The Godly Woman
Apostle’s Apparel Appeal
Order in the
church! Order in the church! You can almost hear Paul pounding the gavel, and
you can all but hear a holy hush settle on the church at Ephesus as the Apostle
attempts to restore and maintain a state of settled behavior and consistent
doctrine to that troubled fellowship. Order in the church was what it was all
about. False teachers had entered in and all but destroyed the foundation
stones upon which the Kingdom was built. And Paul, having commended young
Timothy to the task of correcting their erring ways, had turned to the solution
of the problem early, by beginning chapter two with a series of doctrinal
statements tucked within an exhortation on prayer.
you see, had lost its perspective. God had placed it there because God wanted
all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth. Believers had
been assigned the task of praying to that end. Instead of taking the
responsibility personally, however, and focusing on the lives of men and women
and the needs of men and women, they had gone riding off into the sunset
preaching and teaching “new” doctrines which tantalized the flesh, stimulated
the intellect, and took men’s eyes off the very reason for their existence.
began the process of trying to restore order to that flock. He reminded them,
through Timothy, that their job was to “pray always for all men, especially
those in authority, that they might live peaceful and quiet lives in all
godliness and holiness.” They were to do this “because God wants all men to be
saved.” Because God wants all men saved, “He gave Himself a ransom for all
men, the testimony given in its proper time.” I Timothy 2:26.
apostle proceeds to address some of the real issues that are of primary
importance to God. They have to do with the practical working out of this new
nature Christ has placed within us; and how it ought to affect life in the
church; life in the home; and life in the marketplace. In the process, Paul is
quietly trying to correct some problems which had already crept into the
assemblies of the early Church; problems which had resulted in confusion and
disorder. Today, we look at a most unusual subject which Paul, strangely
enough, deems of primary importance to the welfare of that fellowship. It is
the issue of how women dress.
I know what
you’re thinking. Surely Paul had something more crucial to address than that.
You must be saying to yourself “How can women’s wear be of significant value
compared to “praying for all men” and the “ransom God paid for our salvation”?”
Good question. Paul is about to tell us how. But we will have to listen
carefully. For the temptation is to either discard the passage as cultural in
nature, and thus irrelevant in this age, or as surface instructions that have
no deeper roots. Both courses would be a mistake. So we will embark upon a
brief look at this passage along with its sister Scripture in I Peter, chapter
three, to attempt an investigation at what is behind what would appear to be a
relatively unimportant aside by the Apostle. Incidentally, there are no
relatively unimportant asides in the Word of God.
3:16 All Scripture is god-breathed, and profitable for doctrine, reproof,
correction, and instruction in righteousness.
Our look at
this passage and the verses following will be in two parts. Today we will look
at “The Godly Woman (Part One)”. A sub-title might be “What the Well-Dressed
Woman Is Wearing”, or “The Apostle’s Apparel Appeal”. No matter what you call
it, we will outline it like this:
I- The Issue
Testimony of Taste
Matter of Modesty
Denial of Dignity
V- The Evil
Wardrobe and the Woman
background of the passage has to do with prayer and, in particular, with prayer
and the public assemblies, or church services. Paul has emphasized the
importance of praying for all men and concludes his exhortation with this
2:8 I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without
wrath and doubting.
command to pray for all men is followed by a command that all men
pray everywhere. The emphasis is not on how to pray, for this was
the common custom in Paul’s day. The emphasis was on the “holy hands” or the
attitude of heart with which men pray. It does no good to go through the
motions of prayer if either bitterness or faithlessness permeate the prayers.
We will return to this command, and we will (indeed we will) return to the
matter of the integrity of men in just a verse or two. Paul will be much harder
on the men than on the women. But the issue of character will be primary in the
rest of the book, and the attitude of heart will underline all of the behavior
yardsticks the apostle lays out for the Church. So he begins by saying, whatever
you do, pray. But he adds, “it won’t do any good to go through the motions.
If you are angry with God or uncertain about God’s Sovereignty, you are praying
one of those “likewise, you women” passages. And like the one in I Peter,
chapter three, it is a parenthetical section that ties in all that has gone
before, attaches it to the female population of the church, and then zeros in
on a particular expression of the role of woman in the plan of God. Let’s read
it, and then take the first section:
2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with
shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or
costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
I- The Issue
“in like manner also” indicates that women have a responsibility to pray, as
well; but, as we shall see, it may take a slightly different form, so far as
the public assemblies were concerned. This “in like manner”, however, also
appears to refer to the matter of hypocrisy, and the pretense that often went
with prayer if the heart wasn’t right. Women were assigned the task of being
inwardly what they professed to be publicly, and demonstrating publicly what
they professed to be inwardly. So Paul says, “in like manner, women must adorn
themselves” in a certain way. The first word, then, that we need to define is
that seemingly harmless little word “adorn”. It is more than it appears
on the surface.
word translated “adorn” in this passage is the word (kosmeo) from which we get
our English word “cosmetic”. It has the meaning of “to garnish; to polish; to
decorate; to put in order”. It comes from the same root, as we shall see, as
the word (kosmos) which God uses to describe the world order. That word is the
opposite of “chaos”. It literally means, “to arrange in an orderly fashion”, so
that when you see what you see, it is obvious that there is a plan attached. It
is not something that just happened. Sometimes the word applies only to
appearance, but normally it seems to refer to that which is seen as a
reflection of the character beneath. So it is literally saying, “Likewise, I
want you women to systematically put your appearance in order in the following
manner. How you look will tell the world who you are.”
Now it is
obvious that cultures change. Women no longer must walk about with ten pounds
of clothing topped by a veil which makes them look like a camper covered by a
tarp with tinted glass. It is no longer necessary for females to hide beneath a
canopy of clothing. Though cultures change, there are some limits beyond which
Christian women must not go. So it is not that they are to walk around like
relics from another era. But the qualities demonstrated by how they dress
must be consistent in any society. And in our society, which is so possessed
with how women look, those qualities become even more important.
what many may teach, this passage isn’t promoting a no makeup, no hairdo, no
glamour approach. Quite the opposite. It is explaining that the way a woman
dresses must carry with it a quality of order that indicates careful, tasteful,
moral objectives. And the fact that women today are accepted in sloppy, unkempt
fashions is not the issue. The issue is that nothing that belongs to God is
disorderly. And the way we appear in public says more to the world than we
care to think about. So for starts, the word “adorn” indicates that women are
to carefully plan and prepare for how they will look in public. (Not become
preoccupied with it, but neither appear to be something that just happened)
This is perhaps a bit of an indictment on the sloppy look that’s in today.
Women no longer feel a compulsion to be dignified and together in their attire
except when they come to church and when they are in the marketplace at work.
passage is aiming primarily at how women appeared in the assemblies, its deeper
meaning went beyond into the realm of how what you wear indicates who you are.
As a child of the King, you do not demonstrate slothfulness. You are not to go
around wrinkled, without your hair combed, without some thought about how what
you wear might affect your testimony. The issue isn’t that everyone is doing
it. God’s people aren’t everyone... they’re special ones. So the issue of order
is the first command. It literally says if you’re a mess on the outside, you’re
a mess on the inside. If we haven’t lost you yet, we’ll move on.
Testimony of Taste
word in our passage is a cousin to the first. It is translated “modestly” in
most translations, but that doesn’t really express what it says in our society.
The word is (kosmos), and it literally accentuates the first commandment, but
it carries with it more of an “appropriate” context. Unlike the verb, which had
to do with the act of orderly preparation, this word is an expression of that
orderliness which carries with it a “suitable” result.
translates it “becoming attire”. The Emphasized New Testament uses the phrase
“seemly attire”. The New Testament in Modern English uses the words “suitable
attire”. The Twentieth Century New Testament says “with appropriate dress”. The
real meaning is that the believing woman dresses in good taste always. She
doesn’t show up for church in tennis shoes, if she has anything else to wear.
But neither does she go to the ball game in a fur coat. She blends in, not to
conform, but rather not to detract from the nature within she is wanting to
reveal. “Discreet” is a good word that several commentaries used to describe
this aspect of what the well-dressed woman wears. She just uses good sense.
She’s not trying to call attention to herself, she’s trying to glorify her God,
so anything she does that makes her stand out in the crowd because of her
appearance detracts from the nature of God Who wants to express His character
through her. So the godly woman plans her wardrobe carefully, but she plans it
discreetly. She is tasteful at all times, never exceeding the bounds of
propriety, but always appearing in public in a neat, orderly fashion, as one
who belongs to a God of order.
Matter of Modesty
So while the
word translated “modestly” really means “suitable”, the next word really covers
the issue of modesty in dress completely. It is the word (aidos). It is used
only here in the New Testament, and it is translated in the King James Bible as
“shamefacedness”. All commentators seem to agree that this is an unfortunate
translation. It implies that women are to go around with their faces to the
ground, or their faces veiled, the expression of shame and disgrace. Nothing,
of course, is farther from God’s mind.
The NIV uses
the word “decency”, and this is a much more appropriate word. Literally, it
appears to mean “that which expresses humility and godliness through morality.”
One commentator says it this way: “the modesty which shrinks from overstepping
the limits of womanly reserve.” Another calls it “innate moral repugnance to
that which dishonors”. So basically, Paul is saying that Christian women must
never dress in a way that defies the boundaries of exemplary moral behavior.
Clothing that is suggestive, revealing, or sensuous in nature is out... no
matter what the styles of the day dictate. It isn’t ungodly to be stylish, but
the higher law is that anytime style conflicts with purity, style loses out. A
Christian woman’s clothing ought never to call attention to the flesh, and
ought never to be such that what she wears or how she wears what she wears tends
to arouse the lower nature of those who see her. To overlook that commandment
is an affront to God, a poor testimony, an affront to her husband (if she’s
married), and a possible indicator of a character flaw, for it says to the
world that something immoral lurks within. It may not be true. But nonetheless,
Christian women do not have the option to take that chance.
Denial of Dignity
word (sophrosune) is translated “sobriety” in the King James Version. It is
translated “sensibly” in the NIV. It comes from a verb that is translated “of a
sound mind”. Its basic meaning is one of self-control, or of a decision-making
process that is totally controlled by God’s laws at the expense of her emotions
or appetites. One scholar refers to the word as meaning “dignified restraint”.
It literally means “not controlled by passions or fashions where clothes are
concerned”. It is the Christian woman who calmly analyzes her clothing needs
and those of her family based on what they can afford, what is practical, and
what is God-honoring. Like the godly woman of Proverbs 31, she sews what she
can, and she watches for bargains when she can... but she isn’t overcome by
every catalog that comes in the mail or everything that suddenly appears in the
window of the department store.
decisions about what to wear are not made out of insecurity. She isn’t afraid
to be a little behind the latest fashions if it’s not in her budget. She
doesn’t buy on impulse, doesn’t buy out of spite, doesn’t buy out of jealousy,
because her best friend just got a new dress. What she buys is practical,
sensible, wearable, and durable. She is simply sensible and self-controlled
about what she buys and what she wears.
V- The Evil
phrases in our passage deal with the excesses that occur when affluence
intrudes on good taste. Paul words it with a great deal of detail, and he does
so that we might not miss the point of the passage, but we must also be careful
not to take it out of context, or to ignore the totality of the picture as we
try to apply this one portion. He is dealing with the evil of extravagance...
and he says it like this:
2:9 Not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which
becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
not to be noticed for their elaborate hairdos, their expensive jewelry, or
their designer clothes. They were to be noticed for the good works that God
produces through them. This is the trademark of a woman who professes to be...
godly and is. It does not mean women are not to wear jewelry; not to have their
hair arranged; not to wear nice clothes. But it is a stern warning against two
Extravagance that calls attention to itself
Extravagance that calls attention to your ability to be extravagant... a badge
of your wealth displayed on your body as a symbol of success. Paul says, “stop
it.”. Nobody cares how rich you are. And anything you do to flaunt it, is a
slap in the face of the God who allowed you to have what you have as a gift.
THE GOAL OF
of God Her
clothing must not
through detract from God’s reflection
It must not
be sloppy, slothful, or in disarray.
It must not
be sensuous or immodest.
It must not
be inappropriate or distasteful.
It must not
be extravagant or unnecessarily expensive.
is God’s goal for a woman. It is that the joy of God radiate from her face, the
love of God be manifest through her actions, and the peace of God permeate her
being even in times of deep waters. To do that, the clothing she wears must
neither overshadow her godliness by calling attention to itself, nor detract
from her godliness by implying that any thing, which belongs to God, is
slothful or sloppy or in disarray. She must not defy God’s holiness by wearing
that which is immodest. She must not defy the humility of Christ by wearing
that which is gaudy or ostentatious. She must not defy the sensitivity of God
by wearing that which is inappropriate or distasteful... and she must not
detract from the simplicity of the Gospel or the generosity of God by wearing
that which is extravagant or unnecessarily expensive.
If self is
under God’s control, what a woman wears will glorify God. And while what is stylish
and acceptable in the fashion world may vary, the basic premises upon which a
woman’s choices are made never vary. Within the scope of those guidelines, she
appears to be free to wear that which is stylish and fashionable. But any
violation of those yardsticks violates God’s fashion laws and thus is not
Wardrobe and the Woman
believe God is saying is, “the clothes don’t make the woman; but they do
reflect who she really is”. And, of course, not in the way the world would dictate.
The world would have her have the latest fashions to prove she is current; the
most risqué fashions to prove she is worldly; the most expensive to prove she
is successful; and the most ostentatious are often in because they prove she is
her own person.
saying, “don’t try to out-world the world”. You can’t do it. What you can do,
however, is to out-shine the world... from within. Peter says basically the
same thing in I. Peter 3, a passage we will be looking at in detail in our next
study. The parallel passage to this one says,
adorning should not be outward‑ braided hair; putting on gold trinkets,
or putting on robes; instead it should be the inner personality of the heart
with the imperishable qualities of a gentle and quiet spirit, something of
surpassing value in God’s sight.”
something, which innately defies human understanding. It is a godly woman.
31:25-30 Strength and honor are her clothing; she openeth her mouth with
wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways
of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children rise up
and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her... favour is
deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be
existed in the Ephesian church that Paul was addressing in this letter. That
problem included an atmosphere of worldliness that had permeated the women in
the fellowship. They had forgotten the beautiful portrait their God intended
their lives to paint upon the canvas of history. It was not to be a passive
role; but it was to be a specific role. And to demonstrate the amazing
difference Christ would make in the church, a role the woman was to represent,
she must address her entire life to that of reflecting the character of God as
it was to emanate from her very face. There was to be an uncommon quietness, a
gracious gentleness, a holy modesty, and a genuine transparency that could be
explained in no other way but that the Spirit of God indwelt her life.
emphasis was on the person within, she spent hours a day focusing on the things
of God. Her heart was bathed in prayer. Her mind was clothed in the Word. Her
spirit was constantly meditating on God’s perspective. She quietly responded to
life’s injustices, because the portrait she was painting was one of the church,
indwelt by God, responding to life, rather than reacting to it.
wants to squeeze womanhood into a mold of defiance, of independence, of
affluence, of self-centeredness. The world wants woman to dress the part and
act the part and live the part of one who is happiest when she is being
“herself”. God on the other hand, wants to set woman free to be what she was
created to be: selfless, gentle, kind, humble, radiant, and filled with an
uncommon kind of joy.
choice is yours.