What is “Modesty”?

I have always been of the opinion that when Christians have a question, we should first and foremost look to the Bible for answers. So why is it then, that when approaching the issue of modesty, we so often look to society’s standards and not God’s? The answers are there, if we are willing to look and listen to what the Lord has to say.

Sometimes, as we all know, we have to cross-reference different passages in Scripture in order to gain a clear understanding of God’s position on things. In my extensive research, here’s some of what I’ve found pertaining to modesty. (The emphases are mine.)

A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 22:5)

And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs.They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him. (Exodus 28:42-43)

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

I think these verses paint a clear paint a pretty clear picture as to some basic guidelines for how to dress ourselves. We should make sure we are covered from waist to thigh to cover what the Bible defines as our nakedness; women should not dress like men, and men should not dress like women; and we should dress in a manner that does not draw attention to ourselves. There’s more, however:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. (Luke 17:1-3)

But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matthew 18:6-7)

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

So, while the Bible does not clearly define the breasts or cleavage as “nakedness,” it IS clear that women should be very careful not to tempt men. Our culture has sexualized breasts, and breasts are something that women know full well they can use to their advantage over men. Understanding the verses above, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we should dress in a way that covers our breasts and cleavage, so as not to be a stumbling block to the men around us. If we desire to trust the Bible to be applicable to all aspects of our lives, then I believe that, per the Bible, these are the guidelines we should use when selecting clothing: women should dress as women and not as men (skirts and dresses, anyone?), they should make sure their bodies are covered even down to the knee so as not to expose our nudity, and we should also adequately cover our breasts as they are widely seen by men as sexual objects. We should dress with discretion, taking great care to make sure that we are drawing attention to our hearts and minds, not our physical assets.

As I’ve said, we can gather through these verses that it’s a grave sin to cause someone else to sin. And according to Matthew, a man merely having sinful thoughts about a woman is equivalent to adultery. As Luke says, we need to watch ourselves. Are we intentionally dressing in a way to bring attention to ourselves? Women, we need to ask ourselves, will our short skirts or shorts, tight clothing, or low-cut tops cause men to lust after us? If so, we are in direct violation of God’s command. Jesus went to far as to say “woe” on us if we cause someone to stumble. I don’t know about you, but I never want to hear Jesus look and me and say, “woe is you” for something I’ve done! That’s a scary place to be!

I know that it’s unpopular to dress modestly in our culture. I realize that it tends to make us stand out like a sore thumb, and many people don’t want to make such a big, bold statement declaring that we are different. Christians nowadays want to live with one foot in heaven and one foot in the world, but this is not what God wants for us! We are called to be set apart – we are not of this world.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

We’re only on this earth a very short time; do we want to spend our time bringing glory to ourselves and our own bodies, or do we want to spend that time focusing on expanding God’s body, the body of Christ? Pray about it!

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