The topic of Modesty is certainly no small issue among individuals in our society and among our brethren. The truth is I could talk about all the problems and divisions this topic has caused among believers and churches in the rest of this article and that would do us no good. When one studies modesty and its application to our lives as disciples of Christ, we must seek to rid ourselves of any pre-conceived notions that will ultimately taint what the word of God says on the subject. We could read the scriptures and listen to sermons but if we already have made up our minds about what we will do in regard to modesty, then we are only harming ourselves. It is quite alarming to learn of the amount of time and money people put into their wardrobes. And maybe that’s the real issue we need to talk about here. The fact that individuals are putting more time and effort into their wardrobes rather than their heart undoubtedly speaks volumes of their priorities. Paul and Peter both point out that modesty commences with the heart:
“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 Tim. 2:9-10, Paul).
“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (1 Pet. 3:3-4, Peter).
These two passages are the most relevant in terms of the New Testament teaching concerning modesty. Before we proceed, it is vital to note that modesty is not just for women, but it applies to both a man and a woman. While these passages do speak to women, there is no reason whatsoever to suggest that modesty is only a female problem. On the contrary the issue deals with both men and women which we will discuss shortly. In the passages above, it is interesting to note that there is no given list of details of what one should or should not wear. Don’t misunderstand me. Do men and women wear too little sometimes? YES! Do men and women wear too much sometimes? YES! These passages in particular, deal more with the reality of one wearing too much and such an attitude indicates immodesty. Note that nakedness in certain contexts is also immodest.
However, the point of these verses is not to draw lines of some sort on our bodies or to dictate how much is too much or too little. Notice that what both Paul and Peter seek to emphasize is the heart that professes godliness. Is it only the woman who must have a heart that professes godliness? Surely not! Thus, modesty applies to both man and woman since we are all called to “walk in newness of life” (cf. Rom. 6:4). Jesus was rather blunt when He made it clear to His disciples that what comes out from our mouths is telling of who we are on the inside.
“And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23).
You see modesty is more about our hearts and the mindset of godliness that we as followers of Christ ought to be cultivating and demonstrating. If we profess to be of Jesus, then we must have the mind of Jesus. Such a mind “seeks that which is above and not what is on the earth” (cf. Col. 3:1-2). The question here isn’t “what will others think about this” but we should be asking, “Will God be glorified in the way I dress?” After all, according to 1 Pet. 3:3-4, God wants a gentle and quiet spirit which He finds most precious. The problem with modesty (like a lot of other issues) is that we are primarily concerned of what men (mankind) think and we dismiss and even disdain God’s concern. Perhaps this is where our pre-conceived notions take over. We don’t want to change the way we do things (particularly the way we dress) and no matter what is said or written we will still do what we want anyway. When did Christianity ever become about self? (See: Phil. 2:3-8).
If the gospel is what we teach, and our desire is to save souls, should I be drawing attention to myself or should I seek to put Jesus on display? God’s concern is in the kind of attitude we have. Godliness is holiness and if we don’t strive to be holy as God is holy then we are missing the essence of the gospel. God sees everything that we do including the way we dress, and He knows what the true intentions of our hearts are. A disciple whose goal it is to be holy as God is holy, need not worry about what others may think because he/she will understand that being pleasing to God means doing His will and loving my neighbor. Loving my neighbor means doing what is necessary to save their souls and not seeking to make them stumble because of my actions (women who don’t wear enough clothes showing too much or a man who does the same).
Modesty demonstrates an important truth about the disciple of Christ. Our primary concern must always be with our hearts and our professing to be godly because this is what defines who we are. Without saying a word, what we wear speaks great truths about our priorities and the condition of our hearts. If it is not for the reason of glorifying God first, then we need to strongly re-evaluate the condition of our hearts. If we are not considering what it pure, holy, righteous and necessary to shine our lights in a dark world, are we really different than those around us? It may be that our culture says it’s okay to dress and behave in a certain way. God’s word has not changed since the day He spoke those words. Cultural and societal doctrines change all the time to suit the needs of whatever we feel is best. God’s word isn’t going anywhere, and He wants us all to be modest! Are you professing that which is godly with a quiet and gentle spirit? Does God find our dressing precious in His sight?