In 1 Timothy 2:9, the Lord provides three guidelines that help Christian women figure out what and what not to wear: “She adorns herself with respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” Let’s examine these three guidelines to help us ensure that our looks are in good order, properly arranged, and ready to display Christ.
Is It Becoming or Unbecoming?
Kosmio is the descriptive form of the Greek noun kosmos (to put in order, trim, adorn, or decorate), which is related to our English word cosmos—the universe. The Greeks regarded the universe to be an ordered, integrated, harmonious whole. Kosmos is the opposite of chaos. So when Paul told women that their adornment should be kosmio, he meant that like the universe, all the parts should be harmoniously arranged with the other parts. It should be “becoming”—that is, appropriate or fitting. Given the context, I believe Paul was implying that our adornment ought to be becoming on a number of different levels.
First and foremost, your clothing ought to be becoming, fitting to, and consistent with your character as a child of God. But it also ought to be becoming to your body type, becoming to your femininity, becoming to your husband, becoming to the other clothes you are wearing, and becoming to the occasion and place you intend to wear it. There’s a tremendous amount of guidance in that small word, becoming. It challenges you to evaluate your clothes, shoes, purses, makeup, and hair from multiple angles as part of the harmonious, integrated whole of your life—to line up the seen with the unseen and the temporal with the eternal. It challenges you to bring a cosmic perspective to bear on your everyday decisions.
I like the word Paul chose. It has enormous implications. Kosmio means that a Christian woman’s “look” ought to be consistently put together, inside and out. This challenges those who put an undue emphasis on external appearance as well as those who neglect their personal appearance. It’s a corrective to women who dress extravagantly. It’s a corrective to those who dress seductively. But it’s also a corrective to those who think that “holy” means frumpy, ugly, unfeminine, and out of style. Becoming indicates that running around in baggy jeans and T-shirts all the time is just as inappropriate as being obsessed with stylish clothing. It means that a woman’s appearance ought to be put together nicely. It ought to be pleasant and attractive—on the inside and the outside.
Is It Decent or Indecent?
The second word, aidous, is based on the Greek term for shame and disgrace. The word is a blend of modesty and humility. When I think about a word picture that personifies this concept, I think of approaching God with eyes that are downcast.
It involves a sense of deficiency, inferiority, or unworthiness. It suggests shame, but also a corresponding sense of reverence and honor toward rightful authority. It’s the opposite of insolence, imprudence, disrespect, or audacity. Downcast eyes are the opposite of defiant eyes.
So does dressing with your eyes downcast mean that you are self-conscious? No. It means that your clothing tells the truth about the gospel. Your clothing shows the world that Jesus covers your shame and makes you decent. Your clothes cover your nakedness as the clothing of Christ covers your sin.
Dressing “with eyes downcast” means that you choose clothes that are decent in His eyes . . . not clothes that are provocative, seductive, and that honor nakedness. When you dress decently, you recognize that God ordained clothes to cover, and not draw attention to, your naked skin. You cover up out of respect for Him, the gospel, your Christian brothers—and out of respect for who He made you to be. Decency means you agree with the Lord about the true purpose of clothing and set aside your self-interest to dress in a way that exalts Christ.
So in that dressing room trying on that skirt, take time to sit, bend, and stretch in front of that mirror, and ask yourself, Is this skirt decent? Does it do what it should do? Does it properly cover me up? Does it showcase my underlying nakedness—or exalt the gospel of Christ?
Is It Moderate or Excessive?
The final thing to ask yourself about clothing is whether it is moderate or excessive. Paul uses the Greek word sophrosunes. It means “of a sound mind; curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate.” The word indicates that our adornment should be reasonable and not crazy. We ought to rein in our impulses and avoid extremes in fashion, hairstyles, and makeup. We also ought to avoid spending crazy amounts of money or stuffing our closets full of crazy quantities of clothing. We ought to govern our wardrobe choices with a sense of moderation, simplicity, and self-control. If the outfit is crazy extreme, crazy expensive, or if it’s crazy for you to be buying another one, then you ought to pass it up.
Understanding the purpose of clothing and asking yourself the three questions, Is it becoming? Is it decent? and Is it moderate? will help you figure out how to dress. And don’t forget to include your “Helper” in the process. The Holy Spirit is an invaluable source of assistance when it comes to figuring out whether or not your appearance glorifies God. If your heart is right and you seek His guidance, He will be your personal wardrobe consultant and teach you what and what not to wear.•
Mary Kassian is an award winning author, popular speaker, and a distinguished professor of women’s studies at Southern Baptist Seminary. She has published several books, Bible studies and videos, including: Girls Gone Wise, In My Father’s House, and the Feminist Mistake. This article was originally posted on her website, Girls Gone Wise: www.girlsgonewise.com/what-not-to-wear/.
This article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of EPM's quarterly magazine Eternal Perspectives.