The topic of feminine modest is a big one. And not only is it a big one, but it’s also a controversial one. Talk about a trigger word!
The Christian teaching on women needing to wear modest clothes has been around since the beginning of time – however, it has not always been taught Biblically and that has hurt many women and negatively affected their faith in God and their relationship with Him.
Maybe you have been hurt, too. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into what modesty is, why God calls you to be a modest woman, and where you should get your standards for modesty.
What does the Bible say about Modesty?
First off, we need to be clear on one thing. If we do not define modesty biblically, it will be quickly defined by traditions or church backgrounds – and this will get us into trouble. Sadly, this has already been the case. Most Christian young women grow up hearing rules for modest clothing: no skirts above the knees, no spaghetti straps, no two-piece bathing suits, no tight clothing, etc. What is the reason given to wear modest clothing? To protect our brothers from stumbling into lust and sexual sin and save our bodies for our future husbands. This then causes resentment within women because everything has to be for “the brothers” and because we have to think of them we can’t wear that super cute bathing suit to the beach.
The truth is, that reason for modesty is not very sustainable because it’s not the whole story. Protecting Christian men is only a small part of the issue of feminine modesty. Christian modesty goes way deeper.
The Theology of Modesty
The Bible starts and ends with a wedding. In Genesis 2:18-24 God brought Adam and Eve together and united them to become one flesh indicating the first marriage had occurred. In Revelations 19:6-9 there is a great marriage supper of the Lamb where the saints are united with the Lord as a bride is united to her groom after a long engagement to be married. The Bible is very clear that God created marriage to be a physical and tangible picture of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:31-32). Jesus treats the church in the same way a man is to treat his bride – in all love, faithfulness, intimacy, and protection. Israel became God’s chosen people (His bride) and their relationship is described throughout scripture. There were countless seasons of faithfulness and idolatry between Israel and the Lord and these events are described as a series of weddings and marital infidelity.
The Bible describes doctrinal and practical infidelity as adultery. God married Israel and when she worshipped other gods this is described as adultery and Israel is called a harlot. Immodesty in scripture is described as an invitation to adultery or fornication. Just like Israel worshipped other gods and was unfaithful to their relationship with God, the modern church does the same today. The modern church wants to go from one god to another god and this is the equivalent of undressing yourself in front of other men rather than your husband.
Just as Israel was Christ’s bride, we (the Church) are also His bride. How the Church dresses are how the Church worships. The way you dress is a statement of what you think the Church is. When a Christian woman dresses immodestly is it her “yes and amen” to that adulterous pattern of life in the Church.
The Biblical Standard for Modesty
This deeper understanding of the Biblical meaning of modesty gives women a greater reason to pursue feminine modesty in their lives but what about the details? How does that translate to the practical use of clothing? We tend to fight immodesty with traditional values instead of the Holy Bible. This gets us into deep trouble. Scripture has to be the standard. A church or Christian school can enforce a certain dress code or lay down countless rules for women to follow and they may reflect something in the Word of God but that does not make it Biblical.
Let’s look to the Bible to get our standards for modesty.
Women Are to Adorn Themselves
Women are commanded to adorn themselves. Paul says in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Also, 1 Timothy 2:9 states, “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”
The question is not to adorn or not to adorn. Some people go to the extreme of saying that women should only wear baggy clothing from head to toe. That is the extreme of saying women should not adorn themselves. That in itself is a rebellion to God’s word because He does call women to adorn. This issue is how should women adorn themselves.
In this passage, Paul is talking about a modest attitude – a gentle and quiet spirit. When this attitude is absent there are several external sins that can replace it.
3 Ways Women Should Not Adorn Themselves
An Ostentatious Attitude
An ostentatious attitude is trying to get the attention of others and trying to impress them in an obvious fashion. In 1 Peter 3:3-4, Paul describes braided hair, and putting on gold jewelry and clothes. In Paul’s days, the women used to wear blond wigs or arrange their hair in a very exaggerated fashion. He was thinking of these women when he wrote this. He is not forbidding braided hair, putting on jewelry, makeup, or fine clothes. He is addressing the ostentatious attitude here.
You should not look to these things to bring attraction. There is a modest way of wearing makeup and jewelry. There is nothing wrong with an external display but there is a problem with relying on it instead of relying on your internal beauty to become external.
Silliness and Vanity
Isaiah 3:16 describes the women of Zion walking in flirty and attention-seeking eyes and steps. This flirtatious attitude is not approved by God and is a type of inward immodesty that shows externally.
A woman seductively dressed is described in Proverbs 7:10 and Provers 6:25 talks about a woman with coy glances. The Bible does teach that dressing in a sexually provocative way is wrong. It is also important to note that a woman can be fully clothed but her eyes and words can communicate what she is willing to do behind closed doors. Someone’s appearance can be fully clothed yet they can be immoral.
This is the reason that no dress code can ever fix the problem of immodesty. It truly comes from the heart. We can look to different eras to see that this is true. In the Victorian Era, women covered their bodies in ways that our society would call pure and modest. Yet they had all sorts of immorality and although they did not display it in the same way (through their dress) the immodesty of heart was still present.
What Clothing Communicates
Clothing is a form of language. It can communicate a variety of different things. In Scripture, we see that clothing can communicate joy (Isaiah 52), sorrow (Genesis 38?), and prideful giddiness (Isaiah 3:16). When you dress formally for a wedding you are communicating formality, and when you dress in dark clothes for a funeral you communicate sorrow.
The style of our clothing speaks and it speaks whether we realize it or not. While reading this article you may be thinking, “I’m not communicating any of the things described here! I haven’t even thought about them!” The truth is that even if you are not thinking of sexual thoughts when you dress provocatively, other people are. Even in your ignorance, you are communicating something.
Imagine if you put a cool sticker on your laptop in Chinese and you have no idea what it says but you love the design. Then you go to get some work done at a coffee shop where a group of Chinese exchange students is meeting together. They look at your laptop and are completely offended by the obscene sticker you chose to display on its cover. You defend yourself by saying, “But I had no clue what it said!” Even though you didn’t know, you said it and people read it.
At the end of the day, ignorance does not excuse our sin. Men like to lust and women like to be lusted after. They are both sins that men and women need to deal with. Dealing with them is hard not because the solution is difficult to understand but because of the resistance of our hearts. The issue in our hearts can only be dealt with by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Us coming to Him in repentance, finding forgiveness and salvation in Him, and being strengthened by the Holy Spirit to fight the sin within us and practice self-control.
How To Dress Modestly
I am not going to give you any specific guidelines regarding what you should wear and how you should wear it. You need to prayerfully come before God and ask Him what is considered modest. But I will leave you with some points to consider that will help you in selecting clothing that will bring glory and honor to God.
Dress Your Heart Before Your Body
Is your heart dressed in humility and a gentle and quiet spirit? Do you have a heart that desires to love God and honor Him? Obedience to God is the first step to modesty. When you are willing to surrender and say “Whatever you want God, I will do” then you are on the right path. That kind of heart will glorify god and find joy in adorning itself in everything respectable, lovely, and true. this is something we need all the time.
Remember Who You Represent
Remember that you represent the bride of Jesus Christ. You represent the Church in all its splendor, beauty, and purity. Walk in a manner worthy of that calling. Dress in a way that is proper for the saints of God. Do not participate in the adulterous patterns of the Church, you belong to Christ.
Be Attractive Without Attracting the Wrong Attention
Women are called to adorn themselves. Women are to be attractive without attracting the wrong kind of attention. Women should not be attracting men to lust after their body parts. Women should be attracting men to the beauty of womanhood and the spirit God is molding in them.
In the end, it’s all about going to The Word of God and seeing what He says, and being willing to obey it. When you trust Him and obey Him you will find more joy and peace in this life than you ever imagined. Praying that the Holy Spirit will fill you with sober judgment and wisdom in choosing modest apparel that will bring Him glory.
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