Some Christians believe it is wrong for women to wear makeup or jewelry, citing a couple of New Testament passages that seem to forbid such things. While we certainly respect the convictions of born-again children of God, we also want to be sure that our teaching does not go beyond what the Word of God actually says. We do not want to “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Mark 7:7, NLT).
In examining the propriety of wearing makeup or jewelry, we start with 1 Samuel 16:7b: “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” This verse lays down a foundational principle concerning the limitations of our perspective: we naturally see the externals; God sees the internal truth. This does not mean that the externals are unimportant, of course—we readily communicate with others via visual signals, and the appearance we choose for ourselves can express rebellion, piety, carelessness, meticulousness, etc. But appearances can be deceiving, and there is the deeper issue of the heart. Whatever is done to the outward appearance is done for man to see, and we should be careful about that, but God is more concerned with what is happening in the heart.
In the context of rules for public worship, Paul says, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9–10). This is one of the passages that cause some women to avoid wearing makeup or jewelry altogether.
A couple of things to note in this passage: first, there is a standard of dress that is right for a woman in a worship service. Paul gives no specifics, but a woman’s clothing is to be modest and decent and respectable. Wearing anything that is immodest, indecent, or disreputable is wrong. Drawing the line between modest and immodest can be subjective, and modesty depends somewhat on cultural mores, but each believer should be discerning enough to avoid giving offense.
Second, there is a proper adornment for women who worship God and an improper adornment. The proper adornment for a godly woman is simply good deeds. Tabitha adorned herself beautifully by “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). The improper adornment for a godly woman is that which puffs her up with pride or draws attention to her outward appearance: the examples are elaborate hairstyles, gold and pearls, and expensive clothing. The focus of a worship service is to be the Lord, not the latest fashion, the biggest diamond, or the most chic hairdo. Wearing a $3,000 dress to church or flashing gaudy jewelry does nothing to truly adorn the woman of God. She would be much better off—and the poor much better served—if she sold the dress and gave the money to a Christian charity. Perhaps the time she spent on the elaborate hairdo would have been better spent serving someone in need.
In 1 Timothy 2:9–10, Paul sets up a contrast between trying to please God and trying to please men. A public worship service should not be a fashion show. It’s not that a woman can never wear jewelry or style her hair differently. It’s that overindulgence and excess are improper in church. We must all guard against pride and be careful not to distract others (or ourselves) from what is truly important: the worship of God and the service of others.
Another passage that relates to the issue of women wearing makeup or jewelry is 1 Peter 3:3–5, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves.”
Peter emphasizes the contrast between the outward, fleeting beauty and the inward, lasting beauty of a woman. A truly beautiful woman has a “gentle and quiet spirit.” She may not be noticed much in this world, but God sees the heart. To flaunt one’s beauty for selfish adoration is not in line with the humility of Christ, especially when the flaunting takes place in a worship service. Again, it’s not that braided hair is sinful, but those who rely on their hair, their jewelry, or their clothing to make them beautiful are chasing after vanity. It is more worthwhile to develop godly character.
In summary, there is nothing inherently wrong with wearing jewelry, makeup, or braided hair, as long as it is done in a modest manner. Also, such things can never replace good deeds or a humble spirit. A Christian woman should not be so focused on her outward appearance that she neglects her spiritual life. A worship service should be focused on God, not on us. If a woman is spending an inordinate amount of time and money on her appearance, the problem is that the woman’s priorities are misplaced. Expensive jewelry and clothing are the results of the problem, not the problem itself.