Modesty: Part I
My wife and I were talking about modesty during lunch. As we talked she realized that most of the material she had read was very shallow. She had been taught modesty was about the length of her skirt, and even worse, that modesty was about taking personal responsibility for how other men might respond to the length of her skirt! These views are very popular among most conservative Christians, but they woefully fail to address the issue Biblically.
What does the Bible teach about modesty? Two verses come to mind: 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4. You are probably already familiar with both passages:
1 Timothy 2:9-10 “Likewise also the 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 Peter 3:3-4 “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
Our temptation will be to jump into these verses without any thought at all and come to conclusions like:
– Paul says don’t braid your hair! My hair should be straight and unkept.
– Paul says don’t wear costly attire! No designer jeans for me.
Or, even worse, our temptation will be to bring to these passages all kinds of assumptions and begin blurting out what we think they mean:
– Paul says to wear respectable apparel. And of course, what Paul means by “respectable” must be the same thing I mean.
– Paul says to wear apparel proper for godliness. And of course, Paul knows “proper” means just what I assume it means.
We could make the same mistakes when reading Peter.
Before we answer the question we should be careful that we are asking it well. There are a number of wrong ways to ask this question and I want to deal with them before we even begin to think about the modesty issue.
Wrong way #1: Strife. For many conservative Christians there is a kind of social stigma associated with modesty. If you are asking about modesty in order to create contention with other Christians, then modesty is not your priority problem. Your problem is an ugly, unkept soul indulging in conflict.
Wrong way #2: Fear. Because of this same social stigma, you may be asking this question so as to gain the approval of others. If you are asking about modesty so you can know how to be accepted by other conservatives, then modesty is not your priority problem. Your problem is idolatry.
Wrong way #3: Love. For a few Christians the reason they want to know about modesty is so they can better serve other Christians. This is a commendable goal, but it is not the first priority. The first priority would be “How can I serve Christ?”
The right way to approach this topic is to ask the question “How can I serve Christ and glorify God when I choose what to wear?” That is the question we want to answer. The question is not about the length of one’s skirt or the attention of others, but about Christ’s will. We are seeking to serve him above all other things. Whatever he commands, we must do. In everything else, we have freedom to choose.
Apart from him, we cannot keep his commandments. So if you are asking the question about modesty, and your first concern is the details about how long your skirt should be, or about how you think so-and-so always dresses tacky, or about what others might think, then you need to take a few minutes and center your thinking back on Christ as your Savior-King. Or, more importantly, if your first concern is with a sense of guilt and shame, then you need to take a few minutes to center your mind back on Christ and him alone as the only basis for your acceptance before God.
Our questions of obedience cannot be moralistic – they must be Christo-centric. What I mean is that our desire to learn about modesty must be born from our of faith in Christ’s finished work, not because of we have a guilty conscience or some personal ideal we are trying to live up to. Christian obedience rests on Christ’s love for us. Because he loves us, and has therefore completed everything necessary for our salvation, therefore we want to serve him and obey him in every area of life. Our life is no longer our own – so we no longer try to live up to standards we think are best, even on the issue of modesty, but we try to live according to what Christ teaches. Christ has already done everything necessary so that God accepts us – he has already shed his blood to cleanse our dirty consciences – so we no longer try to live in order to earn God’s favor. No. Not at all. But having his favor already earned for us, we seek to express our gratitude by serving Christ – who served us. One way we can serve him, is in how we choose to dress.
To read the Introduction, Click Here.