Modesty

20
Sep

Modesty

A Position Paper for Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, Sylacauga, Alabama

J. Patrick McDonald – Teaching Elder

Preface

This study is based on a question of the Biblical teaching on modesty, specifically the teaching of the Scriptures with regard to the subject of appropriate dress for Christians. There is, and has been, much teaching and opinion available on the subject, primarily disseminated via social media and other networks. While some will be cited in this paper, they should NEVER be considered authoritative, no matter the source – they will be cited simply as exemplary.

Unless otherwise noted, references will be drawn from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Scripture references, the source of all authority and truth, will be explored to obtain, as far as possible, the whole counsel of Scripture. There has been a great deal of errant use of Scripture in the opinion pieces which are included in the bibliography, and these mistakes will be discussed in some detail.

It is the purpose of this paper to seek the truth of Scripture, and this will be approached in the following way:

  1. An examination of the arguments made, primarily those that invoke Scripture, but others for which Scripture has a response.
  2. An examination of the Scriptural teaching relating to modesty and the sins surrounding it.
  3. A summary of recommendations for believers.

In all cases, no one would dispute the mandate for biblical modesty. It should be noted at the outset that much of the debate I have found in the bibliographic sources does not center on the necessity for modesty according to the Scripture, but on its extent, reason, standards, and arbiters. These are the areas that pose real danger of sin and unbiblical division within the body of Christ, and must, therefore, be carefully tread.

Editorial note: Since most of the works I researched tended to speak almost exclusively of the modest dress of women, I will also generally keep that convention. But every lesson on modesty, and the rest of the lessons in this paper, will apply to both women and men. I may not make explicit applications to men in all cases, but I encourage Christian brothers to also consider how we are adorned.

Editorial note 2: This paper deals only with modesty as it applies to Christians and the church. It would be ludicrous to believe that our Scriptural understanding of modesty would have any bearing on the behavior of unregenerate souls. 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The greatest need of the world is not to put on more clothes – it is to come to Jesus; and that is the message of our gospel.

The “Genesis” of Modesty

In the beginning, the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Genesis 2:25). Shame was the first apparent result of the Fall: Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Genesis 3:7). Their shame, rooted in their now-corrupt natures, rose to the surface in the midst of a good world full of God’s good creation.

Even this makeshift covering was not enough; when they heard God approaching, they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). When he was called out, Adam explained to God why he had hidden himself: I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself (Genesis 3:10). Innocence stands unashamed before God and others; sinfulness brings forth shame.

(Personal note: I have used this principle as an indicator of whether my children have become aware of their sinful nature. Children, in their innocence, know nothing of modesty – they must be taught. But in each child’s life, regardless of the diligence of the teaching on modesty, each child will quite naturally begin to cover themselves, opting for privacy where, seemingly the day before, they thought nothing of it.)

After pronouncing the curses on the sin of all concerned, including the once-good world now cursed to suffer in our corruption, God made garments for the couple: the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). God provided for them in a world that will no longer be perfectly temperate and hospitable for them. God’s provision for the fallen man and all who would proceed from him prepared them for a world they could not even conceive – a fallen world that experienced extremes of weather that no fig leaf could withstand.

Adam and his wife in their shame sought to conceal, to hide themselves; God, however, in His grace and mercy, clothed them. His purposes were much greater than making the couple feel better, more comfortable, in their sinful state. His provision of clothes for them went far beyond salving their shame; He was covering them in skins in anticipation of clothing them “in Christ”. This act of the provision of clothes means the shedding of blood for their sin. Because they sinned, an animal was slaughtered to cover them. This first step in the gospel that culminates with the final sacrifice of Jesus Christ is accomplished in the moments following the Fall. Romans 13:14 thus commands us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

In looking at this beginning, we should notice a few things:

  1. Shame (caused by sin) was the basis of clothing.
  2. Clothing is used to cover “nakedness.” It is functional, even utilitarian, in that respect.
  3. Clothing is instituted as the provision of God for our needs and is intended to glorify Him.

This is, I believe, just about as far as this Genesis passage may be reliably taken in its teaching on clothing. One commentator (errantly, I believe) made the following comment on this passage:

When Adam and Eve fell, they made aprons to cover their nakedness. When God confronted them about their sin, He also made clothing for them – tunics to replace their aprons, which indicates that stomachs and backs are not to be on public display, even for guys. (VanDoodewaard, What Christian Modesty Looks Like, Accessed 2020)

This commentary is an example of eisegesis, inserting your own opinions into Scripture. Nothing about this passage defines the construction of the skin tunics to allow this conclusion, not even the generic Hebrew term used for the tunic. Further, God does not give them a commandment about nakedness, modesty, or any related issue. The argument of this commentator is an argument of inference from the silence of Scripture.

Man and Wife

And why should He give immediate instructions? They are literally the only two people on earth, and they are man and wife. From whom would they need to be modest? In the context of this most intimate human relationship, I know of no one who would argue any amount of “modesty” or coverage is necessary.

For a man and wife, this should be the one place where they can stand before the other naked and unashamed. It is good for the husband to declare with Solomon (with, perhaps, updated similes):

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. (Song of Solomon 4:1–7).

What Do We Cover?

In Genesis 2:25 (above), we saw that the man and woman were naked and not ashamed before the Fall. This verse, in the second of 1189 chapters of the Bible, may very well be the last time the word “naked” or its cognates appears in a positive sense. There is simply no positive message in a fallen world about showing too much of our bodies to others not of “one flesh” (i.e. our spouse).

Nakedness

Whether it is the humiliation of Noah in Genesis 9, or Hosea’s faithless wife in Hosea 2, nakedness is portrayed throughout the Bible as humiliation and judgment. In many cases, from the world’s point of view, this is what set apart the “prudish” people of God from the “enlightened” nations among whom they dwelt.

Ezekiel 16 uses the image of God clothing His people when they had nothing, but then describes His people running off and committing adultery with the idols of the nations. Throughout this heartbreaking chapter, God’s judgment is portrayed in two things: shame and nakedness for those He judges.

Since, however, no one in an evangelical church is seriously advocating public nakedness, the discussion (sometimes, debate or argument) centers on what the “holy” level of attire is.

Clothing Minimum

In 1 Corinthians 12:23–24, Paul, speaking to a very worldly church, makes an observation that helps us understand one part of modesty: on those parts of the body that we think less honorable thus we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.

If you read the context of these verses, Paul is not making a direct statement about modesty. He is speaking in this passage about the need for all the members God brings to His church, and the supreme need for Christian unity and charity among the saints. What is instructive for us in the question of modesty, though, are the assumptions he makes when using this as an illustration.

  1. Paul assumes a level of modesty which, for the purpose of his illustration, is universally accepted in the church.
  2. Paul assumes a level of modesty which, at the barest minimum, covers the “unpresentable parts.”

Regarding point 1, this level of modesty was, in some cases, enforced by the culture at large, but not universally so. The Greeks (and Romans) lived in times that might even make a San Francisco parade seem, if not tame, then not foreign. While society had some measures of propriety, the mores were nowhere near as universal or as strict as we have been used to in this country.

The Greek (Gentile) culture was so pervasively sexualized that it was not a redundant thing for the Jerusalem Council to point out to Greek believers who had come to Christ to abstain…from sexual immorality (Acts 15:20). What seems to us to be a natural teaching and understanding stemming from the Seventh Commandment was a departure from the Greek way of life that needed to be restated. For the apostles and first-generation believers, this was a message they were concerned the Greeks might overlook because of their culture.

It is just as dangerous for us in our day. Daily, like Lot in the city of Sodom (Genesis 19:1-3), we are being de-sensitized to increasingly immoral behavior around us. It would be easy to look at our own immorality or immodesty and think “I am not as bad as other people.” Paul warns us about this attitude in 2 Corinthians 10:12: But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. Our standard can never be the world around us, or others in it. We serve a holy God with a holy standard.

This leads us to look at the second point above – the assumption of a minimum standard of dress. We could easily carry the point too far in this passage, but we must go only as far as the Scripture leads. The expectation, even among the licentious Corinthians, was that they understood the barest minimum of clothing: covering the “unpresentable parts.” No more strict a standard than this can be gleaned from this oblique exposition of this passage, since its goal was not to teach a “dress code” to the Corinthians. It does not mean that this minimum is the “standard,” but this will be discussed further.

Why We Cover

The primary reason we consider our dress and habits is to give no offense for the gospel as we: [do] whatever [we] do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17). And our actions should proceed from our hearts as people who put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love… (Colossians 3:12-14).

When we look at the attributes of God’s chosen ones above, we should look at how some of these attributes might affect what we wear:

  • Kindness – Clothing is often used beyond its utility to advocate for causes or companies we support. We should be careful in our selection of these garments because the sayings or slogans on them could be unkind. A follower of Christ should be aware, circumspect, about the messages we advertise, the logos we endorse, and the sayings we wear as walking billboards. Even “Christian” slogans can be unkind.
  • Humility – Most of the biblical teaching on “modesty” falls under this attribute. The oft-misused passage 1 Timothy 2:9-10is speaking directly of humility: likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. The concern Paul had for the “modesty” of the women known to Timothy was not that they would cover too little, but that they were using their adornment to their own glory.

Whether their purpose was to display their wealth or to simply be noticed, they were drawing attention to themselves and away from the gospel. For us, inappropriately flashy and ostentatious possessions should likewise cause our conscience to be pricked. A keyword here, also, is “appropriate” – what might be appropriate for a party or swim meet may not be appropriate for solemn worship.

  • Meekness – While similar to humility, meekness indicates self-control; or better, Spirit-control. I would suggest in this case that our attire would not detract or distract from our clear presentation of the gospel. This is very subjective and individual, as will be many of the Scriptural discussions when we begin looking at standards of dress. Since, however, we are bondservants of the Lord, this should constrain some more extreme choices.

Veiled Gospel

It is possible to hide the gospel of Jesus Christ behind us. What we wear reflects on our Master, and it will or will not hinder our proclamation of the gospel in all our world. Romans 14:4 reminds us that we will stand or fall before our Master. And as servants, we will be called to give an account for everything we have done.

This applies not only to what we wear, obviously, but how we live. If our expression is sour, if our countenance is perpetually downcast, if our heart is judgmental, or our words cutting, no amount of clothing will cover our sinful failure to discharge our responsibilities as God’s servant and ambassador. 1 Peter 3: 3-4 says Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Thus, the clothing of our bodies pales in comparison with the work that needs to be done in our hearts.

From this same passage, though, we understand that the clothing we wear proceeds from the intentions of our hearts. What we wear will either reinforce the message of the gospel or detract from it, sending the opposite message than our mouths speak. How we adorn our bodies, a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God (1 Corinthians 6:19) will indeed determine whether we understand and obey the commandment that follows: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

The primary question, then, for followers of Jesus is whether our clothing matches our ever-ready gospel message as we obey the instruction found in 1 Peter 3:15: in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Will your attire or attitude give supporting or contradicting evidence to the vital gospel message you proclaim?

Offending Others

One writer said the following:

And if we are concerned for the good of others, for our witness in a fallen world and concern for holiness in other believers, we will not facilitate lust (or envy, or disgust) by wearing revealing clothing. (VanDoodewaard, What Christian Modesty Looks Like, Accessed 2020)

I cannot speak for this author with regard to the emotions she accuses our clothing of causing, specifically lust, envy, or disgust. What concerns me is that she seems to place the bulk of the guilt on the person dressed “immodestly” for her standard, rather than dealing with the specifics of these attitudes. Since the writer is merely a blogger, we will consider here the greater issues in her sentence.

The question revolves around the “law of charity (Romans 14:13-17)” (Vergunst, Accessed 2020). The passage is:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Both these authors are focusing on the 15th verse: if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. This absolutely needs to be the way we act specifically toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

And, specific to the case of modesty, I would apply this verse in this way: you should not dress to PROVOKE someone else. If you know someone has a good-faith problem with a piece of clothing, you would be in sin to choose the garment specifically to challenge them or cause them discomfort. That is certainly not the loving thing to do.

The bigger issue, however, of these verses, indeed from the first verse of Romans 14, is that the one we are trying not to offend is the “weaker brother.” This entire chapter begins with instructions regarding the one who is weak in faith. In most of the modesty discussions in the blogs and articles referenced here, the author considers themselves the more spiritual of the two, with the “immodest” sister (sometimes brother) being presented as the more worldly.

But the instructions for the more mature Christian are different in this passage:

  • Welcome the weaker brother (14:1)
  • Don’t quarrel over opinions (14:1)
  • Don’t despise each other (14:3)
  • Don’t judge each other (14:4)
  • Do whatever you are convinced to do to the Lord (14:6-8)
  • Don’t put a stumbling block (14:13)

The final item in this list – the stumbling block – is very easy to do for those who are certain of their definition of modesty and “evangelistic” about it. It is very easy to cause people to feel unwelcome in the church by judgmental looks or statements, even those made away from the church meeting place. It is this very attitude I believe Ms. VanDoodewaard was supporting above when she urged her readers to not cause people “envy or disgust”. The Bible, however, would urge those more mature Christians to put away those feelings of envy or disgust, or even lust for that matter, and genuinely welcome the brother or sister, leaving it, through the law of charity, to their Master to correct them in this matter of conscience.

Fashion and the World’s Cues

In 1 Corinthians 6:13, Paul quotes a Greek proverb: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”, and in the context he makes it clear that this saying was not about eating at all. This saying was intended to show how enlightened the Greeks considered themselves compared to the “barbarians” elsewhere because they used and displayed their bodies. They reasoned by analogy that since they had sexual organs, those organs were meant to be used as well, with very little discrimination. Paul replies in the following verses: and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the bodyFlee from sexual immorality…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

By no accident, this message of the Greeks is the same message being proclaimed by the world today. It is supported by interest groups who rob the innocence of younger and younger children by initiating them into perversion and by teaching them to approve of those who practice those perversions.

The biblical answer is certainly not by seeing how close we can walk with the leadership of the world. Fashions change, and even if one fashion would not be immodest in one season, followers of Jesus should have a stronger sense of propriety than the shifting winds of fashion.

As Paul reminds believers in Ephesians 5:1-4: Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. There are three things to notice in this passage:

  1. Be imitators of God – not imitators of the world. If we let the world dictate our steps, we will inevitably fall.
  2. Let there be no filthiness – the world for filthiness has at its root shame, so the meaning of the word is shamefulness, disgracefulness.
  3. The examples given here that continue through the chapter – covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude jokes – are just examples of worldly behavior. Certainly many of the fashions of our world today, even those worn by celebrities, would easily be classified as shameful or filthy.

In all things we must strive to walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8–10).

Humility in the World

One of the great purposes behind the world’s fashions is the maintenance of the markets. If fashions change, then people will need to replenish their wardrobe periodically, replacing clothes that are still in good repair in favor of new styles. Gone, for most believers, are the days where closets held only a handful of outfits. Look at a house that was built a hundred years ago – how big are the closets (if it has any)? Most wardrobes for a husband and wife from those days could fit into a size we would describe now as a “linen closet.”

When Jesus was sending His disciples onto their missionary journey in Matthew 10:9-10, He instructed them: Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff… While I would easily confess this was specific to the occasion, the idea was that His disciples would rely on the Father’s provision. In our consumer society, many only live by faith when they have maxed out their credit cards, otherwise “In VISA they trust.”

1 Timothy 6:6-8 says But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. It is rare in our society to find believers who are content. We hardly ever ask “How many pairs of shoes are enough?” Or “Do I really need that cute dress?” Instead we ask, “Wouldn’t that outfit look great on my child?” But any discussion of modesty must include the amount of clothing we accumulate in addition to the type and style.

And if we are to be humble (modest) in the world, we should also be looking at the expense of those things we accumulate. To be sure, the cheapest option is rarely the bargain, since it is often made of inferior materials and workmanship. But much of the cost of many things is the “brand” that is put on them. Whether Gucci, or Tiffany, or any other premium brand, believers should be better stewards of the money God has given us to use. If we are honest with ourselves, many of our buying decisions are based on how people will see us with a particular brand. We are not, by and large, content in all things to meet our basic needs. We are victimized by successful advertising.

One author makes a suggestion we would do well to consider:

Supporting stores and brands that use sexually suggestive advertising is not glorifying to God. Make conscious decisions about where you and your children will shop and explain your reasons, teaching them to support those companies that stay away from using sex to sell their products. (Bouma, Accessed 2020)

Worldly Dangers

Of all the arguments people offer in the articles I reviewed, the least compelling and scriptural is the argument of the depravity of men (as distinct from Total Depravity). The argument is described by one author:

The idea of modesty has been almost exclusively attached to women’s dress, narrowing in definition to mean “showing less skin and trying to prevent sexual arousal in those looking on.” It has veritably become a subculture in Christendom, spawning a cacophony of bestsellers, brands, seminars, and internet firestorms. (Cotonethal, 2017)

One author frames it as a father’s responsibility to “fess up” to the fact that men are dangerous:

Men have an added responsibility: they should explain to their wives and older children how easily men are tempted to lust by immodest clothing. Our families may think that we never battle with sexual temptations. Tell your family the truth! (Spinney, Accessed 2020)

The key word in Mr. Spinney’s quote is “battle”. Is he truly battling the sin, or is he giving in to the temptation? I find his argument a simple repackaging of the world’s fad of “toxic masculinity”, where male equals evil. And while men do battle with sexual temptation, the temptations come from more than the eyes. To relegate this sin to a single sense admits Mr. Spinney has not considered the other areas of attraction that cannot be covered with clothes: personality, facial structure and hair, or any number of other intangibles that cause men to fall into adultery.

The truth of the matter is that while a scantily-clad female may contribute to a man’s sexual temptation, the problem, even at that point, is not with the female but with that man. He is the one looking with lust; he is actively breaking the Seventh and Tenth Commandments. Certainly, if she is wearing something inappropriate, she is in the wrong as well. But unless her purpose is to excite his lust, that lust is his sin alone.

One author, in dealing with this point, says this:

…by making a man’s eyes the main motive for what women wear, I believe this sends the message that a woman is primarily a sexual temptation and her body is dangerous. I want to make it clear that a woman can be a sexual temptation if she chooses to be, but her body itself is not evil in any way. The physical beauty of a woman’s body is not sinful. It is only used sinfully when used improperly by the woman or if it is idolized by a man. The body, however, is not the problem. (Ballenger, 2018)

There is much merit in his statement. In discussions of modesty, as in other discussions that make a double-standard, the assumption of many is that the woman is responsible for how she is perceived by others, particularly men. In Deuteronomy 22:23-27, there is the judicial law of the betrothed virgin:

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the young woman; she has committed no offense punishable by death. For this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor, because he met her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her.

The thing to note between these two cases is the culpability of the woman. It is tied to her wanton participation in the sin. When she intended to participate in the sin, she was guilty; when she is not a willing participant, she is innocent of that sin. We must not teach our sisters in Christ that they are responsible for sinful desires in others, unless they had intentions to incite those desires.

The Forbidden Woman

Of course, there is the real possibility that the woman is purposely attempting to attract the man. Or if not the man in question, then some other. The book of Proverbs spends a great deal of time on teaching men to beware the “Forbidden Woman”. For example, Proverbs 5:3-4 says: For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.

For a man (or a woman) in this world, the people who are not followers of Jesus will entice you any way they can. Certainly these people will not be followers of Christ, but it is also possible that they are in the church. The temptations of these worldly people are much more than visual – they will build egos, flatter, cajole, control, and captivate with any number of snares. But for the man of God, the “forbidden woman” is any woman who is not his wife. Period.

The simple fact is that the most dangerous people will not be the most obvious, particularly in the congregation of believers. They may be the most conservatively-dressed, singing the prettiest, praying the most urgently, and reciting the Bible most emphatically – but all the time full of deadly venom for those who fall into her traps.

A Case for Sex-Appropriate Clothing

Part of the confusing set of messages being sent in fashion are the very real issues of asexual clothing and transvestic attire. Deuteronomy 22:5 states A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God. The gender-confusion and perversion the world is pushing today means that as Christians, we need to pay attention to our attire, that it generally matches our God-determined sex.

This is not to condemn a woman for wearing her husband or father’s sweatshirt. The meaning of this commandment is to rebuke and bring to repentance those who would seek to live as a sex different than God made them. So even if you have a dozen t-shirts in your drawers, could someone who looks at your closet tell that the clothes belong to either a girl or a boy, depending on the way God made you?

This training used to begin quite early, with “baby blue” for boys and pink for girls. While the colors may change as the child grows, their sex should be reinforced and celebrated as they grow. And through those years, training in what it means to be a man of God or a woman of God should be carried out and celebrated as well, for each sex is designed perfectly by God.

Who Sets the Standard?

So we come at last to the question of the standard – what is appropriate and modest attire. In the dozen or so articles I referenced, not a single person offered any type of standard to follow. This doesn’t mean that none can be found offering them (for good or ill); it only means that the question is difficult at best. Or it could mean we are asking the wrong question.

Some may think it might be so much easier if we could set a rule for everyone – you know, more law. Throughout history, churches and theologians have tried. They have, at various times, decried (for women) petticoats, heels, flats, ruffs, up-do’s, shoulder-length hair, blouses, bras, showing ankles, showing hands, not wearing a hat in church, earrings, pierced ears, slacks, pants, shorts, white pants before Easter, jeans… the list goes on. The things we can be certain of is:

  1. Fashions change, and with it what is considered proper.
  2. We need another way to make the decisions than relying on the fashions of the world.

Ultimately, though, with the Scripture’s silence even in the judicial law on what is considered “adequate coverage”, this standard becomes a matter of conscience. For the remainder of this section, we will take a look at the aspects that contribute to that conscience that may not have been mentioned already.

Primary Training

The first conscience that would affect our attire are the consciences of our parents. Before we can make a single decision, our parents have already begun to instill in us the values they want to pass on.

It is perfectly legitimate for parents to restrict what their children are allowed to wear when they are in their household. This is the first and most basic training we receive. Modesty, beginning with the need for clothes and continuing through selecting proper clothes, is primarily taught by parents. And they may, for their family, use any standard they see fitting Scripture, even if it is more rigid than others around them.

Some families may choose to have girls only in dresses and skirts; others may allow pants, jeans, or shorts. None of these are right answers; none of them are wrong by themselves. These decisions fall rightly on the parents to determine for their family alone.

Parents should take into account in this training that they are providing the foundational rules for their children. There is nothing wrong with a girl looking “pretty” and a boy looking “handsome.” A suggestion, particularly for younger children, is to reinforce their God-given sex, teaching their girls how to dress as young ladies and their boys to dress as young men. The trend toward androgyny in dress in our modern times seems designed to confuse our children to believe that “gender” is different from “sex.”

What About the Body?

The author of this article made a good point when he stated, “The Bible does not say that frumpiness equals holiness.” (Ballenger, 2018) There is a danger when we talk of modesty and covering the body that we equate “cover” with “conceal”. Covering the body is completely in line with the teaching of Scripture. But if our goal is to conceal our body, this is both unhealthy and unbiblical.

Earlier an earlier section, we talked about the need for sex-appropriate clothing. For those who would conceal their bodies, the goal, however, is to erase from view those sexual identifiers. God made women with breasts; God made men with external genitalia. And even when properly covered, those “terrain features” of the body may often be discerned. Merely acknowledging these features and accepting them is not the same as flaunting them.

It is important to reinforce for all believers that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:13-15 says:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…

It is not holy to be embarrassed and dissatisfied with your body. Sure, you may have some features that you want to improve (lose weight, shave, grow a goatee, etc.). But a pervasive dissatisfaction with who you are is not healthy. As a follower of Jesus, you can be certain God made you, and He loves you. And no amount of change in you will make Him love you any more.

For all those “faults” you might see, the only one who will remind you of them is Satan. He wants to keep you dissatisfied; he wants to drive you into despair. God made you the way He wanted you, and those inborn features – sex, nose, ears, hair, breast size, eyesight, bone structure, metabolism, musculature, physical grace – are the things He gave you uniquely. They are reasons to be thankful to Him – you are a wonderful work of God!

But What If Someone Is Immodest?

As discussed above, the controlling “law” would be the law of charity. As a result, if someone is offended by someone else’s clothing (particularly if it is not obscene), is the problem in the clothing or in the heart of the one who would judge another? That judgement could keep someone less modest away from Christ until they dress to the judger’s human standard.

An even deeper problem would be to think we can infer from the dress of a person the spiritual state of their heart, the way one author did:

To wear inadequate clothing is to deny that you are a sinner and that you need a Saviour. Immodesty is actually a denial of the gospel, and it has no place in the life of a believer. Wearing inadequate clothing says that you don’t need God’s covering, that you don’t think you’re sinful, or that you are content in your sin. (VanDoodewaard, What Christian Modesty Looks Like, Accessed 2020)

God’s message to Samuel as he was looking for God’s man to be anointed king over Israel is a solemn warning to us as well: The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). This is true not only for dress that is less modest than our personal standard, but indeed any behavior. It is a dangerous thing to judge the heart of a person.

In the event of “true” immodesty (where the unpresentable parts are not covered), we can be discrete and loving in our response; these, I believe, will be truly accidental. For example, if a man’s fly is unzipped, a gentle encouragement to zip up would not go awry. And if a woman is bending over so others can easily see down her shirt, it would not be amiss to gently tell her so she would be aware; but to correct her for her choice in blouses could very well go beyond charity.

One author suggests asking the question “Why does her appearance bother me? Is it jealousy? Self-righteousness? Legalism? Insecurity? Lack of trust in my husband? Or is it the conviction of the Holy Spirit because of God’s great love for her? (Pinnix, 2015) We must be very careful in answering these questions. I would suggest that if the response in your heart is not compassion for her, and the desire to pray fervently and lovingly for a season on her behalf for God’s illumination in her heart, it is not the Spirit who is in control of your discomfort.

And if your desire to correct does not come positively from the Holy Spirit, it is always best to keep it to yourself until your heart is right. First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5).

Sanctification

In a recent interview, John Piper had this to say on modesty:

To any woman or man who dresses inappropriately I say this: Until God has become your treasure, until your own sin has become the thing you hate most, until the word of God is your supreme authority that you feel to be more precious than gold, sweeter than honey, until the gospel of Christ’s death in your place is the most precious news in the world to you, until you have learned to deny yourself short-term pleasures for the sake of long-term joy and holiness, until you have grown to love the Holy Spirit and long for his fruit more than man’s praise, until you count everything as loss compared to the supreme value of knowing Christ, your attitude toward your clothing and your appearance will be controlled by forces that don’t honor Christ. (Piper, 2016)

As we grow in Christ, and as the Holy Spirit does His sanctifying work in our lives, even our tastes will change. Considering ourselves “young Christians”, though, should never be an excuse to sin or dishonor God. So even though the clothes each of us chooses is a matter of conscience, that does not mean we are innocent in our choices.

The word “sanctification” means being made increasingly different from the world around us. The root idea is to be separate and distinct from the world. So to defend immodest choices by admitting you want to “blend in” with the unbelievers around you is entirely opposite of the goal of the Spirit in your life. Followers of Christ should “stick out” from the world around us, becoming less like the unregenerate every day.

Galatians 5:16-17 says: Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

That last phrase is very important: to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Our nature is toward sin; our flesh is looking for gratification. We want to be admired, followed, attractive, envied, and all the rest of the temptations of pride. But the Spirit, in His sanctifying work, is relentless in causing us to put to death therefore what is earthly in you (Colossians 3:5).

 

Bibliography

Ballenger, M. (2018, July 12). Apply God’s Word. Retrieved from What Does the Bible Say About Modesty and How a Christian Woman Should Dress?: https://applygodsword.com/what-does-the-bible-say-about-modesty-and-how-a-christian-woman-should-dress/

Bouma, J. &. (Accessed 2020, August 24). A Call to Modesty in Dress. Retrieved from Reformed Resource: http://reformedresource.net/index.php/practice/50-modesty-and-dress/122-a-call-to-modesty-in-dress.html

Cotonethal, M. (2017, May 20). Modesty Misunderstood: What Men and Woman Need to Know. Retrieved from Desiring God: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/modesty-misunderstood

Pinnix, S. (2015, June 29). Let’s Stop Shaming Girls and Women in the Name of Modesty. Retrieved from For Every Mom: https://foreverymom.com/mom-gold/lets-stop-shaming-girls-and-women-in-the-name-of-modesty/

Piper, J. (2016, June 22). Bikinis and Modesty. Retrieved from Ask Pastor John: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/bikinis-and-modesty–2

Pollard, J. (Accessed 2020, August 24). A Return to Modest Apparel. Retrieved from Reformed Resource: http://reformedresource.net/index.php/practice/50-modesty-and-dress/118-a-return-to-modest-apparel.html

Spinney, R. (Accessed 2020, August 24). Thinking Like a Christian About Modest Apparel. Retrieved from Reformed Resource: http://reformedresource.net/index.php/practice/50-modesty-and-dress/117-thinking-like-a-christian-about-modest-apparel.html

VanDoodewaard, R. (Accessed 2020, August 24). How Christian Modesty Acts. Retrieved from Reformed Resource: http://reformedresource.net/index.php/practice/modestydress/231-how-christian-modesty-acts.html

VanDoodewaard, R. (Accessed 2020, August 24). What Christian Modesty Looks Like. Retrieved from Reformed Resource: http://reformedresource.net/index.php/practice/modestydress/230-what-christian-modesty-looks-like.html

Vergunst, A. (Accessed 2020, August 24). Q&Q: Women’s Clothing. Retrieved from Reformed Resource: http://reformedresource.net/index.php/practice/50-modesty-and-dress/76-qaa-womens-clothing.html

 

 

Scripture References

(01) Genesis  2:25………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2

(01) Genesis  3: 7…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 2

(01) Genesis  3:10………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2

(01) Genesis  3:21………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 2

(01) Genesis  9……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3

(01) Genesis 19:1-3………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

(05) Deuteronomy 22: 5……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 11

(05) Deuteronomy 22:23-27………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10

(09) 1 Samuel 16:7……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 13

(19) Psalm 139:13-15…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 12

(20) Proverbs  5:3-4…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 10

(22) Song of Solomon 4:1–7……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 3

(26) Ezekiel 16……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

(28) Hosea  2……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 3

(40) Matthew  7: 5……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 14

(40) Matthew 10:9-10…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 8

(44) Acts 15:20……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

(45) Romans 13:14……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 2

(45) Romans 14: 4………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 5

(45) Romans 14:13-17…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 6

(46) 1 Corinthians  2:14…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1

(46) 1 Corinthians  6:13…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 7

(46) 1 Corinthians  6:19…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 6

(46) 1 Corinthians  6:19–20…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6

(46) 1 Corinthians 12:23–24……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 4

(47) 2 Corinthians 10:12………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 4

(48) Galatians 5:16-17…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 14

(49) Ephesians 5: 1-4…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

(49) Ephesians 5: 8–10…………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 8

(51) Colossians 3: 5…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 14

(51) Colossians 3:12-14………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 5

(51) Colossians 3:17……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 5

(54) 1 Timothy 2:9-10……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 5

(54) 1 Timothy 6:6-8…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 9

(60) 1 Peter 3: 3-4………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 6

(60) 1 Peter 3:15………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 6

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