An Emotional Moment About Modesty
My precious daughter (a senior attending a local high school) came home one day with tears in her eyes.
"Sweetheart, what’s wrong?", I asked and gave her a hug.
"Nothing," she sniffled.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Okay. I love you and I want to help in any way I can. Just let me know," I said with another brief hug.
I began to turn away but was immediately engulfed in a 30-minute, non-stop, emotionally-charged account of a heated conversation between three of her close friends that resulted in all three of them being mad at her and each other. It all stemmed from a single question one of the girls had asked about someone completely unrelated to their group.
"Do you think that dress is modest enough for a girl who says she is a Christian?"
Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
- One of her friends was upset because she felt that the question was judgmental and "Jesus said we shouldn’t judge lest we be judged."
- Another was upset because she felt the question was legalistic and her mother had told her "we have freedom in Christ to dress however we want."
- The third was the young woman who asked the question and noted that the Bible said women were to dress modestly.
- My daughter’s contribution was the observation that Paul’s statements regarding modest attire had a specific historical context that was far different from our own modern understanding of "modesty". (I know. She is very much her father’s daughter.)
After listening, comforting her, and encouraging her to pray about her friends, I shared a few thoughts.
Jesus’ warning of "Do not judge so that you will not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) is about hypocritical, self-righteous judgment. I pointed out how, just a few sentences later, He says, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:5) Christ also said we should "judge with righteous judgment". (John 7:24) As long as her friend wasn’t being hypocritically self-righteous then she wasn’t "judging" others in that sense Messiah was prohibiting.
The Biblical concept of legalism is "requiring someone to obey the law in order to obtain or keep salvation" (see Acts 15:1, Galatians 3:2, etc). Unless her friend was saying that a person had to be modest in order to obtain or keep their salvation then she wasn’t being "legalistic". That word is often just used as a scare tactic (like the terms "homophobic" or "racist") with the intention to stifle open and honest discussion.
In Galatians 5:1 Paul says, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." This is explained in Romans chapter 6:
Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)
We do have freedom in Christ: freedom from sin not freedom to sin. Any concept of grace or freedom that makes us feel more comfortable sinning is neither Biblical grace nor Biblical freedom.
After sharing these ideas and offering a paraphrase of Paul’s exhortation, "so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone," I set out to do a little digging on the topic of modesty for myself, and I was quite surprised by what I found.
The only verse in the entire NASB translation of the Bible where the word "modest", "modesty", or "modestly" is found is in 1 Timothy 2:
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. 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 2:8-10)
All the brouhaha about Biblical modesty and the Bible has only one verse on the topic?
Perhaps it was just a matter of finding the right translation.
Searching through the ESV, NIV, NKJV, and others only added a 1 Corinthians 12 passage to my list of verses using "modesty":
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:21-25)
Here Paul uses the metaphor of a person’s physical body to describe the body of Christ. But this is dealing with our "unpresentable parts" and it’s not like anybody at my daughter’s school is running around with their unpresentable parts exposed. [Oh, dear Lord, I certainly hope not!]
Some commentaries I read pointed to 1 Peter chapter 3 regarding modesty:
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:1-9)
Hmmm. Maybe I was being too specific in my search. Maybe a definition of modesty will help me find some synonyms I can use.
- showing a moderate or humble estimate of one's merits, importance, etc
- freedom from vanity, egotism, boastfulness, or great pretensions
- behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency
Aha… now we’re getting somewhere!
There were plenty of passages that spoke about these ideas.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:3-4)
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (Colossians 3:12)
For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2 Peter 2:18)
After my study, I shared these passages with my daughter and left her with these additional thoughts:
Modesty is about more than clothing.
It is about our speech, behavior, and attitude towards G-d and others.
Modesty is about beauty.
It is not the outer, sensual beauty the world seeks but the imperishable inner beauty G-d seeks.
Modesty is about living in freedom.
It is freedom from sin not freedom to sin.
Modesty is about both men and women.
It is walking in a manner worthy of our calling as children of the Most High.
Modesty is about who we worship.
Are we concerned about people seeing us, how we see ourselves, or about how Christ is seen in us?
Her eyes are dried. Her heart is filled. Her mind is readied. She shares a verse with me in return:
"Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity..." - Hebrews 6:1
I know. She is very much her Father's daughter.