Sometimes I really hate reading modesty blog posts and the inevitable ensuing  fracas. No, most times I really hate reading them – and it frequently doesn’t matter which side of the issue is being argued. No matter how kind or how rude the original post, no matter if it is an urge to cover up more or loosen up more, everyone seems to take sides, get cranky, feel judged or feel judgey . . . all in all, a real win for Christian charity in all directions.

So with that said, here I go with a modesty blog post. This isn’t about specifics though, so don’t panic – this is just a general observation. Of late there seems to be a lot of discussion amongst the womenfolk pointing out that the men are responsible for their own hearts and their own lust problems. The burden (it is argued) is on the men to keep their hearts pure, not on the women to keep them from ever being tempted.

Here is how it generally seems to break out. Advocates of traditional modesty (the ones who would want to stay away from bikinis etc.) have sometimes made their argument this way: Women! Be modest or else you will cause all the men around you to fall into the grip of lust! Stop forcing my husband and my sons to stumble! Get behind me Satan!

Then there are the women with looser standards of modesty (the ones who would tend to be on board with bikinis) who point out that men can have a lust problem even if all of the women are wearing burkas and snowpants . . . and the issue isn’t the women’s skin, it’s the mens’ hearts. Therefore, it is argued, dress however you please, keep your own heart pure, and God will be happy with you.

(Obviously I’m painting with broad strokes here – there are plenty of nuances and gradations and varying perspectives . . . but let’s just keep it simple for the moment, and for the purposes of argument divide the opinions into the above two camps.)

Here’s my trouble. I would usually tend to agree with the first group on the practical application – but I think they have often done a really lousy job in arguing for it, and it frequently seems to be motivated by fear rather than obedience. Fear of other, more attractive women, fear that their husbands will be stumbled, fear that their sons will be led astray, often just fear of sexuality in general. But the very same passage which commands “modesty” also commands that women “not be afraid with any terror.” What good is it to be all buttoned up and correct on the outside but disobedient on the inside?

And frankly, the second group is dead right that the men are responsible for their own hearts. If they have a lust problem, that’s their problem and they can’t blame others for it. They have a responsibility to be pure before God regardless of what the women are wearing. God has commanded them not to lust, therefore they need to not.

But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the men are responsible to obey God regardless of the current fashions which surround them, the same goes for the women. We have to obey God regardless of the current fashions which surround us. God has commanded us to be outwardly as well as inwardly modest . . . and he actually never said that it’s because of the men. Frankly, that may not be the point at all – think of that very odd verse which tells us to wear our hair a certain way “because of the angels.” We may not actually be as in-the-know as we think we are regarding God’s greater purposes. God never gave us a “here’s why” argument on the modesty question – he just gave us a command. We don’t need to be modest “so that the men won’t sin” – we need to be modest so that WE’RE not in sin. We don’t need to be modest to please the Christian men (or women), we need to be modest to please God.

I think that by filling in the “here’s why,” the modesty advocates have really clouded the issue. Sure, there’s a side benefit to a community of modest women, and that’s the fact that the men in that community who are actively pursuing godliness will have an easier time of it than they would if they were to find themselves on an Italian beach. But by making that the main issue, modesty advocates have really made the whole topic very lopsided. Imagine if one of the Israelites in the time of Moses made a really big deal about keeping all the holiness codes “because of the health benefits.” There actually are a number of health benefits,  but of course God was making a much bigger point than that. It’s kinda neat to notice some of the healthy side effects of the Old Testament laws . . . but if you were to make that the main point it would really mean that you had actually missed the whole point. On the other hand, if yet another (more enlightened) Israelite was to take issue with the first one, and claim that the health benefits weren’t really all that, and you can be perfectly healthy while living like a Philistine and therefore we shouldn’t bother with the commandments at all . . . this person would also have missed the bigger point.

And I think the same thing is true with the modesty topic. Making life easier for the Christian men is a benefit – but a minor one at best. Because to be honest, if I see a woman who is clearly, unarguably, beyond any shadows of doubts, adulteress-in-Proverbs level immodest . . . the heart I would be the most concerned about in that situation would be hers, not the men who chanced to see her. They may fall into sin, but she definitely has.

So I think that as we pursue modesty, the biggest question should be whether God is pleased with our outfit, not whether we will cause anyone to stumble, or whose fault it will be if they do. The question is whether or not we are being faithful with what God has asked of us.

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23 thoughts on “Modesty

  1. I think you soothed an ache in my brain, Bekah! I had a muddle of similar thought, but you put it together clearly. Love this, thanks for writing it.

  2. Good points. Every time I read an article on modesty I think about the institution of clothing, and wonder why no one ever brings it up. Adam, Eve and God all saw the need for clothing once sin entered the world, even though the only human beings on the planet were married to each other. Seems like causing men to stumble couldn’t have been the issue here. But clothes were still necessary, and ‘aprons’ weren’t sufficient. That creates problems for both sides in the traditional debate…

  3. I love it. What a good point. Anything that points back toward our calling to be holy for GOD – and it all being about God – floats my boat. :-)

  4. Thank you so much for this really helpful and I will be quoting/sharing at length with my small group of teenagers. Thank you

  5. This is very well stated. I was at one point in my childhood taught “holiness”. Stop cutting your hair, do not show your knees, or elbows, no jewelry, make-up. It was a “hole-y” mess !!
    As I grew in relationship with Christ, it was MY heart that changed. As I added things to my wardrobe, in HIS time, a few things were discarded and a few things remained. I resound the comment that when my husband and I are out and I see a blatantly immodest outfit, I think about the person strutting it and silently pray for her. Only God can change us, inside out. Thanks for the blog !! I may have to share it on mine !

  6. You’re back! You’re back!! Hurrah! Hurrah! Thank you for bringing a balanced view to this issue!

  7. Oh, my goodness. This is so great. Thanks so much for finally setting the argument for modesty in its right context.

  8. this is wonderful! I agree that we should be doing it to please our heavenly Father, not just those around us. And we need to be honest about what pleases Him, not make excuses when it doesn’t go with His desires. I read an article about loosening up the other day,and I have been mulling it over. This really makes a lot more sense, as far as where our hearts should be when deciding what to wear. Not what can we get away with, but how can we obey our Father’s wishes to be a godly example of Him.

  9. I guess I kinda sorta see the point, but really it strikes me as something of a false dichotomy – dress modestly EITHER to avoid being a stumbling block OR out of obedience to God. I don’t think this is an either/or question. Since the Bible is chock full of commands to love our neighbor, consider others above ourselves, bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves, and indeed, to avoid causing others to stumble, those considerations are just as much about our own obedience as the direct command to dress modestly. I can’t agree with downgrading them to “side benefits.”

  10. Hi Beth,
    I totally agree with the truth of your point about charity etc. – I just think it’s a weak foundation for the argument. For instance, even if no men were stumbled into sin, I would still need to be modest – because God told me to – and that’s the biggest reason for obedience. An eight year old girl should be modest even if no men are stumbled, an eighty year old woman should be modest even if no men are stumbled, an unattractive woman should be modest even if no men are stumbled, and a curvy and attractive girl should be modest even if all the men around are godly enough to not fall into sin over it. I think to base the argument off of who is stumbled and who isn’t actually just opens the door for general immodesty in a way that is unhelpful.

  11. I’ve been raised that modesty is right but taught with the understanding that holiness begins in the heart and is revealed not only in our dress, but our actions and expressions. God has given us a standard for our protection and when we willingly obey the world notices. What a wonderful, walking testimony!
    Thanks for these thoughts. It is just as I’m trying to teach my group. God bless!

  12. I’ve missed the wonderful posts at feminagirls. So glad you’re back with something good for me to ponder… Cheers, Ladies!

  13. Great post on modesty! On a side note…where in the world has lizziejank been?! Is she okay? We miss her dearly on here!

  14. Totally agree with you that lust-prevention is poor motivation for modesty. I’d love to hear you expound on this bit:

    “So I think that as we pursue modesty, the biggest question should be whether God is pleased with our outfit, not whether we will cause anyone to stumble, or whose fault it will be if they do. The question is whether or not we are being faithful with what God has asked of us.”

    How can we tell if God is pleased with our outfits? If our heart is right with God, does it follow that our outfit will be?

  15. Would anyone actually argue that it’s not important to be modest, in obedience to God? I thought everybody (that is in this fight of the Christian warfare, that we may appear blameless at the judgment seat of Christ) agreed on that point. I do think it still comes down to the question of “what is modest”? And it doesn’t matter what other people think, because no one will be there to hold my hand at the judgment seat.

  16. Another point to consider is that our bodies are not public property. Our sexuality is to be for our husbands (present or future). Should we dress to look good to males in the way the world does and attract the kind of attention secular women who are looking for a mate do?

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