What is Shamefacedness?

There’s an important word in 1 Timothy 2:9 that has pretty much fallen by the wayside in Christian parlance.

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.

The word, of course, is “shamefacedness”. Modern translations have used words like “self-control”, “propriety”, and “discretion”, but none of these convey the actual meaning of the Greek word like the King James Version has. This is because none of the words used by the modern translations get at the sense of deep humility that should guide women in both their adornment and behavior.

Looking to a dictionary, one will find these definitions associated with shamefacedness:

  • Bashful
  • Restrained by shame
  • Firm in modesty

The idea is not that Christian women would always be somewhat ashamed of themselves, but that they would have a deep aversion to whatever God says brings shame.

Women, the problem we have with this is that we resent even the suggestion that we should be restrained by shame. The message we prefer is that we shouldn’t be restrained at all. Not by modesty, not by the roles God gave us, and not by anyone’s expectations. We see this everywhere. Look at the clothing marketed to young girls these days. You’ll find hundreds of printed shirts with slogans such as:

  • “Girl Warrior”
  • “Gifted, Intelligent, Rebel, Leader, Superstar” (spells “GIRLS”)
  • “Power to the Girls”
  • “#FIERCE”
  • “Girls Run the World”
  • “Flaunt It”
  • “Run Wild”
  • “This Girl has NO Limits”

Do I have to point out how opposed these fashions are to God’s desires for women? Grown women may not be wearing clothing with such messages printed on them, but some might as well have these things written on their face, judging by their conduct or else their words online. Paul says shamefacedness should be playing the key role in how we speak, dress and carry ourselves. Our culture says assertiveness and pridefulness should take the lead.

Why would Paul especially want women to have this bashfulness in their dress and behavior? The answer is simple: striving to be noticed for outward dress and edgy behavior greatly clouds the quiet beauty of good works that should adorn the modest woman. Attention-seeking and godly character cannot share the same stage of a believer. If we find ourselves pushing the envelope in this area, shamefacedness is what we need to seek from God.

This excerpt from Scottish theologian Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874) further explains this important point from the apostle Paul.

And as making this profession, the apostle would have [Christian women] to understand, first, that the kind of dress which becomes them is of a neat and plain as contradistinguished from a luxurious or costly one; and second, that the distinction which women of gay and worldly dispositions seek to acquire by their splendid ornaments and fine apparel, they should endeavor to reach through their good works; a distinction of a far nobler kind, and the only one that fitly accords with their calling.

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