Part One: Setting Standards and Sticking with Them

August 14, 2008 at 6:04 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Modesty) (, , , , , , )

Posted by Lauren

In our last article on this very touchy issue of modesty, we discussed the importance of keeping covered in church—both as an act of humility before God and in order to safeguard our brothers in Christ.

Undoubtedly, most of us dress differently throughout the week than we do on a Sunday morning. And this isn’t wrong—so long as we’re still dressed modestly and femininely (by “femininely” I do not mean “dresses and skirts only”. See comments on Deut. 22:5 below.) The issue of situational modesty is related to situational ethics—that our standard of what is right and what is wrong changes depending upon what situation we find ourselves in.

As believers in Christ, we know that God’s standards of right and wrong never change. A lie is a lie is a lie—no matter how “white” it may be. If we deal honestly with the Scriptures, we know that we can never justify our sin by using our situation as an excuse—we are accountable to God for our own actions.

So what about the practical application of modesty? Do we really seek to be modest and discreet 24/7, or do we compromise our personal or family standards when we attend certain events?

Eventually I’d like to address specific events and situations in which Christian girls are frequently called upon to compromise their modesty, but for now let’s just take a closer look at the clear commands in Scripture by which we are to set standards for ourselves.

Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.”

Clearly, God doesn’t want us to dress like men. This does not teach, however, that skirts and dresses are the only way to achieve that goal, especially since both men and women wore robes at this time in history. It just means that their robes were distinct from one another.

1 Timothy 2:9-10 9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.

Proper clothing—when was the last time you put something on and asked, Is this proper or fitting for a woman of God to wear? “Proper” may also denote an orderly rather than slovenly appearance.

Modestly—the word really carries the meaning “sense of shame”. This is not to say that a woman should be ashamed of how God has made her, but rather that she has something of value to hide. Modesty is really an attitude of humility that says, “It would be shameful for me to draw attention to myself. What I have, I will keep hidden for the man God has chosen for me. I would be ashamed to do otherwise.” This kind of shame is not at all linked to insecurity—instead it shows great confidence and trust in the Lord. Another thought: “Modest is hottest” is a popular slogan among Christian girls today, but does it reflect a godly attitude? Does it make much sense when we think about the fact that a truly modest girl isn’t trying to be “hot”?

Discreetly—to be discreet is to be discerning and self-controlled. This is more closely related to the way we use the term “modesty” today. To be self-controlled when it comes to outward appearance means that we do not allow the world to sway us, telling us what to wear and how to act. Instead, we determine to honor God in the way we dress and set standards for ourselves in order to protect our brothers—and we don’t compromise those standards. We are self-controlled enough to stand firm. This understanding is foundational to breaking free from the trap of situational modesty.

Braided hair—most scholars agree that this is not talking about braids as we think of them today. It is better understood to mean elaborate hairdos that attract attention. These should be avoided as they do not reflect a modest heart.

Gold or pearls—similarly, we should avoid extravagant jewelry. Keep it simple. Don’t try to look like a rich, old lady. Jewelry can be a great way to look feminine, but don’t wear jewelry that gets attention or that makes you look wealthy, upper-class, or like a celebrity.

Costly garments—again, we are not to dress to impress. The emphasis is not just on how much you paid for something, though that is important to consider. What this really means is that we should not try to “look like a million bucks.” Does your appearance tell others that you’re willing to fork over a lot of money to look a certain way? Does it tell others that you are trying to look “higher class” than them? We are to be dignified, but never ritzy. Perhaps this should be our attitude: “I’d rather nicely dress down so as not to alienate or discourage my sisters in Christ who are unable to dress up. I have the freedom to dress up, but I will limit myself so that I can reach and serve the poor.”

But rather by means of good works—so, instead of trying to look fancy and wealthy, we are to focus on adorning ourselves with good works. The heart of a godly woman is that of a servant. This is far more important than any form of outward adornment. A good question to ask is this: Am I willing and ready to serve? Does what I wear prevent me from serving others? If we have our hair perfectly set and wear costly garments and a bunch of bling, odds are we aren’t interested in serving—after all, we might mess up our hair and dirty our pretty dress or break a nail, or we might sweat and get our pretty jewelry all grungy, or scuff up our fancy shoes. Do you see how Paul’s discussion of what we are to avoid is naturally in opposition to good works? That is why he transitions using the phrase “but rather.” It’s difficult to be a true servant, dedicated to good works, when you are extravagant in your dress and invest much time and money in it. Let your reputation be based on what you do, not on what you wear (see 1 Timothy 5:9-10 for the kind of reputation we should pursue).

1 Peter 3:3-5 3 And let not your adornment be merely external– braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.

This passage parallels the 1 Timothy passage above. Peter has the same warnings as Paul, and he contrasts them with both the heart and lifestyle of a godly woman.

Gentle and quiet spirit—we are to be gentle rather than harsh, and our spirit is to be quiet or tranquil. This really means that we are not easily moved, that circumstances do not phase us. The godly woman has such a spirit of trust and confidence in her God, that she is not easily shaken nor offended. And this is an imperishable quality—one that God highly values!

Submissive—from this passage we see that a gentle and quiet spirit on the inside results in a lifestyle of submission on the outside. The godly woman is too interested in honoring her Lord by honoring her man to be preoccupied with having an extravagant appearance.

Those are the three main passages that contain commands concerning women’s dress. There’s a lot there to think about! The beauty of these passages is that they address both the outward physical appearance as well as the heart and character of a woman who follows Jesus Christ. That fact in itself is very telling: we cannot separate the heart and character from the outward appearance. We can’t say, “It’s the heart that matters” and then neglect the practical commands that apply to what’s on the outside. Nor can we dress “by the book” and think we have done well without cultivating true Christian character.

I challenge you to consider your standards in light of these passages and their implications. Talk with your parents or husband about them. Determine what practical guidelines you will set for yourself so as to obey both the letter and spirit of these commands. And then be thinking about the questions I raised earlier: Do you compromise your personal or family standards when you attend certain events or participate in certain activities? In the next couple of modesty articles, we’ll focus on several of the most common situations in which compromise has become the norm.

part one / part two / part three / part three cont’d / part four

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Version of the Bible. Terms are defined with the help of Strong’s concordance and Greek dictionary.

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27 Comments

  1. Kaylene said,

    I’m a first time visitor. I’ve been so encouraged and I can’t wait to return and read some of these articles in more depth. May God bless!

  2. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    Hi Kaylene! Thanks for the comment! Your blog looks really nice–great title! 🙂

    God bless you, and we hope you enjoy our blog.

    In Him,
    Lauren @ PearlsandDiamonds

  3. Elizabeth Ellen Moore said,

    I appreciated this post very much. I look forward to seeing how you continue on with the subject of situational modesty. It is a tricky topic, but I like the way you are approaching it. God bless you!

  4. von said,

    You said:

    Clearly, God doesn’t want us to dress like men. This does not teach, however, that skirts and dresses are the only way to achieve that goal, especially since both men and women wore robes at this time in history. It just means that their robes were distinct from one another.

    I believe that you make a mistake in logic here (one I have seen elsewhere).

    Let us suppose that we lived in a culture where everyone wore the exact same thing, except that some women wore a red ribbon around their arm. Would it not be the case that someone without the red ribbon would be ‘ambigous’ while someone with the ribbon would be distinctly identified? No boy or man would dream of wearing the ribbon.

    Thus it is in our society. Jeans, pants, are all ambiguous. Both wear them. However no man (outside of Scotland) would be caught dead in a skirt. Could it not be said, then, that skirts and dresses are distinctly feminine? By wearing a skirt or a dress (in our society) you clearly and accurately identify yourself as a female. Isn’t that as obedient as one can be to ‘not dressing like a man’?

    PS I have posted your comments on my site ‘vonstakes.blogspot.com’ You might want to check out ‘christianbetrothal.blogspot.com as well.

    Von

  5. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    Thank you for your response, Von. My comments on that verse are mostly aimed to point out the fact that the Bible does not command women to wear skirts or dresses ONLY. Many people try to use that verse to say it is a sin to wear pants or modest shorts. Calling something a sin which God’s word doesn’t call a sin is legalism. We need discernment rather than rules. I’ve been in the legalism trap before–it breeds self-righteousness and can also lead to being very judgmental of others. That’s been my experience.

    What has convinced me that women can dress modestly and femininely without wearing skirts or dresses all the time, is the fact that last fall, for the first time in a long time, I was meeting with older, godly women, who wore pants appropriately (not tight like most people my age). They also wore tops that were very feminine. My legalistic mind had trouble with that until I realized that I was a fool to judge my older sisters in the Lord. I had a lot to learn from them. Many of them wore skirts often. But not all the time. And when they wore pants, they wore them appropriately–these ladies were dignified, feminine, and modest whether wearing a skirt or pants.

    That said, I choose to wear skirts about 99% of the time when I’m out in public (I’ll probably write an article about that). I’ll wear pants or shorts when they are appropriate (working out, hiking, yard work, etc). Knowing that I can wear skirts by conviction and preference rather than as some absolute rule has been very liberating for me. I don’t judge others like I used to.

    I hope that makes sense. Like I said, I appreciate your comment and respect your conviction–I almost agree! But I can’t lay down something as law that the Scripture doesn’t plainly state. I hope that helps you to understand where I’m coming from.

    Grace and Peace,
    Lauren

  6. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    PS–I’ll check out those sites you mentioned–thanks for mentioning them!

  7. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    I realize that in my lengthy response I didn’t answer your question:

    “Thus it is in our society. Jeans, pants, are all ambiguous. Both wear them. However no man (outside of Scotland) would be caught dead in a skirt. Could it not be said, then, that skirts and dresses are distinctly feminine? By wearing a skirt or a dress (in our society) you clearly and accurately identify yourself as a female. Isn’t that as obedient as one can be to ‘not dressing like a man’?”

    Skirts and dresses are absolutely distinctly feminine. And certainly, if a woman wears skirts and dresses, she’s made a good step in the direction of being as obedient as she can be to “not dressing like a man” (skirts are feminine, but some ladies who wear them sure aren’t!).

    But the fact that skirts and dresses are distinctly feminine doesn’t mean that they are the only way to obey–nor that they are the only articles of clothing that are distinctly feminine. Many a godly woman has worn pants and blouses that no man would ever wear (following the criteria you listed for skirts), and they are both modest and feminine. And really, the bottom line is that the Scripture doesn’t give us a clear command concerning what articles of clothing pertain to men and which ones pertain to women. So let’s leave it at that and encourage wisdom and discernment.

    Grace and Peace,
    Lauren

  8. von said,

    I think we disagree over your ‘bottom line’. My orthopraxis is not limited by what is ‘clearly commanded’. I always seek to find what my ‘best obedience’ is. Thus I have commanded my wife and girls to wear skirts and dresses (outside of the family context) as my understanding of the best and clearest way of communicating feminity.

    It is harder for boys.

  9. Em said,

    yuck.

  10. Melissa said,

    Hello! I’ve visited this site a few times – but haven’t had a chance to look at some of the articles until tonight. Thank you for your heart to reach out to this generation and explain Scripture clearly. My parents don’t have a “set” standard – so it is absolutely refreshing to get into the Word and see that the Bible has the advice right for me on how to dress, act and be a young woman after God’s heart.

  11. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    Von, I fully support your conviction and the way you choose to lead your family! It is my prayer that what we post here would never be used to undermine the authority of any girl’s father or husband. In fact, as a result of your comments, I realize I probably should have elaborated a little more on my commentary on Deut. 22:5. I wanted to deal with what the Scripture plainly stated, so I dealt with something it doesn’t plainly state (“thou shalt not wear pants”). But I am in no way against the conviction or decision to wear dresses and skirts only. I apologize if my commentary seemed to invalidate anyone’s opinion who has come to that conclusion, be it our target audience or their authorities. That would be a tragedy! Scripture is clear: girls whose husbands or fathers prefer or command skirts and dresses should joyfully submit. I affirm your position and authority, and I affirm your application of God’s commands to your family.

    I also agree that our practice shouldn’t be limited by what is “clearly commanded” either–I believe we must apply wisdom and have humility before the Lord, seeking to obey as best we know how. And people will have differences of conviction in areas that are not spelled out in detail in God’s word. That’s why I emphasize wisdom and discernment (both of which must be subject to the authority God has placed over us). The bottom line in communicating what is necessary to others who are not under my authority, however, IS what is clearly commanded in God’s word. I can use the wisdom I have gained to challenge others to think about their application of what is clearly taught, but since no one is under my authority I have no room to set standards for others that are more specific than those in God’s word.

    Grace to you,
    Lauren

  12. NewssyLee said,

    Thanks to you

  13. paul & leah said,

    nice site. good heart warming thoughts on tough issues for some christians. One question. Why do you dress different for church than for the world?

  14. paul & leah said,

    sorry i forgot to apply quote “Undoubtedly, most of us dress differently throughout the week than we do on a Sunday morning.”. so why is that? If that is what you do, i was just wondering why that you would feel the need to dress differently for church than for the world

  15. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    Paul & Leah,

    Thank you for the encouraging words. 🙂 The statement about dressing differently during the week than we dress for church on Sunday is more of an observation than a personal belief that I hold. Most American Christians dress to fit their surroundings: students wear jeans and T-shirts on most days, working adults will wear a uniform or business attire–whatever is appropriate for the job they do. On Sundays, most church-goers try to dress up a bit. It’s a western tradition to wear your best clothes when you come to worship God with other believers. It’s not a biblical thing, it’s just what is commonly practiced here in America. So I was speaking in more general terms. I personally don’t dress much differently for church than for going out in public any other day of the week. The goal is the same: glorify God by looking like a woman and keeping it modest.

    Does that make sense? I personally think there should not be a difference as far as our standards of modesty are concerned–and when we come together as a church, we ought to be even more careful to make sure that we are covered and are not drawing attention to ourselves. See the article I wrote called Sunday Best: https://pearlsanddiamonds.wordpress.com/2008/07/16/sunday-best/
    I hope this helps to clarify things.

    What do you think about this topic?

    Sincerely,
    Lauren

  16. michelleh said,

    Dear Ladies,

    Thank you for your refreshing site and discussions as well. May the Lord richly bless you.

    Michelle

  17. paul & leah said,

    i was just wondering thats all. Why it happens, how did it come to be. Now the sunday best back in the old days, was just a cleaner and less worn version of what people wore most of the time. Some differences of course but for the most part, the everyday dress was just not as fancy and less clean than the sunday dress. A dress none the less. so i see the ball dropping with feminism, independence and the equality.

  18. paul & leah said,

    we handled the pants thing like this. What is the first thing a female does in the dressing room when trying on pants? If your honest then you know its look at their bottom. Why? To see if the bottom looks ok, or good enough to buy. The issue turns directly to the heart. Why am i wanting my butt to look good? For who? Clothes should deflect countenance to God, not draw people to our flesh.

  19. Larissa said,

    This may be plainly obvious to some, but I have to point out that there are a lot of girls and women who only dress in skirts and dresses which are so revealing and tempting that God would not approve. One only has to walk down any city street anywhere in the world (perhaps except the middle east). So how can dressing in modest pants or shorts be worse than that? Modesty is the point, not the item of clothing. The cut of the robes mentioned in the scriptures were the difference between womens and mens robes. Just as the cut of the pants AND skirts/dresses make all the difference.
    That’s my 2c.

  20. Why we haven’t been posting… « Pearls and Diamonds said,

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  21. Julie said,

    First time visitor here! This is a great article, thanks!
    I would just like to mention the fact that we are not bound by Old Testament law. Addressing what I expect to be an onslaught of protests, I do not mean disregard all OT law. But I would like to point out that 6 verses later, the law states:
    “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together. You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself.” (Deuteronomy 22:11,12)
    I don’t know anyone who follows the law there. And mind you, not an implied law, a clearly stated law. Many who have not been reading the Pentateuch recently would not believe the amount of laws that you could find that seem completely ridiculous. I’m sure there was an excellent reason for God to state all of them, but for us now, who have been cleansed by Jesus’ blood to save us from the law, who is to say which of the OT laws are valid now and which are not. For me the line is which ones are mentioned in the NT, and the strictly OT ones are good to keep in mind, but not “required”.
    However, I do respect those who keep their modesty standards by wearing skirts/dresses. However, I keep mine by wearing pants. I do not feel convicted, I feel very modest. Also keep in mind that I ride horses, play sports, work on a farm and do many other things in which a skirt would be, not just immodest, disastrous.

  22. Pearls and Diamonds said,

    Julie,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. We are completely agreed that we are free from the Law of Moses. Praise God that the Law that brought only condemnation can no longer condemn those who are in Christ!

    At this point, the only Mosaic laws (that aren’t repeated in the NT) that my husband and I think we need to pay practical attention to are those that mention things which are expressly stated as “abominations” to our God (the specific commands concerning these abominations aren’t binding on us, but it is good to keep in mind what things are abominable to God). If they were an abomination to Him then, they quite probably are now (included are idolatry, unjust weights and measures, homosexuality and other kinds of immorality—Proverbs lists more, including lying). Cross-dressing is an abomination based on Deut. 22:5. I don’t take this to mean pants are off limits for women, but rather that we should be distinctly feminine and carefully modest in our dress as daughters of God representing our blessed Savior! 🙂 And the application of those principles will look different from family to family. By the way, I completely sympathize with your point that skirts and dresses would not be very modest in some situations! 🙂

    I hope that helps clarify why I listed Deut. 22:5 in my post. Thanks again for sharing!

    Grace and Peace,
    Lauren

  23. Marie said,

    Thank you for reflecting on such a difficult/potentially controversial subject. I have come to agree with Lauren, wearing dresses mostly, but using pants for yard chores, etc. I at one time tried unloading a pickup truck in a skirt, and when I jumped off the back, the skit went up over my head! The boys helping me were even more embarrassed than I was; hence I re-evaluated my “all dresses” stance, and try to make all my decisions based on God’s principles of modesty and femininity that never change. I was surprised, though of the comment that the OT is non-applicable. I have been so greatly blessed by studying its principles, for not all are repeated in the NT. For example, I usually do try to wear fabrics of 100% cotton, or wool, or whatever, because the quality is usually superior. Isn’t the Lord wonderful in His practicality? But the greatest blessing I have found from studying the OT is that everything so far I have found is a beautiful representation, an object lesson, if you will, of the believer’s relationship with Christ. Jesus is everywhere in the OT, too! Again, for example, in both the OT and NT, clothing represents character. We need 100% Christ, not part Him, part self! One more thing, if I may: I have also re-evaluated my former stance with jewelery. I used to be of the “moderate use” persuasion, but I found out that in the 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s, most of the women who were consecrated Christians did not wear any jewelery at all. My girlfriend’s grandmother said it was uncommon to see Christian women in the 1900’s wearing jewelery until later in that “century”. Instead, they used the money for missions. I now go “sans jewelery”, and am amazed how much of a positive influence it has, especially when I minister to families in poverty. I try to dress and wear classic feminine clothes and hair, use the best taste I know, smile a lot :), and then have found I too have a special influence when ministering to wealthier families. Rich or poor, they seem to appreciate happiness with simplicity and economy. So I concluded that not all things in the Bible are “spiritualized” or generalized, but some specifics are such a blessing from an all-wise Creator, Who wants our natural outer loveliness and inner beauty of character to shine for Him without artificial/unnecessary distraction.

  24. Tammie said,

    I have visited your website several times and I enjoy reading it. I have a comment on why we dress differently on Sundays. I was raised by my grandparents and we are Baptists. My grandmother always made sure we had our best clothes on for church because she said when we worshipped God he deserved our best. Not that he doesn’t deserve it all the time, but during the week we have to work and need to dress accordingly. But, save our best for worship. I have become lax and this brought my grandma’s words back to me. God teaches us in many ways, and sometimes we need reminding. God Bless

  25. Mary Ellen Nissley said,

    Thank you for your words of wisdom. I have read down over the comments, and have little to add, other than a question I have for Von. I wonder why you think it is ok for girls to wear in front of their brothers, types of clothing which would be considered immodest in front of non-relatives? None of us likes to admit it, but brothers do indeed struggle with mental purity when their sisters dress in a revealing way in front of them. It seems to me that the home is the place where training is done. If a girl is trained to think it is okay for her brother to see her in form-revealing clothes, she will become hardened to allow other males to see her that way, too. I was raised in a conservative Mennonite home, and am one of 7 sisters. Now most of us are grandparents, and I see how, in each home, those who had lax standards of dress within the home setting had very sad results as their children grew up. However, those who were careful to train modesty in the home setting, now have the most faithful grandchildren.
    May the Spirit of Jesus be with you!

  26. Situational Modesty | said,

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  27. Situational Modesty - said,

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