The Purpose of Clothing

The second in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).


Modesty matters because our clothing matters. Clothing has a purpose according to Scripture. If women are going to dress in God-honoring fashion, they must understand that purpose well and dress accordingly.


Interestingly, Scripture addresses the issue of clothing at one of the most pivotal moments in salvation history. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were both naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25). However, immediately after sin and death entered into God’s holy creation, they felt shame and vulnerability. Eventually they tried to sew clothes from fig leaves, which proved ineffectual. So God graciously steps in, sacrifices the first animal (a sign of the ultimate Sacrifice still to be made) and makes clothing for them from the skin of animals (3:21). Clothing serves as a reminder, then, of our failure and God’s faithfulness.


No wonder the biblical writers return to the subject so often. And in light of the struggles peculiar to women—feeling unloved, unlovable, ugly—it comes as no surprise that the issue comes up in one of the passages extolling biblical womanhood: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves” (1 Peter 3:3-5). Hope in God, the unshakable foundation of true modesty, produces an inward, unfading beauty in those who cling to it. Outward adornment, especially when pursued to the neglect of robust hope in God, reveals a lack of faith, a lack of understanding about God’s creative and redemptive goodness, a lack of absolute contentment in Jesus Christ.


So the crucial difference between modest and immodest dress is where the attention lies. Immodest dress draws attention to the superficial in order to produce a fleeting sense of worth and beauty; modest dress draws attention to the heart, to the gospel of our failure and God’s faithfulness, in order to express the enduring hope a woman has in her Savior.


This admittedly short theological reflection should help us move to a discussion of application. (We always must understand the theology well before we move on to practice, no matter the issue.) Tomorrow we will turn to the practical, hopefully now having a solid foundation on which to stand as we make specific clothing decisions.

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