The Image of God and Modesty, part 2

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!

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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20 Responses to The Image of God and Modesty, part 2

  1. Russ P. says:

    It’s easy to look at others and point out their faults, short-comings, sin and anything else we find disturbing. But, I think, as you’ve said that it is important we measure our view of things with the Word of God. People from the Old Testament were strict adherents to the law whereas after Jesus came into this world with a new covenant we are freed from sin and death. That new covenant could also be applied to this “skinny-dipping” situation. We should love them first before we decide to characterize them as being sinners because of their immodesty. Living and measuring our lives according to God’s word is the bottom line for me as it should be for all of us.

  2. kathyayers1 says:

    Hi Don! This was very enjoyable! Reminded me of a quote I read in a book entitled Bringing Home The Prodigals by Rob Parsons….”My friend Dr. R. T. Kendall ( who is an American ) summed it up for me. He told me that when a group of German Christians saw some American Christians with all their gold and diamonds on, they were so shocked they dropped their cigars in their beer.” Loc 208 of 949, Kindle. Thank you for following my blog! It has meant a lot to me! God bless your ministry!!

  3. paulfg says:

    “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.”

    Thumbs up icon!

  4. Paul quoted the exact sentence I was going to quote, Don. I add my “thumbs up” to that one. We all have to remember Scripture in context, AND that our own cultural worldview skews our opinions. America does not own God or Jesus, but sometimes we act as though we do, and we’ve had a history of bending Scripture “to compel others to do what we like.” We have to take a step back and look at Scripture from Jesus’ worldview (or Paul’s), not our own, always reflecting on the Spirit’s guidance.

  5. I really love how you nailed modesty. Although I believe part of it is covering up in a classy matter, the importance of modesty is to not draw so much attention to yourself that you look haughty.

  6. pipermac5 says:

    This may dovetail well with James 2:1-9, which talks about partiality based on fine-clothing and conspicuous-consumption.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this and I liked that you pointed out that he didn’t give instruction in how a man should dress. I also agree with you that we should never twist the scripture to make others do things as we want them to do because it is how we like something to be done. I personally believe in dressing appropriately based on the occasion. I would not wear heals and a dress to go fishing. At the same time I should not judge another for how they dress. I was personally convicted a while back on how I used to dress to go out with my friends. It was not necessarily the outfit choices I made that God convicted me of but the desired response of the outfit I chose to wear. I had wanted the wrong type of attention, to fill something in me that the response was only a temporary fix. The scripture that came to mind was ‘To even look upon a woman with lust in your eyes was to commit the sin of adultery’. Why this scripture? Because I was being a stumbling block, I wanted the praise and desire of men to make me feel better about myself, I do not know how many men were in relationships and were married when I was out with my friends, but the purpose in how I dressed was to get their attention as wrong as it was. There is nothing wrong with dressing attractively, but what is the purpose in your heart? Is it to please God or to please men? I don’t have to let my looks go, God does want me to care for the body He gave me, but He does not want me to use it to make others stumble either. Thanks for sharing this. It really spoke to me.

    • Don Merritt says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t have any way to know what men might have thought when they saw you, but if you are convicted that you were doing things for the wrong reason, then listen to Him, and always go where He leads. Yes, there is great wisdom in your comments, and I thank you for sharing them with us!

  8. Mel Wild says:

    “This would seem to go against our traditional thoughts about wearing our “Sunday best” to church.”

    Perhaps the German Christians thought their birthday suit was their “Sunday best.” 🙂

    Btw, LOVED “Kathyayers1” quote about dropping their cigars in their beer…that IS too funny!

    Thanks for a great lesson in culture and modesty. Blessings.

  9. Oh this is such a hot topic in our house! Scripture has been twisted so much and misunderstood by not taking into account the context. My husband was raised to read Scripture only literally, not taking context into consideration. My sisters-in-law still insist on wearing hats every week and absolutely not pants. And there are the copious Sunday rules – no swings, but you can go for a walk, no running but you can use the bicycle etc. etc. Drives me nutty! I’m going to share this post with him as it’s just what I’ve been trying to tell him but wasn’t sure of the Scripture reference! Thanks Don!

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