So that got me thinking...what DOES the Bible teach specifically about modesty? What I found out was both surprising and encouraging.
Your body is not just yours.
The second thing the Bible says about our bodies is that if we are married, our bodies belong to our spouses (1 Cor. 7:3-5). Before anyone gets up in arms about that, it doesn't say that the husband owns his wife, period, and can do anything he wants to it. It says that the wife's body belongs to her husband AND that the husband's body belongs to the wife. It goes both ways, and the main point is about looking out for our spouse's best interest, not just our own. What I do with and to my body and how I present it to the world needs to honor my husband, and vice versa.
Finally, how we live impacts others, including what I do with and to my body and how I present it to the world. I do not live in a vacuum and must consider how my choices set an example for other believers in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity (1 Tim. 4:12).
There are some standards for women's attire
Respectable. There are verses that suggest that women should not dress like prostitutes (Pr. 7:10) and many verses that talk about how exposing one's "nakedness" is shameful and that some parts of our body are considered "unpresentable" and others are not (1 Cor. 12:53; Rev. 3:8; Is. 47:3). Yes, I understand that varies according to time and culture, which is an entirely different topic, but let's just conclude for now that "respectable" attire (1 Tim. 2:9-10) would generally cover more than it reveals, would not mimic how a prostitute would dress (whatever that is for the culture in which you live), and would not give even a hint of sexual immorality (Eph. 5:1-3).
Feminine. Deuteronomy 22:5 says that men should not wear women's clothes, and women should not wear men's clothes. For the record, I don't think that means women can't wear pants or jeans. But I do think it means that how we dress should embrace who God made us to be. By how we dress and how we carry ourselves, men should embrace their masculinity, and women should embrace their femininity.
Modest. There is that word again. But it is not just about how short a hemline is, because the other thing that the Bible addresses is our hairstyles and jewelry. Ouch. Both Paul and Peter speak against "braided hair" and costly attire and jewels (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4). To understand that, you need to understand a little about the first century. One online commentary points out, "The Greek word for modest is kosmioi, which means 'respectable, honorable, or modest'....This word basically entails all apparel that does not call undue attention to the wearer through show of flesh or through gaudiness." In the first century, some of the ways that women would try to attract attention to themselves were through elaborately braided hairstyles that would take hours to construct, through expensive clothing, and through gold jewelry. Paul and Peter both admonished their Christian sisters to focus on "dressing" themselves with good works more than on impressing others with their outward appearance. I do not think that means we should not ever braid our hair or wear a gold wedding band, but we should ask ourselves if we are dressing in a way that calls attention to ourselves, whether by revealing more than necessary or by being more elaborate than a situation requires.
Actions can also be "modest" or "immodest."
On the flip side, actions that would NOT be considered modest would be any kind of sexual immorality or even the hint thereof (1 Thess. 4:2-10; Titus 2:3-5; Ephesians 5:1-3), slandering others (Titus 2:3-5), and being enslaved to alcohol (Titus 2:3-5).
And of course, all of these are appropriate expectations of men as well!
Attitude trumps appearance
Hemlines or the heart?
Well, yes. Because of all the stuff about our body not being ours to begin with. We are called to first of all honor the Lord in all we do and say, and clearly, how we dress is a part of that. Outwardly, that seems to mean not revealing too much flesh and not flaunting too much in the way of wealth or fashion. The specifics of that will vary from culture to culture because modesty is a biblical principle, not a set of rules.
Something else to remember is that the Bible is the inspired word of God, but it was also written in the midst of a certain culture, and the fact that nothing is said about short shorts, for example, does not mean they would have been acceptable in the early church. It only means that such a "fashion" would never have crossed their minds and so didn't need to be addressed.
So here are my take-aways as I buy clothes, dress myself, and train my daughter to be beautifully modest in today's world.
Put God first. In everything - how we dress, how we act, how we speak, everything. Seek to please Him over myself and others. Do I fear the Lord about all else and show it by having a humble and loving attitude toward others? And regarding my attire, am I most concerned about dressing in a way that honors Him or am I trying to figure out what I can get away with without crossing the line and displeasing Him?
Check my actions. I want my everyday actions and activities to be fitting for a woman who follows the Lord. Is my day filled with activities that are focused on others or myself?
Ask myself questions. And please note that I am NOT saying how YOU should answer them! The exact standards for each of us will be different depending on our personalities, culture, and situation. But these seem to be good questions to ask based on the Biblical text.
- Am I showing by the way I dress that I respect myself and expect others to respect me, too?
- Am I showing respect for others by not trying to attract too much attention to myself?
- Does this outfit give even a hint of sexually immorality? Is it too revealing or does it invite someone to look more closely at parts of my body that should be hidden?
- Is it feminine? Is it attractive for my coloring, height, size, etc.?
- Is it appropriate for the setting I will be in?
- Am I spending more time, money or attention than necessary on my make-up, hair style, clothes, or jewelry, especially with the goal of drawing attention to myself?
Modesty is such a hot-button topic these days, because while the Bible gives guidelines, how it is fleshed out (excuse the pun!) today really is dependent on culture and circumstances. I would love to hear your responses and how you are living out this biblical principle in your life and with your children!