The idea of modesty is not new to me or to any other female that has ever attended a church girl’s night of any kind. It is almost ritually brought up as a topic of conversation just to make sure we still get it.
And I’m not going to say that modesty isn’t important, because it is. It’s incredibly important. Jesus calls us to honor him with our bodies in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.
And in Romans 14:19-21…
So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. For although all things are clean, it is wrong to cause anyone to stumble by what you eat. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.
These are the verses make up the foundation of the modesty talk. In simplest terms it sounds something like this:
Women’s bodies are created by God and we should honor that by not showing everything to the world. We should also cover ourselves so we don’t cause our brothers in Christ to stumble.
Now-keeping in mind that I agree modesty is important- I want to introduce the two questions/issues I have with how most churches currently deal with modesty.
1. No one ever talks to the guys about modesty.
Part of the progressive movement in the church is to open up dialogue about the dangers of pornography, lust, and pre-marital sex with the youth. It’s a problem that needs to be solved and it’s slowly but surely coming up out of the cracks so it can be dealt with instead of pushed into a silent corner. That is great. Especially since it is also moving towards recognizing that girls deal with that stuff as much as guys. Previously when the church wanted to talk about lust, the guys were sectioned off and the girls got a talk about modesty or God’s love or something similar to that. No one recognized that girls need to hear that just as much as the guys do.
So if girls are just as tempted as guys, why does no one talk to the guys about not being a “stumbling block” for their sisters in Christ?
Why is it that when there’s a youth pool party the girls are told they have to cover their swimsuits with a t-shirt, but the guys get to run around in nothing but their swim trunks?
It never fails that when it comes time to have that talk, the girls get labeled the stumbling block and the guys are told to just make sure they avoid it. No one thinks to reverse the sermons to make sure everyone knows all aspects of how to avoid temptation and honor God with our bodies. The church puts so much effort and emphasis into making sure the girls know how special their bodies are to God and how dangerous they are to men that they completely forget about the guys. A man is just as much made in the image of God as a woman. He is equally called to honor his body as a temple of Christ and he is equally called to not cause others to stumble.
Modesty is not a female issue.
It is a human issue.
2. Modesty is taught as a set in stone.
When I was younger, my church sent a group of missionaries to Africa. Once they came back they got a whole Sunday to talk about their experiences and show slideshows of the work being done there. While I have no doubt they talked about some incredible stuff and there was a great message to all of it, my eight year old brain walked away with one thing: Women in Africa don’t wear shirts.
Now, I know that is generalization and not entirely true, however, the tribe this group had interacted with was in a rural part of Africa that still practiced many of the customs we associate with ancient times. Part of this culture was that women didn’t cover their chests 24/7. It was not uncommon for them to walk around without the top half of their garment.
As a child, this practically scarred me.
As slightly less of a child, this testimony has raised some interesting questions.
When the issue came up, one of the men described initially feeling uncomfortable. However after a day or so he came to realize the culture didn’t sexualized women’s bodies in that way. The women weren’t deliberately seducing someone into sin. They were feeding their children. They were going about their lives in a normal manner, not using themselves to entice the men or deliberately provoking something.
This raises the question: Who decides what modesty is?
Several of the members of that tribe came to know Jesus. Does that mean we are now to go to the women and tell them they have to change the way they dress? Remind them that God has called them to honor him with their bodies? Reprimand them for being a stumbling block to the men in their community?
I don’t believe that is the case.
A large factor in modesty is the societal construct around it. In Biblical times it was considered scandalous for women to show their heads. In parts of Africa today it is acceptable and normal for men and women to reveal themselves in a way that the US may consider shameful. All over the world their are different levels of what is deemed appropriate, but if we look at the Bible there is one thing in common with the examples of immodesty.
in the twilight, the evening,
in the dark of the night.
Suddenly a woman came out to meet him!
She was dressed like a prostitute and with secret intent.
She was dressed like a prostitute and with secret intent.
The Lord says,
“The women of Zion are proud.
They walk with their heads high
and flirt with their eyes.
They skip along
and the jewelry on their ankles jingles.
and flirt with their eyes
How sick is your heart, declares the sovereign Lord, when you perform all of these acts, the deeds of a bold prostitute.
All of these instances had an intention behind them. These people were deliberately dressing in such a way as to engage in sin. They were dressing as a temptation.
Now, I certainly do not condone running around outside in nothing but your Birthday Suit, but I am not the one to make the final say on wearing bikinis, tightly fitted dresses, or men going shirtless to the beach. And I don’t think we will find those specific answers from anyone but the man who made modesty himself. There is no section of the Bible that says how long shorts should be or whether or not spaghetti straps are appropriate.(Believe me, I’ve looked.)
So maybe, just maybe, modesty is less about what we wear and more about WHY and HOW we wear it.
It isn’t a rule book of “no shoulders” and “finger tip length”. It is an act of making God important enough that we look for his approval on what we wear; asking him to reveal our motives on why we are putting this on our body. If we make it about him and not about us, I don’t think we can go wrong. Pure intentions, a clean heart, and the stamp of God’s approval have never yielded bad results.
This is how modesty should be presented; not as a list of do’s and don’t’s, but rather as an aspect of giving every part of your life to God. Not as specific things we can and cannot wear, but rather as a general rule of looking for the approval of the one who made you.
There you go. Now you know what I know.
Do with it what you will.