The Ancient Faith
BIBLE PRINCIPLES OF DRESS FOR CHRISTIANS
In I Cor. 6:20, the Bible says, “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” We serve God with our body as well as our spirit, and this includes the way we dress. It seems wherever I go, people are interested in Christians and clothing, particularly whether a woman should wear pants. The Bible, as in every area of our life, gives us guidance in this area as well. But before we get into specifics, let’s look at a couple of basic Bible principles.
Phil 1:9,10 reads, in the Simple English Bible. “This is what I am praying for: I want your love to overflow more and more with a fuller knowledge and all insight. Then you will be able to test what is best, so you will be pure and without guilt when Christ comes.” The Bible does not contain a formal dress code such as, “The hem of the woman’s skirt will rise no higher than 3 inches below the knee…”, etc. Instead, God gives us principles which we are to use to make our own judgments on what to wear, what not to wear, how to wear, etc. If we know these principles, we can use them in regard to any article of clothing, and, with confidence, be able to “test what is best”–to make mature decisions about what clothing will or will not be pleasing to God.
Now, why is it so important to want to please God, even in an area of our living such as the clothes we wear? In II Cor 5.15. the Bible says. “And that he died for which died for them, and rose again.” We live to please God, not ourselves; pleasing God should be our number one desire, and this includes pleasing Him with proper clothing. And whenever I hear anyone say (as I’ve heard said in regard to women wearing dresses or pants), “Why can’t I?”, or, “You show me why I have to!”–well, I know this is not a person whose primary desire is to please God. Sometimes the Christian must not just look at whether a thing is so wrong, but that perhaps it would be better not to–perhaps this other would be the better thing to do. This is how the Christian who truly lives for God views apparel and other areas of living. And now, let’s go on to four Bible principles concerning dress.
I. First of all–God wants there to be a distinction between men and women, and this distinction extends to our clothing.
In Gen 1:27, the Bible says, ‘Male and female created He them”–physically, God made men and women distinct from each other. And then, in Gen 3:16-19, we read that man was given the role of breadwinner and woman the role of child rearing–not only were men and women to be physically different, but God gave them distinct social roles. From creation, God wanted men to be men and women to be women.
And then, in the Mosaic era, we find passages under the Old Covenant such as Deut 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” Clearly, God saw that clothing distinguished a man from a woman, and vice-versa: He did not want a mixing of roles, even in the area of clothing.
In the New Testament we read, in passages such as Ro 1:24-27 and I Cor 6:9,10, that God condemns effeminate men and masculine women. So, from creation, through the Mosaic era and into the New Testament age of today, God ordained a distinction between men and women and this distinction extends to our clothing. And there is no more distinctly feminine article of clothing in our culture than the dress–period. Ladies, in this age of ungodliness and reversing of the male-female roles, why pass up such an opportunity to enhance your femininity, which is pleasing to God and edifying to the church? “Test what is best.”
II. The second Bible principle of dress is the effect our clothing has on our influence.
In Matt 5:13, Jesus Christ taught that if we lose our “savour,” our saving influence, we are good for nothing–and our clothing can kill our influence. If my uncle works for Jack Daniels distillery and gives me one of those black T-shirts you’ve seen around, why don’t I wear it? I don’t drink alcohol, so why not? Because I’d kill my influence–by my clothing. On the other hand, Jesus taught in Matt 5:14-16 that your good influence shining like a light before men, will glorify God. How many of our ladies have been approached in public and asked what church they were a member of because of their dresses and long hair? “Test what is best.” And remember, you have no greater influence anywhere than in the home, before your children and husband. Why wear things in their presence that you would not wear in public? There is no one you have a greater influence upon than your own children–dress appropriately!
III. The third Bible principle of dress is whether or not your clothing is “offensive.”
The word “offend” in verses such as Ro 14:21 (KJV) means, “To cause or make to stumble… cause to fall away” (Thayer). There are two ways our clothing can cause someone to sin. First of all, Jesus said in Matt 5:28 that to look with lust upon a women is to commit adultery with her in your heart; if a women dresses provocatively, she can cause a man to sin, and the same with the man toward the woman. Secondly, Ro. 14 teaches that if someone has doubts about something, even if it is lawful they sin if they do it because they go against their conscience–Ro 14:23 says, “He that doubteth is damned if he eat… whatsoever is not of faith is sin.;” If you as a woman wear pants in front of a woman who believes that is wrong and in so doing embolden her through your example to go against her conscience and wear pant, you cause her to sin. Jesus taught in Matt 16:18 that if you offend a little one, you’d do well to find yourself a millstone to hang about your neck and then to go cast yourself into the sea. Think about it.
IV. The fourth Bible principle of dress is that clothing must be modest.
I Tim 2:9 says that women should adorn themselves in “modest” apparel. The word “modest” means “orderly, well arranged, decent, modest” (Vine’s). Now, we’re not talking about modest in your neighbor’s eyes, or friend’s, or even family’s–but modest in God’s eyes. You are not trying to please men, but God (Gal 1:10)–you will not be judged by men, but God (II Cor 5:10). We know that God sees nakedness as immodest–when Adam and Eve sinned in Gen. 3, God clothed them with animal skins because He was not satisfied with the clothing they had made to cover their nakedness. And here it’s important to remind ourselves of this principle: the purpose of clothing is to conceal, not reveal–conceal nakedness.
And I want to quote Isaiah 47:1-3 in order to further understand what God sees as nakedness and immodesty. “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen.” This God describing the downfall of Babylon with the figure of a woman. Notice that at the point God describes her as having the leg bare and the thigh uncovered God says she is “naked” and her “shame” shall be seen. This is why short dresses, shorts, “peek-a-boo” slits in skirts, etc., are sinful–and this is why I as a man do not wear shorts, skimpy tops, unbutton the top buttons of my shirt or go bare-chested in public as some of our people do–this is nakedness and it is shameful. I hope that in this immoral age we live in our people do not become so accustomed to the nakedness around them that they lose their own sense of modesty.
In conclusion, we serve God in body as well as in spirit (I Cor 6:20); this would include our dress. The Bible does not contain a formal dress code, but gives principles of dress that let us make judgments and “test what is best” (Phil 1:9,10). We want to please God, not ourselves (II Cor 5:15), so we want to clothe our bodies in a way that pleases God. The four principles of dress are:
(1) maintain the male-female distinction;
(2) consider the effect our clothing has on our influence;
(3) make sure our clothing does not “offend” anyone, and;
(4) be sure our clothing is modest in God’s sight. I believe these principles can be used for any article of clothing whether you are a man or woman or whether you are young or old.
May God bless you in your desire to better serve Him in the Lord Jesus Christ.
[This article appeared in the July 1, 1986 issue of the OPA]