Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Two Words For Women

“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.”
(1 Tim. 2:9-10)

These two words—modest and shamefacedness—are found only once in the Bible and both in the same verse. What’s that about? I suppose the first thing it says is that this one has our name on it, girls, “big, plain, and straight,” as Pastor Adrian Rogers used to say. The particulars may vary (you may not wear gold, pearls, or braided hair) but the principle will translate into any culture, lifestyle, or situation. From my own study and meditation on these two words, I have come to the conclusion that the first one is often oversimplified, while the other is sometimes overlooked.

In any exposition I have heard on the phrase “modest appare,” it more or less boiled down to condemnation of three things: clothing that was either too tight, too low, or too short; or worse yet, a combination of two or more of them. End of story. That may make for good preaching, but it certainly will not settle anything, because words like “short, low, and tight” can mean different things to different people from region to region, church to church, family to family, and even family member to family member. I have my own idea of what those three adjectives refer to, and, frankly, it is hard for me to imagine anything else. But as much as I may set stock on my own powers of Bible interpretation (!), I am still forced to admit fallibility. Besides, when I read this verse, I do not see anything about the cut of the apparel, only the cost. (Read it again.) So what can we safely say then about this word, “modest,” the oversimplified one?

You and I tend to think of it as almost an antonym for words like “sensual,” or even “uncovered.” That is what it has come to mean to many of us, and that may be a reasonable application; but as I have said, you will not find an unvarying standard here to attach to it. So, let’s see if we can lock in a more “defining definition.” Strong’s Concordance gives as the meaning of the word modest: “well arranged, seemly (proper), orderly, decorous, having good behavior.” Webster adds to this: “not vain or boastful, not extreme, unpretentious.” Now if you will permit me, I will add some of my own observations, by taking the word apart and seeing how its root is used elsewhere. “Mode” is a way of doing things, and a “moderate” person is one who is measured in the way they do them. If one lives on a modest income (which we do!) there is little room for extravagance. When we realize that in this verse, “modest apparel” is contrasted to “costly array,” then we begin to understand what Paul is trying to tell us, as women of God. According to him, the way we dress is a picture of our priorities. It tells what is more important to us—“outward adorning” or “the hidden man of the heart” (1Pet.3:3-4).

Now we turn to the overlooked (and overlong!) word, “shamefacedness.” If you suspect it has something to do with bashfulness or being shy, you are on the right track. Strong’s Concordance elaborates on this somewhat by saying it is, “bashfulness toward men and awe or reverence toward God.” I like that. In fact, I want that. I would rather be shamefaced now than “ashamed before him at his coming” (1Jno.2:28). This is a rare virtue today. Instead of shamefaced, today it is “in your face.” Today’s woman of the world can “give as good as she gets,” and that’s all she gets. She has traded the blush of purity for the face of experience. A poor bargain, indeed.

Two words especially for women—modesty and shamefacedness. We must face them, contemplate them, and, hopefully, embody them. It does not take a “wonder-woman,” just one who is not ashamed to be a woman of the Word. Will you take the challenge?

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