A blatant re-post of a Dan Phillips’ classic:
What will change, and what won’t. Spring’s springing, and summer looms. Mercury rises, fashions change. But one thing that won’t change, unless I’m badly and happily mistaken: some good and regular churchgoers will not dress as helpfully as they could.
I chose that word with care: “helpfully.” I am not talking about sin, shame, indecency, wantonness, or the like. Perhaps I could, with some justification, in some cases. But that’s for another time — and probably another writer. At this point, I just want to talk about being helpful.
Sister, if there’s one thing you and I can certainly agree on, it’s this: I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, and you don’t know what it’s like to be a man. We’re both probably wrong where we’re sure we’re right, try as we might. So let me try to dart a telegram from my camp over to the distaff side.
“Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20). Solomon doesn’t use the Hebrew words that would indicate males exclusively, so this and Ecclesiastes 1:8 may apply across the gender-board. Libbie pointed out very ably that we men wrongly assume that we alone battle with temptations entering through the eye-gate.
But. But if men aren’t alone in the battle, they may have a particular weakness for this aspect of it. Consider passionately-godly King David, whose psalms express aspirations after God beside which our own are pale, bloodless things. One day King David is in the wrong place, at the wrong time; sees a naked woman bathing next door, and boom! – he’s gone (2 Samuel 11). Family, kingdom, God — all forgotten, consumed in the flash-flame of a lust that was only visual in its inception.
And what of that Israelite Philistine Samson and his own “eye trouble?” He sees a fetching young pagan, and bellows at his dad, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me” (Judges 14:3 NAS). Where did Samson’s passions take him? How did his course end?
Unless all the men I’ve known personally or at a distance are completely unrepresentative, it’s a lifelong struggle, a lifelong weakness. As I recall from a Proverbs lecture on mp3, Bruce Waltke says that his dad, at around age 100, told him, “Bruce, I still have the same struggles I did when I was 50.” It was sobering for Dr. Waltke to hear; sobering for any man! (In fact, put me down for “disheartening.”)
Where am I going with this? Oh, don’t try to look so innocent. You knowexactly where I’m going.
So here comes this brother into the assembly of the saints, hoping for a rest from the battles of the week, a moment to regroup, sing, pray, get the Word, fellowship. He looks up to the choir, or to his left or his right — and in a tick of the clock, he’s facing the same struggle he faced every time he turned on his TV, opened a magazine, or went down a city street. He’s seeing things that make it far too easy for him not to keep his mind focused where it needs to be focused.
And he’s not in a nightclub, he’s not at a singles’ bar, he’s not at the beach. He’s in church.
Now, some very direct disclaimers:
Having said all that: while it may be true that I’m holding the matches, you won’t help me if you pile twigs all around my feet and douse them with lighter fluid. To be more specific: if you know I’ve had trouble with drunkenness, you won’t offer me a glass of wine. If you know I battle covetousness, you won’t take me window-shopping in high-end stores I’ve no business frequenting.
So I put this question: what are some sisters thinking, in how they dress?
As the ladies pick clothes, they’ll consider what’s pretty, what’s flattering, what’s attractive. Who could blame them? But, “attractive” to whom? In what way? To what end? With what focus?
Consider the questions again. “Is it pretty?” Good question, no evil in it. “Is it comfortable, is it complimentary, is it fun?” No problem. I’d just suggest you add one more question: “Is it helpful, or is it hurtful, to my brothers in Christ? Will this unintentionally contribute to their having a focus that is harmful to their walk?”
Now, lookie here:
In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19 the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; 20 the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21 the signet rings and nose rings; 22 the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23 the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils. (Isaiah 3:18-23)
…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, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness–with good works. (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing– 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Immediately we’ll swing in, as we always do, and say, “Now, the writer’s not saying that women can’t dress nicely, or wear jewelry, or blah blah blah.” And we’ll all disown our Fundie forebears who focused on nylons and lipstick, and came up with precise hemline measurements. We’ll want to make sure that we’re not advocating a new line of Burqaware for evangelical women. All that will be true and valid enough.
But I’m concerned that, in our anxiety to be sure to prevent the wrong interpretation, we effectively cut off all interpretation. We have swung from making the passages saysilly things, to not letting them say anything. These passages have tomean something! They must have some application! What is it?
Surely the emphasis of the passages is warning against vanity, externality, sensuality; and on highlighting and promoting focus on a godly character as true beauty. Who you are; not just what you look like. Remember: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion” (Proverbs 11:22 NAS).
Oh boy, I’m going to make it worse now. Deep breath….
What are you clothes saying about you, sister? What are they supposed to say to your brothers? “Hey, look at this?” Well, they actually are trying to look at the Lord; it’s not good for them to be looking at that. No, it’s not your fault that they have a problem. We established that. And it’s really great that God has made you beautiful. I hope your husband (present or future) shows you how grateful he is for that about you.
But you can help the brothers who aren’t your husband, or you can not-help them. Which are you doing? If you’re not married, and a man looks at you, is he thinking, “What a great character”? Or are you giving him reason to think about something else?
I know many of the responses. “You don’t know what it’s like to buy women’s clothes, you ignorant man!” Mostly true. My first just-for-fun purchase for my wife was, well, it was appalling. What a good sport my wife was. I took it back to the store immediately, and made a much better subsequent choice.
But this: “You can’t find anything modest! It’s all too revealing! It’simpossible to get something that looks nice, yet isn’t too tight, or too short, or too-something / not-something-enough!”
Sorry, but baloney.
I put “modest women’s clothing Christian” in Google, and 453,000 pages come up. Yes, some are funny and quaint at best. But are they allAmishwear? “Can’t find?”
More fundamentally: I do not accept that anyone has to wear clothes that are too tight or too sheer or too short — unless you are the largest and tallest woman living in the hottest part of the planet. Because I see larger, taller women walking around in hot weather, and they’re all wearing clothes, every last one. They got those clothes somewhere, I reason. You could too.
“But — but they won’t look good on me! The shoulders will be wrong!”
I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, but let’s accept it and pose a counter-question. You tell me. Which is worse: your shoulders hanging a half-inch too low? Or a blouse/shirt that simply (shifting into turbo-delicate) provides need-to-know information to those with a need-to-not-know?
I’m sure we all agree that there are clothes that show what others have nohelpful business seeing. Here’s what to show, in clothes-selection: show a Godward focus, discretion, a godly character.
And show mercy.
Parting thought. Darlene pointed me to a statement by Arthur Pink, which makes everything I’ve just said look awfully mild. But there’s no denying that he has a point. I’ll close with it:
Again, if lustful looking be so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with desires to be looked at and lusted after-as Jezebel, who painted her face, tired her head, and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30)-are not less, but even more guilty. In this matter it is only too often the case that men sin, but women tempt them so to do. How great, then, must be the guilt of the great majority of the modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of our young men? And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses?
Now, note, Pink and I speak to different ends. I speak to those who I assume are inadvertently dressing in an unhelpful manner. Pink speaks to those whose intent is to allure. Between the two of us, I can pray we’ve provided food for thought, prayer, reconsideration, and needed change.