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Dressing to Make a Difference
1 Peter 3:3–How women point to God with how they dress
You’ve been there, or to a place just like it. You men are in the locker room of a golf club, and a mobile phone on a bench rings, and a man engages the hands-free speaker function and begins to talk. Like always, everyone else in the room stops to listen.
“Honey, it’s me. Are you at the club?”
“I’m at the shops now, and found this beautiful leather coat. It’s only $2,000. Is it okay if I buy it?”
“Sure, go ahead, if you like it that much.”
“I also stopped by the Lexus dealership, and saw the new models. I saw one I really liked.”
“OK, but for that price, I want it with all the options.”
“Great! Oh, and one more thing . . . the house I wanted last year is back on the market. They’re asking $980,000.”
“Well, go ahead and give them an offer of $900,000. They’ll probably take it. If not, we can go the extra $80,000 if it’s really a pretty good deal.”
“Okay, I’ll see you later! I love you so much!”
“Bye! I love you, too.” The man hangs up. The other men in the locker room are staring at him in astonishment, mouths agape. He then turns and asks, “Anyone know who this phone belongs to?”
I know you hope that never happens to you. When I first heard that story, the first thing that came to my mind was–that would never happen to me. I married the most trustworthy woman in the world–she is my safest steward. She never spends money stupidly. She never expresses wants for things that are not necessities. She watches what she spends, buys, needs, wants, even wears. She is the wisest, most practical woman in the world. I trust her in every way, because of her Christ-like character.
This is what Peter is calling wives to become–women of character. This is what Peter wants from all the Christian women he writes. He wants them to be women of character, and when they are–when a woman is truly Godly in heart and Christ-like in character–it will no question affect the way she dresses.
Open your Bibles to 1 Peter 3, and follow along with the outline as we seek to discover God’s dress code. Someone is sure to ask, “Why are you teaching on this, Chris?” I am not, God is. God picks the topics as we study His Word, verse by verse, phrase by phrase and word by word, and we have now arrived at a verse of Scripture where God talks about how a woman dresses–that’s why God wants you to know.
Start at verse 1 and focus on verse 3, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
What has Peter been teaching these Christians? Look at verse 1, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands.”
#1 Submit to your own husbands like Christ submitted, so that even if any of them are disobedient to the Word
#2 Submit, even if your husband is in rebellion to God–they may be won
#3 Continue hoping for your husband’s salvation without a word by the behavior of their wives
#4 Using your actions over your words, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior
#5 Master two behaviors in particular
Now in verse 3, Peter makes certain you don’t get the wrong idea. Don’t be thinking that being a Godly wife is all about changing your externals. “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
In verse 2, Peter just made certain wives know they must live radically different in order to impact their husbands for the Gospel, and for Christian wives in general to love their husbands. But now with verse 3, Peter doesn’t want women to think God only wants them to focus on externals, like behavior and dress. No, Peter doesn’t want all the focus to be on the outside–so in verse 3 he describes a wife’s apparel choices, and tells all women not to allow clothing or appearance to be their sole focus.
In fact, don’t dress the same way as external women do. Don’t dress the same as those who are proud of their appearance. Don’t be consumed with dress like the women of the world. But in verse 4, dress so that the goal of your clothing choices actually focuses attention on your internals, on your character.
How do I do that? The answer is touched on in verse 3 and elsewhere in the New Testament. God’s Word describes Godly dress, modest attire, attractive, womanly, Christ-like clothing.
Now I am aware that the verse containing this topic is explosive. Just bringing it up causes a reaction, and a lot of it is not healthy. Those who at times take advantage of God’s grace automatically feel like I’m stepping on their air hose of freedom, and they’re already choking for air just mentioning the idea of God’s dress code. Others, who boarder on legalism, can’t wait to have gasoline poured on the fire of their religious externalism, and are anxious for a whole new set of rules to apply and especially enforce.
So where will we find the right balance? In God’s Word and in God’s character–our relationship with Him is based upon a free desire to obey and a faith saturated in truth and grace. Because so few churches preach God’s Word verse by verse, they can easily skip verse 3 and this topic. But because we’re committed to teaching verse-by-verse, and hearing only the author’s intended message, we are stuck and must hear God’s heart on how a woman dresses.
But before we dive in, and in order to protect us from extreme reactions that are fueled by our sinful bents, allow me to lay down some protective ground rules.
1 No one is allowed to function as the fashion police.
Never confront anyone on Sunday for their dress–don’t do it. Never–it is not allowed, especially if you don’t know them personally. It is far too easy to slip into externalism, legalism, or worse. They may be a guest, untaught or unsaved–and their dress must never be your most important concern. Their salvation and their heart are. Attire should never be the first thing a non-Christian or untaught Christian hears from you. Speak to them later privately, and only if they’re a part of our church, and only if you are immediately involved with them in a relationship, woman-to-woman or man-to-man, but never on Sunday.
2 Work on your internals before you ever work on externals
Put more attention on your character over your clothing. Focus on God’s glory, not your garments. Live by faith, not fashion. Seek to be a witness first, not your wardrobe. It’s easy to fix externals, and easy to appear spiritual on the outside. But it is very difficult to develop Christ-like character–yet that is what 1 Peter 3:3-4 is calling for.
3 Seek to understand why a woman’s dress can be an issue
A lot of women are ignorant as to why their choice of clothing is an issue to anyone–why does God mention it here, why is it an issue with Christians? Why do some Christians never talk about it, where others talk about it too much?
There are many reasons why a woman’s dress can be an issue–allow me to give you three:
a We live in a sensual society–sex sells everything from toys to trucks. So advertising is done with dress, or the lack thereof.
b We live in a seared society–there are no more barriers with what is appropriate. Society used to pressure women to dress modestly, now culture does the opposite. On the tag of a clothing line, targeting 6-year-old girls, comes a label that says, “There are no rules. Whether you choose to dress crazy or dress to thrill–make a statement, make a scene, wear what you want and it won’t be wrong.”
c We live in a soft society–it doesn’t understand the difference between men and women. Men have been feminized (made soft) to the point that women think men are just like them–they’re not. Men, you have to be honest with your wives and daughters. Ask your dads, ask your moms, and ask older, Godly women about men. Go to the mall or a singles restaurant, and watch young men on the hunt. There’s a huge difference between men and women–not just physically, but physiologically.
Men are aggressive, lusting monsters, sometimes barely under control. The battle believing men have with lust brought on by inappropriate dress ranges on a scale–on one side, it’s an inconvenient nuisance . . . to the other side, it’s an insane savage struggle. Sometimes it’s, “Wow, that looks bad,” to “Ouch, I need to look away.”
This is why, as some of you gals are skipping out the front door, your dad says, “Hold it, stop the presses, there is no way you’re going outside dressed in that outfit–go change right now.” Why? Because he’s a man, and he knows by what you are wearing, it’s as if you are clothing yourself with fresh blood, and now you are going out to swim with your shark friends–slits too high, clothes too tight, tops too revealing, neck lines too low, not enough buttons used, skirts too short, jeans painted on . . . all are like wearing powerful magnets in a world filled with metal men. It is a formidable force, but not for Christ–it is a force for sin and lust and worse.
A Christian man knows what all men are like. He knows how men struggle with lust–and as a believer, he intrinsically knows what kind of clothing will honor God, and what kind will send a wrong message. But don’t take my word for it–ask your dad, talk to your mom. And if you can’t get their help, then talk to an older, Godly woman in order to understand the signals your choice of dress sends.
4 No out-of-control men nor controlling women allowed
There are men so given to lust they can’t control their imagination, can’t stop their eyes from staring, and are so angry from the battle, or so self-righteous in their desire for perfection, that they blame a woman or all women for their struggle. They’re wrong for not taking responsibility for their own hearts and sin–this passage is not for you.
Plus there are some women who for various reasons want to control how all women dress. You also have no platform here–1 Peter 3:3 does not give you permission to blame others for your sin, nor to try to control women to dress how you want. Men are responsible for their lust, and no believer has the authority to tell other Christians to conform to their dress code.
Now, that was all introduction–so what is God’s dress code? Take a look at 1 Peter 3:3, “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses.”
#1 Do not allow yourself to think being Godly is merely external
God is very clear in verse 3, “Your adornment must not be merely external.” One of the biggest dangers God warns us about in the New Testament is externalism–putting on a show of being clean on the outside, but filthy on the inside. The Pharisees battled with this. Read with me Matthew 23:25–26. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 ‘You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.’”
But it wasn’t just the Pharisees, it was the regular people of God who battled with showy religion–the outside looked good, but the inside was far from Christ. Matthew 15:8 says, “‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.’” Every honest believer in this room today knows of our propensity to put on an impressive external show, all the while our hearts are far from God, our spirits are dried up, our indifference has taken over, we have stopped battling with sin, and at this moment we’ve lost our first love. If that is you today, the Lord is lovingly calling you to repent and walk intimately with Him again.
And as Peter speaks to all wives, but particularly those who are married to unsaved husbands, he describes two crucial behaviors to master in order to win their husbands to Christ in verse 2. Now in verses 3 and 4, he wants to make certain they don’t merely try to impact their unsaved husbands with their dress and clothing or externals, but verse 4, the hidden person of the heart. Their influence is to be their character, not their clothing.
The outer adornment in verse 3 forms a contrast with the inner adornment in verse 4. It’s easy in our “shop till you drop” culture to let externals get out of balance. At school and work, the message is all about looking good–but God says differently in verses 3 and 4. What “clues us in” to the need for balance is the word “merely”. Do you see it in verse 3? “Your adornment must not be merely external.” The editors of the NAS added the word “merely” to this verse to help the reader understand Peter’s intended meaning.
Peter isn’t prohibiting the braiding of hair or wearing of jewelry, any more than he’s prohibiting the putting on of dresses–do you see that? If you say verse 3 is teaching women can’t braid their hair or wear jewelry, then you must also say it is instructing women not to put on dresses. Oops! God merely wants to put those external appearance issues in the background, and bring the woman’s character into the foreground.
God wants us to have the right perspective, and any Biblical discussion of modesty begins with the heart, not the hemline. You see, some of these Roman wives were thinking they could win their husbands to Christ with their outward adornment, by dressing up and looking sexy. But God says that’s a fallacy. To win a husband, and to make an impact on a saved husband, outward adornment will not do the job. That can grow old, just like a wife will grow old. While not letting herself go, so that she grows dowdy, a Godly wife should concentrate her efforts on beautifying her inner person. That is what will give her the strength she needs to submit to an unsaved husband under sometimes miserable conditions.
Now the literal rendering of verse 3 should read, “Let not your adorning be the outward adorning of braiding of hair and wearing of gold or putting on of clothing.” So Peter’s point is not forbidding dresses, braids or jewelry, but that they should not be a woman’s primary adorning, nor should they be a Christian woman’s source of beauty. God says here, and He is the one who created every woman in this room, that a woman’s beauty is not external. Her beauty is not primarily visible things which will perish. But a woman’s beauty is in the unseen spiritual realities in her life, which are eternal.
God is not most concerned about external adorning, but He is most concerned about internal adorning. God’s priorities are the inside, not the outside. God desires a passion for Christ that exceeds a passion for clothes. The word adorning in verse 3 refers to the focus of attention for one’s attractiveness. Adorning is the effort one uses to make oneself beautiful to others. Adorning is the Greek word kosmos, where we get the English word cosmetics.
So God says to you Christian women, depend more on the inward qualities of life of verse 4, and not the outward externals of appearance of verse 3. The Greek word for external means having to do with the outside. I like what Miss Piggy says, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”
We’ve all said it, “Beauty is only what? . . . skin deep.” Well, God said it first in Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Now before you freak out–again, God’s Word in verse 3 is not prohibiting women from styling their hair, wearing jewelry or wearing lovely clothing. The bride in Song of Solomon was beautifully adorned, Esther was dressed lovely, and even the ideal wife of Proverbs 31 is dressed fashionably.
Proverbs 31:21b says, “For all her household are clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.” The point of verses 3 and 4 is to make it clear that clothing is not to be your pre-occupation or main concern in drawing an unsaved husband to Christ or impacting others for Christ. But Peter takes it a step further in the remainder of verse 3.
#2 Don’t allow yourself to think being Godly is merely a style
Notice the rest of verse 3, “braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses.” This was a problem back in Roman days for three basic reasons:
1 Too much time
2 Too much world
3 Not enough Christ
Many women 2,000 years ago in the Roman Empire had very little to pass their time. They could not hold public office, be in the priesthood, compete in games, or have a job in public, and many had slaves for the kids and house. So many women devoted all their time to their appearance and their dress. They had too much time. And because every woman in society was consumed with dress and appearance, it was difficult for Christian women not to be caught up in the external craze. As Romans 12:2 warns, they were being conformed to this world–squeezed into its mold.
It is true today, it was true back in the time of 1 Peter, and it was true of women during the time of Isaiah. God through Isaiah pronounced judgment on the women of Judah for their obsessive, ostentatious attention to outward adornment. As I read this, do not fail to notice the number of items being worn by each individual woman.
Isaiah 3:16–24, “Moreover, the Lord said, ‘Because the daughters of Zion are proud and walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, and go along with mincing steps and tinkle the bangles on their feet, 17 therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, and the Lord will make their foreheads bare.’ 18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, 20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, 23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils. 24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.”
Every Old and New Testament writer calls the women of their time back to pursuing God over garments. But if women do not seek Christ, they will seek clothes or some other lesser pursuit. Peter says in verse 3, do not make externals as important as internals (verse 4)–Godliness is not found in style. Winning a lost husband to Christ is not through fashion. Being an incredible Christian wife is not through outfits. Don’t let it be, verse 3, “The braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses.” Peter is specifically describing an expensive style of attire here.
The literal meaning of braiding the hair can be misleading, since braiding hair in many parts of the world is regarded as modest. The Greek phrase actually emphasizes “elaborate hairdos”. Braiding has the idea of intertwining objects in the hair, or weaving expensive, attention-getting objects in your hair, like alabaster combs. Today we might translate the word braiding the hair this way–don’t cause your hair to attract dramatic attention, or don’t fix up your hair in a very expensive way so as to point to your wealth.
Jewelry is literally the wearing of golden jewelry–but this is not speaking about one ring, a pair of earrings, or a single bracelet. But golden rings on all the fingers and toes, ten earrings, many bracelets and golden chains around the neck, arms, wrists and ankles (Mr. T.-style)–Isaiah says so many you tinkled when you walked–ching ching.
The Greek word for dresses is from the general word for garments of any kind, but since women are being referred to, the word dresses is a good translation. Again the emphasis here is not to focus your attention on your external appearance by “wearing overtly known expensive outfits,” or to focus others to your outside by “wearing elaborate attire.” Godliness, humility, Christ-likeness, genuine salvation and modesty are not put on display through the style of an outfit–what do I mean?
First Don’t make boastful statements through your clothing style
The style Peter is addressing in verse 3 was the style of the rich. He says, do not boast of your wealth through your attire. This is not a shocking statement to his readers–they all knew of the practice of women to wear their wealth through dress, jewelry and hairstyle. Peter is describing something like one of you ladies today wearing all Gucci, Prada, and Valentino clothes and accessories, plus getting your hair styled personally by Vidal Sassoon and your make up personally done by Max Factor. You are boasting of your wealth by your apparel, or your credit card debt.
God’s dress code for the woman who desires to please Christ first in everything is for your outfits to focus attention upon your love for Him. God’s plan for your clothing is to display your God-given internal and external beauty as a means to communicate His character. Stay away from the practice of a style of dress that boasts of wealth. In the same way, stay away from any style that points away from Christ–a style that boasts of Goth, preppy, emo, Britney, skater, metal head, ghetto, punk, mini, trashy, beach, grunge, urban or high fashion . . . or any I’ve left out. Let your fashion boast be that you know Christ and follow Him.
Second Do demonstrate self- control in your clothing choices
Now turn to 1 Timothy 2:9-10, where Paul helps us to understand God’s heart when he says, “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” Paul literally says, I want women to attire themselves with ordered clothing, acceptable to the community in general and discreetly or soberly, which is thought through and self-controlled.
Godly women exercise an intentional restraint and moderation for the purpose of purity. Her wardrobe expresses self-control. What she wears will demonstrate she lives with a settled resistance to the ceaseless pull of the world. She will dress to show the grace and beauty of womanhood from the heart—not to call attention to herself, flaunt her beauty, impress her peers, or allure men sexually.
Notice verse 10–her choice of dress is making a claim. She dresses in order to point to God-likeness. She shops for attractive clothes that point to Christ. Again, the issue is one of the heart and not the hemline, but ladies you have got to think through what you wear. With fashion, the eye always goes to where the line stops. Low necklines, unbuttoned blouses, high slits, short shorts, and mini-skirts are all an automatic test for every male in the room. All men have to force their eyes not to do what is natural, which is follow the lines of your clothes to where they stop.
Then there’s high exposure clothing that doesn’t cover your undergarments–pants that are so tight they have to be painted on, bared midriffs, see-through clothing without a camisole, and tops so tight it’s as if you are wearing nothing at all. My old junior high staff women used to seal the room and show the 12 to 14-year-old gals what it is like to wear these clothes, then bend over, or sit down, and they would scream in laughter, but they got the message. Are you getting it? Have you checked out what you look like in a mirror when you bend over, or sit down?
Mrs. Al Mohler, the wife of the president of Southern Seminary, writes this,”If you arrive at church dressed in such a way that by the end of the service, the people around you by no fault of their own, know the color of your underwear . . . and they have watched you do a shimmy dance as you ‘try to get your too tight, too short skirt’ to go under you, there is a big problem with what you are wearing.”
Third Do point to Christ and the Gospel in your wardrobe
Dress as if you are taking a walk with Christ. Buy clothes that would be appropriate for you to be on Christ’s ministry team. Read 1 Timothy 2:9–10 again, “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” The worldly definition of beauty is inseparably linked to sensuality, allurement, self-centeredness, and self-glorification. Yet in the Biblical definition of beauty, external attractiveness is ultimately a reflection of Godly character. It emphasizes spirituality, not sensuality. It is God-centered, drawing attention ultimately to the Gospel.
This link between the Gospel and Paul’s instructions about beauty and modesty is made plain in the verses just preceding 1 Timothy 2:9-10. In verse 5-6, Paul explicitly states the reason for his directives: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” Paul places his whole discussion in the context of the good news. This passage is teaching us how to behave as we gather in worship. Paul tells men to pray and not be a distraction by arguing in verse 8. He tells women not to be a distraction by how they dress, verse 9-10.
Paul was not a religious moralist, intent on simply promoting external modesty. He was passionate about the Gospel. He was a preacher intent on seeing the Gospel change lives. The woman who loves the Savior avoids immodesty because she refuses to distract from, or misrepresent, the purity of the Gospel. She wants her attitude and appearance to reveal her allegiance to her Savior, who gave Himself as her substitute, bearing her sin, ransoming her soul, and making possible her life of good works. Why were Paul and Peter so concerned about modest dress? Why should you be? Because of the Gospel.
#1 I believe most Christian women who dress immodestly are not intentionally promoting immorality. Some are no doubt failing to exercise sufficient wisdom and diligence while shopping, or when deciding what to wear that day. But many, I’m afraid, are simply ignorant of the fact that, as a rule, men who desire to live holy lives must engage daily in serious mental and spiritual warfare against the sin of lust.
Have you ever made it difficult for some man in your church to worship and serve God because he was distracted by your clothes being too tight, too revealing, or in some other way immodest? Biblical modesty demands knowledge and discretion. Sadly, a Christian woman who dresses immodestly out of ignorance or sinfulness may be largely indistinguishable from an obsessive Britney Spears wannabe. But the damage she does may be no less severe.
Is your wardrobe modest, evidencing self-control? Can you say that of every outfit? Don’t trust your own evaluation. If you live with your parents, begin with their evaluation, especially that of your father. If you are married, begin by asking your husband. But I encourage every woman, married or single, to invite two or three other older women into the evaluation process.
#2 As a church, we hate legalism and focusing on secondary issues, but in the mind of God modesty is an issue all women must deal with. Take this seriously, because God takes it seriously. But never confront on Sunday, and only talk to those you know, and always with truth and grace and love.
#3 Men, clothing choices will not stop lust. Today, you can’t avoid seeing inappropriately dressed women, and not every Christian woman is well-taught or dependently obedient. So practice fleeing youthful lusts, and as in Job, make a covenant with your eyes to not gaze, look long, stare, Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?”
#4 The only way to live the truth of God’s Word, the only way to walk with Jesus now and to be with Him forever in heaven after you die is to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. If you’re addicted to lust, porn, pictures–repent and turn to Christ. If you realize just how horribly sinful you really are, turn to Christ. If you need to be forgiven for your sins, cleansed and made new, then turn to Christ today.