I grew up in a first-generation Christian home. Modesty was not a topic discussed much, because I always dressed like I was about forty (not that there’s anything wrong with being forty; I’m getting there quickly myself) and so I don’t think my parents were particularly concerned about it with me. I am confident that my mother has far more concerns about my clothing choices today than she ever did when I was a teen. [grin]
My husband, Matt, grew up in a more legalistic environment. Not so much that his parents pushed legalism, but rather the ministry group they were affiliated with was riddled with it. Because of his involvement with this ministry and this social media age and the fact that he has friends all across the country (and world) from this same ministry, the long term effects of this legalistic mindset have led to many a conversation in our home on legalism and grace and how we live our lives. And in the world of legalism, modesty is always a hot topic, so it’s one we’ve hashed out a lot over the years. And as the parents of five beautiful girls, we continue to hash it out, as we want to lead them well in this area.
Modesty is defined (per my Google search) as “the quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities and behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.”
That doesn’t say much really. At least nothing specific. It’s pretty vague.
Every summer, it seems, modesty becomes a trending topic on Facebook. And maybe Twitter too. The Bikini Wars, as I have dubbed them, start up and a dozen blog links get posted and both sides end up very frustrated. I know I do anyway….I can only assume the other side does as well. It will occasionally come up other times in the year (as in the newly discovered Yoga Pant Wars – I had no idea these were so controversial!), but summer seems to be the most popular time to publicly discuss acceptable dress codes, particularly in the area of swim wear. And here is why I think modesty is such a “hot” topic: Because so many of our other sins and struggles and choices can be kept hidden. I can struggle with a porn problem or excessive drinking or a shopping addiction or laziness, and keep that a secret. I can over eat or waste too much time on social media or watching television or reading questionable literature, and no one ever has to know. But if I wear a bikini to the pool – or if I don’t, if I wear a v-neck shirt or leggings as pants – or if I don’t – those are all things that are seen and cannot be hidden.
We humans, and I think especially we Christians, we crave a list of rules, a list of do’s and don’ts, so we can measure our own righteousness and, if we’re honest, the righteousness of others. Because God didn’t give us many lists (other than the 10 Commandments, which the Pharisees, we all know, turned into a bloated, weighty yoke that no one could bear), we like to make up our own and stack ourselves and others up against them to see how we all compare because Satan wants us to believe we have to work for everything when God says it’s all a free gift. And so, we cherry pick Bible verses and call “foul” on two-piece swim suits, strapless dresses, and short shorts, when the Bible really says very little about those things.
So, let’s look at some of what the Bible does say about modesty:
1 Timothy 2:9-10 – 9 – 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.
1 Peter 3:3-4 – Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Proverbs 11:22 – Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.
Matthew 5:28 – But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
1 Samuel 16:7 – But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (emphasis mine)
1 John 2:16 – For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
1 Corinthians 10:31 – So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
This is just a sampling of verses, but I see very little in them that talks about necklines or hem lengths or the amount of lycra that is acceptable to wear to the pool. I see verses that focus on the heart and where our focus truly should be – on loving and serving Jesus.
Stay tuned for more in this series.
For His Glory ~
More in this series:
Modesty and Grace: Intro
Modesty and Grace, Part 2 – Is Modesty More Than What We Wear?
Modesty and Grace, Part 3 – Culture, Context, and Time
Modesty and Grace, Part 4 – What Does Our Immodesty Say About Us?
Modesty and Grace, Part 5 – Who’s Responsibility Is it?
Modesty and Grace, Part 6 – Where Do We Go From Here?