Whatever Happened to Modesty?

by Denise Bowman
Biblical Insights, July 2007

Modesty has been an issue for man since the beginning of time (Genesis 3:6-7). Isn't it amazing that Adam and Eve, who were husband and wife and alone in the Garden, understood the need to cover their nakedness, and yet it is sometimes such a stumbling block for us? We like to think that our dress is not that important, but God showed His concern when He made them coverings of skin to replace what they had sewn together. God obviously cares about how we are dressed, and we should as well.

Webster defines modesty as "propriety in dress, speech, or conduct." Basically, modesty is defined by what is proper. It is not a subject that the world considers worthy of much consideration. After all, how long has it been since you heard someone described as modest or immodest out in public? Christians must be concerned about this quality, and much of that involves how we dress.

Modesty Starts in the Heart

Modesty begins long before you open your closet door. It is a product of the heart. Peter acknowledges this when he talks to wives about their role in marriage. "Do not let your beauty be that outward adorning of arranging the hair, of wearing gold, or of putting on fine apparel, but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4). The writer isn't saying it is wrong to fix your hair and dress up. He is saying that we should place more emphasis and spend more time ensuring that our inside is strong and beautiful than we do adorning our outside.

When we develop the character of the new man as prescribed in II Peter 1:5-11, then we are equipped to fulfill Jesus' command in Matthew 5:16: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven." And that is our purpose.

When we choose our clothing, we must remember that our responsibility is to glorify our Father. Take a look in the mirror and ask,

  • "Does this outfit reflect my love and respect for God?"
  • "Will what I wear help or hinder my effort to be a light to those around me?"
  • "Maybe this clothing is not wrong, but is it wise?"

If we have the right attitude and truly believe in our purpose, then the questions of too tight, too short, or too revealing should take care of themselves.

The Value Attached to the Occasion

What we wear is determined to a large extent on the importance we place on the event. Why do we dress up for a job interview and throw on sweats and a T-shirt for a trip to the store? Because one holds more value in our lives than the other; therefore we invest more time and effort into preparing for it. What does it say about us when we give no thought to what we wear to worship? We approach the throne of God when we worship. Is that not important? Of course, there is no direct commandment demanding high heels or a suit at every service, but it is hard to ignore the fact that sloppiness is a symptom of unconcern. And what about letting our light shine? When you go to lunch after Sunday morning services, would the waitress wonder if you had been to worship, or would she assume you had slept in? We must consider our influence, and how we dress says much about what we value.

Kids Mimic What They See

Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

Long before they become teenagers, we lay the groundwork for the attitudes of children toward modesty. Working in the school system, I am amazed at how many little girls are sent to school in mini-skirts, flirty tops, and two-inch heels. Little boys are sporting gang attire and low-cut, baggy jeans. Some adults apparently think this is cute when actually it's frightening. If you don't think this clothing makes an impression on little ones, just watch them walk. They may not understand the implications of flirtation and gangs, but those little girls will shake their hips and those boys will slouch around the hallways when they are dressed that way. It comes with the wardrobe.

We act the way we dress (that goes for adults, too), and it is dangerous to assume that we don't need to worry about what our kids wear until they are teenagers. Solomon says training when children are young is vital (Proverbs 22:6), and the earlier modesty is taught and practiced, the more likely our children will grow to be teens and adults who respect propriety.

"And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming" (I John 2:28). Would God be ashamed to see what we have been wearing? Are you dressed for the Lord's return?

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