In fact, the Bible presents some very specific guidelines for the kinds of clothing and style that should be worn. In this Q&A, we are addressing the topic in a more general way. Subsequent Q&A’s will address this topic, and related topics, in more detail.
While some may consider the Bible as being archaic, with little relevance for our day, quite the opposite is true! At the very outset, God gave man responsibility to care for the earthly realm (Compare Genesis 1:26-28). In particular, Adam was told to “tend and keep” the specially prepared Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15).
Mankind was given stewardship to govern the earth under God’s sovereignty. The record of Genesis shows that through the deception of Satan, Eve disobeyed God and Adam then followed her lead (Compare Genesis 3; also, 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:14). In their rebellion, Adam and Eve decided that their nakedness in the privacy of their home was evil, and they hid themselves from God as a consequence (Compare Genesis 3:7-11).
While Adam and Eve fabricated coverings for themselves out of fig leaves (verse 7), God clothed them with much higher quality “tunics of skin” (verse 21).
In a letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul gave instructions about proper dress, and what he wrote was to be further taught to the Church of God throughout its existence. Giving specific guidelines for women, Paul states: “… in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation [margin: “discretion”], not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
As we shall see from other principles in the Bible, the emphasis taught by Paul was that women show a reflection of “godliness” in their manner of dressing. However, this is not a prohibition against well-presented hairstyles, the wearing of jewelry or having quality clothing. Rather, it is a matter of emphasis and of attitude on the part of Christian women.
Peter adds this perspective in his instruction to wives, showing that this type of presentation was acceptable, but should not be the most important aspect: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
An emphasis on very showy clothing of both men and women was evidently a problem in the first generation of the Church of God. James specifically warned that the brethren should not show favoritism to those who were “better dressed”:
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).
Jesus challenged those of His day about their attitude concerning the appearance of John the Baptist: “‘But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts’” (Luke 7:25).
We see that wearing certain kinds of clothing can create perceptions in others. True followers of Jesus Christ must look beyond these superficial aspects. This teaching does not preclude dressing the very best we can with what we can legitimately afford. In a poetic, song-like outpouring of how much God loved His chosen city of Jerusalem, an analogy of a bride and wife is presented. Note how God represents the adorning of His love:
“‘Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,’ says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:9-14).
When God gave instructions for the creation of “holy garments” for the priests of Israel, He specifically wanted them made “‘for GLORY and for BEAUTY’” (Exodus 28:2).
Jesus Christ gives us this perspective in Matthew 6:25-33:
“‘Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.’”
All of what we have been examining from examples found in God’s Word point to the ingredient of BALANCE in the matter of how men and women dress in terms of quality.
Regarding how both men and women dress when attending Church services, we find a meaningful example in the time when the children of Israel were commanded to wash their clothes in advance of appearing before God (Compare Exodus 19:10,14). Likewise, the priests were to wash themselves when appearing before God (Compare Exodus 30:19-20); and, they were to wear special clothing (Compare Exodus 28).
It has been the practice of the Church of God to recognize that we are appearing before God when we assemble for Sabbath services along with other special commanded assemblies as given by God. As such, we do recommend that each person present himself or herself in the best apparel they have available. The foremost idea is to specially prepare to appear before God to honor HIM! In the parable of the wedding feast, the guest who did not have on a wedding garment was removed from the feast (Matthew 22:1-14).
While it is evident that members of God’s Church have typically tried to find the middle ground of the customs of the society they live in, we also find that God takes great exception to the self-absorbed and self-willed practices of people who lose all restraint. This applies to inappropriate sloppy appearance, as well as to the over-emphasis on wealth and riches. A case in point for the latter is this stern prophecy that is finding its fulfillment in our day:
“Moreover the Lord says: ‘Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet, Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, And the Lord will uncover their secret parts.’ In that day the Lord will take away the finery: The jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents; The pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; The headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands; The perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; The nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; The outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; The fine linen, the turbans, and the robes. And so it shall be: Instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench; Instead of a sash, a rope; Instead of well-set hair, baldness; Instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth; And branding instead of beauty’” (Isaiah 3:16-24).
We must take these warnings to heart! Our responsibility is to dress modestly and yet to dress with quality garments that reflect our honoring of God. In the letter to Titus, Paul encourages the teaching of “sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Among his recommendations is that the older members set an example for and teach the younger members. Using this key to developing a balanced approach to the way men and women dress can also find application in the Church of God in our time.
Finally, when it does come to questions about our personal dress, remember—we are called the body of Christ (Compare Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27).
Let us who have been chosen to become a part of the bride of Christ EDIFY the Church of God by how we present ourselves before God and by the example we uphold for one another in even our manner of dress (Compare Revelation 19:7-9).
Lead Writers: Dave Harris and Norbert Link