Preface: "What are you? Nuts?!" Just thought I'd lead with the question you'll be wondering in a few minutes. I am about to stick my finger in the fan, about up to my elbow, and I know it. But I really think someone needs to say this — and why not me? I have less to lose than many who've thought the same thing, but daren't say it.
So here we go.
What will change, and what won't. Spring's sprung, and summer looms. Mercury rises, fashions change. But one thing that won't change, unless I'm happily mistaken: some good Christian sisters 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. 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 know exactly where I'm going.
This is... church? 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:
- Every man's sin is his own, and every man's struggle is his own (Proverbs 14:10).
- No one makes a man think or feel anything (Proverbs 4:23).
- It is each individual's responsibility to guard his own heart (Proverbs 4:23) and eyes (Job 31:1).
- Beauty is a wonderful gift of God (cf. Exodus 28:2; Song of Solomon 1:8, 15, etc.).
That is, you won't do those things if you love, if you care for me at all.
So I put this question: what are some sisters thinking, in how they dress?
"Attractive"? 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?
When I go fishing, I want my lure to attract trout so they will bite and get hooked, and I can kill them and eat them.
A business wants to attract buyers so they will spend money and acquire their product or service and make them rich.
By that blouse, those pants, that skirt — what are you trying to attract? Attract to what, so that they will focus on what and feel what, and want to do what?
Consider the questions again. "Is it pretty?" Fine 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 holy walk?"
Now, lookie here:
In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils (Isaiah 3:18-23)What it isn't. 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 Bible Burqaware™ for evangelical women. All that will be true and valid enough.But... what is it? 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 say silly things, to not letting them say anything. These passages have to mean something! They must have some application! What is it?
...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, 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-- 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)
Surely the passages warn against vanity, externality, sensuality; and promote a 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 before the plunge, and....
Say what? What are your 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, not helpful 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. May your husband (present or future) celebrate your beauty.
But, please hear me: 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 something else about you is "great"?
I know many of the responses. I've heard them. "You don't know what it's like to buy women's clothes, you ignorant man!" Mostly true. My first just-for-fun purchase of (what I thought was) a pretty blue dress for my dear 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 choice.
"I caaaan't." But this: "I can't find anything modest! It's all too revealing! It's impossible 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 31,900,000 results come up. (Up from 63,500 in 2010.) Yes, some are funny and quaint at best. But are they all Amishwear? "Can't find?" Really?
More fundamentally: I do not accept that anyone has to wear clothes that are too tight or too clingy 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 than you walking around in hot weather, and they're all wearing clothes, every last one of them. They got those clothes somewhere, I reason. You could too.
"But — but they won't look good on me! The shoulders will be wrong!"
Need-to-not-know. 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/skirt 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 off what others have no helpful business seeing. Here's what to show, in clothes-selection: show a Godward focus, discretion, a godly character.
And show mercy.
Parting thought. Darlene Johnson pointed me to a statement by Arthur Pink, which makes everything I've just said look awfully mild. But there's no denying that Pink 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 audiences. I speak to those whom I charitably 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.
One last thought: it is a mistake to think I exclusively have church-attire in mind. That is lifted as a particularly egregious example of what-are-you-thinking? In what I say, I have in mind any place where both sexes are present.