When I taught at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, I had a student who attended the same church as former President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara. Every week as he came into class, he’d announce, “I saw George and Barbara at church Sunday.” I’d ask, “How were they?” He’d always give the same answer, “Barbara wore her pearls.”
On my previous post I attempted to deal with the question raised by 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, of whether or not women should wear head coverings. I referred to another text, 1 Timothy 2:8-10: “I want the men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands, without anger and argument. Likewise also women to clothe themselves in modest clothing, with decency and discretion not with braided hair and gold or pearls or extravagant clothing, but with that which is fitting a woman professing godliness – with good works.” This passage makes no mention of a head covering though it did speak of women’s clothing and adornment. I remarked, “It seems that here Paul is instructing both men and women about public prayers, giving some requirements as to their inward and outward condition. Here it is modesty of dress and appearance, not a veil that is required.”
This prompted a comment: “So now you'll have to answer the questions raised by the verses in 1 Timothy: should my wife leave her jewelry at home? Hehe.”
Though the “hehe” tells me it was asked with tongue in cheek, the question seems to be legitimate, so I’ll attempt to deal with it.
It should be noted that men are the first to receive instruction and it has to do with what we might call their spiritual condition. They are to lift up “holy hands without anger and argument.” Perhaps Paul saw that men, in order to be holy in their public prayers need to let go of those things which are often hindrances to men – a quick temper and argumentiveness.
And so he says something similar of women. If they are to be holy in their public prayers, they need to let go of that which is often a hindrance to women – extravagance of dress.
Public (as well as private) prayer can be done by rote with our minds, in a sense, detached. We can mouth all the little customary clichés while all the time our thoughts are far away. Paul was saying here that those thoughts and concerns need to be gotten rid of.
Men – get rid of all that anger and those irritants that provoke us. Clear your mind, so it will be holy.
Women – get rid of all those concerns about how you look. Don’t worry about whether you look better than the gal standing next to you. Be holy.
A similar passage is found in 1 Peter 3:2-4, “… as they (your husbands) observe your pure conduct and fear (of the Lord), whose adornment should not be the putting on clothing, but of the hidden person of the heart – with the imperishable quality of a humble and quiet spirit, which is extremely precious in the sight of God.”
Peter, unlike Paul, was a married man. When he wrote his letter he had been married for at least 30 years. Like Paul, he was concerned that women make the development of inner beauty a priority over external beauty. I don’t believe he was forbidding any concern over external appearances. We have to be careful of an overly literal reading. I don’t believe Peter was telling women not to wear clothes.
So it’s okay to wear your jewelry to church. And Barbara can wear her pearls.