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Modesty in Physical Appearance
This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Does the Bible provide any guidelines for how we treat, clothe, or maintain our physical bodies?
Christians often use 1 Corinthians 6:19 to discourage bad habits like smoking, overeating, or drunkenness: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own." It applies to everything we put into, on, or through any part of the body. But how do we know what God expects of us when He asks us to treat it as the abode of the Holy Spirit? The Bible is our best source for an answer.
In First Timothy, women are told to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, and not with expensive clothes (1 Tim. 2:9). There is obviously a connection between how ones body is displayed and sexual attraction. This is true for men as well as women. Immodest dress that overly reveals ones body often encourages sexual lust which is sin. The Bible says in Matthew, "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:28). This applies to women as well as men. For this reason all Christians should dress appropriately and maintain wardrobes that honor Christ and do not lead others away from His Kingdom.
Modesty, however, is not a single set of rules for every culture and time. It is a pattern of behavior that does not call attention to itself through inappropriate display of ones body. As believers our dress should constantly reflect the truth that Christ dwells within us.
Proper care for the body includes good eating habits and protecting it as much as possible from injury, disease, or exposure to gradually destructive processes. Medical science is constantly announcing ways in which the body can be protected from potentially deadly substances and practices.
Question is sometimes raised about two practices which alter the outer appearance of the bodytattooing and body piercing. These fadish practices have not been studied sufficiently to determine if they will have eventual harmful effects on the body. But it must be acknowledged that both practices are unnatural and unnecessary acts that could someday be shown to have harmful effects. Tattooing and body mutilation were condemned in the Old Testament as having association with evil pagan practices. In setting His people apart from the ungodly tribes and nations around them, who participated in immoral and superstitious practices, God commanded through Moses, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:28). Although bearing tattoos today may not be associated with a false religion, one should always be concerned about how actions might please or displease God.
Many servicemen in past wars had tattoos permanently burned into their bodies. Some carried messages that years later were embarrassments to the tattooed person. Although tattoos can now be removed surgically, the procedure is painful and expensive. For whatever reason the tattoo was originally applied, later circumstances can make one wish the tattoo had never been applied. The long-range consequences of a seemingly harmless and daring alteration of body appearance should be seriously considered. A Christian bearing a tattoo applied before conversion can probably allow it to remain if there is nothing objectionable if the tattoo is seen. If a tattoo in any way hinders a persons testimony or Christian witness, one should be concerned. In some instances, removal of the tattoo may be wise.
In the early days of the Pentecostal movement, piercing of womens ears for the wearing of earrings was strongly disapproved. Wearing any jewelry was considered sinful because the practice was associated with women of low morality standards. That assumption is no longer held, and some women feel their testimony is given less attention when the plainness of simple dress with no jewelry suggests to outsiders a lack of care about ones appearance. If, however, a Christian has strong convictions against wearing jewelry, that conviction should be honored.
Of more recent appearance on the fashion scene is the growing practice, especially among young people both men and women, of body piercing and insertion of jewelry in nostrils, lips, cheeks, ears, navels, and even the tongue and private body parts. Such practice is heathenish and contrary to the biblical principle of modesty, because it is done to draw attention through ostentatious display or to identify with a peer group that for the most part is non-Christian. There is no place for heathenistic customs of the world among those who have been purchased by the blood of Christ and belong to Him.
In whatever style of dress or jewelry one chooses, the question should always be asked, "Does my choice speak positively of Christ and my witness for Him, or could it be a stumbling block keeping others from a full commitment to Jesus?"
Fashions and fads change with the seasons and with each generation. Scripture encourages Christians to be "completely humble and gentle; . . . patient, bearing with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2). In matters declared in Scripture to be sin, we must encourage changes in action and attitude. In matters that seem to have cultural applications and are not described as sinful in Scripture, we must show understanding, bearing with one another in love, influencing with love toward choices that lift up Christ to a lost and dying world.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.