Another day, another modesty article coming through my Facebook feed.
Who would’ve guessed that modesty would ever be such a hot topic on social media?
I’ve seen lots of articles which oppose “traditional” perspectives on modesty, arguing that men are capable of controlling their thoughts and should be expected to do so. They place responsibility for men’s lustful thoughts squarely on the shoulders of the men having those thoughts.
I’ve also seen lots of the opposite kinds of articles, which issue a passionate call to women to dress modestly. Articles such as these remind women about the stumbling block principle taught by Paul (I Corinthians 8, Romans 14), and beg women to dress modestly for the sake of husbands and sons, and for all of our brothers in Christ.
The Great Modesty Debate
After considering both sides of the matter, I have to say that I think they’re right.
Which one, you ask?
Well, here’s the thing…
I don’t understand why we have to choose.
We can acknowledge the truth in both viewpoints. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Christ-following men who are in close relationship with their Savior and are accessing His power in their lives are capable of fleeing youthful lusts. Moms, we must teach our boys from a very young age to avert their eyes when confronted with indecency. Because they will be held accountable for their lustful thoughts, no matter what the object of their lust is (or is not) wearing.
Like it or not, we’re “in the world.” This means men and women alike will be confronted with temptations of all kinds many times every day. At the pool. At the computer screen. At the grocery store magazine rack. At the church service. At the office.
We must teach our sons and daughters how to conquer temptation and flee youthful lusts, whether it be the lust for food or sex or attention or material possessions or anything else under the sun.
Christian parents need to raise their sons (and daughters!) to be pure-minded in the midst of an immodest world. That starts with our example.
But guess what? We also need to raise our daughters (and sons!) to be modest in the midst of a highly sexualized society. And that, too, starts with our example.
Because men’s responsibility to control their thoughts doesn’t absolve women from the responsibility to dress modestly.
What is Modesty?
The importance of modesty for women is addressed in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:
[L]ikewise 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.
One writer has pointed out that this passage isn’t referring at all to the amount of skin exposed, but rather to materialism. I don’t see eye-to-eye with her on many topics, but I think she’s right here. Christ-following women ought not flaunt their wealth by piling on expensive clothing and jewelry.
But it seems to me that her explanation is still too narrow. If so, why include “braided hair” in the mix?
What is modesty, really? It’s actually pretty simple. Modesty is presenting myself in a way that doesn’t draw attention where attention doesn’t belong.
So if the attention of people doesn’t belong on my bank account or my breasts, I ought not present myself in a way that implies otherwise.
Modesty starts in the heart.
It starts in a heart that is so consumed with love for her God that she doesn’t give a single thought to attracting others’ attention to herself.
A heart that just wants everyone else to be as obsessed with Jesus as she is.
A heart that is poured out in love and service for others, not so they can see her, but so they can see Him.
And a heart that recognizes the human tendency to notice other people, and who intentionally presents herself in a way that doesn’t encourage that tendency.
We love our checklists, don’t we? We would love to know what to wear and what not to wear so we wear all the right things and don’t wear the wrong things. (And just maybe so we can feel nice and holy when we measure up and other people don’t.)
But the truth is, modesty can’t be condensed to a checklist.
“You can show this, but not that. This high, but no higher. You can wear this many carats, but anything more is too much. This many bracelets, but no more.”
People have choices. And how does a Christ-follower make choices?
This, too, is simple. Christ-followers make choices by being in a close relationship with Him and asking Him, and then trusting Him to guide us.
(Yes, it always comes back to that.)
And remember that definition of modesty? Not attracting attention where attention doesn’t belong? Let that Scriptural principle be your guide.
Because attention only ever belongs on Jesus Christ. On our God and who He is and how He works.
If we can cultivate that kind of heart (and teach our children to do the same), I really kind of think the whole modesty thing would take care of itself.
(And imagine how empty our Facebook feeds will be!)