Last week we talked about Modesty as a principle for personal appearance. In the context of 1 Timothy 2:9 modesty's most visible application is in the clothing that is worn. Far exceeding a set of fashion do-s and don'ts; modesty at it's heart is the desire to be personally pure and holy as well as the desire to not do anything which would hinder the holiness of others. It is from that perspective that modesty changes more than clothing, it changes our lives.
Paul continues in the second half of the verse to describe a secondary characteristic which is, in it's essence, the complement to modesty. Modesty is the desire to do the right thing; but what happens when our sin-nature rears it's ugly head and we haven't got a desire to do the right thing? It is at that moment when modesty is virtually powerless that we need another guideline; that guideline is “self-control”.
Where modesty expresses a desire to do nothing shameful, self control goes beyond the desire to do the right thing and expresses the strength to resist the desire to do the wrong thing. In other words, self-control stops you from giving in to your passions and desires so that you can still do the right thing.
Self control is probably one of the most absent virtue in American society. That's not too surprising since we predominantly embrace secular hedonism which is the reverse of self control. You may not recognize the term but you will recognize the meaning: “If it feels good â€" do it!” That's the battle cry of the flesh, the world and the Devil himself.
Fortunately self control is within our grasp. And it comes from somewhere other than just “trying harder.” It really comes from “drawing nearer”.
Galatians 5:22-23 should be on everyone's memorization list: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law.”
Christian virtue is distinct from legalism because the ability to overcome sin and do the right thing is not the result of US trying to be more like God, but of us surrendering more to God's control through the Holy Spirit. James 4:8 summarizes the principle nicely, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…”
The application is that if God is controlling your mind, you are going to control your clothing in order to guard not only your own moral purity but that of others as well. And you're going to control your own passions and desires so as not to be immodest even if you want to be.
But what happens if you give in? That's what Paul is about to address in specific terms which are nothing more than a visible manifestation of a lack of modesty and self control in Ephesus.
Clothing is just a symptom of the real problem. But is is the visible problem.
The Visible Problem
Notice in the second half of the verse, Paul begins to list some negative examples as he tells the women what not to wear. He says, “not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments…“
I guess the first question is, “What is morally wrong with these items?” Braided hair is a generic term for hairstyles in general, and of course gold and pearls refer to Jewelry, costly garments don't need much explanation. The question is, “are these items inherently morally corrupt?
The short answer is no, but I've never been good with short answers.
In the parallel passage at 1 Peter 3:3 Peter adds dresses to the mix. He writes, “Your adornment must not be merelyexternal– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; ” (1 Peter 3:3) Is there something inherently morally wrong with dresses? If so than there's trouble afoot in here this morning!
However, the Bible actually speaks positively about most all of these.1
Hair: God certainly isn't mandating that women go about with bed head all the time. Remember that the start of the verse contains the word “Proper” which means putting things in order. Certainly the hair is part of that.
In the Song of Solomon 4:1, Solomon describes the hair of his wife as if it were a flock of goats coming down the mountain. The imagery might not make your toes tingle; but it is a positive look at hair that looks nice. 1 Corinthians 11 talks very positively about long hair for women. There is nothing inherently immoral in tying a braid.
Gold: Apparently there's nothing immoral about Gold either since, the streets of heaven are paved with gold, Jesus received a gift of gold at his birth, In Genesis 24 Rebekah receives gold to wear as a gift from Abraham's servant.
Pearls: Briefly I'll point out that the gospel is compared to a pearl of great price. The gates of heaven are gargantuan pearls. Therefore, jewelry be it gold or pearls is not immoral.
Expensive Clothing: It's considered a good thing of the Proverbs 31 woman that "…her clothing is fine linen and purple."
So it's not that jewelry, hairdos and silk are inherently evil or immoral. It really comes down to two different problems which are split down gender lines.
The Guy Problem- Suggestive Clothing
Over the years I've read study after study indicating that while men and women both respond to visual and emotional stimuli the division is not equal. If men are 80% visual and 20% emotional; women will respond to the same set of stimuli with a mirrored response; meaning that they'll be 80% emotional and 20% visual.
Both of the words in this text which are translated as “modest” and “discreet” are rooted in sexual concepts which would indicate that one of the issues with the clothing in the Ephesian worship service was the negative effect it was having on the men in the church. In short, it was distracting the guys from worship to something else.
Paul lists a set of clothing which corresponds almost perfectly to first century philosopher Philo's description of a prostitute.2 So Paul is clearly alluding to explicit clothing being worn to the church service.
The modern equivalent isn't that difficult to imagine. Women and girls, you need to be aware of “The Guy Factor” when you get dressed. God has created you, and made you beautiful â€" but your beauty is for your husband.
Sexual attraction is not the only issue. The interesting phrase, “Costly garments” points us towards the other problem…
The Girl Problem
First Timothy 6:17 gives an indication that there were some very wealthy individuals in the church at Ephesus. Between that verse and this one we discover that they were apparently dumping the budget on clothes, with the obvious intent to show off. That results in the girl problem: Pride and envy.
History tells us that the extremely wealthy among Greek and Roman women were known to wear dresses that cost the equivalent of 19 years worth of the average worker's wages!3
At a certain point, clothing moves from being nice or even really nice into the realm of just being showy. Some of these wealthy Ephesian women were apparently dressing in ways that couldn't help but motivate some of the normal ladies to outright jealousy.
When a woman dresses in ways that flaunt either her wealth or her body the a-moral jewelry and clothing become immoral problems because they turn into temptations to others around her. More than that, they reveal the real problem.
The real problem
Clothing choices and petty bickering are just symptoms of a lack of godliness. This verse is more than a commentary on modern fashion sense. It's an attack on the heart that gets us into trouble. It provides the guidelines to protect your own purity and the purity of those around you. It's not about mini skirts and prom dresses. It's about your purpose for coming to church.
Men and women listen to this in consideration of verses eight and nine: before you come to church ask yourself if either your attitude or your apparel could stop yourself or others from worshiping. Be modest inside and out. Be self-controlled. Be Holy.
1George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 135.
2of Alexandria Philo and Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo : Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1993), 96.
3The clothing Paul is considering is not slightly expensive but extravagantly expensive as suggested by the use of gold jewelry. A. H. M. Jones says clothing could cost as much as 7000 denarii, which equaled more than nineteen years’ wages for an average day laborer (The Roman Economy: Studies in Ancient Economy and Administrative History, ed. P. A. Brunt [Oxford: Blackwell, 1974] 350â€"64).
(Cited by Mounce in: William D. Mounce, vol. 46, Word Biblical Commentary : Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 115.)