“Oh, great,” I can hear you say. “Another post on modesty.” And you click away from our blog and go read something more interesting.
I’m not saying there isn’t something more interesting to read on the Internet (including more interesting posts on this blog, even) and I actually I agree with you. A lot has been said, blogged or preached about this issue. I grew up with a “modesty checklist” some people I deeply respect came up with that included guidelines about how short a skirt should be or how low a blouse should plunge. I vividly remember having a discussion in ninth grade with two of my best friends; we were talking about how awful it was that girls wore bikini’s in middle school (we really were utterly scandalized.) On the other end of the spectrum, I came across a meme a few days ago with a bare-chested woman painted with the phrase “Still not asking for it.” It was obviously a take on the rape culture, but the discussion following it was one on modesty. One person was talking about the necessity for modesty in how women dress to make it easier on the men around us, while the other side was saying apparel should always be a personal decision.
And what about the men!!!? Men should be modest, too! Why is the impetus always placed on the women? Why shouldn’t a man have to wear a shirt at the beach or pool? Women struggle with lust just like men do. Sheesh.
The pendulum is always swinging. It swings so far one way sometimes it is in danger of flying across the room. Just fifteen years ago my friends and I were appalled that girls even younger than we were wearing bikinis. Now most of my friends have no problem with it.
So who is right?
In danger of sounding like Switzerland, I won’t say, “both sides are right.” I will say it like this: modesty checklists and nude women aside, a modest disposition of the heart will show in the way women AND men dress, interact and live. It really is a heart issue…and always will be.
Modest dress is a worthy discussion (after all, the Bible does talk about it!) but modesty includes far more than what can be seen on the outside. In fact, the definition of modest is not “Women who dress culturally appropriate.” Rather, the definition is “the quality of being modest; freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.” I didn’t see “Modest is hottest” anywhere in that definition either. The definition goes on to say, “regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.”
Ultimately, modesty is an issue of self-control. Titus 2:11-14 says:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
In essence, self-control is wrapped up in the gospel. We are to live our lives renouncing what the world says, and live for our Blessed Hope to return to us, which involves living in self-control and not self-gratification.
Our behavior, speech, and dress should reflect this truth: a modest, self-controlled approach to how we adorn the gospel. Jesus was humble, self-controlled and modest. Philippians vividly paints with this looked like…the Son of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing. That is our model for behavior, not what our friends or culture do or say.
My friends who are comfortable wearing bikinis at the pool or beach are not my standard. I shouldn’t strive for that type of self-expression. My family members who are more outspoken and confident in their opinions than I are not my standard. I shouldn’t strive to express myself as well as they do. My co-workers who go out and jump out of planes, climb mountains, and travel the world aren’t my standard. I shouldn’t strive to be fearless like they are. My standard should be Christ, the ultimate standard, who demonstrated in public nudity what our lack of self-control cost: his own brutal death. The only perfectly modest One who ever lived has clothed our immodest nakedness and shame with his robes of righteousness.
That is what modesty is about. So the pendulum can swing as far left or right as it wants to. Debate away, but remember that where we fall on this issue will either adorn the gospel or show a watching world that we are compromising — and that the power of Christ only goes as far as our “personal preference.” The fact is Christians shouldn’t be pursuing whatever is hottest but whatever is most holy.