Modesty – Part Two

My views of modesty, especially in the context of the church, have expanded a lot as I’ve grown and matured. In Part One, I talk about all the things that modesty isn’t. Today I’ll give some (maybe radical, maybe not) solutions to what I believe the Bible really has to say about modesty and how we can apply it to our lives today. Please be kind and accept my words not as judgmental toward other views, but simply the result of my own prayerful searching. 

The Case for Modesty – Self-Respect

I do believe there is a case for modesty in today’s world, but it’s not what I was taught growing up in the church.

I was taught to dress modestly -following rules- for the boys.

Now I dress modestly -following conscience- for myself.

I think it’s inconsistent for feminists to mourn the objectification of the female body only to turn around and willingly subject ourselves to it.

I see women post revealing photos of themselves online or act in extremely provocative ways saying it’s “for equality.”

This sends mixed messages, I’m afraid.

We want to be admired, yet we don’t want to be objectified.

It’s a fine line that we dance on daily.

We want to be respected as humans. For our intelligence. For our wit. For our skills.

Yet many of us -myself included- are objectifying ourselves before anyone else does.

We feel that the only attention we deserve is sexual.

So we play the part.

But this simply isn’t true. We are so much more than objects. So much more than our figures.

We deserve to be listened to. To be respected. To be treated as equals, with no ulterior motives driving it.

It’s difficult, I admit.

But no one else is going to respect us until we respect ourselves first.

It’s time we let our shining qualities be evident – our personalities, our humor, our cleverness, our knowledge – let them take center stage above our sexual appeal.

We mustn’t use our sexuality as a crutch to compensate for lack of self-esteem.

We are worthwhile.

We are valuable.

Even if the boys aren’t falling all over themselves for us.

I think that’s maturity.

Being self-aware and self-confident enough to cover up because we respect ourselves.

Not because anyone told us to, but because we know our true worth.

What does that look like, exactly?

I’m not entirely sure.

I know some lovely women who wear head coverings and dresses.

I know other Godly women who feel at home in heels and skinny jeans.

They all love Jesus.

They all respect themselves.

Disrespect breeds disrespect. Regardless of society’s expectations, men are commanded by God Himself to honor and value women – with no caveat or excuse for dishonor (Eph. 5:25-28, Prov. 18:22, 19:14, 31). They will answer for how well they obey that command. But women will answer equally for how we behave in society, not only for how we respect others, but for how well we respect ourselves. When women publicly disrespect themselves by failing to recognize their physical and intellectual value, they open themselves up to societal disrespect.We women crave the attention and affirmation of men.

When a woman recognizes and embraces her intrinsic value, she doesn’t need to strip off clothes to prove a point. Her intellect and confidence speak for themselves, inspiring respect, not short-term shock, in those who observe her.

The covering is our glory.  It is not our shame. It is evidence of confidence: a confidence so strong, so inner, so grounded in something outside itself it transcends anything our culture can offer.

Phylicia Masonheimer

The Case for Modesty – Being Set Apart

I forget who said it first, but they call it a “conversion” when you become a Christian because you’ve been changed.

If how I live my life, how I talk, and how I dress is a perfect reflection of the society in which I live, then I blend in.

I don’t think I’m merely meant to blend into the world.

I think I’m supposed to stand out.

Listen to these wise words from a woman who lives in a community that dresses modestly:

By covering my hair, I’m saying my hairstyle doesn’t matter, but my mind, heart, and character do. By covering my body, I’m saying my confidence doesn’t come from fashion or fitness, but from a deep sense of knowing I am worthy just for who I am, not what I look like. Wearing a head covering says that I not only accept, but love, the woman God has created me to be. And the belief that dressing with modesty, dressing with the deepest respect for myself, will in turn awaken respect in others…

For me, it’s not an omen of oppression, but a flag of freedom.

Freedom in the sense of being rightly related to my Creator and enabling me to maintain an attitude of permanent worship…

Freedom from comparison, that ever-lurking “thief of joy,” because I am not beholden to any fashion standard, nor am I setting an example that makes another woman feel unworthy.

And, most blessedly, freedom to allow the right relationships of other men toward me, and ultimately, freedom from the enslavement of objectification. In other words, by endeavoring to dress and behave in the manner I feel most honors my womanhood, I hope I am inspiring men to behave like true men.

Like a temple adorned from the outside with decorations that denote worthiness, my clothing consecrates. Communicates.

Sets aside.

Sets apart.

By wearing a head covering, I am making a clear statement to the visible and invisible world that my allegiance is to God.

But having said that, my head covering has never, ever separated me from anyone, or prevented me from forming deep and strong friendships with many amazing women and men the world over.

They know that for me it is not about piety or perfectionism – but a reminder of the Grace that covers me every day….

But I still get stares and sometimes, in addition, loud exclamations of “You look so beautiful!” or, “Your clothing is just so peaceful.” But always, always, I get the great questions, and love the opportunity to tell people about why I dress the way I do.

Norann Voll, the Bruderhof Community

I think this is absolutely beautiful, and I know from personal experience with my Bruderhof friends who dress this way that their modest attire can lead to incredible conversations and relationships.

There is value in being different. There is beauty in living differently than the rest of the world out of obedience and commitment to God.

The word “holy” means set apart for God. But most days I would rather blend in than be set apart!

It isn’t about rules as much as being my true self consistently.

I appreciate their openness, wearing their faith so visibly for the world to see.

However, I don’t want to get hung up on details.

Modesty will mean different things to different people – to each individual and each culture.

The mentor in me wants to set an example to other young women.

The mother in me wants my boys to grow into men who view women for who they are as people, not what they look like scantily clad.

But let me repeat that I don’t think this means we must adhere to legalistic rules.

I grew up with plenty of those (not from my parents, but popular Christian culture) and to my knowledge those rules didn’t keep anyone from sinning.

Rather, we can be true to our own joyful convictions.

We women have an opportunity when choosing the clothes we wear.

We can choose to gratify the desires of the men around us – to play up our sexuality.

Or we can choose to respect ourselves first.

I don’t believe modesty is limited to the clothing we wear.

I daresay modesty is the attitude of the heart.

The Case For Modesty – Simplicity

I had never even heard about this interpretation of 1 Timothy until recently, but I find it perfectly in line with other Biblical teachings on possessions, pride, and wealth.

1 Timothy 2:9-10 is one of the oft-quoted reasons for modesty in the Bible. Apostle Paul writes: “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

The Greek word translated “modesty” here is kosmios. Derived from kosmos (the universe), it signifies orderliness, self-control and appropriateness. It appears only twice in the New Testament, and interestingly, its second usage refers specifically to men (1 Timothy 3:2). In fact, nearly all of the Bible’s instructions regarding modest clothing refer not to sexuality, but rather materialism (Isaiah 3:16-23, 1 Timothy 2:9-12, 1 Peter 3:3). Writers in both the Old Testament and New Testament express grave concern when the people of God flaunt their wealth by buying expensive clothes and jewelry while many of their neighbors suffered in poverty.

Rachel Held Evans

Let’s take a quick look at one of those verses Evans mentions.

The LORD says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald. In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings,the fine robes and the capes and cloaks, the purses and mirrors, and the linen garments and tiaras and shawls. Instead of fragrance there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-dressed hair, baldness; instead of fine clothing, sackcloth; instead of beauty, branding.”

Isaiah 3:16-24

Sounds like it wasn’t lack of clothing that the Lord disliked about those women. He spends verse after verse describing things they were wearing and flaunting haughtily!

Rather than prescribe headdresses for these women, God removes the veils, headdresses, and sashes. He replaces them sackcloth and ashes, fully exposing the greed of these women’s hearts. He humiliates them by dressing them in less than what they were originally wearing.

It wasn’t dressing sexually, but pride and addiction to wealth that God was condemning here! 

I have never heard modesty taught in this way, but it actually makes perfect sense. The definition of the word “Modest” is “humble,” “free from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions,” and “free from ostentation or showy extravagance.”

Wow. This makes every verse about “modesty” sound a little different.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair or gold jewelry or fine clothes, but from the inner disposition of your heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4, emphasis added

Peter also appears to be condemning the greed and the attention-seeking heart, not sexuality here.

Look at 1 Timothy again with that in mind:

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

1 Timothy 2:9-10, emphasis added

Just a side note: the mere presence of the book Song of Solomon in the Bible is evidence that God does not condemn our sexuality.

Indeed, he created sexuality.

In marriage, sexuality does not lead to shame but to pleasure and rejoicing. Does it really help to treat every smallest glimmer of sexuality as dirty and inappropriate?

It doesn’t take long for a woman to realize that no matter what she wears, the curves of her body remain visible and will occasionally attract the notice of men. If this reality is met only with shame, if the female form is treated as inherently seductive and problematic, then women will inevitably feel ashamed of their bodies.

But our bodies are not something to be overcome; they are not dirty or shameful or inherently tempting. They are a beautiful part of what it means to be created in the image of God. These are the bodies that allow us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, the bodies that feel sun on our skin and sand between our toes, the bodies that nurse babies and cry with friends, the bodies that emerge from the waters of baptism and feast on the bread of communion. They are beautiful, and they are good.

So my advice for women looking for bathing suits this season is this: Don’t dress for men; dress for yourself. It’s not your responsibility to please men with either your sex appeal or your modesty; each man is different, so it would be a fool’s errand anyway. Instead, prioritize strength, dignity and good deeds, and then dress accordingly.

Rachel Held Evans

I’m thankful Evans helped put into words what I had already been wrestling with:

Modesty isn’t about covering up as much as respecting ourselves. 

It isn’t our job to keep men or women from sinning – an impossible task.

It is our job to guard our own hearts from pride, greed, and walk humbly daily. (Micah 6:8)

It is our job to dress simply, not because our sexuality is evil but because it is frivolous and wasteful to spend too much on clothing when brothers and sisters around the world are suffering. (Luke 12:33)

The attitude of our heart is what matters.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to dress a certain way. (Although I think he would want us to care about ethically-made or hand-me-down clothes. See Jeremiah 22:3. And he would want us to share our clothes with those who don’t have any.)

Jesus tells us not to worry about our clothing. (Matt. 6:25) At the end of the day, I think the only clothing we really need to worry about at all is clothing ourselves with generosity and good deeds. The rest of it will eventually pass away. (Matt. 6:19-20)

Feel free to join the conversation. How have your views on modesty changed as you’ve grown and matured? What do you think about the idea that modesty is a call to simplicity and humility? How can this be implemented in our lives and passed on to our children?

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2 Comments

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  1. your words always inspire me to think more deeply about things i don’t tend to ponder.

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