A Challenge to Women Regarding Modesty
Men, it is said, tend to focus well on one task while women can multitask with relative ease. You may have experienced this first hand while making a new recipe for dinner, answering your kid’s questions and thinking about how you will lead the ladies Bible study, this all being done at the same time.
A few moments later dinner is on the table, the kids are demonstrating a high level of energy and your husband doesn’t hear you call him for supper because his focus is on what he is reading. For women this ability to focus on many things is to our advantage as we care for our husbands, raise our families and seek to meet the needs of the Christians in our fellowship. But when it comes to the all important call to worship we are often easily distracted.
Paul’s concern regarding modesty
I think the apostle Paul understood this when he wrote his first letter to Timothy, who was mentoring the Christians in Ephesus. While other passages in the New Testament also address women’s appearance and behavior, the teaching in 1 Timothy is foundational in the context of developing leaders.
Many cultures involved
And as wives of elders (and all women), it makes sense that we understand and model what is taught here. The believers in Ephesus had come from a variety of religious backgrounds. There were those from a pre-Gnostic belief who said the spirit was entirely good and matter was entirely evil.
Some had been following the strict Mosaic Law, and others had been involved in idol worship and may even have been temple prostitutes. Paul instructs Timothy on this important topic of worshipping Christ Jesus, who came into the world to save sinners, from whom we have received eternal life, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.
Both ends of the spectrum
After addressing the males earlier in the 1 Timothy chapter 2, Paul then turns his attention to women. It seems odd in a way that he begins to talk about what women should wear, particularly during public worship. Consider first the context and to whom Paul is addressing his instructions.
The women in the church at Ephesus, as we mentioned all came from a variety of religious backgrounds. Some had been modest to an extreme, others sensual and extravagant. Here Paul admonishes all women regardless of culture or past beliefs to “dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (2:9 NIV).
Focusing on God
While styles and the specifics of what constitutes modesty may vary from one culture to another, public worship was not the time to be lavish or a time for attention getting—rather it was a time for modesty of lifestyle and appearance. This speaks to the inner person and behavior as well as the outward appearance. When they came to worship the Lord, the sole purpose for women was to focus on God.
Could it be that Paul was aware of the tendency women have to think about many things at once and in the process become easily distracted? Dressing in a way that is elaborate, expensive and showy is a means of self exhibition and can consume our time, energy and emotions. To have hair, jewelry or clothing that takes our attention or the attention of others away from the Lord during worship is inappropriate because the focus is to be on Christ.
Paul makes it clear how we can please God when we come to worship, that is, “… with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (vs. 10). God is delighted with women who live simple lives characterized by good deeds. In Col 3:17 the Lord says that our deeds are all to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.
This means living our lives so that the Lord Jesus gets the credit and attention for anything good we do. If we come to pray and worship with other believers and have given our lives in service to the Lord, intending that He gets the glory, no one will be distracted in worship.
Editorial Note: This article was first published in the May 2006 edition of Elders’ Shopnotes. It is used here with permission.