Christian Modesty

1Timothy 2:9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;

Verse 10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. (Emphasis added.)

The definition for modest in Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary is: Observing the proprieties of dress and behavior. Synonyms given are: PURE, DECENT, and CHASTE. CHASTE primarily implies a refraining from acts or even thoughts or desires that are not virginal or not sanctioned by marriage vows; it may imply avoidance of anything that cheapens or debases; PURE differs from CHASTE in implying innocence and absence of temptation rather than control of one’s impulses and actions; MODEST and DECENT apply especially to deportment and dress as outward signs of inward chastity or purity.

The first thought I have about modesty, based upon the quoted scripture and definitions, is that modesty begins in the heart. Thinking of pureness of heart showing itself forth in modest behavior and dress brings to mind the Seventh commandment. Teachings from this commandment are summarized in the Westminster Assembly’s Shorter Catechism:

Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Exodus 20:14. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Deuteronomy 5:18. Neither shalt thou commit adultery.

Q. 71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.

1 Corinthians 7:2-3, 5. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband…. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.

Q. 72. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions.

Matthew 5:28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. Ephesians 5:3-4. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

Let us imagine that a girl is a genuine Christian. Her desire is to honor the Lord in her thoughts, words and deeds. She truly desires to be modest in behavior and in dress. One way she will seek to communicate or express what she really is will be through her choices in clothing. That one’s morality (or lack thereof) is reflected in one’s clothing choices is shown in verses such as:

Proverbs 7:10 And, behold, there met him a woman [with] the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart. (Emphasis added.)

Genesis 38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought her [to be] an harlot; because she had covered her face. (Judah recognized certain clothing to be harlot’s clothing. – my comment)

When it comes to setting standards for the Christian woman’s modest clothing, however, trouble may and does arise. Men (and women) have often set very precise standards, and are willing to call other sincere, modest Christians worldly if their standards differ from their own. As I consider I John 2:15,16 I believe the cause of some of the confusion in standards is apparent:

1John 2:15 Love not the world, neither the things [that are] in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Verse 16 For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Some well-meaning Christians think that to avoid the world and worldliness, they must not be fashionable, or even allow themselves or their daughters to know what is fashionable. If one looks carefully at the above verses, however, one sees that worldliness has to do with a sinful desire to enjoy things, to have things and to *be somebody* (verse 16). This verse does not teach that it is sinful to know what is fashionable, or to be fashionable. The qualifying factor is modesty, not this warped view of worldliness. If the fashion is modest, or can be modified to be modest, it is modest attire, suitable to be worn by a godly girl.

I disagree with the following examples of standards for modest attire which well-meaning Christians have set, condemning as worldly those who do not agree with them:

  • > The clothing must be plain and unbecoming, preferably in muddy colors.
  • > Only long-sleeved, buttoned-up-to-the-top button blouses are allowed.
  • > Skirts must be to the ankle
  • > Don’t even entertain the thought of pants or, worse yet, shorts for women.
  • > Clothing from another era is the best bet, such as Little House on the Prairie prints and ruffles.
  • > Women must never go swimming, since there’s no such thing as an acceptable bathing suit.

The basic standards I have for modest clothing are as follows:

  • > The clothing is loose enough and covers enough of the body to avoid tempting brethren to impure thoughts.
  • > The clothing is appropriate to the activity in which one is engaging. If one is bicyling, for example, one is not wearing a dress which will possibly get caught in moving parts. Peter the apostle wore less clothing than usual when engaged in his work as a fisherman:
  • John 21:7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt [his] fisher’s coat [unto him], (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.
  • > The clothing is appropriate to the time and place where it is being worn. One should wear nicer clothing to gather together with others in the worship of the Lord, for example.
  • > The clothing may be fashionable, if it is modest.
  • > The clothing should be culturally appropriate. For example, if one is travelling in a country where modest women wear long robes and a veil, the Christian woman should not give the appearance of being immodest by continuing to wear the clothing which, in her home culture, would be considered modest. This principle should not be twisted about to rationalize wearing less or no clothing in a culture where this is the norm. To do so would be to sin against conviction and conscience.

2 Responses to “Christian Modesty”

  1. Willena says:

    This looks pretty balanced to me.

    I don’t know about the swimming thing… I mean, is there even such a thing as modest swimwear for MEN?? For most of my life I was satisfied with finding the most modest swimsuit I could, and not worrying too much about it. When I had daughters of my own, they were required to wear t-shirts over their bathing suit. In recent years, we have not had to face the issue, swimming only as a family in the Pembina River, where no one complains if we — girls and guys alike — wear shorts and t-shirts.

  2. Joyce says:

    Thank you for your comment, Willena. Quite a while back, some of the ladies were talking about swimsuits which were modest. If I recall, they looked something like “wet suits” but were of lighter material. I am trying to be more consistent in my thoughts and practice, so am trying to think more deeply about the issue of modesty.