Last week, the Mahaney women discussed the finer points of having a modest and pure heart (read Fashion and Following the Savior here). But does modesty leave room for the outward beauty we all desire? This week, Carolyn and daughter Nicole go to the Word to find out...

Carolyn: Now that we've established that modesty begins in the heart, it's time to consider what it means for our wardrobe. What's a modest girl to wear? Once again, let's turn to our 1 Timothy 2:9 passage. Here Paul instructs the women to clothe themselves in "respectable apparel."

Now let me set your mind at ease. Adorning ourselves in "respectable apparel" doesn't mean we must restrict ourselves exclusively to cheap, out of style, unattractive clothing. Paul is not saying that gold or pearls or braiding are forbidden. In fact, you will find other places in Scripture where godly women wore fine clothing and jewelry.

For example, the Proverbs 31 woman - who is put forth in the Bible as a model for biblical womanhood - wore colorful, high-quality clothing (Proverbs 31:22). We read where the bride in Song of Solomon adorned her appearance with jewelry (Song of Solomon 1:10). We are told that Esther underwent 12 months of beauty treatments - 6 months with oil of myrrh and 6 with perfumes and cosmetics (Esther 2:12).

So we are not to take this verse to mean that godly women should try as hard as they can to be out of style and unattractive. No! Quite the opposite. God is the creator of beauty. God delights in beauty. All we need to verify this fact is to consider the beauty He created all around us: whether it is an elegant flower, or towering trees, or a meandering river, or billowy clouds or the majestic night sky. Every time we stop to take in one of these breathtaking scenes on display in God's creation, we can't help but be convinced that He delights in beauty!

And because we are created in the image of our Creator, each of us has this propensity to make things beautiful. That means, when we decorate our homes, or plant a lovely flower garden, or seek to add some form of beauty to our surroundings, even when we attempt to enhance our personal appearance - we are actually imitating and delighting in the works of our Great Creator.

Now granted, these activities can be sinfully implemented; but still, we must not overlook the fact that the essence of our desire to beautify comes from God. John Angell James in his book, Female Piety (first published in 1860), offers this helpful thought:

This taste [for beauty], however in many cases it may be altogether corrupted in its object, wrong in its principle, or excessive in its degree, is in its own nature an imitation of the workmanship of God, who, "by his Spirit has garnished the heavens," and covered the earth with beauty.

Now hopefully we have convincing proof that our desire to enhance our appearance isn't wrong, that "respectable apparel" does not have to be dowdy or out of style. So what exactly does Paul mean by "respectable apparel"?

Nicole: In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul insists that the women "adorn themselves with respectable apparel" and not with gold, pearls or braids. If Paul was not forbidding stylish clothing or banning jewelry, what was he getting at?

To the women of this first century church, Paul writes to warn them against imitating the dress and adornment of the ladies of the Roman court and the prostitutes. These women were known for their extremely expensive, showy clothes and ridiculously elaborate hairstyles. They dressed, not only to attract attention, but to seduce as well. Paul does not want the women of the church to dress in this manner and thus be a distraction during the church service, or at any other time.

What he is condemning is not attractive attire, but the association with worldly and ungodly values. Women who profess godliness, he says, should not dress in such a way that resembles those who are extravagant, or worse, intent on being seductive or sexy. Simply put, we are not to identify with our sinful, worldly culture through our dress.

So, the question for us is this: Who are we seeking to imitate or be like in our dress? Who inspires our wardrobe? Are we preoccupied with looking like the latest American Idol winner or the actresses and music stars on magazine covers, or the immodest woman next door?

A while back, I saw a few minutes of one of the innumerable makeover stories on television (I'm surprised we haven't all been "made over" by now!). Two women were going to receive a new look. One of them wanted to look exactly like Jennifer Anniston, and the other like Jennifer Garner as I recall. These two ladies (who, I'm sorry to say, didn't look a bit like the actresses they so admired) were just gushing about how much they admired everything about these glamorous stars—their style, their way of walking, their clothing, their hair. It might have been comical if it wasn't so sad.

Most of us are not trying to look exactly like a famous actress—we know it's a lost cause! However, if we are seeking to imitate the sexually enticing clothing of the women in our culture, we are no different than these two wannabes. That is why Paul's message is urgent—not just for the original recipients of his letter, but for us today. He doesn't want the women in the church looking exactly like the ungodly, seductive women in the world.

Women in the church are to be different from the world. We should be stand-outs—not because of our revealing clothing, but because of our distinctly modest heart and dress.

Originally posted April 10, 2001


This article was adapted from "Girl Talk" - a blog kept by Carolyn and her three daughters for women in all seasons of life.

Carolyn Mahaney is a wife, mother, homemaker, and the author of Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood and Shopping for Time: How To Do It All and Not Be Overwhelmed (written with her daughters). During her more than 30 years as a pastor's wife, Carolyn has spoken to women in many churches and conferences, including those of Sovereign Grace Ministries, which her husband, C.J., leads. C.J. and Carolyn have three married daughters and one sixteen-year-old son, Chad.

Nicole Whitacre is the oldest daughter of C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney, as well as a wife, mother, and homemaker. She assisted her mother with Feminine Appeal, and is the senior writer for Girl Talk. Nicole and her husband Steve—who is a youth pastor at Sovereign Grace Church—have a son Jack, age 6, and a daughter Tori, age 2.

Kristin Chesemore and her husband Brian are the busy parents of three boys. Andrew is 9, Liam is 6, and Owen is 5. In the little spare time she does have, Kristin supports Brian in his role as a Married Life pastor at Covenant Life Church.

Janelle Bradshaw has been married to her husband Mike, and they have beautiful daughters Caly, age 3 and MJ, 8 months. Mike serves as Pastor of Children's Ministry at Covenant Life Church.  

Pictured above, left-right: Janelle, Kristin, Carolyn, and Nicole