Note: God’s people must always be mindful of the influences of the world. The Truth of God is timeless. His standards are enduring. Christians everywhere should study this subject prayerfully.
As we consider what God has to say… we will deal with three primary things–with TRUTH, CUSTOM, and FASHION. These may sound like odd things with which to deal from the pulpit, but to deal with the subject at hand, it becomes quite necessary that we talk about these things.
By TRUTH, I mean the will of God. By CUSTOM, I will have reference to a social habit that is deeply rooted in tradition. In other words, that which has been established through periods of long usage. When I speak of FASHION, I will have reference to any style that has gained wide spread acceptance in any given period. These three things that we have in mind; truth, custom, and fashion are things that may conflict, but not necessarily so. There are many difficulties involved in this type of thing, for these reasons. Style is a thing that changes about like the phases of the moon. We have even lived in our time to see customs changed which are deep rooted things over a long period of time. This complicates it when you deal with the fact that truth never changes and still this fits within the same framework. Also we are dealing with the style and customs that may vary with various locales, while we’re also dealing with truth that is universal. So, you get involved with a number of things.
I would like to say that the ramification of this thing is absolutely tremendous. Modesty is our subject. Modesty involves many facets of our lives. I suppose that we could speak about modesty as it respects the heart of men end spend our entire time on that. We could talk about a meek and quiet spirit, and this deals with modesty, certainly. We might then talk about clothing and nakedness or lack of nakedness. I would like to point out that most of the Biblical emphases are placed here. I realize that sometimes we say that modesty begins with the heart, and that, I believe. But I would like to point out when the Bible talks about modesty, in fact, in every culture that I considered, the big things when you are talking about modesty, you are discussing clothing or the lack of it. I don’t think there is any way to get away from that. Modesty is a thing that is set forth in the Bible as that which is to be sought. It is to be a studied art among God’s people. It is not something to see how far removed from it we can get, but among the people of God it ought to be a studied thing. The Bible sets it forth as a find that is worth all the seeking we may ever do. For this reason, certainly, we want to consider this.
First of all, let’s talk about dress through the ages. I shall say, that the manner of clothing has varied through the ages. To wit, the fact that you are not dressed this evening as you were twenty years ago. You only have to get out an old photograph to see that quite evidently. You certainly aren’t dressed the same. I can assure you, we are not dressed as we were fifty years ago, as I look back to some of those times. So, we believe in changing styles.
We can’t assume that our clothing is natural, inherent, or universal. It isn’t any of those things, necessarily. If changing or resisting change in style makes us righteous, then the Mennonites and the Amish are more righteous than we. Even they themselves have changed a great deal. I found in this study that they are “the plain sects”, as they have labeled themselves. There are about twenty groups among “the plain sects” who have resisted change to a much greater degree than we have. So, we would say that this is not what constitutes modesty as such. To resist a change of any kind. . . or I can say about clothing in which we are now garbed, that “from the beginning, it was not so.”
We want to talk about that which was from the beginning. We go back to the beginning, and I mean to the beginning, and deal with Biblical principles. You’re going to hear me talking about Biblical principles. I shall be the first to admit, I do not know all the law that revolves around a Biblical principle. I am persuaded however, there are Biblical principles, and you believe in Biblical principles. The Bible teaches us that nakedness is a symbol of shame. In the beginning, God set some standards of dress and undress, of modesty and immodesty… to wit, the garden of Eden, is the beginning place. I suppose, after Adam and Eve had sinned, they had partaken of the forbidden fruit, they knew that they were naked and hid themselves. That’s more than we do today. I’m reminded of a quote of old Marshal Keeble, who said, “In the beginning when they ate them apples, they knew they were naked and hid themselves and prayed… Lord send us some more of them apples!”
I think we live in times when we need to be saying, Lord, send us a few more of those things that made them aware that they were naked and that made them aware of the fact that they needed to be covered and caused them to hide themselves. The Bible states that they made aprons. The marginal reading is that they made girdles–something to gird about the mid-section. But even after they had thusly clothed themselves, they still hid themselves from the presence of God. They felt uncomfortable about the whole situation. I would like to point out, that though they were uncomfortable, it was not because of the way they had been raised up. Well, God raised these two! I would suspect if indeed they had any frustrations or inhibitions, they were pretty good ones. I do know this, God was not satisfied. Modern psychologists will sometimes say that you have certain inhibitions and certain frustrations, because that’s the way you were raised up.
I do know this, that God was not satisfied. They made them garments to gird themselves about the mid-section, but God was not satisfied. (Much like a tunic, reaching to the knee). The Bible teaches me that God made them coats of skins, Genesis 3:21. Not only clothed, but modestly clothed! It is not enough to be clothed, we must be modestly clothed; this is what God is concerned with. And remember, that just with their mid-section girt about, they were still naked in the sight of God. We should realize that! I do know one thing, when God made the coats of skins, he clothed them. It was not for the purpose of revealing either. It was a concealing! I would highly suspect that those coats of skin didn’t do much for the figure. It did clothe them, and with that God was concerned. It certainly was not a see through job such as is sometimes evident today. May I also point out that God made Adam one, too. Sometimes we find that our men and boys may simply feel that they may clad themselves in some swim trunks, because they happen to be of the male species and parade themselves in public and feel all is well, because they happen to be a male. God made Adam one, too, and clothed his nakedness. In the Bible, Gen. 9:30-25, there is another principle (call it what you may), laid down in regard to nakedness. You will remember that this is the case of Noah who had been made drunken. He was uncovered. The Bible says he was naked. When you get uncovered, certainly that word is applicable. Well, you remember that those sons of his, lest they see their father’s nakedness, put upon their shoulders a garment and backed into the situation and covered up his nakedness. I will be quite frank with you, God is saying that anytime nakedness exists to any degree, that we need a covering. This is what is set forth here. I am just pointing out an attitude that existed toward nakedness, even with a father-son relationship. Again, this came to be a symbolic thing. Over in Isaiah 47, listen to what He has to say, beginning with verse one: “Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstone, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover thy thigh, pass over the river. Thy nakedness shalt be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man.”
God is simply saying to them that he was going to expose them and their wickedness, and He uses this particular figure of when they would gather up their garments and cross over the river. I just point this out very hurriedly, that when it came to the point that He said the thigh was exposed, God said, “Your nakedness has been uncovered.” I think that it is worthy of note. Over in Revelation 3:18, a familiar passage, He exhorts the congregation (and us), “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”
I would like to point out also, that according to God’s word it is possible to be clothed and still be naked. One does not have to be naked to be naked! (In the sense the world uses it, and in the sense God uses it). Job 22:6 says, “For thou hast taken a pledge from thy brother for nought, and stripped the naked of their clothing.” What he has in mind, the best I can determine, is that they were so thinly clad and so barely covered, that God said, “Ye are naked.” I would suspect that this is what He has in mind in James 2:15 when he says, “If thy bother or sister be naked, be destitute of daily food.” I think he is not considering someone who is stark naked as we use the term today. He is simply saying, if they be thinly or poorly clad so that they are hardly able to cover their nakedness, He says, you need to help them. We would work ourselves to death, I suppose, trying to help one another!
In John 21:7, Peter was fishing, and you remember that they saw the Lord on the shore that morning. The Bible says that Peter was naked. I remember when someone pointed that out to me. Well, here’s a case–he was there fishing–and he was naked. We just assume that means what we call it, today. But, I’ll assure you that this is not the case. He had taken off his outer cloak, but he was still clad in an undercoat, a linen frock that fishermen at that time wore. But he considered himself, with that only, as being naked. The divine writer considered him so. And he drew his outer cloak to him over his inner cloak… I think this is worthy. What I am saying is that clothing is not enough… it must be modest, or “God directed” clothing… and that is what we are discussing.
Alright, let’s talk about dress in the aforetime. I’ve approached this, you might say, historically. If you want to use the term the world uses: sometimes the bronze age–the early, middle, late; sometimes the early, middle, or late iron age; and sometimes the Persians, the Grecians, or the Romans. But, I am concerned more with dress of Old Testament times. Let’s talk about it… the dress of men.
There is no doubt in my mind, since studying this, that they were dressed in tunics. There was an inner tunic, a tunic coat, a girdle a cloak, a headdress, and shoes or sandals. By an inner tunic, I mean a short shirt-like garment of varying lengths. By a tunic coat, I mean a shirt like garment, usually expressed as being long sleeved, extending usually to the ankles. By a girdle, I mean that with which to gird them about. That with which they would bind this flowing robe business to themselves in times of work, or in times when they would want to move along more rapidly. This is spoken of in Proverbs 31. You will remember that Elijah had such… John the Baptist had such. On the outer side was this cloak or mantle or robe. I am persuaded this is what he has in mind when he speaks of Joseph’s coat of many colors, which his father made for him… Samuel’s coat which Hannah made for him and took to him… that best robe of which it is said of the prodigal son, should be brought forth and put on him. He’s talking about that robe. He was not naked except in the sense that they considered nakedness at that time. He said he still needed a robe, and he brought it to him. This is that spoken of in Matthew 6, you remember, that there he said that if someone sue you at law, he can take the shirt off your back. He can take the inner tunic or coat, but he could not take the outer cloak. But, of course, the Lord goes on, to say something about that. That cloak sometimes, many times, so far as God’s people were concerned in Numbers 16, was fringed in blue.
The word skirt is used in the Old Testament in reference to men’s garments. But, I would like to point out the way in which it is used in the King James Version. In Ruth 3:9 the Bible speaks of the skirt as an individual’s garment. In Psalms 133:2, I think it is speaking of an upper extremity, the collar of the oil that ran down even to the skirt, it says, but literally to the collar. In 1 Samuel 34:4, this is the case where David cut off the corner of Saul’s robe. In Exodus 28:33, he is discussing the hem of the priest’s garment.
Now, the dress of women in that time. There was a definite distinction, because the law forbade men and women wearing the same thing. There were some feminine clothing or feminine articles which wore similar names. They were very different in embossing, embroidery, and needle work. It was again in the tunic or robe. Robes reaching to the feet so far as I know and so far as I am able to determine. In reading Proverbs 31:19-22 we learn how they got them. There are also some other kinds over there, and situations, as we talk about the vain daughters of Israel. I want you to listen to these. He speaks of their fine linen, their festive robes, their ankle chains, their nose jewels, their pindons, and their bracelets. He calls them the vain daughters with all this garb.
The clothing of the Hebrew, I would say in just sort of generalizing about it, was graceful, modest and was exceedingly significant. I mean, IT MEANT SOMETHING! It told WHO and WHAT they were. It seems to me that in reading the Old Testament, in this regard, those people had a moral urge to do what God told them to do and to represent Him correctly. Through the centuries there were very little changes. In New Testament times, I detect very little change. When we get into the New Testament all I can say is that it requires a little bit of Roman flavor, as you talk about the Roman toga, very similar to the tunic, a loose outer garment worn in public. Very similar to, and where we get the word “stole”, I understand. This was dress of the common people in both ages as with John the Baptist, and so on. Of course, with the ruling class there were always the better garments, you know, as that of kings’ houses. But, at the time of Jesus and his disciples, the clothing must have involved about six articles. Again, and please listen to the similarity, that linen shirt, that under garment, that tunic (John 19:23), “the coat without seam” for which those soldiers gambled–they wanted that inner garment. There was the girdle about the waist, in the case of John the Baptist it was leather. There was the outer garment of John 19:23, the leather sandals, most likely, and then the turban. (There is something interesting about that, that I will just pitch in. This is the napkin of which the Bible speaks that Lazarus came forth still wrapped in, and it talks about, you will remember, that it was neatly placed aside in the case of Jesus in the tomb. This is very likely the turban they wore at that time).
They were still dressed in the time of Jesus so that one could touch the border of His garment, Matthew 23:45, or in the case of Jesus (Revelation 1). Let us mention that in the New Testament, so far as I know, no particular garb is prescribed, as such. Probably, the major warning in the New Testament is against over dress. That sounds like an odd thing in our time. First Peter 3, you know, says not having the broided hair and all. This is overdoing the thing, and what he is warning against, here. But, modesty Is stressed more under this age than in any other.
Now, let’s talk about that word–modesty. Modesty, shamefacedness, sobriety, again, may I point out, we need to seek to know. This should be among us a studied art… WHAT DOES GOD WANT? I think that I speak to people who want to know. What does God really want me to do? I think we are ready to do it. The word modest literally means orderly, well-arranged, decent. This is as it’s used in 2 Timothy 2:7 and 1 Peter 3:3–an ordering of the whole life. Modest as a word can surely mean this. Thayer says it means well-arranged, seemly, modest, living with decorum, decently. Webster, in his International version, went all the way back to the Archaic meaning, and I wanted to pick up the whole thing. Listen to this; he says the word modest means, “lacking in vanity, not bold, not self asserting, retiring in manner, moderate, observing conventional standards of dress and manner, free from coarseness and indecency, not showy.” The word modesty means freedom from coarseness and indelicacy. A regard for propriety in dress, speech, and conduct.
The word shamefacedness, 1 Timothy 2:9, is used to show a sense of shame, modesty. Listen to some translations. Just pick out this part if you will. Shamefacedness is translated shamefastness, a quiet and serious air, reverence, and respect; modest and serious. When he talks of shamefacedness, it literally means modesty which is fast, as rooted in the very soul of man. So, this is what he’s wanting, something that is rooted and grounded in shamefastness. Behaving according to a standard of what is proper, or decent, or pure. But, listen to Jeremiah 6:15, where he raises the question: “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.” He said they came to a place where nothing bothered them. I mean they were as bold and brazen as could be. And it is from this that we pick up the word shamefacedness, a sense of shame still, fast in our souls, and our God intends for it to be that way.
Sobriety means literally, soundness of mind, sound judgment. This is like Acts 26 where, I understand, this same word is used. You remember that they had accused Paul of being beside himself, that much learning had made him mad. He said, “I am not mad most noble Festus, But I speak the words of truth and sobriety.” Soberness is saying that we should have inner self government. A system of checks and balances. He’s saying we need something to have a constant rein on the passion and the desires of this fleshly man… that we need this inner barrier that we have erected against whatever may be opposed to modesty and shamefacedness and sobriety. Why all this? Listen to the passage: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety: not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array: But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. People should know by the way we dress, and the way we do, what we are, or what we profess to be! People do not have to carry around an x-ray with them. You may be a perfectly good person, but please don’t expect the world to carry around an x-ray machine with them, to check you out on the inside to see how you are. God said they have a perfect right to look at the outside, and that’s about the only thing they will do and make their conclusion. I know one thing, our clothing will show our shamefastness or lack or it. This must rule out clothing whatever it is which exposes or causes unwholesome thinking. It could not possibly be clothing that causes lewd or lustful thoughts or emotions. I like what Solomon said in Proverbs 11:22, “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.” We’ve never lived long enough to out do that one and we never will!
–1921 McKamie Road
McGregor, TX 76657
This article is taken from a study on the subject by brother McKamie in the 1970’s. It was publised in The Christian Informer in November, 1998. Find part 2 here.