August 22, 2012 by Stacy McDonald

The Idol of Modesty?

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Tonight, I noticed a group of young people discussing whether or not Christians today focus too much on modesty…perhaps turning the whole concept into an idol.  I sensed that perhaps many of them didn’t really “get” the point of modesty, but they still had a few valid concerns. We are a very creative people. We sinfully put all sorts of things before God. We can make an idol out of just about anything: Cows, unicorns, rocks, trees, motherhood, fertility, fat bald men…dressing modestly …yeah, I guess it can happen.

Aside from the fact that we often try to “perform” for God by earning good-behavior points in exchange for His favor, we also tend to obsess over “good works” that are tangible… works we can be proud of and showcase to others (and possibly even to ourselves).

Instead of being satisfied with Christ’s work in us and giving the glory to Him, we try to please others, wanting them to admire the filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) we’ve managed to sew all on our own. If we try hard enough we can be immodest even in dressing modestly. Confused yet?

Tithing and giving. Serving in a ministry. Feeding the poor. Reading the Bible. Having a quiet time. Practicing hospitality. Dressing modestly. The selection of good works are many – and, as is our typical manner, instead of giving God the glory, we often try to take the credit for ourselves.

So, yes, I guess we can make even some simple, gracious act like covering the private parts of our bodies an idol. Instead of viewing it as an expression of obedience to God and an act of love and honor to our neighbor, we can view it (and treat it) as a work of pride. But, “good things” don’t become “bad things” just because we, in our arrogance, try to steal God’s glory and hog the credit for ourselves.

It seems silly to have to even say this, but we aren’t supposed to reject the good works God has for us to do simply because someone may try to take credit for them, or because someone may present them in a way that irritates us. We are created for good works. And, as children of God, we are supposed to walk in them (Ephesians 2:10)!

Noah Webster rightly said, “Virtue is nothing but voluntary obedience to truth.” A Christian woman shouldn’t just go through the motions of anything, and she shouldn’t have a dead faith that lacks good works. Instead, she should add to her faith, virtue, and willingly obey God out of love for Him, not out of some misplaced desire to please man.

It’s All About God

Our reasons for dressing modestly should have nothing to do with gaining a sense of satisfaction or worth from another person. It should have nothing to do with attention seeking or yearning for approval from others. If we do that we have the same sin dressed up in modest clothes. The way we dress should have everything to do with dressing for the glory of God (and that goes for men as well as women).

However, by that, I do not mean that we have no responsibility to lovingly consider others by the way we dress. In fact, there should be a distinct element of loving our neighbor and putting them first in what we choose to wear. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about us (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

We may contribute to, and even participate in someone else’s sin if we dress in a way that we know is likely to sexually distract the men around us, whether or not that’s what we’re hoping for. And it’s not so nice to their wives either. In fact, for women who are married to men who struggle in this area, it can be downright tortuous. See Modesty Promotes Friendship

By the way, men certainly own their own sin and are responsible before God to control their thoughts and to be faithful to their own wives in every way, regardless of what the women around them are doing. But, since I’m only called to teach women (Titus 2:3-5), I’ll keep my focus on what we women are called to do, and I’ll let my husband go there with the men, which he does. See his January 2011 article, Surviving Sexual Temptation, on our church website.

How am I loving my sister if I carelessly and unnecessarily dress in a way that makes me happy, but causes my sister distress or pain? And I mean that literally. I have counseled with numerous women who really struggle because of the way other women, especially younger women, reveal the sensual areas of their bodies to their husbands.

Loving our Sisters

Women, especially, have a hard time with body image: A post-pregnancy body, weight gain, a struggling marriage, or a myriad of insecurities brought on by our youth-obsessed, photo-shopped culture. Yes, as a Christian woman grows in Christ, she should also grow in confidence, knowing that her identity is in Christ, and her hope is in Heaven not in her flesh; but, can we not be more understanding…more loving (Romans 15:1)? These are real struggles that real women around us face every day. We should support and honor the marriages around us, not contribute to tearing them down because of our “Christian Liberty.”

Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9)

A few weeks ago, I spoke with a beautiful young mom who has been really struggling with this very thing. Her husband works each day in an office surrounded by worldly young women who dress seductively, so she has learned to trust her husband to guard his eyes and his heart; but, when she goes to church, she rightfully hopes for her sisters in Christ to give her (and him) a break.

Biblical modesty isn’t about piling rules on anyone’s head. It’s not about legalism, condemnation, judgment, or idolatry. Modesty is all about love. Loving and honoring God, and loving our neighbor as our self. It’s really pretty simple when you think about it that way. Let’s help promote marriage, our own, as well as everyone else’s.

  1. Modesty Lovingly Puts Others First (Our brothers, our sisters, and even those who are lost) Galatians 5:13, 1 Corinthians 8:9, Romans 15:1–3, 1 Corinthians 10:24; 13:4, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, Romans 14:13, 1 Corinthians 8:13, Matthew 18:6
  2. Modesty Communicates the Purity of Christ and His Bride 2 Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5:27
  3. Modesty Contributes to the Honor of Marriage  Hebrews 13:4, 1 Peter 3:1-2, Malachi 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 4:4, Song of Solomon 2:7
  4. Modesty is the Opposite of Pride, Vanity, and Self-Centeredness (giving all the glory to God) 1 Timothy 2:9–10; Psalm 115:1
  5. Public Nakedness is Considered Shameful in Scripture Revelation 3:18, 16:15; Isaiah 47:3; Isaiah 20:4
  6. Modesty Honors and Glorifies God Ezekiel 36:23, 1 Peter 3:2, 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, Titus 2:4-5, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Matthew 5:16, 1 Timothy 2:9-10,
  7. Modesty is Part of a Woman’s Call to be Chaste Titus 2:5

Other articles that may be of interest:

Modesty Promotes Friendship

Training a Modest Heart

The Heart of Chastity

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11 Responses to “The Idol of Modesty?”

  1. Paula Mendez says:

    Good article Stacey…will just add that young people struggle with this rationale especially, because they are at that point in life where so much of their choices are based on what they believe will make others around them happy. Only as one matures emotionally and spiritually do they gain more view of what makes GOD happy and begin to appreciate what scripture reveals as truly beautiful. This is a particularly difficult concept for those of us that live part time in the Caribbean…we have the added impact of weather that is always hot, culture focused on entertainment/tourism factoring into the issue.

  2. Jody says:

    Wow! Stacy, your words of wisdom are wonderful and sound. I appreciate your knowledge and encouragement. I have been asked to be the MOPS mentor in our area and this will be a topic of discussion and devotion. I have also been asked to teach a group of young girls between 3rd and 8th grade on this topic along with what it means to be a godly young woman. I will draw from your wisdom as well. Thank you for standing Biblically and teaching God’s truths.
    Always Experiencing Him,

  3. Heather says:

    GREAT article! Thanks so much for your teaching on such a sensititve subject!

  4. Fantastic article, Stacy. Thank you!!

  5. Sarah says:

    Eloquently poignant post. Thank you, Stacy, for presenting this topic so well – with Biblical references so we can search the Word for ourselves.
    Blessings to you from Virginia!

  6. Nisha says:

    Thought-provoking! And beautifully written. Thank you.

  7. Sally says:

    The observation about how dressing modestly edifies our sisters is so insightful. So often, the emphasis is on how men themselves are affected. Thank you for pointing out how the effect touches others.
    As an older woman, I like to dress modestly for the sake of dignity as well, as an example that being older is not something to deny by trying to look inappropriately younger. Plus, no one really wants to look at our less-than-elastic skin on extensive display!

  8. framedsplendorart says:

    Hello Mrs. McDonald!
    I and my sisters were wondering if we had permission to re-post this article on our blog? We will put your name under the post title with a link back to the original post as well as your picture and short biography at the end of the post. (A lot of the people we have asked wonder about editing… we feel it is wrong to edit a single word without express permission) Our blog has a lot of young moms and not necessarily Christian girls following it, among them my cousins, and we are trying to host guest posts from sites that we would like them to visit. That way they can have other resources to get godly encouragement from.

    (I am sorry that I am posting this as a comment… I couldn’t get your ‘contact me’ form at the top to work… I am assuming it is because I do not have microsoft outlook.)

    Thank you so much for encouraging myself and my sisters, for your books which we devoured as teens before married life, and for your words of wisdom here online.

  9. It is amazing you should post this during a time when I am personally struggling with the clothing issue in my circle of influence.

    Here’s the problem: “modesty” means so many different things to so many different people. What good does it do to encourage modesty when there are no standards of modesty in our culture or even in the Church? It’s a moot issue.

    You think you can say short shorts and mini skirts are immodest. But, what does “short” mean? You can say women should not wear low-cut tops, but how low is too low? You can say it’s immodest to wear low-riding jeans or tight jeans or to even wear jeans at all. But, what does that all mean? And what about sleeves? I remember when tank tops were not allowed by our public school dress code and now nearly every Christian bride walking down the aisle has no straps AT ALL. It’s all relative.

    What used to be common standards of modesty are GONE in our culture, and the Church is following in its very shadow, if not directly in lock step.

    You might answer my questions by explaining modesty in practical terms, but I can guarantee your standards of modesty will be dismantled before the ink is dried on the page. And it will be Christian women backed up by their husbands and pastors who will yell the loudest, “Christian liberty!”

    My heart is breaking for this generation. Parents who have done everything they could to rear their children in modesty are seeing them discard much of their upbringing as soon as they leave home, nearly twenty years of investment in blood, sweat, and tears for nothing. It’s just gut-wrenchingly sad.

    I appreciate you, Stacy, for at least trying. But, I am so discouraged I am ready to just throw in the towel. Only a God-sent, Spirit-breathed revival will ever effect real change, and that begins in the heart. Let us pray for it earnestly.

  10. Jennifer says:

    What a fantastic article :} :} I am blessed that I stumbled upon your blog when trying to understand what femininity ideals was … I am doing a study and I am a new born again Christian so Im stumbling through it but I wont give up!! It is “The Resolution for Women”

  11. Karissa Onelove says:

    Very beautiful.

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