Three Words to Dress By

God does not look at things as we do. This is a fundamental distinction that the Bible emphasizes often. God told Samuel “…the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)  There are many times that we forget this important principle and judge ourselves and others by looking only at the outside.

But does God care what you look like on the outside? Does it matter what you wear? Can you judge a person’s character by looking at what they are wearing?  Fundamentally the answer to that question is NO. You certainly can’t change a person’s character by dressing him differently, can you?


I.  Does God Care What You Wear? But the Bible does speak about proper and improper clothing. In fact, the scriptures even assign certain types of clothing to certain types of people (character).

A.  Clothing and Character: In the 7th chapter of Proverbs the wise man describes a naïve young man who is out walking the streets at night and is met by a woman “with the attire of a harlot and a crafty heart.” (Proverbs 7:10) Her clothing was an index to her character and intent. So even in today’s “open-minded” society we recognize the traits  (character-istics) associated with  certain types of clothing.

1.  It would follow therefore that God would be concerned with what we wear, because He certainly cares about our character and what type of influence we have on others.


II.  What Does the Bible Say? – What does the Bible teach about apparel? Interestingly enough the very first chapters of the Bible story speak to the subject. We learn from Genesis 3 that clothing is left to just an arbitrary choice.  The need for clothing is closely connected with man acquiring the knowledge of good and evil.


A.   The Universal Prohibition Against Nakedness – From the very beginning God has prohibited the exposure of the human body. After their consciences were awakened to the presence of sin Adam and Eve were immediately aware of their nakedness.  Genesis 3:6-7 – 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. (aprons) There total nakedness was not consistent with the moral conscience they now possessed.  Even after clothing themselves with aprons, they were ashamed and attempted to hide themselves from God. Later, after God drove them from the garden and imposed the punishment for their sin he re-clothed them. (Gen. 3:21) This certainly indicates that their “aprons” were not sufficient to cover their nakedness.

1.  The Hebrew word for the covering (apron) is chargorah, which means a garment that covers the midsection of the body, tied about the waist. The same word is translated in other passages as a girdle or a belt.

2.  The Hebrew word for tunic is kethoneth,(3:21) which describes a shirt that hangs on the shoulders and reaches to the knees, sometimes the ankles.

3.  Noah’s sons walked backwards to cover the nakedness of their father.

4.  The law forbade the placement of altars at the top of steps so that the nakedness of the worshippers would not be exposed as they approached it.  The priest, as symbolic of his holiness, wore breeches under his tunc, lest his nakedness be exposed.

5.  The Israelites understood the naked body as shameful because of its association with sexuality. The body was not to be exposed except for the intimacy of a sexual relationship.  In Lev. 18 the term “uncover nakedness”  refers to taking another in marriage. In the negative context it came to refer to harlotry and lewdness.

a.   nakedness of the body was never considered asexual. God’s law never sanctioned or even mentioned a dichotomy between sexuality and the exposure of the body (nudity) as exists in the minds of many today. (artistic purposes, athletics, swimming, dancing, etc)

6.  The Biblical concept of nakedness includes the concept of total humiliation or debasement. “The shame of your nakedness”

    • Isaiah 47:3 3 Your nakedness shall be uncovered, Yes, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance, And I will not arbitrate with a man.”
    • Lamentations 1:88 Jerusalem has sinned gravely, Therefore she has become vile.  All who honored her despise her Because they have seen her nakedness; Yes, she sighs and turns away.
    • Revelation 3:1818  I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.


B. What is “nakedness”? Few of us would sanction the nudist. We would condemn “nakedness” in this sense. But the word translated “naked” or “nakedness” did not always refer to no clothing at all. God’s actions in Gen. 3 indicate that the fig leaves did not cover their “nakedness” sufficiently to please God. It is possible to be partially clothed and be guilty of nakedness.

1.  In John 21:7 Peter was unwilling to appear before Jesus until he had covered himself (for he was “naked” – KJV). He simply put on his outer garment before jumping in the water. (most folks think they have to take off their clothes to go near the water)

2.    The nakedness that God prohibits today is not just being totally unclothed. It involves the inappropriate exposure of the body that brings shame on the person. (It is certainly the “attire of a harlot”)


III.  New Testament Principles: Many Christians struggle to get a handle on what the N.T. teaches concerning modest clothing. This may be because God does not give us a list of proper and improper clothing. To practice what God desires we must be able to apply principles to specific occasions and cultures. (We lack the discernment or we are simply to too lazy to do it.)

Note: Recognizing that the N.T. speaks to us in principle rather than specific precepts does not mean we cannot make specific applications or come to definite conclusions about what is right and wrong. In fact we have just concluded that it has always been wrong to expose our bodies. There is no Biblical way to justify the bikini as appropriate. Clothing can be immoral.


A.   3 Words to Dress By: There is direct N.T. teaching on proper apparel in Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2. The context is important. Paul is giving admonitions that pertain to holiness of character. In vs. 8 he commands men everywhere to lift up “holy hands” in prayer. God was just interested in getting these men to lift up their hands when they prayed.  Their hands needed to be holy as they prayed. The issue was character. Then in vs 9-10 he specifically addresses the women…

  • 1 Tim 2:9-10 – 9 In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; 10 but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works. The context of this verse may (ASV) – Let’s look at a couple other translations of these verses:
  • NKJV – 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.
  • NIV – 9 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
  • Again the issue is not just the outward clothing, but the character that is to be reflected in the clothing.  Godly women will dress godly.  Take a closer look at the words that should guide the clothes that we wear. (I believe that these principle words apply to men, as well as women)


1.  Modest (Kosmios) What do you think when someone uses the word “modest” when applied to clothing.(or more specifically the negative – “immodest”) We usually think of scant clothing – not wearing enough clothes. It is certainly applicable to this, but

a.    the word more accurately means: well arranged, orderly, honorable. The opposite of this word is “chaos” (have you ever seen any chaotic clothing?)  This word of principle commands dress that is respected by others, and is not designed to draw attention to oneself. Paul mentions braided hair, gold, pearls, and costly clothing as immodest.

b.  This word demands unpretentiousness and is reflective of an attitude that Peter describes as meek and quiet. 1 Peter 3:2-4 2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. 3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel —  4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.


2.  Shamefastness (decency – NIV) (aidous) literally a sense of shame, reverence. Vines says… Shamefastness is that modesty which is ‘fast’ or rooted in the character. Lenski defines “shame” as that which morally holds us back.

a.    This principle presupposes the moral aspect of apparel – (the shame of nakedness.) This rules out clothing that exposes the body to others such as bathing suits, halter tops, etc.   What would you be ashamed to wear?

b.    A godly woman (or man) would so despise sin that he or she would never dress so as to cause a lustful thought in another.  The term Lasciviousness (wantonness) in the scriptures depicts not only the illicit lust, but anything that creates lust in another person.


3.  Sobriety (propriety – NIV) (sophrosunas) soundness of mind, self-control, moderation (kept within bounds)

  • the well-balanced state arising from habitual self-restraint (Ellicott)  Paul uses the root word in Tit. 2:5 when he tells the older women to teach the young women to be discreet.

a.   This principle may prohibit “over dressing”. Judah was condemned for the gawdy dressing of its women in  Isaiah 3:16-2416 Moreover the Lord says:”Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet,  17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion.

b.  This prohibits the Christian from allowing the world of fashion to guide their dress. Clothing that is based on sexual appeal is not discreet. The Christian must use self-restraint so as to not draw attention or to lead another to sinful actions of thoughts.  Do these words apply? Luke 17:1-2Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!  2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. If lust is sinful, and inadequate clothing can cause a person to lust. Does this passage apply? 


Conclusion: God cares how we dress. Not because He is superficial or is not concerned about the heart above all. But because outward apparel may point to the attitude of the heart.  There is clothing that reflects the godly, submissive spirit. There is clothing that is not chosen by the world, but by the principles of God’s revealed will for our lives.

“People we meet should remember not what is on us, but Who is in us”, therefore Paul admonishes us to “glorify God in your body and in your spirit.” – 1 Cor. 6:12


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