Modesty: Part II
What does the Bible teach about modesty?
Obedience cannot be moralistic – it 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.
So what does Christ teach us about how we are to dress? What does the Bible teach about modesty? We can answer this question by looking at what Paul and Peter say about the topic. Remember, Paul and Peter are appointed apostles of Jesus Christ, so when they wrote, they were writing on behalf of Christ. Paul’s word is Christ’s word. Peter’s word is Christ’s word.
In 1 Timothy Paul is writing to a young man named Timothy about how to lead the local church. It is a book about how to be a pastor. Timothy’s number one priority to is to carefully guard and boldly preach the system of theology found in the Scriptures. His second priority is to order the church according to a few basic principles. The first of these principles is that the church is to be engaged in regular prayer (2:1). The men are to pray “everywhere” with “holy hands”(2:8), they are not to pray with anger toward any man, or any doubt about God’s love, but in faith. Women, likewise, are to be holy, without anger and doubting, but in a slightly different way of expressing it. Whereas men adorn themselves with prayer, women are to adorn themselves in modest apparel.
So it is very important that we first notice that Paul doesn’t simply discuss modesty as if it were a standalone topic. He is specifically talking about how women should behave themselves at church. While men pray, women are to be dressed modestly, learn quietly, and bear children. Modesty is an important part of a woman’s responsibility in the church!
What does Paul teach about modesty?
The apparel should be respectable. That means it should be clean and somewhat dressy. As my wife might put it, they should come to worship dressed nicely, “not frumpy”. The apparel should be respectable – beautiful. Paul elaborates on what he means next.
The apparel should be worn with (1) modesty and (2) self-control. (1) Modesty means the clothing should cover all the right places. (2) Self-control means the clothing should not be audacious. A woman should think carefully about what she is about to wear and not choose to put clothes on just because she feels like it. She should have this question in mind “Will what I wear speak the truth about my circumstances, honor Christ, and edify my brothers and sisters?” It should be a self-controlled decision.
Further, Paul gives some instructions about what immodesty is.
The apparel should not be with braided hair, gold, pearls or costly attire. This simply means that when it is time to worship, Christ does not wish you to show up as if you were before a worldly king. He wishes you to show up in modest apparel. It is common for women to put a lot of thought into what they want to wear at a wedding, or a dinner party, or if they were invited to see the President of the United States or the Queen of England, they might want to put a lot of thought into how to dress appropriately. And this is very natural for women, and it would be right to dress very nicely in those occasions. So it is very natural to understand why a woman might want to dress this way before the King of Kings. But Paul gives different directions. He is very clear, that the King of Kings is not interested in being met this way. At the hour of worship, a woman is to put on good works.
The lesson is this. The same amount of time a beautiful and wealthy woman would put into deciding on her wedding dress, or what to wear at a night out with her husband’s boss, or any other important occasion, is the same amount of time every Christian woman should put into thinking about how she can put on good works before her Lord Christ. If a women dresses modestly but behaves immodestly – or worships with an immodest thought-life – what good will it do her, as she appears before her God who searches the heart? A lady is to put her attention on what will be beautiful to her Savior, and not so much on how it looks outwardly.