by Matthew Swan
Who designed the first clothing that was acceptable to God? The Lord God himself.
Given that it was his idea, and his design, it would be good for us to try our best to understand what God’s intentions were for clothing in the beginning and what they are now.
When we understand God’s intentions for his clothing design, then we must look to him for wisdom to know how to apply his intentions to the situations we find ourselves in. Whether on a snowmobile in Labrador, or in the water in Mexico, or riding a horse in the mountains, or in a grocery store… How do I apply what God intends for clothing? It is not my desire in this study to apply God’s word by creating a dress code. Even if we applied it just right, it would only be right for our given culture, in the current calendar year we find ourselves in. Go forward or backward even one generation, and my application would not fit as well.
It’s easy to create and follow a dress code. It’s easy for a person to religiously follow a code of any kind, with no spiritual health required . It takes much more spiritual exercise to apply God’s intentions for clothing to my given daily situations. Often, when someone hears instruction on something like clothing, they don’t like the application that is made, and so they throw out the Godly instruction as well. It is my desire that this simple study would be something that could be read by any Christian living in any part of the world, from the days of the early church until our Lord Jesus comes again. Then, having looked at our Lord’s intentions for clothing, they would be able to determine before the Lord how his truth applies in their given culture and timeframe and situation.
I am not claiming to have drawn upon every verse in God’s Word that may be helpful as a contribution to this subject, but rather I am attempting to look at snapshots along the way. When they are looked at all together we get a fairly clear picture of what God has in mind for human clothing.
Genesis 2 and 3
The Garden of Eden was a beautiful place. They could freely eat of all the trees except one. They were there to dress and to keep a gardening masterpiece planted by God. There was no sin, nor any of the sadness that comes with it. Adam and Eve lived in innocence, enjoying each
other, and living in regular communion with their God. Because of the innocence of the place, Gen 2:25 says, ” And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. ” From this verse we learn that Nakedness and Innocence coexist happily. There is no shame and no sinful response to the human body being on full display in a state of innocence.
What a difference when we come to Gen 3:7, ” And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked…” Sin had entered in, they now by experience knew good and evil, and the very first result was an understanding of their own nakedness. Immediately upon disobeying God, something they had never experienced before became a reality. They became aware of a conscience within that pressed them with the convincing knowledge that they were now exposed, and that there was shame associated with being in that condition. With a pending visit from God in the cool of the day, they knew that nakedness was not an option.
It is sad to hear what Adam had to say in Gen 3:10,” … I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” The first man’s fresh conscience caused him to react to his own nakedness with fear and shame. At the thought of facing God, Adam didn’t seem very confident in his attempts to cloth himself, as he went and hid among the trees of the garden.
From this we find a very clear truth; Nakedness and Sinfulness cannot coexist happily. In humanity’s fallen sinful state, there is too much to respond in a sinful way to the human body being fully displayed.
To their credit, Adam and Eve did make an attempt to cover themselves by sewing fig leaves together and making aprons. The word apron, Strongs H#2290, gives the idea of a belt, apron or girdle, similar to what soldiers would use later to hold on weaponry, or what others would use to tie clothing together. Fig leaves today grow up to 25cm long and 18cm wide, so for sure the fig leaves in the garden would have provided some cover, but it wasn’t enough. It should be interesting to us that the first attempt of humans to clothe themselves was not enough in the Lords eyes. It helps us understand that just having clothes on is not necessarily suitable or pleasing to God.
How did God deal with this new reality of nakedness and sinfulness together for the Human race? Gen 3:21 says, “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.”
The word Coats, Strongs H#3801, means something to cover, as in a tunic, shirt, coat, garment, or robe. This word is also used to refer to Joseph’s coat of many colors, and to one article of the priestly garments, among other examples. When it says he clothed them, that word is Strongs H#3847, meaning to wrap around, to put on, to array with.
We learn from this verse that the very first clothing that God designed, was made as a tunic, shirt, coat, or robe. We are not given the details of length, tightness of fit, whether it had sleeves or not, or the details of the neck opening. We do know it was made of a durable material, allowing them to operate without fear of wardrobe malfunctions. The same could not be said about clothing made of fresh fig leaves.
From this verse we also understand God’s intention; it says he made them coats and clothed them. We could also say that He made them coverings, and obscured their bodies. By obscuring their bodies with a covering, God solved the problem of sinfulness and nakedness existing together.
It is worthy of note that while there are differences between male and female anatomy, and therefore different requirements for coverings, there is no mention of differing style coats for Adam and Eve. God making them both coats made it abundantly clear that both males and females are to be concerned and careful about covering their naked bodies.
It isn’t until Deut 22:5 that the Lord makes it clear to his people Israel that they were to dress in a way that it would be obvious by a person’s clothing whether they were a man or a woman. When our Creator is a God of division and order, the enemy of God will always seek to blur the lines. When God designed men and women, he also determined there would be distinctions between them. We function best in our God given spheres, but the Devil will constantly try to remove lines that God has put in place, and he will try to create division where God wants unity. Even though the words in Deuteronomy 22 were written to Israel, we do well to consider when choosing our clothing today that it pleased God in that day for his people to be recognizable as men or women by what they wore.
The Flood is now past, and all those who lived in such progressive wickedness from the Days of Adam and Eve are gone. Mr. Noah decides to make wine from his vineyard, from which he becomes drunk. Gen 9:21, “And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered in his tent.”
Here we are in a post flood context, and what happens helps us to understand God’s thoughts regarding nakedness in the days after the flood. Noah’s son Ham, looks upon his father as he is
drunk and naked, and goes to tell his brothers about what he saw. Knowing the shame of nakedness, Sham and Japheth take a garment upon their shoulders and walk backwards into their fathers tent to cover him. Their carefulness saves them from the curse that was put upon Ham for looking upon his father.
We learn a few things from this story that are quite relevant to our study. For one, nakedness is not to be looked upon. Either in pictures, in video, or in person, nakedness is not to be viewed. Is it just seeing human skin that is the problem? Or is it more? The first clothing God made was leather, so is God happy with tight leather clothing that reveals the entire shape of the body, but just in a different color? Or is clothing to do more than just change the color of a body?
The word used to describe their action of covering their father is interesting. Covered, Strongs H#3680, means to plump, or to fill up the hollows. This implies to cover for clothing or secrecy, to clad, conceal, or hide.
If today we were to try to dress in a way that we “filled up the hollows” of our bodies, or if we made sure to conceal or hide that which is under our clothes, what would it look like?
Another interesting word is the word used for garment. Strongs H#8071, is a cover assuming the shape of an object underneath.
It is my understanding from these two words that we are not to wear massive paper bags, but rather garments that take the shape of the human body while concealing or hiding those parts of the body that are to remain hidden.
To go in the direction of trying to look overly different from what is culturally normal would be immodest as it draw attention to oneself with the strangeness of the garment. To go in the direction of a garment that completely takes the shape of our body would be immodest as it draws attention to those areas of the human body that are to be hidden. Of course, in areas where prevailing cultural norms are nudity or near nudity, being obviously different is the only choice a Christian has to satisfy the Lord’s intentions for clothing.
It goes without needing to be said that circumstances arise, such as parents caring for their children, or medical professionals caring for patients, when nakedness must be looked upon. Even in these situations we appreciate the care taken to minimize the shame that is caused when nakedness is required.
Fast forward hundreds of years later and we find Moses receiving commandments from the Lord. The Lord is giving specifics about the clothing of the priests, and in Exod 28:42 we read, ” And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach.”
In Exod 20:26, we find that the Lord doesn’t want any steps leading up to his alter, ” that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.”
What do we learn from this? The word breeches, Strongs H#4370, is in the sense of hiding, or concealing the private parts. The word cover, is the same word used regarding Noah, to fill up the hollows, to cover, to conceal. Nakedness, here, is referring to the external genitals. Is it too much to draw from these verses that the Lord wanted them to be clothed in a manner that their external genitals were to be hidden? There would be situations where these men would be working, bent over, lifting, kneeling, and even then, the Lord would have the secret parts of the body remain hidden. It may not be enough for our clothing to be doing the job only when modelling in front of a mirror, unless that is all we plan to do all day.
We also learn from this instruction to Moses that there is a particular care to be taken regarding the area of the body from the waste to the thighs. We know these are male priests, and this should caution us again that men as well as women have a responsibility to be careful in how well our clothing does what it is supposed to do to this area of our bodies.
2 Kings 4
Elisha is about to send Gehazi on a mission. He has to take his staff in his hand and go quickly to try and raise a child from the dead. Nothing was to slow him down. What did he mean then when he spoke these words, ” Gird up thy loins… ,” before sending him on his way?
The usual clothing of the day would be down to the feet, or very close to it. Wearing clothing this way would make it quite difficult to run, climb, work, or fight battles. It was during these activities that it was normal to gather the garments up, pull them through the legs towards the backside, form them into two groups, and tie them together around the hips in the front of the
waist. This left much of the legs bare for freedom to move, while still maintaining a loose obscuring covering for the loins.
This tells me that while there are different ways of clothing ourselves for various activities, there is no compromise on whether the hidden areas of the body should be on display. Whether at home or in public, working or leisure, in heat or cold, or whatever the situation, the Lords desire is that the human body be covered in an appropriate way.
Let’s move to the proverbs… In chapter 5 the writer is sharing wisdom from God on the beauty of a satisfying marriage. It is in this context that these words are spoken in Chapter 5:19, ” let her breasts satisfy thee at all times…” I would like to suggest from this reference that God is blessing a husband’s enjoyment of his wife’s breasts, not just anyone who happens to look in her direction. That should help regulate what kind of clothing a woman uses to cover that part of her body.
In chapter 7:10, we read about a woman in the attire of a harlot. The question that comes to mind again is whether just having clothing on is enough. If a person is identifiable in a given culture by their clothing to be dressing as a harlot, this kind of clothing should be shunned by Godly women. An example of this is given in Gen 38 when Judah saw what Tamar was wearing and he thought she was a harlot. The Word of God is clear about the need to “abstain from all appearance of evil.”
Now to the lovely woman of Proverbs 31, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” This virtuous woman, who has her husband’s full trust, understands the value of clothing. She seeks wool and flax, and works willingly with her hands to transform it into clothing. It says she girds her loins with strength. Whether she was showing strength as she tied up her clothes for hard
work, or whether she was mentally strengthening herself for her work, the imagery is there of a woman who is deftly working while not compromising with her clothing. Her hands are upon the spindle and distaff, further references to her interest in clothing for herself and others. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for they are all clothed appropriately. She makes fine linen, she sells girdles to the merchant. This woman has a clear grasp of the truth of vs 30, ” Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” In a world that seeks to worship the creature more than the creator, the world’s fashions will tend to reveal and draw attention to the natural favour and beauty that God has designed into a
female body. This is usually done instead of attention being put on the dedication, labour and other inner beauties of a woman who fears the Lord.
Some of the world’s fashions glamorize the revealing of a woman’s body in youth, often to the encouragement of lustful thoughts and actions in others. Then quickly the same fashions will reveal the changes that come with age, and eventually those fashions will rob dear elderly ladies of any dignity by showing what their bodies have become in old age. Gods intended use of clothing will greatly reduce the obviousness of the effects of age and declining physical beauty. Instead his clothing intentions will allow more focus on those things that cause us to praise a woman her whole life through, such as her work ethic, hospitality, kindness, and her devotion to her Lord.
Into the New Testament
When we come into the New Testament, we are getting closer to home. Not that the passages and learning we glean from the Old Testament are of a lower value, but the New Testament is speaking more directly to us, in our current time in God’s program.
At this point it would be advantageous to bring up some relevant differences between men and women. God has specific words for the young, the old, the elders, the teachers, etc. as well as specific words for men and for women. We all know there is a general difference, not in value before God, but in character, in natural tendencies and weaknesses, and in service for God. It is because of this that we will encounter words from the Lord at times that are directed only to men or only to women. Taking it from the Lord we can understand that in his wisdom he knows what men need to hear and he knows what women need to hear. This is obviously because he knows our weaknesses as men and women, and he knows what he wants us to accomplish for him, as men or as women.
In Matt 5:28 it says, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” As most men will confess, looking is a weakness that plagues us. Secular studies have shown that men are generally more affected by visual stimulus, while women are generally more affected by emotional stimulus. God, in his perfect understanding of these things long before secular studies existed, directs the above mentioned verse toward
those who need it most. He takes the battle to where the weak spots exist in the defenses. This is not to say that women are not at all affected visually, or that men are not at all affected emotionally, but generally speaking, there is a difference.
With regards to Matt 5:28, we should remind ourselves that men are responsible to guard their eyes and their minds, no matter what a woman is wearing. That’s where the responsibility is placed in this verse. As a natural course of action, a Godly woman who understands that reality will seek to apply Gods word regarding her clothing in a way that will minimize her contribution to that battle.
Is there any payback for women being careful with their clothing? Interesting enough, secular studies also have suggested that when a woman’s clothing leaves her body on full display, it is a struggle for the male mind not to objectivise the female. In plain language, she is seen as a sex object making herself available. She is less seen as an individual, with thoughts and feelings, having value as a person. On the other hand, when a female is dressed in a way that her private areas are kept hidden from plain view, the male brain will more naturally interact with her as a person, thereby giving opportunity for emotional interaction and attraction. This points again to the need to understand what God’s intentions are for clothing, and to apply them with his guidance in our given situations. God has our best at heart!
In Mark 5, The Lord Jesus frees a man from demon possession and there is a tremendous change. He went from raging through the tombs naked and wild, to sitting, clothed, and in his right mind. Those three go together for this man as results of his salvation; he’s sitting down calmly, he has covered his nakedness, and he’s thinking from a sound mind. Because it is the subject of our study, I want to draw attention to him clothing himself. I suggest that as it was important to the Lord Jesus in that day for the man to properly cover himself, it should be important to us that our clothing today does what God intends it to do.
In Acts 9: 36-41 Peter raises a woman from the dead. She was a special woman, full of good works and compassion. A true Christian woman, with a tremendous testimony, had grown sick and died. As Peter arrives, the widows are declaring the virtues of Dorcas by showing him all the coats and garments she had made for the poor. The story ends happily, with Peter raising her from the dead by the power of God.
From this story I want to draw out the meanings of the words for the type of clothing she made for the others. The first word is Coats, from Strongs G#5509, meaning a tunic or shirt, from another word meaning ” to cover.” The second word Garments is perhaps more general, Strongs G#2440, meaning apparel, cloke, clothes, garment, raiment, robe, vesture. The same two words are used in Matt 5:40 when the Lord tells them,” And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat ( Strongs #5509 ), let him have thy cloke ( Strongs G#2440) also.”
The two types of clothing seemed to be worn together, and the clothing she made did a fine job of covering the human body. It is difficult to set aside these examples of clothing, designed to cover instead of reveal, and to try and say that it doesn’t matter what we wear today. I understand that our styles may not be what they were in Joppa in those years, and depending on where we live in the world today, it could seem very strange if we were to dress that way. But even while keeping our clothing as close as is reasonable to the culture we find ourselves in, when God wants our bodies covered, that has to take precedence over what society tells me to wear.
I always enjoy the study in 1 Cor 12 regarding the body. The interdependency of the members, the mutual obedience to Christ as the head, each member with a work to do. But there is a reality worth considering brought out in vs 23 about members that we think to be less honourable. It says, ” And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.”
The example is a body, and the word to bestow means to present to, or place around, or to put upon those less honourable members more abundant honour. It is interesting that the same word is used about putting the purple robe on the Lord Jesus.
What I learn from this passage that is relevant to our study is in the parallel between honour and clothing. For those areas of our physical bodies that are also deemed less honourable, upon those areas we bestow, or put upon them, clothing to cover them. In this way we balance our bodies, by putting clothing upon the parts that need clothing, while other members of the body need no clothing, but are worthy of full display as they are.
1 Tim 2
1 Tim 2:8-10 says the following,” I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But ( which becometh women professing Godliness ) with good works.
Keeping in mind that God has specific words for Men and Women, here’s what we see from these verses:
The males are to be vocal, ready to pray everywhere (in a proper spiritual condition, not in their own strength)
The males are to have holy hands ( characterized by pure hands set apart for God )
The males must suppress wrath ( excitement of the mind, or violent passion )
The males must not be doubting (resting on God’s word, not debatings and internal reasoning )
The females are visual, adorned in modest apparel (spiritual appearance, not their own beauty )
The females are to exhibit shamefacedness and sobriety ( characterized by an attitude of reluctance to draw attention to self, and by soundness of mind and self control )
They are not to adorn themselves with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array ( not characterized by physical outward ornamentation )
They are to be adorned with good works ( The true outward ornamentation that rightly goes together with Godliness )
An honest look at these things spoken specifically to men and women will help us understand generally where our God sees weakness in our defences. As a man, I want to be able to rely on my strength, my intellect, handle the situation by force, etc. I also will tend toward unholiness in my actions. I must remember that without God’s strength, I am weak. Without a proper spiritual health, my hands won’t be holy and my prayers will be stale. I will not be resting on God’s word if I’m relying on myself.
As for women, they don’t seem to have those same weaknesses. A reliance on God and a sensitivity to spiritual things is less of a struggle. But, if watching my sisters and daughters grow up means anything, it seems to me they have more of a tendency toward physical ornamentation. There is also a tendency toward enjoying the “praise of being pretty”. It takes faith to understand that it is worthwhile putting my focus on what God holds as more valuable for a woman instead.
God has spoken to the men, then says, ” In like manner…” and speaks to the women. In the same way that God requires those things of men, he requires these things of women. To be adorned with modest apparel, not with outward ornaments and costly clothing, but with good works.
Here are definitions that may be helpful:
To adorn; Strongs G#2885;
Modest: Strongs G#2887; and restrained)
is to put in proper order, ie. decorate.
orderly, decorous ( in keeping with good taste and propriety, plite
Katastole, Kata meaning to let down, stole meaning loose outer
Apparel: Strongs G#2689;
garment. The two together meaning a loose fitting outer garment, let down.
For a New Testament Woman, God would have her arrange her clothing upon her body, clothing that is in good taste, clothing that does what God intends in covering her. A loose outer garment, let down… I am not suggesting a tent, or large ugly paper bag, but rather something in good taste, in each cultural setting, that satisfies the meanings of these words.
Just a thought or two on the sideline of ornaments… Extravagant hair ( even interwoven with other materials ), gold, pearls, and costly clothing are obviously discouraged here, with the add- on of good works being God’s choice. Having said that, let’s remember that there is a difference
between a hearing aid and an ear ring in that one has a purpose the other does not. A watch has a purpose, while a bracelet generally does not. A wedding ring has a purpose, but an accessory ring does not. A woman is not to adorn herself with those things that have no purpose other than to be an ornament, but rather, to display a spiritual attitude and good works.
Does God mean it’s not important that women pray? Obviously women are praying in 1 Cor 11:5, but just not it a public sphere.
Does God mean that men can wear immodest, expensive clothing with jewellery? Besides the fact that it would be quite outside the character of the chapter, the same word for modesty is used in 1 Tim 3:2 of an Overseer. These men were to be “of good behaviour” which is the same word translated modest in regards to clothing in 1 Tim 2:9.
It is safe to say that even though the Spirit of God rightly directed some words toward women and some words toward men, both lists could be combined and applied in a measure to every Christian.
1 Peter 3
1 Peter 3:1-6 says the following,” Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands;”
In these verses directed at Christian women, I see three very clear points;
The winning power of a chaste conversation coupled with fear.
The outward display and the inward spirit of a chaste conversation coupled with fear. The examples of a chaste conversation coupled with fear.
We might well ask then, what is a chaste conversation coupled with fear?
Chaste; Clean, pure
Conversation; behaviour, manner of life
Coupled with fear; in a reverential fear of God, therefore a fear of displeasing him.
We could summarize by saying the thrust of this exhortation to women is to have a pure and clean manner of life, active in good works as they live in reverence for our Lord, with a fear of displeasing him.
The first part of the section tells us there is a soul winning power in doing this, that those who may not listen to men preaching Gods word, could be won by the woman’s manner of life.
Then there is the outward display and the inward spirit of this manner of life. The outward display of this manner of life is not to be seen in extravagant hair, nor in jewellery, nor in focusing on, or investing in her clothing, but it does shine through from the hidden person of the heart. The woman’s fair jewels will be a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. Meekness here is really strength under control, the same word used to describe the Lord Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Quietness is not muteness, but rather a peacefulness coming from within. This is in contrast to the harlot in Prov 7:11,” She is loud and stubborn,andherfeetabidenotinherhouse.” It’sinterestingtoseewhatthewordforgreat price means; In God’s sight this meekness and quietness is “extremely expensive; costly, very precious, of great price.”
And finally, there are the examples of women living a chaste, God-revering manner of life. The examples are the holy women of old time. In the Old Testament, in a time when we see women with many physical accessories, jewels, and decorations, there were holy women among them who adorned themselves as these New Testament women were being exhorted to as well. Beside the girls in Isaiah 3:16-24 ( please read ), these holy women of God must have looked pretty plain. But in the eyes of our Lord, he saw their inner beauties, their well-doing, their faith and trust in him, and He saw it as greatly valuable to His heart!
One danger we must avoid is believing that because our outward appearance is right, all is well within. It would be near useless to have the outward in order, and have nothing within our souls for the eyes of God to enjoy, and nothing to shine out to the world around us for others to be won by. It is just as dangerous to suggest that the exterior doesn’t matter, that only what
is on the inside is taken into account by God. We would have to cut many clothing related verses out of our Bible’s and burn them in the fire to make that work.
1 Peter 3:7 says,” Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”
There is nothing mentioned in this passage regarding clothing for the Christian husbands, but they don’t get off free. They are to dwell or reside together ( as a family ), and it should not be normal for him to be elsewhere. Mom isn’t supposed to do it all. They are to be aware of the knowledge of God’s order, and fully support the wife in this context in all God has given her to do. They are to give the highest esteem unto the wife, as one who generally is physically weaker, and they are to be one with their wives in the grace of life. They are to have all these things in order, arranging things right before God, and their prayers will not be hindered.
In Revelation 1:13 we read, ” And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” His majesty, his glory, his garment not girded up reminding us of a victorious king and the work he finished forever… It will be wonderful to see him.
We also read about the pure white robes of the redeemed in Rev 7 and the white apparel of the angelic messengers sent from God. It would seem to me that clothing is something that will never be taken away again. As the Lord Jesus has taken upon himself humanity for Eternity, so the naked human has risen to be clothed with heavenly garments through the eternal work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Given the little views we have into the majesty and Godly character of the place we are going, we do well to consider our character and our clothing as we walk here below as ambassadors for that heavenly country. When people look upon us, do we reflect a heavenly manner of life, or do we go undetected in this world?
Clothing versus Respect
As a side line to this study, let’s take a look at the correlation between our clothing and showing respect. We can be very clear on one thing, God requires and deserves our respect.
Psalm 89:7… God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
Matt 21:37, Mark 12:6, Luke 20:13… They will reverence my son.
Heb 12:28 … Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
There are many ways to show respect in the many cultures of our world. It may be displayed by my tone of voice or silence, or where my eyes are pointing. It may have to do with where I sit, or who gets greeted in what order. In some cultures, punctuality is very important to show respect, or how I bow, or whether I have facial hair or not. The list is long, but usually well understood in our given cultures. There are times our culture is so engrained in us that we don’t even realise that what we do is a show of respect, we just know that it’s right for a given occasion. In most cultures, but not all, the type of clothing we wear will contribute to our display of respect for a person or occasion.
There will be clothing used for “outdoor dirty work”, other clothing for a family visit in the evening, different clothing again for a job interview, or for a court appearance. There is clothing that is suitable for funerals and weddings, and formal meetings at a governmental level will have a clothing expectation. What is acceptable will change with time and culture, but we can’t deny the reality that clothing is a large part of how we show our reverence and respect.
When it comes to gathering to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in assembly meetings, we must be most careful to show our respect for him. He has promised that He is in the midst of his own when they are gathered together in His name. His presence and his person should demand our highest respect and dignity. It is not fitting to be light and joking, or to be always drifting into a meeting late, or with a proud attitude, or to speak disrespectfully of the one we are gathered to. If our culture also recognizes that different clothing represents levels of importance and respect for what I am engaged in, we should simply dress with our best for the Lord Jesus Christ. We should take note of what our culture understands to be formal clothing,
and wear that in reverence for the Son. To take it further, if His presence is worthy of our respect when we meet with him in a remembrance meeting, His presence in every other meeting where He is there also demands the same level of respect in our conduct and clothing. We dress not for each other, or for other people who may come to the meetings, but for Him.
Clothing as God intends it, will obscure, hide, or cover the necessary parts of the human body because nakedness and sinfulness cannot dwell together.
We have an example in clothing guidelines to Israel that God would have men and women recognizable as such by their clothing.
Clothing is to take the shape of the body it covers, while ” filling up the hollows “, or obscuring the areas of the body that are meant to be obscured. This will balance us from being immodest in the sense of wearing strange clothing, while not being immodest in the sense of revealing our bodies.
There is particular attention paid by the Lord to the area of the body from the waist to the thighs. It is his desire that the external genitals would be hidden from view.
Girding up the loins in preparation for some activity makes us aware that we may cloth our bodies differently for different activities, but we are not to compromise on whether we reveal the ” secret parts ” of our bodies. Clothing as God intends it will be practical and necessary activities can still be performed.
We are reminded that a woman’s breasts are for her husbands enjoyment, not anyone else, and should be clothed accordingly. Obviously this does not take away from the enjoyment a feeding child gets from mommy’s breast milk!
Much of the worlds fashions will put the spotlight on the beauties of the female body, while God desires that to be enjoyed in the context of marriage. Outwardly, God intends for a woman to be primarily recognized instead for her virtues and her fear of God.
Men are generally more affected by visual stimulus, while women are generally more affected by emotional stimulus. Men are also responsible to guard their eyes and their minds, no matter what a woman is wearing. However, a Godly woman who understands that reality, will seek to minimize the possibilities of contributing to that battle.
Being calm, properly clothed, and thinking clearly, were immediate results that followed a man being freed from demons by the Lord Jesus.
Looking at the description of the clothing made by Dorcas, it is difficult to set aside these examples, and to try and say that it doesn’t matter what we wear today. Even though we would be out of place to try to wear today what they wore in the 1st century, we can take from Dorcas that she designed clothing to functionally cover instead of to reveal.
For those areas of our physical bodies that are deemed to be less honourable, upon those areas we bestow, or put upon them, clothing to cover them. A covering that will give honour instead of shame.
Women are to be adorned with modest apparel, not with outward ornaments and costly clothing, but with good works. For a New Testament Woman, God would have her arrange her clothing upon her body, clothing that is in good taste, clothing that does what God intends in covering her. A loose outer garment, let down… I am not suggesting a tent, or large ugly paper bag, but rather something in good taste, in each cultural setting, that satisfies the meanings of these words.
The outward display of a chaste manner of life is not to be seen in extravagant hair, nor in jewellery, nor in focusing on, or investing in clothing, but it does shine through from the hidden person of the heart. The woman’s fair jewels will be a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price, and that which holds a soul winning power in this life.
It would seem to me that clothing is something that will never be taken away again. As the Lord Jesus has taken upon himself humanity for Eternity, so the naked human has risen to be clothed with heavenly garments through the eternal work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The guidelines that God has given us are narrow enough for us not to reveal our bodies, yet broad enough to allow clothing variations for the activities of various cultures over thousands of years. Keeping in mind that the Devil is intent on destroying all that God loves, we should not be naive enough to believe that all clothing is pleasing to God.
If clothing type is associated with respect in my culture, then every time we meet with the Lord Jesus Christ, I should dress my best in respect for him.
When there are many opinions on how a Christian man or woman should dress, there is only one safe thing we can do. We must prayerfully and willingly go to God’s word, and embrace the truth of what it says. Then we must look to the Lord for the wisdom and guidance to properly apply that truth in the daily situations we encounter.
I conclude with Paul’s language in Acts 9: 6, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’