It’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? This is good question with a faulty premise. It should be: I belong to Jesus Christ... and it’s hot outside. What am I going to wear? Do you see what happened there? The same question filtered through the lens of the gospel suddenly comes into sober focus. Friends, we must never remove Jesus from His rightful place: the authoritative throne of our decision making called the “heart”.
If we allow other considerations to usurp Christ’s authoritative position over our lives then we that Jesus is not really our Lord. Scripture teaches that every aspect of who we are ought to be informed on a fundamental level by the person of Jesus, what He has done, is doing, and promises yet to do for us in the future.
How we choose to clothe ourselves broadcasts a message to those around us. Clothing is a visual indicator of an invisible characteristic. How we dress says something about us. If the gospel is the seed that is planted within the invisible heart then modesty is one visual fruit it will produce. What message are we sending with our dress? If Christ is our King then that message must not get in the way with our bodies being a sanctified temple in which the thrice holy God is pleased to dwell.
Some say, “Amen! Amen!... except if I go swimming, because then it is socially acceptable to be seen publicly in the waterproof equivalent of underwear.”
Obviously this logic will drive us away from the relationship God desires to have with us. We must not allow the shifting societal norms and increasingly immoral standards of the world to crowd out what God has plainly revealed about the proper use of our bodies: “...your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God... You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) Bathing suits are acceptable by today’s societal standards. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is acceptable by God in heaven. Jesus cleansed the temple of our body so that God could take up His residence within us. This means that what we do with our physical bodies matters to God.
We understand this principle of modesty reaches far beyond the realm of sexually immoral dress. “Modesty” (Grk. ‘aidous’) means a sense of shame or honour, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect. Modesty is an attitude of heart. It follows, therefore, that the modest woman refuses to dress in a way that draws worldly attention to herself. This does not have to be overtly sexual. It could be any attention that does not befit godliness, a respect for herself or others, or reverence toward God.
This is how Paul used the word in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, “...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.”
Even though Peter doesn’t use the word “modesty” he speaks in the same way when he instructs wives with unbelieving husbands to show their “respectful and pure conduct” in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “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.”
So our dress isn’t the thing that ought to cause people to see godliness in us but rather our behavior. In both passages dress is downplayed (what does that say about priestly garments, crosses or other ‘religious’ attire that garners attention?). “Don’t dress to draw attention to yourself but live in such a way that others would see Christ” seems to be the thrust of their message. Even though dress is downplayed, immodest dress would undermine this whole principle.
The profession of godliness must be met with dress that reflects that profession or, at the very least, does no harm to that profession. Anything less is hypocritical. The apostles didn’t write this to make women angry or to demonize fashion. Their primary concern was to point their audience to the cross for their spiritual well being. However, if their audience did feel a sense of shame by their immodest dress choice then, all the better; they were beginning to develop a modest heart. Remember that modesty is a “sense of shame,” the ability to blush. And despite what the world says this is a good thing.
It is true that women cannot control the thoughts and desires of the men around them. However, they can influence them by their behavior and choices, not least of which is dress. To dress without regard for your brother or neighbor and to say, “I’m not responsible for stirring up that man’s lustful desires” is as unloving, wicked and foolish an attitude as the man who lustfully looks at another woman and says, “I’m not responsible for the lustful desires her immodest dress stirs within me.”
We are charged to help people get to heaven by preaching and living the gospel. If my immodest dress, which not only compromises my own personal holiness, causes another to stumble I will be held accountable for both in the judgment. Those of us who have children must plant the seed of modesty by first being modest ourselves and second teaching them at an early age what constitutes a modest heart.
The next time you reach into your wardrobe this summer make sure to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14)
Have more than thou showest, Speak less than thou knowest--from Shakespeare's ‘King Lear’