Modesty, Propriety and Moderation

By Linda Maydell

There is almost nothing we women enjoy more than making ourselves look attractive. When someone tells us that we look nice, we feel great! God himself loves beauty. His love of beauty is obvious whenever we see a sunset sky, a seascape, or a sunbird. The creation has been clothed by God in such a way that it brings glory to him (Ps. 19)!

I believe God gave women a special gift of a deep sense of beauty as well. But he wants us to use this gift to his glory. I must clothe myself in such a way that the world will know that I am “God’s” woman.

1 Timothy 2:8-10 tells us: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that the women adorn them- selves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.”

Women must first of all be “clothed.” In other words, they must cover the parts of their bodies that God considers shameful to be seen in public. However, our responsibility in our dress does not end here. It is altogether in keeping with the spirit of New Testament Christianity that sheer physical conformity to God’s dress code is not enough. God wants our clothing to tell the world the condition of our “hearts.” Therefore, in 1 Timothy 2:8-10, God addresses three characteristics of the heart of a Christian woman which will guide her in the choosing of her wardrobe. Our dress is to reflect a heart that is characterized by modesty, propriety and moderation. No matter whether we are rich enough to buy a new dress each week or so poor that we go years without a new dress, we can still dress with these characteristics.


This word means orderly and neatly. It is the same word that people in New Testament times used to describe the creation. Everything in the creation fits together neatly like the pieces of a puzzle. Just as a missing puzzle piece mars the whole picture, so a missing button, a hanging hem, or dirty or torn clothing gives people who see us the impression that we are sloppy and lazy. Dressing neatly, on the other hand, lets people know that we have a conscientious heart.

God also created the universe in an orderly way so that nothing draws attention to itself by being out of place. Similarly I must never draw attention to myself by dressing unsuitably. I would not wear my smartest dress to work out- side in the garden nor my oldest dress to a funeral. Sisters, I want you to think seriously about this: What kind of dress do you consider suitable to put on when you go to meet the Lord? What do you tell others about your feelings towards God by the way you dress in his presence?


This word means that we must have a sense of shame. It is not the same as the shame we feel when we are caught in doing something wrong, but an inward desire to be as far away from anything shameful as possible. It is this quality that causes me to consider the feelings of others and stay far away from any kind of dress that may cause someone to lust after me. It is this quality which causes me to wear my skirts more to the long side than to the short side and to wear my tops more loose than clingy, more high-necked than low-necked. Even by my dress, I make a statement about my feelings towards adultery, rape, jokes with sexual connotations, “adult” movies, and other sins of lust so prevalent in the world. I will be careful not to dress like those (e.g., pop stars) who promote fornication and rebellion. I will also show the world by my feminine attire (and hair style!) that I respect the womanly role God has given me and abhor homosexuality.


This word means inward self-control. It is this quality that will enable a woman to take the time and trouble needed to make sure her dress is modest and proper. Sometimes modest dress is not the most comfortable dress, especially when the weather is hot. It is hard to pay $50 for a decent skirt when a cute mini only costs $20. The world today promotes freedom and lack of inhibitions — wild hair styles, seven earrings per ear, dresses that cause everyone to turn around and stare. This is not moderation.

Finally, Paul sums up what he is saying by reminding us that a woman with a godly heart will devote her time, money and energy, not to her outward appearance, but to good works. I do not believe Paul is saying that it is to- tally wrong to wear any kind of jewelry or braid your hair. However, I do think every Christian should ask herself if she is spending more time on her physical appearance or on good works.

And before you spend a fortune at the hairdresser or buy a piece of jewelry that costs more than what you put in the collection plate, think if that is truly the best use of your money. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” How much treasure are you laying up on earth and how much treasure are you laying up in heaven?

Sisters, let us make a big effort to let our inward beauty so shine that even our outward dress is a reflection of it. And so may God be glorified.


May a woman wear pants, make-up, jewelry or braided hair? Many women have asked me these questions. In all of these questions, a woman must be guided first by the words modesty, propriety, and moderation. Another thing which a woman must consider in her dress is an attitude of submission towards her parents, if unmarried (Eph.6:1), or her husband, if married (Eph. 5:22). Therefore, even if, in my judgment, I consider any item of clothing to be mod- est, proper and moderate, I will not wear it if my husband/ father does not approve.

Pants: In some cultures, both men and women both wear pants suits only (e.g., China). In other cultures (e.g., in Bible times) neither men nor women wore pants; both wore robes. Therefore, it is not the pants themselves that cause a woman to be considered masculine instead of feminine, it is our culture’s view of pants. If I wear pants, and it causes people in my culture to think that I am trying to be masculine, or that I am a harlot, or that I am desiring to be in the position of authority over my husband, then I will be violating a sense of propriety if I go ahead and wear them.

This is a very difficult decision to make in a country where different cultures are beginning to intermingle and ideas are beginning to change. A woman of meek and quiet spirit (1 Pet. 3:4) will never say by her clothing, “I don’t care what anyone thinks, I am going to dress the way I like.” However, people’s ideas may change over the years and there may be a time when it would not be wrong to wear pants in certain situations. For those women who do wear pants, please make sure that they are still feminine and that they are not revealingly tight. Also, in love, do consider the feelings of people of other cultures when you are around them.

Braiding of hair and jewelry: At first glance, braiding of hair and even the wearing of gold wedding rings seem to be condemned by 1 Timothy 2:9. If we look at the parallel passage in 1 Peter 3:3-4, I think we will gain the true un- derstanding of the verse in Timothy: “Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Peter is not saying that women must not wear jewels or braid their hair or put on apparel! He is saying that women must not put their emphasis on these things. If anything I wear — a dress, jewelry, or braids, calls undue attention to be given to my outward appearance, then I will not wear those things. Perhaps it will take too much of my time or money. Perhaps it causes others to envy me or pay me too much attention by their stares. Remember it is our good works that we should be remembered for, not our dress.

Make-up: Before being shown to the king, Esther was given a beauty treatment which included perfume and cosmetics (Esth. 2:12). The pure bride in the Song of Solo- mon was told, “How much better is thy love than wine! And the fragrance of thine oils than all manner of spices” (Song 4:10). On the other hand, the harlot in Proverbs 7:17 tempted her victim with her perfume. If a woman uses make-up, perfume, jewelry, and dress in a way that helps her to be attractive in a wholesome way, she is a credit to her husband and to her God. On the other hand, she can use them seductively and be a credit to the devil. Or she can spend too much time and money on them and fail to store up treasure in heaven.

Sisters, God has truly given us many things to consider when we choose what to wear. The wonderful thing about the Bible is that, even though it was written 2000 years ago and even though there are so many different cultures in the world, we can use the principles that God has given us so that today in South Africa we can dress in a way that pleases him and brings glory to him!

P.S. There’s something else we could also wear more often — a smile! A smile says, “I care,” in any language.

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Author: jfm

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