The Beauty of a Modest HeartReflecting God's Glory
Leslie Basham: When we’re shopping for clothes, there are more important things to consider than color and price. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: What is your heart motive? What is your heart attitude? Is it humble? Is it modest? Or are you trying to flaunt your wealth, flaunt your beauty, or even worse, to allure men sexually?
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, May 18.
Nancy is continuing in the series, The Beauty of a Modest Heart.
Nancy: We’re going to look today at one of those very, very practical, specific portions of God’s Word—one of the ones that has also been a subject of much controversy and debate and, I think, misunderstanding as well.
So if you have your Bible, let me encourage you to open it to 1 Timothy 2. This week we’re walking “where angels fear to tread.” Those of you who have been listening to Revive our Hearts for any length of time know that we’re not afraid of controversy here because we feel our calling is to help women be counter-cultural.
We’re talking here in the immediate context about the way women are supposed to conduct themselves at church. But in the broader context of the whole Word of God, we’re really talking about how women are supposed to conduct themselves period.
I love how balanced the Scripture is. He talks to us in these two verses alone about our apparel, our clothing, the way we dress, our appearance; he talks about our attitudes; and he talks about our actions.
We looked in the last few days at this matter of apparel, where the apostle says that women should adorn themselves with respectable apparel. That’s with proper clothing—that their outward appearance should be well-ordered. It should be decent. It should be proper.
Does that mean that we always have to go out looking “fit to kill” and just looking like the picture of elegance and loveliness? No. There are times when it’s appropriate to be more casual. But there are other settings where it’s not appropriate. That’s where we need to be conscious of what is really appropriate.
So that’s what the apostle is saying here. “Clothe yourselves in a way that is becoming, fitting for your profession of godliness.” What is godliness? Being like God. You see, we’re giving the world an impression of God , an image of God. What are we saying by our physical outward appearance to people who can’t see God? They’re getting their image from us.
So the apostle has said, “It should be respectable apparel, and the heart attitude with which you adorn yourself should be one of modesty and self-control.” We’ve talked about those two heart attitudes in the last couple of sessions.
Now Paul talks about another extreme that goes back to some more specifics about our apparel, and he says the opposite of what I’ve been talking about. “You’re supposed to be adorned with respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not (here’s a comparison, contrast) not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”
Now, there are some who have said that this means women should not wear jewelry, or that women should not ever wear nice clothes, or they should never fix their hair. There’s a similar passage in 1 Peter 3 that people often take to say the same thing (see vv. 3-4).
I don’t believe that’s what the apostle is saying here at all. Think about the people to whom he was speaking. This was a church in Ephesus.
Ephesus was a wealthy, commercial city, and it appears that perhaps some of the women who were Christians in that city were becoming caught up in the latest fads, the latest styles. They were just decking themselves out, obsessed with competing with each other for attention. They did it by what they wore—just the latest, the best, the most expensive.
There were descriptions that I came across while I was studying for this of some of the clothing that women wore in those days. There was a wife of Emperor Caligula who had a dress that a Roman historian described that was worth several hundred thousand dollars by today’s standards. So there were women who really went all out when it came to spending money for clothing. Whereas common, ordinary laboring people might only have one, two, or three dresses in their whole lifetime because clothing was expensive.
So the apostle is saying here, “In the matter of your adorning and your apparel, don’t get caught up in extremes.”
He’s not forbidding wearing clothes or jewelry. He’s saying, “Whatever you do, don’t let it be something that will draw people’s attention away from the Lord. Don’t let it be that when you walk into church, everybody is staring at your jewelry, or everybody’s staring at your particular outfit because it’s extreme, or it’s extremely expensive, or it’s gaudy, or it’s ostentatious. Don’t let your clothing be the center of attention.”
That has to do, by the way, with makeup as well—kosmeo—that’s the adorning; that’s the outward appearance. We have some women that you wonder what their face really looks like underneath all that paint.
He’s talking here about some specific practices they had in the New Testament era. Some of the women would do these very elaborate, intricate hairstyles, where they would have gold and pearls and other jewelry woven through their hairdos. I mean, they were spectacular! But everybody was talking about their hair, and it was distracting from worshiping God.
And then, some women would wear clothes that were so expensive that the people in their church who couldn’t afford that kind of clothing were envious. They were inciting other people to sin by the kind of clothing they wore.
That doesn’t mean that everyone has to be poor. It’s no sin to be poor. It’s no sin to spend money on clothing if God gives you the provision and the freedom to do that.
I read a quote by John Wesley that really spoke to me while I was studying this. I don’t have it right in front of me, but the effect of it was, “If you spend one shilling more than what God wants you to spend on your clothes, remember that you are stealing from money that God might have wanted you to give to the poor.”
I went, “Ouch!” Isn’t that true?
He’s talking here about letting the attitude of modesty and self-control govern the way that you do your hair, the way that you dress. He’s not saying that pearls are wrong to wear, that it’s even wrong to have an expensive dress; but make sure in your buying that your motives are pure, that you’re not trying to draw attention to yourself, that you’re not putting other people in a position where you may set them up to sin by being seductive or by being distracting.
There was a fourth century church father—some of you are familiar with the name of Chrysostom—and here’s what he wrote:
What then is modest apparel? [This is in the 4th century.] Such as covers them completely and decently, and not with superfluous ornaments, for the one is decent and the other is not.
What? Do you approach God to pray with embroidered hair and ornaments of gold? Are you come to a ball? To a carnival? There such costly things might have been seasonable. Here, not one of them is wanted.
You are come to pray, to ask pardon for your sins, to plead for your offenses, beseeching the Lord and hoping to render Him propitious or merciful to you. Away with such hypocrisy.1
In other words, he’s saying, “Let your external appearance reflect why you’ve come to church.” And why did you come to church?
- Was it to get attention?
- Was it to be the center of attraction?
- What is your heart motive?
- What is your heart attitude?
- Is it humble?
- Is it modest?
- Or are you trying to flaunt your wealth, flaunt your beauty, or even worse, to allure men sexually?
A woman who’s focused on worshiping God is going to think carefully about how she dresses, and her heart is going to dictate her wardrobe and her appearance.
Paul closes this passage by saying, “Instead of being dressed in those outlandish, extreme styles or ornaments, instead adorn yourselves (as women) 'with what is proper for women who profess godliness with—(what?) good works.'" All through the Scripture you’ll find that good works—acts of mercy—are a very important way for us as women to adorn ourselves: serving, caring for the physical needs of your husband and your children.
Ladies, when you do that? When you cook meals for your family, when you make sure your family has clothes that fit and clean clothes to wear, when you make sure that your home is kept up and clean and neat and orderly, when you share hospitality through your home, when you take a meal to a mom who’s just been through surgery, or when you help with the home schooling of a mom who’s got her hands full with several young ones. When you extend yourself, your heart, and your hands in good works, you know what you’re doing? You’re adorning the gospel. You’re making Jesus believable. You’re reflecting a heart that is modest and pure and self-controlled. You’re reflecting the heart of Jesus.
So in our appearance, in our attitudes, and in our actions—everything about us—nothing is insignificant. It all matters. Again let me say to you as young women, this is important for you teenage girls to cultivate now attitudes of modesty, attitudes of godliness. I promise that if you make that your curriculum, your study, your focus during your teenage years, you will find so much greater joy and blessing later on in your marriage and in your family than you ever dreamed possible.
So Paul says, “Women, adorn yourselves. Be beautiful. Put on your cosmetics, kosmeo. Adorn yourselves, and here’s how you’re to do it: '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.'”
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back with some practical implications of that teaching. Her message is part of the series called, The Beauty of a Modest Heart. I hope you’ll follow up, look deeper at God’s Word and continue studying the issue of modesty.
We’d like to help you by sending a booklet called The Look. It will lead you through a personal study on the topic then guide you through a process of evaluating your clothing and your heart. We’ll send The Look when you contribute any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just ask for the booklet when you call 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.
Nancy’s been teaching this series, The Beauty of a Modest Heart, in front of a group of women. She’ll continue addressing the younger women in the audience.
Nancy: Can I just—because some of you teenagers won’t be here with us tomorrow, and you’re scattered through the room—I just wish I could have you for a few minutes and look you in the eyes and, number one, tell you that you’re beautiful; and number 2, just encourage you to be willing to pay the price now, to avoid a price tag that you don’t want to pay later because of an unwillingness to make godly choices in this area.
Could I also say, if you have as a teenager a mom and/or a dad who care about the way you dress, they may not always express it in the best way or a way that you think is easy to receive. Their timing may not always be right on, and there may be just tensions that go on there, and that’s all understandable. But if you have a mom and/or a dad who cares about how you dress, thank the Lord, and thank your parents.
It doesn’t mean that all their ideas about clothing are the only way to think about clothing, but it means that God has loved you enough to put someone in your life who is a source of protection. I would just challenge you to receive to receive with a spirit of humility the counsel of your parents.
I talked with a young woman not too long ago about a totally unrelated issue. Her parents were giving her counsel (and had made a pretty strong position in her life as a 30-year-old single woman) about something that she didn’t agree with. Her parents are godly, but . . . As I listened to her, I thought that I wasn’t sure I agreed with her parents either, necessarily.
But I loved this girl’s heart. She said, “I want to honor my parents, and I know that they want what’s best for me.” I said to her, “Whether your parents are right or wrong on this particular issue is not really as important as the fact that you receive with humility their counsel in your life.”
Now, that doesn’t mean, moms, that it’s appropriate for you to direct every issue in your kids’ lives, 30 or 16 or whatever. There needs to be a releasing of your children so that you’re teaching them to go to the Lord and get these answers, and you’re not micro-managing their lives. You want them to be adults. You want them to think biblically themselves.
But back to you, daughters. If you will respond in humility to the counsel of your parents, God will bless your life over and over and over and over again. If I had a message for young people today, it would be, “Read the book of Proverbs and see how foolish it is to spurn counsel and how wise it is and how many blessings you will receive if you receive godly counsel.”
There are aspects of my parents’ counsel that I received as a young person growing up, and there are some aspects of their counsel that I rejected in my heart. If I could go back and do it again, I’d want to be wise and say, “It’s not that they’re God; it’s not that they know everything; it’s not that they handle everything right . . .”
See, what I used to do was pick apart the way they handled it, or the fact that one of my parents maybe was being too emotional about this or too irrational about that particular issue, whatever it was. Now I just think God loved me enough to give me parents who cared about even things like my wardrobe.
Listen, I lost my dad the weekend I turned 21. I got up that morning, said goodbye to him . . . I was leaving on a trip, and I didn’t know I would never see him again. And what I wouldn’t give to have some more of my dad’s counsel!
As I think back, one of the most influential moments in my life, when it comes to this whole thing of modesty, was when I came downstairs dressed for a piano recital in a formal dress. I didn’t have any immoral intent, as best I know my heart, in what I was wearing. But my dad said, “There’s a problem with that neckline; I don’t think it’s appropriate.” So we had to do some quick fixing. But I look back on that experience and I so thank the Lord that I had a dad who cared.
When we have that kind of counsel, we can respond to it with resistance. You know what it comes down to ultimately? It’s usually not the issue—it’s not the item of clothing—it’s our pride, and we want our way.
As someone said earlier . . . this is a grown woman here who said, “We just don’t want people telling us how to dress.” Isn’t that kind of the bottom line? When it comes to this issue, we don’t want God telling us how to dress, much less some human being; and yet, the submissive heart says, “I receive this counsel. I have a humble spirit.”
I’m now in my mid-forties, I am not very often with you teenage gals. I wish it could be more often, but if I could just plead with you about something. I want you to know that in my life I am experiencing incredible blessings and joys and freedoms today because, for the most part, the Lord helped me to respond to counsel that I received in my teenage years.
I didn’t realize then how important that was. I mean, I knew “honor your parents." I was. But I wasn’t thinking 30 years down the road what would this mean to me?
You’re probably not thinking 30 years down the road how I handle this argument or this disagreement with my parents or how we handle this thing of clothing: How will this affect my marriage? How will this affect my children? It’s no big deal. Boy, I’m so much more modest than all those kids at school, can be the way of thinking.
Don’t make the other kids at school your standard. Don’t make what’s in the malls your standard. Find out what pleases Him, Paul says. Find out what pleases God and choose to do it, and you will be blessed (see Hebrews 13:21).
I’m now what you might consider an old woman, standing up and saying God’s will is so good. It is so good. I love the will of God. I don’t always love to do it at the moment, but when I get on the other side of it, it is so, so good. You know what? When you get to my age, you don’t care what anybody else is wearing. If you’re growing in the Lord, you get secure in Him.
I remember what it was like to be an insecure, over-weight teenager who never felt really good about my body or about . . . like, gym class was the worst thing in the whole world for me. I wrote the book on a hundred and one ways to get out of gym class, most of them not real honest. So I knew what it was to be a kid in junior and senior high school who was never quite with it.
And you know what? I’m still not with it. But today, listen, I don’t care, because I’m having a ball. I’m looking at the women my age, most of whom have been married multiple times—their lives are torn apart; they’ve had multiple abortions. They’re hard, and they’re miserable, and they’re unhappy, and I’m saying, “Oh Lord, what You spared, by Your grace, what You spared me from!” I mean, it’s not anything I did except to receive godly counsel.
And could I just say, for those of you, especially you teenagers who have chosen the pathway of modesty, maybe you didn’t always love it but you’ve chosen to listen to the counsel of your parents and of the Lord, and you’re making modest choices—I applaud you. It takes a huge amount of courage to do that today. I look at some of you teenage gals and I say, you are beautiful. I mean, you really are, inside and out.
Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been offering practical advice to younger women on their clothing and their hearts. That discussion is part of Nancy’s teaching series, The Beauty of a Modest Heart. When you listen to this series, you’ll be encouraged to evaluate your heart first and then your actions and attitudes and then your clothing. If you’ve missed any of the series so far, you can hear it or order the CD at ReviveOurHearts.com.
You may also want to check out a series from the Revive Our Hearts’ archives called, “Modesty: Does God Really Care What I Wear?” Again, you’ll find it at ReviveOurHearts.com.
We’re so thankful that God is using a series like this to transform the hearts of women and leading them in many practical choices. You can play a very important role in the process. Here’s Nancy to explain.
Nancy: When you contribute to Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping us connect with women like this one who wrote from Ohio. She’s a stay-at-home mom who wrote us to say that she’s surrounded by “the daily grind.” Perhaps you know what that’s like.
Her time is spent faithfully serving her husband and sons. That’s a job that can sometimes be difficult or discouraging, but she writes: “I always feel better, feel more understood, feel as though Jesus is speaking directly to me when I hear Revive Our Hearts on the radio. I try to never miss a program. It’s like a refreshing drink of water. Thank you for all that you do.”
Well, I’m so thankful for listeners, like you, who make that kind of ministry possible by supporting Revive Our Hearts financially.
Now, I know there are a lot of listeners who’ve been tuned in to this program for a long time but have never taken the opportunity to invest back into the ministry. I understand that there are some listeners who just aren’t in a position to send a gift at this time, and that’s fine. We don’t want you to feel any pressure.
But I know there are others who just haven’t taken the time or made the effort to connect at this deeper level of partnership. We hope that now will be that time.
Some friends of the ministry have been matching the gifts of each new contributor this month up to a matching challenge amount of $60,000. If you’ve never given before, would you help us to meet and even exceed that challenge?
It’s an important part of our overall goal for the month. We’re asking God to provide a total of $350,000 or more by the end of May. That’s when we wrap up the books on our fiscal year and plan for the 12 months ahead.
Right now we’re faced with an exciting opportunity to expand the ministry of Revive Our Hearts into the Spanish-speaking world. Your gift will help us move forward with that and some other exciting possibilities as we continue calling women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.
Leslie: To invest in the work of Revive Our Hearts, call us at 1-800-569-5959, or make your contribution online at ReviveOurHearts.com.
When should you start training your children about modesty? How about age three? Why start so young? Nancy will talk about it tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
1John MacArthur. Commentary on 1 Timothy.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.