Modesty is a term that is foreign to the vast majority of modern Westerner’s vernacular. Excess and adornment are the preferred couture while simplicity and contentment are perceived as antiquated ideals of an earlier generation. But fidelity to the Scriptures is never obsolete or out of style.
Providentially, I received two separate articles on the subject of modesty within a couple of days of each other. Because one was from Michael Bleecker, Flower Mound Worship Pastor, and the other from Jen Wilkin, who helps lead out in our Tuesday night women’s Bible study, I thought it might be interesting to include them both in one blog in order to get perspectives on the subject from both male and female.
Recently I read an article addressing choice of dress among Christian women. It was written by a man, so I was particularly interested to hear how he would approach a topic of such delicacy from a male perspective. What I read was a sensitive, well-presented plea for Christian women to consider the weaknesses of their spiritual brothers when choosing their clothes. Though many discussions of dress focus on “how short is too short” or “how low is too low”, this one avoided these legalistic pitfalls and took aim for the heart: what is your motive for choosing the clothes you choose?
The plea to bear with our Christian brothers by covering ourselves is an important one for us to hear. Dressing modestly is one of the simplest ways a believer can distinguish herself from the world around her and keep herself free from sin. But any female over the age of eleven can tell you that modesty is not the biggest hurdle to overcome in aligning our fashion with our faith.
The way we dress is a reflection of the extent to which we have embraced the Great Command to love others as we love ourselves. This is a preferential love: a love that places the needs of others above the needs of self at every possible opportunity. What is the perceived need a woman seeks to meet when she chooses her outfit each day? A woman who chooses immodest clothing is clearly craving the attention of men. Or is she?
Consider the following incident related to me by my thirteen-year-old son: With summer approaching, the band at his middle school planned a party at a local water park. Several moms went along as chaperones. One of the mothers, a woman presumably in her forty’s, chose to spend the day in a very small bikini that showcased her enhanced assets. As she snoozed in the sun, she became the topic of lively and inappropriate discussion among her son’s classmates.
Wait a minute – didn’t I say modesty wasn’t the biggest struggle for women in choosing their dress? How can Malibu Mommy possibly support my claim? I have to ask myself: Did this woman wake up the morning of the trip and ask “What can I wear today to excite lust among my son’s peer group?” No, the question she more likely asked was “What can I wear today to impress my own peer group?” – a group in this case, composed not of both genders but of one: other women.
While dressing for the attention of men is problematic, dressing for the attention of other women is epidemic. The question “How do I look?” implies the answering inquiry “Relative to whom?” The prideful among us may choose clothing to stand out, while the insecure among us may choose clothing to blend in. Pride and insecurity, the two-headed hydra of self-absorption.
Bikini Mom wanted to be the hottest 40-something woman at the pool. She probably doesn’t love Jesus, so I am going to have to let her off the hook. But what about me? How do I compete with other women by the way I dress? Do I dress to be the trendiest? The wealthiest? The thinnest? The fittest? The quirkiest? What about the purest? In certain circles, even modest dress can be a venue for self-promotion. There is nothing inherently righteous about a denim jumper or culottes. Nor is there anything inherently sinful about platform peep-toe stilettos. The problem, then, is not any particular outfit, but my craving for the superlative, the “-est” of any wardrobe choice – a craving rooted in the desire to elevate myself above others.
Godly women do not seek to elevate themselves above others – not by immodest dress, and not by competitive dress. They seek to provoke neither the lust of men nor the envy of women. They love preferentially by keeping the focus off of themselves. Clothed inwardly with the righteousness of Christ, their outward clothing becomes a matter for sober consideration: How can I best worship God through my wardrobe choices? May we, as daughters of the Living God, be measured not by our hemlines but by our humility.
There is not a square inch of our lives – including our closets – with which God is unconcerned.1
I’ve thought recently about our attire and how we present ourselves. We are inundated with immodest dress on TV commercials, billboards and magazines, all in the name of fashion.
So what should we wear? What does the Bible say about the attire of someone who professes godliness?
In reading 1 Timothy 2:9, we see that women should “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire (this means that women should not dress ostentatiously or seductively), but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.”
In his blog, “Is modesty an issue in the church today”2, John Piper writes:
Women should dress in such a way that they draw men’s attention towards their eyes, their face, and not towards the other parts of their bodies.
A woman can test herself in this arena by how she dresses her little girl. What kind of bathing suit do you put on your little two-year-old? Is it a cute little bikini? Or do you begin from the very start to teach this little girl that there is an appropriate way to dress? Are you preparing her so that by the time she is seven, eleven, or fifteen her whole mindset is, I dress appropriately, modestly, and not to entice or flaunt?
1 Timothy 2:9 is written primarily for women, but modesty is still important for men and especially important for fathers, who have the responsibility of raising modest children.
I want to glorify God with pure hearts, in everything I do – and wear. I want that desire to be in the hearts of other believers as well. Clothing is not necessarily the point here. You can wear pants and a winter coat and still have a wicked heart. My hear, our hearts, glorifying God is the main point, but what we wear does reveal our hearts at times. As C.J. Mahaney points out,
Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality. Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.3
I want to make an appeal to you to think about the heart behind what you wear and whether your wardrobe reveals the presence of worldliness or godliness. Does your attire bring glory to God? Men, this may be a great time to sit down with your wife and discuss this. It may be a great time to think about the things you wear as well and whether or not you’re glorifying God with your attire. Women, thank you for dressing modestly and protecting the men in our church and in our work places.
My Concluding Thoughts:
Who are we trying to please? Culture or Christ?
Who are we trying to display? Ourselves or our Savior?
Who is informing our understanding of beauty and image? The magazines of the world or the mirror of the Word?
Modesty is informed by the mirror of the Word as humble men and women seek to richly adorn themselves with godliness and good works. Our beauty is the glory of a shining Son, Who is altogether lovely. May we clothe ourselves with the righteousness of Christ and the fruit of the Spirit and not the fading fashions of a fallen world.
1 Abraham Kuyper, Sphere Sovereignty (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 488.
3 C.J. Mahaney, Worldliness (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), 120.