July 9, 2012 by Stacy McDonald
I appreciated this article, but I’m still feeling confused about the whole subject. Everyone seems to have a major difference of opinion on what is modest (Soul Surfer is a good example), so how do we as a family choose a standard and stick to it?
Do you think strapless is ok if there’s no cleavage? What about skirt length? Do your girls ever wear shorts?
My daughters are getting older and frankly the thought of having to evaluate each outfit, every time they leave the house, exhausts me.
I hate to ask for specifics, but I sometimes feel clueless when I don’t see much difference in what the girls at church are wearing and what the worldly girls at our local mall are wearing. We haven’t been Christians super long, and I want me and my girls to be modest, but to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what that means. Help!
Clueless in California,
You’re not alone! I think most of us would like a neat little checklist to follow. But God didn’t choose to teach us about modesty that way. The Bible seems to have given us very few specifics. However, in a way, He actually requires more from us than I think we realize.
Our ways are not His ways (Is. 55:9). We say, “God says not to murder.” But, Jesus requires more when He says that if we are angry with our neighbor without cause, we’ve committed murder in our hearts. We say, “God says not to commit adultery.” But, Jesus tells us that if a man looks at a woman to lust after her, he’s already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:28). No adultery; check! No murder; check! And then he looks at our hearts. Ouch!
But, while the action is sin, He wants us to realize that the real issue resides deep in our hearts (James 1:14-15)! Pull a weed up from the root and the whole plant will be destroyed (Matthew 15:19).
I think feminine modesty is similar. God doesn’t want to give us a uniform to cover our “attention-seeking” bodies; rather, he wants us to willingly take all the glory we are tempted to keep for ourselves and give it all to God – the only One worthy of glory, honor, and praise! He wants to teach us by degrees to humble ourselves, to love Him with all our hearts, and to love our neighbor as ourselves! As usual, He focuses on the heart.
Still, I get what you’re saying. How do we know what is and isn’t modest when we’re coming out of such a sexually charged culture? How do we recalibrate and how does it all work out practically?
I think it’s interesting that Christian schools (and even some public schools!) acknowledge that immodest dress distracts students! That’s why they created dress codes (though rules only help to restrain sin, not eliminate it). Most school dress codes require covered thighs, shoulders, midriffs, and cleavage. That’s pretty easy. Even the heathen get that. So, why do Christians so often try to defend their “right” to wear clothes that reveal or emphasize these very things – and often with so much anger and vehemence? That’s something to pray about.
In our house, we looked at Scripture; and, where Scripture seemed to be silent, we used common sense. Interestingly, we found that Scripture wasn’t as silent as we thought. Here, we’ve considered a few basic modesty facts in making our clothing choices:
- Modesty Lovingly Puts Others First - Does not dress for self: 1 Corinthians 10:24; 13:4, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17; Avoids anything that is likely to encourage a brother to stumble or a sister to despair: Hebrews 13:4, Romans 14:13, 1 Corinthians 8:13, Matthew 18:6, Proverbs 6:25; 7:10; Considers those who are weak: Galatians 5:13, 1 Corinthians 8:9, Romans 15:1–3
- Modesty Communicates the Purity of Christ and His Bride and Honors the Marriage Bed – Honestly represents the Bride of Christ: 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:27; Honors the Marriage Bed (Our own marriage, as well as the marriages of others): Hebrews 13:4, 1 Peter 3:1-2, Malachi 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:4, Song of Solomon 2:7; Does not distract others from worshiping God, but points others to Jesus, especially during the worship service: Matthew 5:16, Ezekiel 36:23, 1 Timothy 2:9–10
- Modesty Helps to Protect Women (and Men!) Aside from Scripture, this one is just common sense: 2 Tim. 3:1-6, Prov. 2:11
- Modesty Promotes Humility and Discourages Pride, Vanity, and Self-Centeredness - Flirtation/Alluring: Proverbs 6:25, 2 Timothy 2:22, Obsession with Looks and Attention: 1 Corinthians 13:4, Proverbs 31:30, 1 Peter 3:3–4; Proverbs 11:22 and much more!
- Public Nakedness is Shameful: Isaiah 20:4, Isaiah 47:2-3, Revelation 3:18, Revelation 16:15
- Modesty Honors and Glorifies the Lord (Not ourselves) – 1 Peter 3:2, 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, Titus 2:4-5, 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Timothy 2:9-10
- Modesty is Part of a Woman’s Call to be Chaste – 2 Cor. 11:2, Titus 2:5, 1 Peter 3:2
It’s not as difficult as we first thought. We can wear almost anything we want; though sometimes it takes some creativity. If we want to wear a tank top or sleeveless blouse that may otherwise be immodest, we add an undershirt and a short sleeved shrug. If the skirt my daughter outgrew last year is a bit too short, she adds leggings or a lightweight skirt underneath to extend the length. If we’re trying to figure out how to safely hike up a steep mountain during a family vacation, we wear loose jeans with a loose, dress or tunic that covers our backsides.
When there’s a questions, the ladies in our family try to help each other evaluate our outfits by raising arms, walking behind each other on the stairway, or bending over to check for cleavage. Who wants to flash the world when bending over to pick up a baby? If a skirt is a little questionable, it may be enlightening to try sitting in a chair in front of a mirror and crossing your legs a few times.
While it may take a little effort and creativity, if you have the heart to be modest, you’ll figure it out.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Thoughts to Ponder:
Sometimes modesty doesn’t have anything at all to do with being sensual or wearing revealing clothes (which is all wrapped up in being chaste); sometimes it has more to do with trying to impress others, or even just trying to be shocking by wearing something wild and crazy at inappropriate times (i.e. ostentatious).
Scripture to Ponder:
Women should adorn themselves in respectable [orderly, decent] apparel, with modesty [the opposite of dishonor, shame, or indecency] and self-control [moderation of desires, passions, or conduct] not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper [as is fitting] for women who profess godliness—with good works. (1 Timothy 2:9–10, ESV, commentary mine)
“They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him…” (Titus 1:16)