In the last post, I began telling you a story from the time I took a group of students on a Holy Land Tour, if you missed it, you might want to get caught up before you read the conclusion.
As I mentioned before, we all came together in the hotel courtyard in Jerusalem to discuss the matter of modesty; my students brought a text which was this one:
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (1 Tim. 2:9-10, in context, 1 Tim 2:1-15)
In context, this is a passage that deals with the worship assembly, and doesn’t necessarily apply directly to the situation on the seashore that began the conversation. However, there could be principles that apply. Paul said that women should dress with “decency and propriety”. Looking to the Greek we have aidōs (rendered “decency”) meaning “modesty or reverence”, and sōphrosynē (rendered “propriety”) meaning “sanity, soundness of mind, a sane mind,” Paul continues to amplify his meaning by saying that women should not dress in a manner that demonstrates their wealth, social position and status when he says “adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes followed by but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. I think it is safe to say that Paul is saying that worship is not an appropriate occasion to make a fashion statement, or dress in a “look at me” manner, and it would seem to me that such a view would be consistent with Scripture generally.
This would seem to go against our traditional thoughts about wearing our “Sunday best” to church.
At any rate, notice that Paul didn’t say anything about how men should dress in worship. We can conclude from that absence of guidance for men that Paul is addressing a cultural situation, and that Paul is really not giving universal dress code or fashion guidance, but addressing a common situation that he had run into; some wealthy women were over-dressing for worship and probably causing a stir that provided a distraction to worship, and that this passage, as well as other similar ones really don’t apply to the seashore.
The lesson from all of this should be fairly obvious: “Modesty” in the New Testament doesn’t mean quite the same thing as it does in our contemporary culture, at least in America, where it has traditionally centered on how much skin is showing. We have already seen that the physical image of God is not a shameful thing, and that the body doesn’t turn people in raving maniacs, unless they were already raving maniacs, and that in and of itself, it doesn’t cause others to sin, and I think there is a certain amount of liberty here… but, even though our cultural norms may not be exactly the same as the ethic of the Scriptures, we are Christ’s ambassadors in the culture in which we find ourselves, and trying to make some kind of a point in opposition to the culture, will not help us win the culture for Christ.
On that day at the Dead Sea, those Germans who skinny dipped in the Sea didn’t sin against God, in my view, even though I suspect they might have violated the local rules; it ended up being quite educational experience for my students, and that was the whole purpose for the trip. Did they do the right thing? I’d say that is a matter of opinion, as for me, I couldn’t care less… as long as the Gospel is not brought into disrepute, and our brother or sister isn’t caused to stumble.
The real lesson is this: From time to time, we will run into things that we don’t like for whatever reason. For example, we might find ourselves in the company of a smoker and we don’t like smoking. We might run into someone with tattoos, and we don’t like tattoos; I’m sure you can think of other examples. Each person has a right to their individual “likes” and “dislikes”, but what none of us has a right to, is to bend the Scriptures to our personal preferences to try to compel others to do what we like, for that is false teaching. I don’t care for smoking; I think it’s pretty dumb, but it isn’t a sin. I really don’t like tattoos, so I don’t have one, but they aren’t a sin (in the New Covenant). It is a little like saying that Jesus was a liberal, so you can’t vote Republican; that would be a misapplication of the Scriptures, an abuse.
Not a good thing.
I can hardly wait to hear your thoughts!
Next time: The Image of God and Death, suggested by a reader. Don’t forget to let me know if you want me to discuss another topic in light of the image of God!