Don’t throw stones! I can only imagine most of you are thinking I’m either crazy or dead wrong! Whenever the modesty discussion comes up, people are always quick to say, “But remember, it’s a heart matter. It’s not just about our clothing.”
This is said to express that we can fully cover our bodies but if our hearts are not in the right place, we are not being modest. Essentially: the inward appearance is more important than the outward appearance. On the surface, this seems like a good mentality to have. After all, it is important that our hearts are in the right place!
The flip side is that this mindset gives the impression that modesty is a heart condition and that it doesn’t really matter how you cover your body. And that right there is a problem!
You see, the word “modest” is only used one time in the Bible. 1Timothy 2:9 says, “in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,”
I fully believe that our hearts should be in the right place. There are many Scripture passages that talk about our hearts and what their condition ought to be …
- Pure (Matthew 5:8),
- Clean (Psalm 51:10),
- Dwelling place of His law (Psalm 40:8),
- Steadfast (Psalm 57:7),
- Upright (Psalm 94:15),
- Perfect (Psalm 101:2),
- Wise (Proverbs 10:8),
- Merry (Psalm 15:13)
Let’s face it, folks … 1Timothy doesn’t say we should adorn ourselves with a modest heart: it says we should adorn ourselves in modest clothing. In the Scriptures, modesty is never referred to as a heart matter. The only time modesty is discussed in Scripture is in reference to clothing.
The physical garments that we wear.
Modesty has been an important issue in our family for many years. While we try to do our best to follow the convictions that the Heavenly Father has given us, we also try not to put our family standards on other people. We do not believe that the way people cover their bodies reveals the level of righteousness in their hearts because 1Samuel 16:7 says, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but YHWH looks at the heart.”
And therein lies the problem! People do look at the outward appearance. They make judgments based on the outward appearance.
Picture a scenario. You’re at a social function and you see a young woman who is dressed immodestly. I am not going to describe how she is dressed … just imagine that she is dressed inappropriately according to your standards. You have the opportunity to speak with her. She is a sincere believer who truly desires to please the Heavenly Father, she is a sister in the Messiah, she is thoughtful and compassionate and if you were called upon to give an opinion on the condition of her heart, it would be a positive one.
But what message is she sending to the people, especially the men, in this room who do not have the opportunity to speak with her? Her appearance is causing others to struggle with temptation and keeping their thoughts in the right place. Her choice of clothing does not inspire words like “seemly, decent and well-arranged” (the definitions of the word modest) and the inappropriate display of her body is causing distraction. Perhaps people will give her the benefit of doubt and only think about the good and sincere intentions of her heart. It’s more likely that most will have the impression she is looking, perhaps unconsciously, for inappropriate attention.
This is where the “modesty is all about the heart” argument falls to pieces. It just simply is not all about the heart! It is about our physical apparel and appearance. A girl can have the most “modest” heart in the world but if her clothing is revealing and suggestive, she is not modest! And, ironical as this may sound, a prostitute who is dressed in decent clothing that covers her body properly is modest! She has some heart issues to deal with, for sure, but if she is wearing clothing that is not revealing and suggestive, she is still modest!
I understand that many people have had negative experiences with someone judging or condemning them for their clothing choices. This is unfortunate and should not happen in the Body of Messiah. However the tendency is to swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction, to the point that people aren’t willing to address immodesty. We should be able to encourage and exhort each other, not forcing our opinions and beliefs on each other but sharing them in love.
Another incorrect perception of modesty that I have heard is this: if we fully cover our bodies, we will stand out in a crowd because everyone else dresses differently, and thus we are not being modest because we are drawing attention to ourselves. So it is better to dress like the people in the world around us, right?
The word modesty does not mean, “not drawing attention to ourselves”. Granted, we should not present ourselves in a way that calls attention to us … either through inappropriate display of our body, or through covering up in a self-righteous, better-than-thou attitude. But modesty is not about whether we are drawing attention to ourselves or not; it is about being decent and not revealing what should not be revealed.
We are surrounded by a culture that glories in immodesty and sensuality. The more the merrier. Society is in a downward spiral. Clothing that was considered immodest and inappropriate 100 years ago is now acceptable and normal. Can you imagine our great-grandmothers wearing tight jeans and tank tops? Or bikinis? Can you imagine the horror they would feel if they saw someone dressed in that way? As believers and followers of the Messiah, we cannot take our cues from society. There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “Right is right if nobody is doing it and wrong is wrong if everybody is doing it.” We must have a higher standard.
I know of a young lady who believed in dressing modestly and believed that she did. Some of her “modest outfit” blog posts included pictures of her in snug-fitting tops and tight jeans or knee-length skirts. At the same time, she was complaining about receiving inappropriate attention from young men! I wanted to say, “Dear young lady, put some more clothes on!” (and I did, in similar terms).
Ladies, it is not modest to wear clothing that reveals your figure. Have you ever wondered why men’s jeans are usually cut to be looser-fitting than women’s jeans? Think about the difference between male and female swimwear – why is it acceptable and expected for women to wear less? I believe these are just some of the ways that the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) tries to cause brethren to stumble and fall.
When a lady dons clothing that draws inappropriate attention to her figure, she is demonstrating, perhaps unconsciously, her lack of respect for the physical body that she has been given. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a new friend and she was sharing how she had been convicted about her lack of modesty. It was an incredible blessing to hear not only about the changes she was making in her wardrobe but the reason for making those changes. She had realized that her body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 6:19-20) and she was not treating it as such. Profound!
In closing, I want to challenge you to think about the clothing that you put on each day. Ask yourself questions like:
- Does this glorify my Heavenly Father?
- Would I want to come before my Savior dressed like this?
- Am I clothing my body as befitting the temple of the Holy Spirit?
- Does my appearance present a message of femininity and beautiful womanhood or worldliness and sensuality?
Dear ladies, it is very important to have your heart in the right place. I don’t ever want to belittle that concept. But it is equally important to attire yourself in clothing that portrays decency and femininity, that calls for the respect of others and inspires them with thoughts that glorify our Father in heaven instead of vice versa. Blessings to you as you seek the Father about what is modest in His eyes!