Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness. (NASB)
Just as Paul had some concise words about men and praying he want the women to consider his instructions under the same umbrella as his instructions to men. The key words Paul had to the men were, everywhere, holy, without wrath and doubting (dissension). These same things must be applied to his instructions to women. Men should also pay attention to these verses and apply them as well.
This doesn’t apply to a few women in only some cultures, but women everywhere. In the past, Christian missionaries have been criticized because the first thing they did when encountering native cultures was to insist that the women cover up bare tops. The criticism is partly justified because they were trying to enforce Christian principles on people who were not Christians. Some would still argue that even after conversion to Christianity, we shouldn’t tell the women to cover up because that is a western cultural thing. I have to disagree otherwise Paul would have made a distinction. We have to remember that this is Scripture meaning that this is not just Paul’s personal agenda, it is God’s instruction to us.
I think that when a Christian woman visits another culture, she should be aware of what proper clothing is and abide by that. One of our home Bible study ladies visited a country where the women wore long ankle length skirts but also had bare midriffs. The local men paid no attention to the bare midriffs but were drawn to stare at the foreign women who showed their lower legs. I would think that in that culture, a Christian would want to cover both legs and midriff to be on the safe side.
Holiness is what Paul wanted when he gave these instructions on dress as they relate to modesty and discretion. When it comes to these, Christian women in the western world are rapidly getting out of line. Clothing has long been an indicator of a person’s inward holiness or lack of it. Prov 7:10 Then out came a woman to meet him, dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent. (NIV) It was obvious in that culture that a harlot dressed provocatively. The same is true in ours. Some women bear so much of themselves when they go to church, that you wonder how much more they expose themselves when they are not among other Christians. I read letters in the advice columns about how sloppy or brazen women are dressing in the workplace. Unfortunately, the world is influencing women more than is the Word of God. Consider what God thinks of a woman who lacks discretion. Prov 11:22 As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (NKJV)
So, ladies, if you want to be holy, or believe that you are holy, it should show up in the way you dress, with modesty and discretion.
On the other hand, you can get legalistic and extreme, as some sects have done. They prohibit any makeup, wear drab high-necked, long-sleeved, ankle length dress. They have long hair that is bundled on their heads, never braided, or cut short. If their hearts are in the right place, I can’t argue with them. Well meaning people who dress modestly, but not to extremes, have no room to ridicule those who are being extremely modest because of conscience. 1 Cor 8:9 Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. (RSV )
Problems with clothing are not only about how much is being covered or uncovered, but it is also about showing off or being competitive. Some people can get angry when another outdoes them in style. The braided hair issue isn’t so much about the way your hair looks, but how much time you spend trying to make it look better than someone else’s. It is the same with wearing much jewelry and expensive clothes. Why do any of us, men or women, feel the need to have the most expensive clothes and a lot of gold hanging around or necks or wrists? What satisfaction do we get when we have better apparel than our neighbors or church members? Does a five-karat diamond ring mean that your marriage is better than someone who has a ¼-karat ring or even a simple gold band? Perhaps having the fancy attire is demonstrating to the world how successful we are.
Doubting can also be a reason some resort to fancy adornment. We often doubt that Jesus is sufficient to satisfy us. Many seek security and satisfaction in outward looks. However, they only provide temporary satisfaction until the next style comes out or someone else gets something better. Matt 6:19-21 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NKJV) In our world, we also have new fashions, the next upgrade of electronics as well as tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis in addition to moths and thieves. How we adorn ourselves reveals where our hearts are. Are we seeking satisfaction in the things of the world or where we will spend eternity? Are we so concerned with our own security in this temporary world that we neglect saving for the real future? Or is the real problem that we don’t really believe that we should make heaven our priority?
The Right Adornment
In keeping with this thought, Paul urges us to adorn ourselves with good deeds. If we profess to worship God, then this is what we should be doing. He may be addressing women in this passage but it isn’t limited to women. In Eph 2:10, he said that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works. This includes anyone who knows Christ. Our claim to worship God is demonstrated in what we do for others.
Gal 6:9-10 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (NKJV) It is possible to grow weary with all the natural disasters, persecuted Christians, and poverty in the world. It is possible to look at all the suffering and think that our little contribution isn’t worth much or won’t go far. If we neglect to do anything, what will the Master say when He returns? He has given each of us certain resources (material, skill, wisdom), some more than others. According to the parable of the talents in Matt 25:14-30, we will be rewarded when we use whatever we have for Him, whether it is a little or a lot. That reward is being stored up in heaven for us. We don’t want to lose it because we grew weary in doing good or because we were more concerned with our own desire to have better clothes or other luxuries.
To keep from becoming weary in doing good, it might help to remember what Jesus gave up. 1 John 3:16-17 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? (RSV)