February 25, 2012 by Stacy McDonald
An excerpt from the New and Revised version of Raising Maidens of Virtue.
Even though the Apostle Paul makes the principle clear in 1 Timothy 2:8 that women are to “adorn themselves in modest apparel,” and even though older women are instructed to teach the young women in their lives “to be discreet and chaste” (Titus 2:4–5), too often, the subject of modesty is either treated as a legalistic, optional teaching for the weak, or it’s handled by creating a very distinct and detailed list of rules.
At times, rather than getting to the “heart” of the whole purpose for modesty, we get hung up on the letter of the law—often, a law we’ve accidentally created; and in so doing, violate the most important purpose for modesty—love.
As mothers and mentors, we need to understand that before our daughters will embrace God’s call to be chaste, and before we can properly teach it, as Titus 2 instructs us older women to do, we need to understand how it directly relates to the royal law: loving our God and loving our neighbor—both our weaker brothers…and other women.
We’re told in Titus 2:5 that the reason we are to teach young women, among other things, to be chaste (and chastity includes modesty) is so that God’s Word is not blasphemed. I suspect this has much to do with our obligation to love and honor God. If we allow His Word to be blasphemed, then we are not concerned enough with how He is represented among those who do not know Him. Immodesty misrepresents His holiness.
Before I begin, I’d like to make it clear that when I use the word “modesty,” I am neither referring to “pants vs. dresses” nor some sort of Christianized burka. This chapter has nothing to do with personal opinions regarding styles of dress. Instead, this chapter is all about love and it is directed only to Christians. So, please don’t bring to mind the casual visitor to your church who doesn’t know any better, people you don’t know at all, or unbelievers in general. This word is to us.
Lovingly Confronting the Naked
I was 22 years old and a brand new Christian when something happened to me that forever impacted my opinion of how to approach immodesty in new Christians. A precious older woman who had been mentoring me became very frustrated by the way I was dressed after she and her family invited me to visit their beach cabin.
I had been walking around in front of my friend’s husband and teen sons all weekend long in a bikini, with just a light, open, button down shirt thrown over the top of it. Finally, in obvious frustration, she told me I needed to “go put some clothes on!”
I was horrified and so embarrassed! I still remember standing there on the beach wondering if I should run to the cabin or bury myself in the sand. Maybe a wave would swallow me. I felt like the “emperor who had no clothes!” All of a sudden I realized I was practically naked – and had been, all weekend!
I recall wishing that she would have been frank with me about modesty at the beginning of the weekend (privately and gently). Her hesitancy caused her own unnecessary frustration, and it cost me immense humiliation. While I had noticed her coolness toward me that weekend, I hadn’t realized what was causing it.
Confrontation, especially in an area that is so personal, can be very, very difficult. It’s no fun. In fact, it’s downright painful! And, it’s important to remember that immodesty isn’t always purposeful – at least not on a conscious level. So, sometimes we just need to gently say something early on and the issue is easily resolved. In fact, the “loving thing” to do is to say something – hopefully before the person has humiliated themselves completely.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)
Who will Love the Wife?
And, on the other side of the coin, if you are the one who is confronted, remember that the “loving thing” to do is to dress modestly – especially around the husbands and sons of others.
Love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own… (1 Corinthians 13:4–5)
Years ago, I was sitting with a friend at church when a young woman (with solid Christian parents) who was showcasing her assets in skin tight jeans and a low cut blouse walked by. My friend glanced over at her husband and sons who were standing nearby and said, “I realize she is very proud of her breasts and all; but, it would be nice if she kept them to herself.”
I was a bit taken aback by her bluntness, but it struck me that day that she was onto something. Although, I think a more accurate observation would be that this young woman should have been glorifying God by “keeping them” (as well as other things) for her own husband, instead of “sharing them” with everyone else’s…because, well, because that would be the loving thing to do.
I find it amazing that those who panic when the subject of modesty comes up—those who are scared to death of offending the potentially weaker sister who dresses immodestly (even when that “weaker sister” has been a Christian for years) don’t seem to be worried about the other “weaker sister,” the one who is hurt when she has to sit beside her husband in church with a mini skirt in her face all service.
Why isn’t anyone concerned about her? And who is concerned about the poor visiting family who has to sit with their teen sons behind the pastor’s daughter, a young woman who appears to have come to service in her underclothes? Obviously, Christian men need to learn how to be on guard (Job 31:1; 1 Thessalonians. 4:4), but they shouldn’t have to be on guard against their sisters in Christ who should know better—who are also called to walk in love. It is them to whom I appeal. Sometimes the church behaves as though Christian women who dress immodestly are the only ones exempt from loving their neighbor.
“Our prayer must not be self-centered. It must arise not only because we feel our own need as a burden we must lay upon God, but also because we are so bound up in love for our fellow men that we feel their need as acutely as our own.” – John Calvin
I remember one friend whose husband struggled with pornography. In tears one day, she shared with me how she didn’t even want to go to church anymore (at least not with her husband) unless they were able to sit in the front row. She said she was tired of catching her husband staring at the backsides of the girls in skin tight jeans in front of them (this particular mega church had a huge problem with sensuality – almost as big as her husband’s lust problem).
Sadly, even when they sat in the front row, they had to look up the skirts of the choir members on stage when they sat down. For a woman struggling in this type of marriage, it was torture. But, nobody seemed concerned about her. If she complained to leadership she would have likely been called judgmental or legalistic.
Of course, this husband was totally responsible for his own sin. In fact, my friend wound up divorced; but, that isn’t the point. In fact, the point isn’t my friend’s husband at all. The point is that my friend was hurt, not only by the wandering eye of her own husband, but by her many sisters in Christ who gave him such ample opportunity, and who should have known better.
Love One Another
If you are a woman who already understands modesty:
- Love your sisters in Christ by loving the women in your midst. See beyond their sin (or their ignorance), to who they are in Christ (or the potential of who they could be in Christ). Remember to be merciful and long suffering with them, as Jesus is with us.
- Love your sisters in Christ enough to let them know when they are dressed immodestly, hopefully before they humiliate themselves, but after you have built a relationship with them. Also, make certain you are indeed addressing real issues of indiscretion – not simply your opinion of a certain style.
- Consider how you would want someone to confront you of sin. Be gentle and take things slowly, but be honest (Matthew 7:12). Be prepared to love your sisters enough to be misunderstood, mocked, or even hated.
- Love your brothers in Christ enough to endeavor to be that Titus 2 woman who is called to teach the younger women, among other things, to be discreet and chaste (Titus 2:4).
- Do not assume false motives of your sister. Remember that we are all in different places on the path of sanctification. Always think the best of others.
- Most of all, love your God enough to trust Him with your husband, your sons, and your marriage. Love Him by fearlessly and humbly loving His people.
If you are a woman who has not seriously considered the Christian’s call to modesty:
- Read your Bible and earnestly pray that God would show you how He would have you dress. Consider the fact that our bodies are to be used to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:20) and that we are called to love others sacrificially.
- Love your brothers in Christ (and other men) enough to want to help them not to sin, rather than risk being a likely stumbling block. Yes, some guys will lust regardless; just make sure you aren’t an actual participant in the problem. Love your husband (or future husband) enough to save yourself for him.
- Love your sisters in Christ (and other women) enough not to hurt them by flaunting yourself in front of their husbands, and not riling up the “mama hen” in them in relation to their brothers and sons.
- If you are confronted about modesty, do not assume false motives of your sister (or brother). Know that it is likely that she has your best interest in mind. Try to be teachable and always think the best of others.
- Most of all, love your God enough to be willing to lay down your “favorite outfit” if you know that it may tempt someone else to stumble. Remember that your body belongs to God: For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works… (Hebrews 10:24)
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)
Q. 137. Which is the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Q. 138. What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A. The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.
Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.