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.
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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