“likewise also that women should adorn themselves 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” (1 Timothy 2:9-10 ESV).
On one level, this passage offers some valuable counsel regarding our personal appearance. On another level, these verses address some potentially uncomfortable realities that go far beyond clothing and hairstyles.
You see, one of the strongest emotional motivations for most human beings involves the need to secure the approval and acceptance of others. This often leads us to make choices that are consistent with the standards of a peer group. If that peer group draws its standards from God’s Word, then our personal standards are likely to follow. If those standards are drawn from some other source, the same is likely to be true as well.
There are others who facilitate their need for attention by dressing in a manner that is subtly or overtly intended to draw attention to themselves. When people take notice as a result, it thus fulfils their inner need for validation.
This brings us to the type of hairstyle mentioned here in 1 Timothy 2:9-10. These were not the simple braids of an athlete or someone on a weekend errand. Instead, it describes a kind of hairstyle that featured extravagant braids that were piled above the wearer’s head. These braids were sometimes adorned with golden bands and accessorized with pearls or other forms of jewelry.
With this in mind, these verses should prompt us to ask how our outward appearance reflects our internal attitude. The following commentator identifies two extremes to avoid in this area…
“Propriety means avoiding anything that would cause shame. It carries the thought of being modest and discreet. Moderation means that a woman will be moderate in her dress. On the one hand, she will not seek to attract attention to herself by expensive, conspicuous fashions. These might tend to provoke admiration or even jealousy from those who should be worshiping God. On the other hand, she should avoid attracting attention to herself by wearing clothes that are drab or old-fashioned. The Scriptures seem to teach a moderate, middle-of-the-road policy in regard to clothing.” (1)
Some might object to this application by appealing to the Biblical admonition from John 7:24: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” However, this objection misses an important point- while external appearances do not tell us everything about a person, they often tell us something.
What is inside us often finds its way outside in different ways. One of those ways involves our appearance. Therefore, we should take care to ensure that our clothes and hairstyles reflect our internal respect for God.
(1) Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary [1 Timothy 2:8-15]