed and exult themselves over others (Matthew 23:5, 18:9–14). To flaunt our wealth, status, or piety to garner praise or envy from others is a cruel act from a hard heart. For the same reason, regarding covering, we can’t act like the temptress who, without any self-restraint, seduces by word, deed, and dress (Proverbs 7:10–21). To intentionally cause someone to lust, or to shrug your shoulders at the thought of someone lusting after you by saying that ‘It’s their problem, not mine,’ is a cruel act from a hard heart (Matthew 18:3–7). “For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; nevertheless, woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes (Matthew 18:7)!”

The Puritan Richard Baxter wrote some very difficult, but helpful, words on our topic in A Christian Directory Volume 1:
“Regard more the hurt that your fashion may do, than the offense or obloquy of any. For proud persons to say you are sordid, or not fine enough, and talk of your coarse attire, is no great disgrace to you, nor any great hurt; but it is a greater disgrace to be esteemed proud. It signifieth an empty, childish mind, to be desirous to be thought fine: it is not only pride, but the pride of a fool, distinct from the pride of those that have but [hu]manly wit. And you ought not thus to disgrace yourselves, as to wear the badge of pride and folly, any more than an honest woman should wear the badge and attire of a whore. Moreover, mean apparel is no great temptation to yourselves or others to any sin; but proud and curious apparel doth signify and stir up a lustful or proud disposition in yourselves; and it tempteth those of the same sex to envy and to imitate you, and those of the other sex to lust or wantonness. You spread the devil's nets (even in the churches, and open streets, and meetings) to catch deluded, silly souls. You should rather serve Christ with your apparel, by expressing humility, self-denial, chastity, and sobriety, to draw others to imitate you in good, than to serve the devil, and pride, and lust by it, by drawing men to imitate you in evil.”

About the Whole ‘Covering’ Thing...

With all of this talk about shame and covering our bodies, there can be a sense of suspicion creeping up. It might seem like we should think of our bodies as inherently bad, and like we need to hide our bodies as much as possible. This is not only wrong, it’s antithetical to what the Bible teaches. We do not hide our bodies. Adam and Eve tried to hide when they realized their coverings were ineffective, yet when God confronted them, He affirmed their need for covering, but denied that they must hide (Genesis 3:7–11, 21). Our bodies are ‘wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139:13–16), and I actually think that's the reason we should cover them. While it is true that there are some things we cover because they are repulsive and valueless— like garbage for example— there are other things that are covered because of their inherent value.

Numbers 4:1–20 speaks of the covering of the temple’s holy objects for transport. What’s really interesting is that not only are all these objects— which are described as holy (Numbers 4:15)— covered, but it seems like the more revered and valued something was, the more it was covered. For example, the Ark of the Testimony had three coverings (Numbers 4:5–6), while the utensils, shovels, and bowls only had one covering (Numbers 4:15). Remember how the word for ‘adorn’ used in 1 Timothy 2:9 is also used to describe the temple in Like 21:5? Well, just as the temple was adorned, so too we, as the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), are to be adorned (1 Timothy 2:9), yet if adorned, then also covered (Numbers 4:1–20, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6).

Elements of the temple were covered because only people with the proper authority were allowed to touch or even see them (Numbers 4:15, 19–20), and the same is true of our bodies (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 7:1–5, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6). To steal Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s commentary on Numbers 4 and reapply it to modesty: People other than your spouse should not be “allowed any irreverent familiarity with sacred things.” We should dress in a way consistent with the command of the Song of Songs, “…do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time (Song of Songs 2:7 CSB, cf. 3:5, 8:4).”

If you’re struggling with the idea of covering yourself, consider Jesus. Among many other things, the incarnation of Jesus Christ was also a concealment. This is what we mean when we speak of Christ humbling Himself. Christ concealed His divinity beneath His humanity so that He might nullify the effect of His glorious appearance. This is what Paul means in Philippians 2:7 saying, “but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in the likeness of men.” This emptying wasn’t Jesus removing His divinity, but rather concealing it. His divine nature was still present (Matthew 17:1–2, Philippians 2:6). It’s an emptying by addition. In a similar way, the intent of clothing is to cover our bodies in such a way that nullifies vainglory, and praises God (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–4).

Times for Uncovering

Although we have a standard for how we should dress, we should also recognize that there are exceptions to this standard. Marriage is the most obvious exception, since God is the One Who invented sex. Married couples don't need to be modest with each other. In fact, at times, a husband and wife need to be uncovered in order to fulfill their God-ordained duties to one another (Genesis 2:24–25, 1 Corinthians 7:2–5). Likewise, since God also designed birth, we shouldn't think of the mother or child as automatically violating the command for proper clothing. There are also procedures which God commanded in ancient Israel which would require nakedness such as bathing (Leviticus 16:4), and even commands which would require others to look upon a naked person such as circumcision (Leviticus 12:3), the diagnosis of Leprosy (Leviticus 13:6, 12–13, 14:3), or clothing the naked (Ezekiel 18:14–17). From these we can also determine that similar things like changing diapers, undressing for a medical diagnosis, or for surgery would also be permissible. All of these point to a standard that, unless absolutely necessary, your body should be covered and obscured to everyone other than your spouse (Genesis 3:21, Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6). Yes, clothes are contextually determined; biblically, clothes are even named based on the context of when or why they’re worn (Genesis 38:14–15, Exodus 28:2, Deuteronomy 21:13, 2 Samuel 13:18, Leviticus 14:55). But that does not mean that they should cover any less than what is prescribed.

Creative Glory in Fashion

“Yahweh also spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of Yahweh, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. I am Yahweh your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am Yahweh your God.”
— Numbers 15:37–41

As I studied biblical adornment, I came across this fascinating command in Numbers. What a beautiful look into the mind of God it is, and one which provides a great example of how to glorify God with our clothes (1 Corinthians 10:31). It’s interesting because these tassels are unnecessary for modesty. Instead, their function was to act as a private reminder to the wearer: Follow God, not your heart (Numbers 15:39–40). There’s a lot we can learn from this. In Numbers 15, we get a glimpse of a creative way in which God has employed clothes for His own glory. He used a tassel as a way of constantly reminding His people of Who they follow, and as one of many ways of setting them apart from other peoples (Numbers 15:40–41). While this command might not be binding on believers today, we can still employ the same intent and care with how we dress. Why do we dress the way we do? When we know we’re neither being immodest nor extravagant, we can use our freedom in the style and colors of our clothes for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Of course, a blue tassel is not the only thing that can be used to remind someone of the law of God, so be creative (2 Peter 3:1–2). Anything from a graphic on a T-shirt, to a particular color of painted nails can be used as a way to glorify God, but it’s up to you how exactly you do that (1 Corinthians 10:31). Again though, I warn you not to be like the Pharisees, who didn’t just wear tassels, but lengthened their tassels, so that people would notice and envy their spirituality (Matthew 23:5). Our physical adornment and ornaments aren’t supposed to be for our glory, but for God’s (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Practical Guidelines

As our study comes to a close, I thought it would be useful to gather all of the guidelines we have covered into one list of wisdom for us to consider as we think about adorning ourselves to the glory of God.

  1. Believe with your heart and confess with your mouth that biblical adornment is about the display of beauty by expression of the character of God in you (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6)
  2. Adorn yourself as much as possible (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6)
  3. Adorn yourself by doing good works, including by dressing modestly and with self-restraint (1 Timothy 2:9–10)
  4. Remember that God sees the adornment done upon the inner person of your heart as precious (1 Peter 3:3–6)
  5. Value as precious that which God values as precious
  6. Knowing how to dress well, and dress others well, as a good work of love for God and man, is excellent (Proverbs 31:10, 21–22)
  7. Immodesty takes your precious heart and clothes it in slop (Proverbs 11:22, 1 Peter 3:3–4)
  8. Being clothed properly means both covering your body, and doing so in a humble way (Genesis 3:21, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6)
  9. As a general principle, it is modest to cover at least the neck to thighs/knees, shoulder to shoulder, front to back (Genesis 3:21)
  10. Your clothes should cover your body, not cling to, cradle, or cup your body (Genesis 9:23, Exodus 28:42, Deuteronomy 22:12, etc.)
  11. We cover things which are valuable so that only the people with the right authority can see or do with them what they want (Numbers 4:1–20)
  12. Dress in a way that visibly confesses your God-given gender (Deuteronomy 22:5)
  13. Dress in a way that stimulates others to love and good works, not envy or lust (Hebrews 10:24)
  14. Dress in a way that treats sexual desire like a sleeping friend, who you are trying not to wake up (Song of Songs 2:7, 3:5, 8:4)
  15. There are exceptions to covering and modesty (1 Corinthians 7:2–5, Leviticus 12:3, 13:12–13, 16:4, etc.)
  16. Regardless of your individual specific standards for modesty and biblical adornment, you must be convinced of them, and dress from a place of faith. Both the one who wears a thong and the one who wears a burlap sack must do so believing they are fulfilling the law of God (Romans 14:22–23)

Conclusion

There’s one last thing I want you to see about biblical adornment, and funnily enough, it’s the very first word of our main text. 1 Timothy 2:9 starts with the word ‘likewise,’ or ‘in like manner also.’ In what manner? In the same manner that men are to fulfill the command of the previous verse: Without wrath and dissension (1 Timothy 2:8). Unbiblical adornment comes out in a lot of ways, one of which is immodesty, and I empathize with the underlying motivation. Immodesty often comes from a desire to accentuate our value and be seen as precious, but it achieves that by revealing and flaunting wealth, or spirituality, or our body. And it can feel suffocating to have God point us away from that. But it’s not enough to know the truth, or even to believe the truth. We must love the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Can we— can you do that? Can you intentionally dress less attractive than you could— less attractive to worldly hearts— and love it? Can you see modesty as precious just like God does (1 Peter 3:3–4)? In reality, what a freeing thing it is to see that our value is truly accentuated, and our preciousness is truly put on display, by revealing the character of Christ in us (1 Timothy 2:9–10, 1 Peter 3:3–6)! And to a believer whose desires and loves have been changed to be like God’s, there is nothing that they will cherish and see as more precious than another believer manifesting the character of God (Galatians 2:20, 5:22–26).

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