Modesty for the Church
Topic: English Passage: 1 Timothy 2:8-10
There is a story from the life of King David that I assume many of you have heard. The story can be found in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13.
When King David became king over all Israel, one of his first orders of business was to transport the ark of God to a permanent location in Jerusalem. God said He would appoint a location for worship, and that place was Jerusalem. The ark had been taken captive by the Philistines, and then it was taken back by the Israelites, but it was staying in home of a man named Abinadab in the city of Kiriath-jearim, which was about 10 miles west of Jerusalem.
The Philistines had moved the ark around on a cart, but David wanted something new. The ark was a visible representation of God’s holy presence, and so, to celebrate its return, David had a new cart made. This new cart was pulled by oxen and led by two of Abinadab’s sons, Ahio and Uzzah.
David and a multitude of Israelites were celebrating with harps and tambourines and trumpets because it was a joyful thing to have the ark of God return to its rightful place. As the ark was travelling, there came a place where it was difficult for the oxen to walk, and the ark was in danger of sliding off the cart onto the ground. Seeing the potential dishonor, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, and at that very moment, God put him to death.
Similar to what happened with Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, God killed a man because of disobedience with regard to worship.
David meant well by using a new cart that was ritually clean. Uzzah meant well when he reached out to keep the ark from falling. But that didn’t stop the judgement of the Lord, and David responded with grief and anger and fear.
Why did Uzzah die? God had already told Israel how the ark was supposed to be handled. It was to be carried by the Levites on poles. In his joy and zeal, David was doing God’s work, but he wasn’t doing it God’s way. There’s a very important lesson there for us today.
We cannot be content with doing things that we assume will please God, if we are not being intentional about doing them in the right way. As New Testament Christians, we are to guard ourselves against distractions and detractions, particularly in our corporate worship.
Distractions are things that direct our attention away from that which matters most. Detractions are things that diminish the value and the honor God instructs us to give to certain things. When God says something is a big deal, we need to pay attention to it, and we need to be careful not to minimize it, forget it, ignore it, or shift our focus to something else.
As a local church, we know that we are the body of Christ. That’s not just a catchy title, that is our essential function. We are here to do the work of our Lord, our Master. Jesus Christ is the head of the church. He dictates who is in the church, and He is the One who answers the question: What are we supposed to be doing?
That’s a question that First Timothy helps us answer. Paul had been in Ephesus three years, and then he moved on. But afterward, the church began to drift theologically and functionally. So, Paul calls on Timothy to stay in Ephesus to help restore order in the church.
In chapter 3, verses 14 and 15, Paul says, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” That’s the key passage for this letter. He wants to restore order in the church.
In chapter 1, restoring order means returning to proper teaching. Timothy needed to stop the false teacher. They didn’t understand the law; they didn’t understand sin; and they were having a devastating effect in the church.
Coming to chapter 2, as we saw last week, restoring order means making sure evangelistic prayer remains as a key component of the church.
Paul urged Timothy that prayers be made for all men, including those in high ranking positions who, at that time, would have been seen as enemies of the gospel. Even in their case, God calls us to evangelistic prayer.
Why? We pray for them, not just because we are told to do so, but because the salvation of sinners is the heart of God. It brings Him glory. And it also brings Him glory when His people proclaim and display the truth.
When we remember God’s purpose, we are going to reject any ideas that Christianity is simply a political system trying to take over the culture.
Listen, we are not going to win the world for Christ. One day, Christ is going to win the world to Himself when He comes to rule. But until that happens, we are proclaiming the truth so that, one at a time, people from all over the world can be rescued from the kingdom of darkness and become citizens of heaven. This is God’s agenda in the world for His glory.
As a whole, this worldly system will reject Christ. In God’s grace, there may be times and nations in which Christianity takes a greater hold of the people. God can bring a revival. But this world is not going to naturally convert to Christ. This world, under Satan’s power, is going to unite itself against Christ and against His truth. But even in that, God is calling people to Himself through the gospel proclaimed by the church.
Verses 3 and 4 tells us that God desires all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Our God is, by nature, a saving God. He is a redeemer. And He is a sanctifier. By His truth, He is changing lives.
The true story of humanity has nothing to do with evolution or with technological advancements. This world is headed for judgment. But the overarching plot of human history is God’s story of redemption in Christ for His own glory.
In verses 5 and 6, Paul tells us how that redemption takes place. Paul writes, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” God and man can only be reconciled through Jesus Christ who is eternally God and man. He gave Himself as a ransom, as a payment, to satisfy the righteous requirement of God’s law. He is the only way to reconciliation with God.
We need to let that reality sink into our hearts and confront every distraction the world offers. Everything else, no matter how simple or significant it seems, needs to be seen in light of God’s eternal plan.
It doesn’t matter what your phone tells you. It doesn’t matter what news you see on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or wherever else you’re looking for news. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in the world of politics or sports or entertainment. Nothing you will see or hear about can compare to the greatest, most significant news in this world, which is the redemption of man through Jesus Christ and the work of God to conform people to the image of Jesus Christ.
The biggest news this past week is not a murderer-fugitive being caught by the police. The biggest news is that wicked, vile rebels and sinners are being forgiven by God and transformed into the image of Christ by the truth.
Back in chapter 1, verse 16, Paul think back on his own life as a murderer, and he says, “I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
This is what God has called the church to take part in. We are here to proclaim the word of God, so that unbelievers will be evangelized, and believers will be edified. That’s the mission of the church. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus put it this way: We are to disciple. We are to train people, no matter what nation they are from. And in training them, we baptize those who come to faith, and we continue teaching those who believe so that they would observe all that Christ has commanded. This is the mission of God and Christ, and so, it is the mission of the church.
Now, in understanding the greatness and the distinctiveness of that calling, we should, then, see the tragedy of a church that gets distracted or detracted from that purpose. This was Paul’s concern for the church of Ephesus. They were starting to drift from the mission of Christ. They were being sucked into false doctrine.
False doctrine changes the purpose of the church. It adjusts the message of the church. And it disrupts the order of the church. False doctrine disrupts the church’s ability to glorify God by upholding and displaying the truth.
That’s why back in chapter one, Paul talks about myths, genealogies, and speculations. Verses 6 and 7 tell us there were vain discussions being promoted by so-called teachers who didn’t understand the things they were talking about. The church was getting distracted. It was that distraction that stopped them from praying for the lost.
Now, as we come to verse 8 of chapter 2, Paul addresses a detraction that seems to have been particularly affecting the men. That danger was schisms and division. That’s why Paul says that the men in every place should pray without anger or quarreling. His focus isn’t on the physical posture of prayer; it is on the attitude of prayer.
Rather than focus on the truth of Christ, these men, which would include the false teachers, wanted the focus on themselves. They cared about promoting their opinions and their viewpoints. And if you put enough of those guys together, you get arguments. You get anger. You get quarrels about meaningless things.
Not long after accepting the position here, one of the first big meetings I took part in was a group of pastors gathering in Pasadena. I was pretty new, so I was there to see what this group was all about. That meeting turned into a screaming match with accusations of threats, and eventually, the police showed up. Can you imagine that? What a horrible representation of Christ. Police were called to a pastors’ meeting.
Well, it’s just as horrible when a church gathers to pray and to worship, but mixed into that is also anger and arguments. That’s no longer a holy place. That no longer honors God. So, Paul instructs the men to stay away from those things.
There are doctrines worth fighting for, and there are proper ways to disagree. But you don’t want a church where people are fighting vehemently over meaningless issues. That’s a distraction from our purpose. It doesn’t honor God.
Now, as we come to verse 9, we find that Paul now addresses the women. If you notice, verse 9 starts with the word “likewise” or “also.” Paul’s instruction for the women runs parallel to his instruction for the men. The parallel is his desire to prevent distractions from the function and the holiness of the church.
Men may be tempted to shift the focus onto their own ideas and beliefs. Women, on the other hand, may have a different temptation with the same result. Their desire will be to put the focus on themselves rather than on Christ.
Listen to what Paul says as I read verse 9 again. This is Paul’s desire—likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.
The key term there, and you can mark it if you want, is “adorn.” Adorn. The word there literally means to arrange, or to put in order. In the original Greek, the verb is kosméo, which is related to our English word “cosmetology” which is also connected to the beauty industry.
There was an article released in May of this year by a major global management consulting firm. It said that the four areas of skincare, fragrance, makeup, and haircare generated about $430 billion in revenue in 2022. And that does not include clothing and jewelry. Appearance is a big deal in our culture. People care about how they are adorned.
Now, if you notice, Paul doesn’t say “don’t adorn yourself.” His concern, however, is what you adorn yourself with. What is it that makes you feel beautiful or attractive?
We may not say it out loud, but all of us like to look nice. We like to feel good about ourselves. We have different ideas about what looking good means, but we all want it. That’s the idea behind the tagline for the Men’s Wearhouse: “You’re gonna like the way you look; I guarantee it.”
Advertisements for women’s products may not say that out loud, but that’s the idea. This product or this article of clothing or jewelry is going to make you feel better about yourself. It’s going to give you confidence. This is how you adorn yourself. This is how you make yourself appealing and attractive.
Now, Paul is not saying that women should show up at church disheveled and frumpy. He’s not saying they shouldn’t care about their appearance at all. He is concerned about the women’s appearance, but what he is saying is that a woman’s primary concern is not herself; it’s not the other men; it’s not the other women. It’s not even her own husband. Who is the primary focus when the church gathers? It is Jesus Christ.
I recently RSVP’d for a wedding, and when I opened the link to the website for the invitation, it said there that out of respect for the bride, I was not to wear white. Why do they ask that? Because that would detract from the bride.
In this case, Paul’s concern is that the church, as the bride of Christ, not put the attention on herself, but on Jesus Christ. The way you dress, and the way you compose yourself, can either help us all place the focus on Him or it can shift our focus away from Him. So, how do you dress so that you are not a distraction? How should you present yourself so that God is honored in godly fear?
Paul gives three words for the women. Number 1, we have the word respectable. Respectable. Paul says, “Adorn yourself with respectable apparel.” That’s the ESV translation. Other translations say “proper clothing,” “modest clothing,” or “suitable apparel.”
The idea Paul is conveying, ladies, is that you do not want to adorn yourself according to the world’s standards. Instead, adorn yourself according to God’s standards. What you are wearing is an extension of your heart, your attitude.
The idea behind respectable is appropriateness. When something is respectable, that means it fits the occasion. What is the occasion when the church gathers? We are gathered to worship a holy God. We are gathered to hear Him speak from His word. We are gathered to go before Him in reverent prayer. We are gathered to sing His praises. We are gathered to plead His mercy on us. The entire thing is from Him, and through Him, and to Him.
So, what are the implications for how a woman should present herself in dress and in attitude? Think about that. She needs to direct attention to Christ. She needs to be marked by reverence.
After saying women should have “respectable apparel,” Paul continues. He says she should dress “with modesty and self control.” That gives us the next two descriptions for how a woman should come to church. She should be respectable. She should be modest, and she should be self-controlled.
Let’s talk about the term modesty. In the eyes of the world, it is not modesty that gains attention. It is not modesty that makes a woman attractive. But that is what pleases God.
The term “modesty” is important to understand correctly. It doesn’t mean being poor or ugly. It is primarily an attitude of the heart, but it shows up in the way you present yourself. A modest heart recognizes the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.
Biblical modesty carries in it a sense of shame. That’s not a word our culture likes because it doesn’t like sin, but shame is a biblical idea. In the Bible nakedness is connected to shame.
When God created the first man and woman, they were naked in the garden. There was no sin, and there was no shame. But as soon as sin entered into the world, there came the possibility of sinning against another and being sinned against, and so there also came shame.
Did they all of a sudden get ugly, and so they were embarrassed? No. What happened was that the perfect trust they had in one another before the fall was gone. John Piper says it like this: “The foundation of covenant-keeping love collapsed... [Adam and Eve] experienced this in two ways. [First], the one viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy, so I am afraid I will be shamed. [Second], I myself am no longer at peace with God, but I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy—I deserve to be shamed.”
So, what did Adam and Even do? They made their own covering with leaves. They tried their best to cover their shame by themselves. God mercifully replaced that with better coverings made of animal skin. He was literally covering their shame with a sacrifice.
Clothing, then, serves as an object lesson. First, clothing is an expression of our own sin. It is a confession that we are not right before God. We need to be covered. But second, clothing is a picture of God’s grace and mercy. He has covered our sins by the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ.
When the culture tells us that showing off more skin is sexy and beautiful, it is denying the basic truth that we are all sinners. It’s a denial of personal sin and a denial of the sin in everybody else.
Adam and Eve were naked before sin. When we get to heaven, sin will be eradicated, but we’re not going to be naked. We are going to have eternal reminders of Christ’s mercy and love as we are covered with pure white robes.
And you might think, “Oh! I’m going to look awful in a white robe!” No, you won’t. You’re going to look amazing because God defines what beauty is, not this sinful world. Your clothing will serve to help give all glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Clothing honors God, and the inappropriate displays of parts of the body that God intended to be covered is shameful. Let me give you another biblical example.
Isaiah prophesied about the coming captivity of Israel under God’s judgment. And he talks about Israel as if she were a princess who is about to become a slave. Listen to what he says in chapter 47.
Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones and grind flour, put off your veil, strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one.
The work of a slave was shameful work, but even more shameful was when a woman, because of her work, was forced to raise her skirt and bare her legs.
One final example of the connection between nakedness and shame comes in Revelation chapter 3, verses 17 and 18 which is Christ’s message to the church of Laodicea. He says to them—For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.
Nakedness is shameful before the Lord. But to be covered in respectable clothing honors God, particularly when the church gathers.
Now, I do want to make an important clarification. It’s not nakedness itself that is the sin or the source of shame; it is the nakedness shown to others.
The human body is not an evil or a wicked thing. God made it. And we have passages in Proverbs and Song of Solomon which give us examples and exhortations for a man and his wife to delight in one another’s bodies. So, don’t get the wrong idea about modesty.
An immodest heart is the desire to steal attention away from God. You want to be intentional about not being a distraction. If you come to church, thinking this is the time to show off your body or your clothing, you’ve missed the point of our gathering. And by your decision, you have also rejected the reality of your own sin and of the sins of others. That’s immodesty.
The third and final word for what Paul is after is self-control. A woman is to be respectable, modest, and self-controlled. That’s what it says in verse 9. Your translation might say “discreetly,” or “good sense,” or “propriety.”
The word Paul uses here come from a word that means having a sound mind. It is a person who is not given over to their own desires and impulses. That is self-control.
Paul uses this same word in chapter 3 and in Titus 1 when he talks about the qualifications of an elder. He also says it is what should characterize the older and the younger women and the older and younger men.
So, there are three positive qualities that God wants from the women. But now, Paul as a pastor is going to apply this principle more specifically, and he’s going to do it negatively. Here is what the women are not supposed to be doing. This is the wrong kind of adorning. Let’s finish verse 9.
Paul says he wants them adorned “not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”
Since Paul is making an application of the general principle he has just mentioned, I think we can say that his prohibitions here are not necessarily absolute. In other words, he has something specific in mind that was happening at that time in the Ephesian church. I don’t think the second half of verse 9 is an absolute prohibition on wearing braids or gold or pearls.
What Paul is warning against is extravagance in how women come to church. He is addressing ostentatious women, flashy or showy women seeking to flaunt what they have.
At that time in Ephesus, it seems that the gap between the poorer people in the church and the richer people was much greater than what we have today in our own church. And the riche women would come to church making sure their riches were on display. Historians tell us that women would braid gold and pearls into their hair. It was very elaborate and very expensive. They came to church flaunting their money.
There is a financial company known as WalletHub, and back in May they released an article summarizing some of the costs associated with the Oscars award ceremony. According to their research, a first-time attendee, on average, spends $266,000 on their look that night. The average attendee spends $1.5 million. And an A-list will spend about $10 million. The most expensive jewelry ever worn was a Tiffany diamond necklace costing $30 million.
Can you imagine if someone came to church dressed like that? I don’t care if it’s Easter Sunday, that’s not appropriate for the gathering of God’s people. It insults those who have less, and it detracts from the holiness of God and the sacredness of our assembly.
Now, at a smaller level, ladies need to be careful to guard their hearts when they get ready to come to church. The best question to ask is not, “How do I look in this outfit?” It is, “Will my appearance—my clothes, my makeup, my jewelry, my hair—will it distract attention form Christ, or will it help other focus on Him instead of me? Which is it?”
Men, we can take a lead here in helping our wives and our daughters understand how to think through that. You have the opportunity to be very practical and helpful as you teach them what honors God. Help them understand that the world’s standards and God’s standards are against each other. Older ladies, you have a chance, too, to help the younger ladies.
Do you think it honors God if someone says, “You know, I’ve been to that church, and the girls look so disorganized and frazzled”? Or what if they said the opposite, “Oh! I’ve been to that church. The girls there are hot!”? Is that the reputation we want for our church? I hope not. You’ve got to find that middle ground somewhere.
Even the Gentiles pagan religions of that time wouldn’t have allowed women to show up at a ceremony covered in paint and jewels. They had very strict rules about what the women were supposed to wear. They had a standard.
We don’t want to invent some external standard for our church attendees. We don’t want to be policing how short the skirts are, or how low the blouses go, or how tight the pants are, but you need to set a standard for yourself that honors God in corporate worship. You need to let others know that you are here to worship Christ.
So, you don’t come to church with ornate, excessively fancy clothes. You don’t come like you’re ready for a fashion show or a nightclub. So, how should you come?
Look at verse 10. Paul goes back to what he said at the beginning of this discussion. This is what makes a woman beautiful in the eyes of God. This is how she adorns herself. She should come, not with fancy jewelry, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
That phrase “good works” is talking about Christian maturity. Let me quote John Piper one more time. He says, “Clothes are not meant to make people think about what is under them. Clothes are meant to direct attention to what is not under them: merciful hands that serve others in the name of Christ, beautiful feet that carry the gospel where it is needed, and the brightness of a face that has beheld the glory of Jesus.”
Ladies, as time passes, you don’t need to be ashamed about a beauty that the world says is fading. You can rejoice because through the years, God is working on your heart. And as you mature in holiness, you are more equipped to give God glory in the church, and to be precious in His sight, and to help point others to Christ.
So, men and women, young and old, when you’re coming to church, and you’re getting ready in the morning, you need to start with a heart check. Is there anger? Is there an argumentative spirit? Is there a desire to detract from the majesty and the holiness of God? Or are you coming to the house of the Lord with a pure heart?
Listen, I’m glad you’re here. It is good to be in the house of the Lord. But let’s not be content to simply do what God says is good to do. Let’s pay attention to the way He wants us to do it.