Let’s Talk About Modesty, Shall We?

The summer’s almost over, which means it is the perfect time to talk about modesty!

I would call myself somewhat of a movie buff.  But even though I watch the Oscars, I never watch the pre-show on the red carpet. Why? Because I simply don’t care about what happens there. Half of the questions they ask center around a couple core ideas: what are you wearing, and who designed it? These are plugs for the designer who is paying good money for that celebrity to wear their brand, and while I have nothing against advertising, I also have the ability to turn the channel. Ah yes, American capitalism at it’s finest.

The modesty debate has spun into the church as well, and, contrary to popular belief, this is not a recent phenomenon. As far back as Leviticus 19:28, God commanded the Israelites to consider what they put on their bodies: “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

I know what you’re thinking: “But Brady, we’re not under the Law anymore, so I can do whatever I want. #freewill”

And you know what, you’re right. We’re not under the Old Law anymore, and the direct prohibition against tattoos and piercings doesn’t necessarily apply to us in the same way. But that’s a far cry from saying the principle isn’t applicable.

The fundamental point in Leviticus 19 was that it matters how you present yourself. Tattoos were outlawed by God, in part, because they symbolized pagan religions and alignment with unGodly nations. Isn’t that same idea present today?

What we wear communicates to the world about our values and interests. A death metal t-shirt indicates you’re a punk rocker, just the same as a shirt with a bare-skin midriff shows that you’re proud of your stomach.

1 Timothy 2:9-10 talks about what we should really be showing off:  “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.”

These verses are a good example of the “not-but” passages in Scripture, which puts the emphasis on the secondary statement at the expense of the first. In short, what Paul is not saying is to never wear gold and pearls, but to focus on the good works and Godliness as the essential aspect of your character.

We all know people that don’t follow this rule, so it’s not too hard to put in context. All of us know people that will spend hours working on their physical appearance, and never focus one second on their integrity. The people who will spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on clothes, and not a single penny to help others.

Unfortunately, the modesty debate has been hijacked to not discuss this aspect at all, but rather centers around when people have too little clothes on. Ironically, the context discusses when people have too much on. The point is the same, however: when we try to attract attention by our physical appearance rather than our spirituality, we’ve missed the mark entirely.

I can hear the grumblings now: “Oh great, another guy telling me that I have to make sure my skirts go past my fingertips.” To that argument, I would say these two things:

No, modesty is not just about wearing too little clothes.

But yes, it is also about that.

Immodesty in 2017 is regarded as too little clothing; immodesty in ancient Rome was seen as putting too much on. Which is right? Both.

Paul’s fundamental teaching remains the same: the thing that should draw others to us is our Godliness, not our clothes.

But still, someone would argue, “It’s not my responsibility that the kid who sits next to me in class stumbles because of my floor-length denim skirt. That’s his problem, not mine.”

And you know what, you’re exactly right.

You can’t control what other people think, but you should make every effort to consider how your appearance affects others.

Unfortunately, there will be some who will try to use passages like 1 Corinthians 8:13 to bludgeon their fellow man into submission: “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”

But keep in mind how that passage is used – not as an offensive weapon of division, but as a defensive weapon of accountability. In other words, 1 Corinthians 8:13 is not supposed a tool of submission used by power-hungry Christians, but as an understanding based on love: I will do everything I can to help you get to Heaven, and vice versa.

As a man, I will make this two-fold plea:

Ladies, we need your help with this. We are constantly bombarded by temptations online, on TV, at work, and every other place you can imagine, and the very last place we should see it also is in the church. Interacting with our sisters should be a time of peace, not a time of persistent spiritual warfare.

And guys, we have to do better. We cannot spend our days dwelling on that person we saw earlier that was wearing approximately one square foot of clothing (total), and we absolutely cannot deprive our wives of the love and affection that is due only to them. We have to do better. Our wives and our Lord deserve much better.

Paul is not saying to not care about your appearance, but there’s a line between spending thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery to look like Jennifer Aniston, and buying a $200 dress because you’re going out on a date night with your husband. The “braided hair and pearls” argument from 1 Timothy 2 is – in part – a reaction to the obsession of the day, where elite Roman women would spend hours perfecting their look. Instead, spend hours perfecting your character.

Clothes need to cover up, but it’s not simply about repressing the body you’ve been given, but preserving it for the only one who is allowed to appreciate it (1 Corinthians 7:4). The woman who flaunts her body, giving it over repeatedly to the highest (or lowest) bidder, devalues her own flesh and the sanctity of her future (or current) marriage.

Likewise, a man that has an unhealthy fascination with his own biceps and six-pack will look for a woman that prizes it in the same way he does. But what happens when the man who values women based purely on looks loses interest in his current flame? You don’t need me to finish drawing out that picture for you.

Modesty is about removing the things that don’t matter, and adding the things that do. Instead of gold jewelry, 400k rings and a dress designed by Gucci, put on charity, love, compassion – the things that will truly endear you to others. Gold and silver inspires jealousy, while integrity and class inspire love.