Modesty can be a super discouraging topic of conversation, but it doesn’t need to be. Surely we can all discuss it like Christian women who are serious about what God has for us. Titus 2 lays out the things that are important for the older Christian women to be teaching the younger Christian women, and in that list there are three things that really stand out to me. 1) To be kind 2) To love their husbands and love their children and 3) To be self controlled and pure. Now each one of these things is very relevant to the topic of modesty.
Yet the topic of modesty continues to be one of the most outrageously emotional discussions that women get into. Quite possibly because this is a topic on which the teaching of the older women is often at odds with the desires of the younger. But Scripture is clear that the younger women need to be taught this. They do not spontaneously combust with this knowledge. They need to listen to women who have been around longer than they have and perhaps have some insight that they are missing. I’d like to run through a quick ten points on the subject of modesty, which I hope will be helpful.
1) This discussion is not directed at unbelievers. These are not suggestions for springboard topics for your street evangelism. We are talking about how Christian women in our own churches ought to be viewing modesty. This is about practical Christian living.
2) Parents (and later on, husbands) who are respectable and trustworthy are absolutely critical. Many times in my youth I got myself into an outfit that I believed to be great, and appropriate, and cute, and perfect, that was shot down by the authorities. Because I loved my parents this was a momentary disappointment, and because they loved me, it was always in kindness. But what if you do not have parents like this? Well then you need to be working to become this for your children. Wisdom will not grow where foolishness is being cultivated. Seek it out, and you will be richly rewarded.
3) Lets keep our priorities in mind here. I have heard many young girls take a stand that could boil down to, “If God doesn’t want me in bikinis then He isn’t a God for me!” Seriously? Be honest with yourself here. I do not believe that Scripture calls us to be frumpy. But what if it did? Are you ready to walk away from the faith?
4) Thinking that the God who created breasts is too uptight for you is pretty awesome. He made sex. He made the desire to have it. He made the shapely girls and lusty boys. Refusing to listen to what your Creator tells you about yourself is outrageous narcissism. Refusing to listen to your mother is bad too, though not as bad.
Many Christians act like the world invented sex, and God is too prudish to deal with it. Like the editors of Cosmo made this up in their little think tank and God hasn’t caught on to the trend yet. We are too hot for Him to handle! This is really embarrassing. God gave you that body, He gave you your sexuality, and He wants you to use it to His Glory. Think about that.
5) There is a lot of talk about not wanting to make the young Christian girls feel ashamed of their bodies. As though respecting your body and behaving modestly is going to result in a crisis of future bad lovers. First of all, total side point: there are many modest women in thriving marriages with loads of children. Sort that out.
But the most important thing is that there are far more young women who would rather have the Christians thinking they are worldly than the world thinking they are Christians. If they knew we were Christians it would ruin our witness. If they could tell by the swimsuit I wear that I believe God can see my actions, then my testimony would be blown. If my clothes said that I believed in abstinence before marriage I would be so embarrassed. We would rather be associated with the immoral women who wear pretty clothes than with the League of Godly Womanhood for the Domestic Future. There is something deeply wrong with this. We are more ashamed of the Body of Christ than we are of our own sexuality, and that is a far more spiritually crippling problem.
6) Some Christians overemphasize the lust of men to the point of making it the responsibility of women. This is silly and wrong. Yet let’s consider this Titus 2 kindness again. About those leggings that aren’t pants, nor are they tights, nor are they underwear, (yet you are using them for all three). Those. Who are you serving with those? How are they serving your brothers? How are they serving your sisters? How are they serving you? And how are they serving God? Is God just pleased that your butt looks so great? Is He glad you found a way to make everyone look at it? Are the brothers who came to the Bible study to learn about The Gospel of Mark struggling through the logistics of your underwear usage instead? Are the sisters having to agonize over what to say to you since they know your friendship hangs in the balance? Here. I will say it. That is not kind. Be kind.
7) Scripture is abundantly clear about the immoral and immodest woman. When Christian parents teach their sons about the bad kind of women,they are pouring out mercy and strength to him. When a Christian mother says “you will know her by her immodest selfies on Facebook” the response of other Christians should be “amen!” and not what it currently is. We are so quick to fury about this. But if an immodest selfie is not standing in the gates with wanton eyes, I don’t know what is. Here is the deal. This is a main theme of Proverbs. Men! Stay away! If this hurts your feelings then you need to think about why, and you need to find a way to get your heart on track with Scripture on this.
8) Because we mistakenly believe that the world invented sex, we feel that an obedience to God is moving away from our sexuality. But God gave us our bodies with the intent that we use them to His glory. If you are not yet married, you can be honoring your Heavenly father and your future husband with how you use your body now. You can be protecting your future children now. I’m not even joking when I say that you are investing in your sexual future. Love, in your actions now, the people who will be dear to you then.
If you are a married woman, recognize that this body you have was given to you as a vessel of love, and joy, and satisfaction, and life. Carry your babies in gladness. See the stretch marks and changes in your body as a reminder of the grace that God is, and has, and will continue to pour out on you and through you. See the legacy that He is giving you to build in joy, and continue in joy as you build it.
Modesty is only a small component of the most complete sexual experience on the planet. The way God wants us doing this starts with vows before Him and ends with headstones beside each other. And when we are gone, the legacy of our love will be all wrapped up in people. Honor God in all the parts of that story – including the parts that are preparation. Do not get so fixated on what the cover of this book looks like to others that you neglect to think about the story inside. The world tells us that sex is all about self satisfaction and feeling good about yourself – it is a flashy, shiny cover that has cute shoes. But on the inside it is a story full of confusion, guilt, and sorrow while the heroine struggles to love herself. But think about this. God tells us that it is all about loving others. Pouring yourself out for others. Investing in others. Giving life to others. And all because we are loved by Him first, and second by human reflections of that love. Let your story be a story of faithful love that tells of His.
9) Recognize that often times the issue is not the issue. The skimpy tank top that started the discussion was not the only reason for the concern. If immodest outfits were frozen in time with no meaning and no directionality, it wouldn’t matter so much. But this is your life being written and you just introduced a plot point that looks to be going to a bad place.
I think sometimes the older people feel like they have been watching the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp on endless repeat. Another young girl eating spaghetti that ends in kissing the world. Only the world is not a cute dog, it is a devouring sorrow. Stop eating!! I am not saying that this excuses people who get super shrill and panicky about modesty, but at least they are acknowledging the danger. Meanwhile the sweet little girls roll their eyes at the older women and say, “Oh. My. Word. Get a grip woman. I am just having a bite, or two, or three, or whoopsies!”
Related to this, it doesn’t matter how many times you have been wronged by up-tight modesty police in your life. Your duty before God continues. Stop thinking about how other people could best be nice about you and start thinking about how you can best be honoring God.
10) Let’s just be honest about how easy this actually is. We do not need to get tangled up in what modesty meant at different times and in different cultures. Just start with here, now. Picture a spectrum. On one side, put an immodest t-shirt. On the other, put a modest one. Where does yours lie between them? Is a skoochy strapless mini dress a modest dress in our era? Is a bikini a modest swimsuit in our era? Are you a modest girl in our era?
One of my daughters recently claimed that it was impossible to get onto our trampoline because of the unbelievable infestation of ants. They were swarming. They were biting. You absolutely could not pass. Any mother who would send her child into that piranha-like situation was completely heartless. So we went out there together to check and we were able to locate, after some time, one. It looked gentle. It was tiny. Pretty sure it didn’t bite.
This kind of behavior has become commonplace among Christian women. “It is impossible for me to find a shirt that does not show my cleavage. Impossible. ” “I have to wear skirts that slit up to my insufficient skivvies because my legs can’t walk otherwise. It’s tough, but I hold up ok.” ” I never KNOW when I am bending over ostentatiously! I forget that I have such an ample bosom when I am getting it out for a little performance.” “I can’t wear a bra that provides any kind of modesty. It is annoying to me to have straps or closures.” “I simply am unable to swim otherwise.”
Come on ladies! Surely we are up to a challenge. And the ants aren’t going to eat us alive. I promise.
30 thoughts on “Why Modesty, Why?”
Good, Rachel. You’ve covered (no pun intended) the necessities without sounding like the prodigal’s older brother. You covered it like an “older woman”.
Standing ovation. Thank you.
Amen, Rachel! I am learning and being reminded of a lot during this discussion. I appreciate it!
Rachel I felt that you encompassed everything without being overbearing. I’m married and have two daughters. I grew up in a conservative home and church that taught modesty was not wearing bikinis, not wearing skirts that came above the knee, not wearing strapless dresses/shirts…you get the point. My problem with this definition of modesty that I was raised around and you hinted at is its lack of consistency. You mentioned that we shouldn’t be concerned with what era or culture something might be okay or not okay in but we should go by our culture and era. The line that you and the current conservative Christians are drawing is more revealing and immodest than previous generations. 100 years ago the “older women” as you referenced would be appalled that Christian women are wearing pants and skirts only down to their knees. I’m not advocating a strict standard but merely want to point out that the standard or modesty rules you insinuated at are merely a little better than what the world does. Where does it end? When do Christians draw the line and say enough? When the world says it is okay for a woman to be topless or nude Christians will continue on their current path and push for bikinis and mini skirts as the modest standard. I’m sincerely wanting an answer on what you think. My wife wears a bikini so I’m not advising all women wear a burka just mentioning the lack of a definite standard. The modesty trend for the past 100 years or so has been to just cover up a little more than the world. Since Scripture doesn’t list what is modest and what isn’t but just states be modest a lot is left up to interpretation.
This. “Carry your babies in gladness. See the stretch marks and changes in your body as a reminder of the grace that God is, and has, and will continue to pour out on you and through you. See the legacy that He is giving you to build in joy, and continue in joy as you build it.” I love this. I have been struggling with my self image because I just gave birth to a very large baby and I have put on a lot of weight and my body shape has changed so much. I am trying to remind myself that it’s not about what the world thinks about my body, it’s about realizing that God is using me to bring children into this world, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Rachel, you know I am one of your biggest fans. Truly. However, maybe it’s because I just read this story which moved me to tears (http://deeperstory.com/come-hither-men-for-i-have-sex-demons/), but I feel like the tone here is a bit “if y’all were more mature and really thought about it, you would agree with me.” As it happens, I DO agree with you that modesty serves us well and God delights in sexuality and our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, but I’m not coming from a background like Rahab and Tamar did where lies and damage have done much to “tarnish” my reputation. Yes, purity. But grace, compassion, grace, compassion, grace, compassion too. Or else the modesty conversation always seems to come across as so judgmental. It is simply not true that all “immodest” Christian women are doing so because they are defiant and selfish.
Thank you. This is packed with truths we need to hear. I think that for most, the issue is just plain selfishness/pride and we need to hear it like you tell it. Excuses so often flare up when things like this are said so cautiously to the prideful. I continue to be convicted. Thank you for your solid and clear communication with us.
Whoa! phew…take a deep breathe…and keep going for the next lap…I mean post.
Bronwyn wrote, “It is simply not true that all ‘immodest’ Christian women are doing so because they are defiant and selfish.”
I think Rachel’s point is more that Christian women have no business defiantly and selfishly refusing wisdom on this matter.
Thank you once again! It is so easy to get wrapped up in what we think other people are thinking instead of thinking about what God already thought and said in His word. As an unmarried woman it is also a good reminder to be proving my loyalty to whomever I marry one day, if that is the Lord’s will for my life, by the way I dress. As a woman would you honestly want your future spouse looking at another woman who was dressed the way that you yourself often dress?
someone was asked recently why they dressed in their particular style, their reply was they just liked it and didn’t care what others thought .. that those who really knew her would know she wasn’t “cheap” … trouble is, no one wanted to really know her because the message she was giving was “I’m fast and easy .. not interested in a real relationship” .. so I guess the question we should ask ourselves is what is the message my attire is saying about who I am and what my character is like .. does my attire reflect that I am the “temple” of God, the place where He dwells?
Thank you Rachel! Loud cheer! I was a foolish young woman. How I wished I had read this 10 years ago!
This has to be one of the best posts I’ve read on modesty. I especially appreciate how you connected the beauty of sexuality, being a wife and bearing children to the reason for modesty. Thank you!
This was great! You hit on so many good things, and even answered all my “but! but!” interjections without over-qualifying. Thank you for another great post, Rachel!
This is a really great post! Really well put!
You have an excellent mind, Valerie (kyriosity). I’ve noticed your comments from time to time on this blog and at douwils.com and your comments are always gracious and clarifying. Thankyou, Ali.
Really like this. I feel like my head is clearing somewhat in how I think about modesty.
This was something God spoke to me within the last few years… The idea of modesty as an act of love, of kindness… I didn’t want to cause someone to stumble… And most of all I knew God made me in His own image, and I knew my self worth.. And when I met the man God made worthy of me, I wanted to be just as worthy of him. I wanted to be something special, not something everybody and his brother had already seen practically naked through bathing suits or skimpy, tight clothing.
A few points I’d like to make, God revealed this to me through study of the Word and my relationship with Him. Not my mom… I think we should definitely teach our youth this, but without His revelation, you can talk till you’re blue in the face and your kids sit there staring at you like little sheep dogs with their heads cocked to the side.. I know this, I have two girls (one just started puberty, yikes!).. Encouragement should be on what to do, what grace has given us the freedom to do, NOT what not to do. That comes off like nagging. I liked your article because it focused more on “be kind” than “you can’t do this and you can’t do that.”
Unmerited grace teaches us we don’t have to be like the world.. We already walk in God’s favor, brand new, each morning. Girls shouldn’t be shamed into being modest, but emboldened and empowered to. And of course our focus is believers.
One last thing.. I really wish the men would pick up on this one too. By stating I’ve never been married and have two kids, I’m throwing it out there that I did not “wait until marriage.” And while now I wear a promise ring, and have been seeking God and allowing Him to prepare me for the great things in store for my future, (Jer 29:11) I still struggle with things at times. Like why is it okay to get on Instagram and see all my guy friends posting half naked pics after their Crossfit workouts (geez, more than half naked,a really) but our focus is on women who show too much leg in a sun dress? It goes both ways, people! Just because women aren’t as honest or outspoken about it, doesn’t mean we don’t have a hard time staying focused too.
Well said! Our sexuality is to be celebrated and enjoyed…in the proper, God honoring place of marriage. Every Christian woman should ask themselves why they want to wear the outfit they are choosing. If they (we) are honest, we want to accentuate every curve to be the most appealing as possible. And who do we want to appeal to???? These are good heart checking things we need to consider…..honestly. Thank you, Rachel, for not being afraid to speak the truth in love!!!
Modesty is a protection for a woman (especially an unmarried woman) insofar as modesty is more attractive to the kind of men who desire to be faithful, whereas immodesty attracts the kind of men who are more interested a conquest that flatters their ego.
I think sometimes we miss that believers (particularly the young) are missing the mark on modesty because they have such low sense of self-worth. They are finding their worth in the eyes of other people and whether or not they are deemed attractive, sexy, or appealing to the opposite sex. If we concentrate in our homes and churches on teaching young girls that their worth and value is found in Christ Who loved them enough to extend unmerited grace, I think the modesty issue would start resolving itself. We’re concentrating on the symptoms, not the origin of the problem.
These last two posts have been some wonderful expressions on working toward faithfulness in the area of how we present ourselves to one another. I have enjoyed the reads.
I noticed something about the disagreements expressed by some of the readers- these readers seem to agree with the points made here by Rachel and Bekah on modesty, but have concern, and complaint with the way in which these points of truth are being expressed. As we often do, we don’t like each others delivery. Different personalities will do this, and we should not become distracted by it, and use it to distract from the truth of the correction.
I was mulling this over and I thought this analogy might be helpful-
Think of this kind of situation represented by teams in a football game. The People of God vs. the World Folk. If one of our players (a Christian women) starts running touch downs for the World Folk team, or handing them the ball- those of us with the People of God team, are going to yell out corrections such as “What are you doing!” We are going to pull this player aside and have a sideline chat.
That is what these posts are like- side line chats, with some on the field “What are you doing!” going out to those who are not paying close enough attention to the rule book, or planned plays.
We can’t go around thinking that we can go out in the world, and just do what we want. After all, Christianity is really just a matter of my heart, not what I ware. Right? Wrong! This is not true Christian liberty. We are in a game. There are rules, and uniforms, and there are people to be loyal to. And yes, we are all learning to get better at being loyal. Which probably means that we will get corrected for the rest of our lives. So don’t be surprised and offended when someone tells you, “Hey!” “That wasn’t loyal.” Be thankful.
Go, fight, win team!!
And no. I don’t think women should play football-it’s just an analogy.
Loving the truth given … and your humor!
Cleavage , Jane Austen got a lot of things right in her Classic books, but what about all of cleavage. In the movies.? Stick to reading the books. Cleavage matters . Keep it for your husband to enjoy;not the whole world!
Thankyou so much Rachel, for your very honest and humorous look at this issue! Your faithful teaching of God’s ways concerning this whole area has totally convicted, strengthened and encouraged me at a critical time! Thankyou 🙂
I don’t know about the “it doesn’t matter what different cultures do”… back in India, I’d be terribly immodest for wearing a below-the-knee skirt to church, whereas here I’d certainly be looked at askance for having a bare midriff. (The belly isn’t sexualized/fetishized in India as it appears to be in the US, and a sari is conservative clothing.) In the villages my family has roots in, neither women nor men wear shirts, as breasts aren’t sexual and they don’t figure into modesty conceptions… but a woman must have her head covered for modesty. Here it’s relatively rare (though I was entertained to see it put exactly that way in Sarah Morgan’s civil war diary) to hear someone say you’re presenting yourself as an object of desire to men if they can see your hair. Similarly, it’s disrespectful there to wear shoes in church (or someone’s private home); from all the “foot fetish” things in the US, apparently it’s being very sexy and practically wanton to show your bare feet in public here. Unless you plan never to travel or never to meet travelers with kindness (“honey, I know that’s perfectly fine and holy where you’re from, but we do things differently here,” rather than “shameless hussy!”), it’s very good to be aware of differences in the world – and unless you agree with those (such as India’s Victorian missionaries who gave everyone English-style dresses) that say God has ordained one (western) standard of dress and modesty to be applied to the entire world, you may wish to specify that you are speaking purely to a modern, urban, American audience.
I think Rachel meant that you don’t have to worry about other cultures’ standards of modesty if you’re not living in those other cultures. I need to respect the cultural mores of the culture I live in, and not excuse my rebellion against those standards by appealing to the standards of another culture.
This is an area, that at my point in our faith, has really intrigued me recently. As I am trying to mature my walk with God the things I really could not wrap my head around when I was younger are really starting to make sense now…like dressing modestly. Thank you for this it really put perspective on things and tied it all back to the word of God. Good post! God Bless!