Unity About Modesty Among Differences in Opinion (Biblical Modesty, Pt. 3)

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{This is the 3rd of 4 articles in a series about Christian modesty.

 

How can a local Body of Christ, with its own individual “culture” (country, part of the country, religious norms/background, temperature, seasons, etc.), come together in unity about this topic of modesty, when opinions about what is appropriate can be so different?

Particularly because–

“EVERYONE’S STANDARDS ARE DIFFERENT”

It’s the classic objection to any standard of modesty:

“we all have different standards.”

And while that’s true on a personal level, there are biblical specifics, and some norms of principle that can help us sort this out within our local churches.

To do this though, we have to be willing to rely on the Body and not insist on our own way. As Christ’s ambassadors, we don’t cling to our right to live however we want. As Brothers and Sisters (God’s children), we don’t tell others in our family to, “suck it up and deal with it” when we do something so ‘loud’ that it distracts or offends.

When one of my children (usually someone about 5/6 or under who hasn’t learned this lesson yet) starts playing a recorder near the dining table, particularly if we are trying to have a particular conversation, I ask him, “could you please do that in the library?”

Even if the playing of the recorder is not itself inappropriate, it is inappropriate in that particular time and place.

To draw attention to oneself, at a time when attention is rightly being directed elsewhere is selfish and wrong.

It is immodest.

It is immodest because the focus is *rightly* on something else, but the choice itself (regardless of the heart intent) demands that others take notice. Playing the recorder is so loud that everyone around notices. Some clothes are “loud” like this, and so the principle of deference is a helpful one in the discussion of modest clothing.

CHOOSE “DEFERENCE.”

Deference allows everyone to focus on the proper things.

In individual families, the peace of our home often depends on our self-control and deference to one another. It is the same in the family of God.

With modesty in clothing, objectivity is needful. This is an area where you CAN NOT SOLELY rely on your own judgment. Your own judgment is not the sole arbiter when you come into the Body of Christ.

Modesty is an area where you need to LEAN IN TO, and rely on, other people’s insights, perspectives, and judgment.

This is especially true when you are young and unmarried. You don’t know what you don’t know. Married women who have talked with their husbands about these things understand some of what is happening in the mind and body of a man. Husbands and fathers know even more accurately what it was like to be a young man.

When you dress yourself, you are not only affecting yourself.

And you don’t know what you don’t know.

Immodest clothing goes beyond issues of lust, because the issue is about what’s DISTRACTING. Yes, sensuality is distracting. But lust is not the only issue in view here. Immodesty encompasses much more than only lust. Wealth/showyness is distracting. Clothes that highlight a particular body part are often distracting. An excessive focus on externals is distracting.

These immodest choices draw attention, inviting people to focus on the wearer.

When we come in to worship, to various degrees, we are all intending (or should be intending!) to focus on the Lord.

But not everyone who attends a worship service is equally mature. And clothing affects us in a variety of ways.

  • There are godly, wizened older men who should not be pulled in by immodest dress (this could perhaps be like someone who is so used to the sound of the recorder that it does not distract them from the dining table conversation).
  • There are relatives of the one wearing immodest or revealing clothes, and may feel that nothing is amiss in how he/she is dressing. Perhaps the recorder blares so loudly in their ears, on such a regular basis, that they have ceased hearing it as something distracting.
  • But there are also plenty of immature people– people who “hear the recorder” and feel distracted by it.
  • There are people who are poorer than others, who see people in fancy clothing and feel unequal to, or divided from, their brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • There are people who are in a position where they can’t *not* notice– maybe they are on the front row and the scandalously-short skirt is at the front of the stage.
  • It may not be a matter even of immaturity, lust, or envy– but simply, distraction by something that IS distracting.

 

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BIBLICAL STANDARDS

While there are no verses that say things like:

  • “tank tops have to be x number of inches wide at the shoulder”
  • “skirts must hit at mid-kneecap or lower”
  • “crew neck shirt holes are fine, but beware of v-necks and boatneck shirts.”

There are also verses that provide us with *some* specifics, from which we can draw principles and generalities. Here are some places to start (I’d be interested if you can find more– if so, share in the comments):

  • Exodus 28:42- exposing the area from the waist to the thigh (and possibly down to the knee) was considered exposing “nakedness”
  • Proverbs 5:18-19- In addition to feeding a baby, these verses make it clear that a woman’s breasts are intended by God for her husband’s sexual delight.
  • Romans 14- As a disciple of Jesus, your liberties are limited by whether something would offend your brother/sister in Christ. If so, you’re not supposed to do it.
  • 1 Corinthans 8- As a follower of Jesus, you are to consider the effects of your choices on others. Your brothers and sisters in Christ should matter more to you than your rights.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20- You are bought with a price, and your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Your physical body is a place designated for worship and honor of the Lord.
  • 1 Timothy 2:9-  Godly women should wear “respectable” clothing.

 

Here are some ways I consider these things:

  • What clothes can I wear that would clearly indicate, to everyone around me, that I am a respectable woman?
  • I have decided to stop asking, “what is acceptable or permissible?” (with a focus on ‘how much can I get away with?’), and instead ask, “what is respectable?”
  • Which body parts are 100% acceptable for others to see? Which body parts are (apart from medical circumstances) 100% off-limits for anyone but me and my husband to see? Which body parts are ‘gray areas?’
  • When I’m gathering with the Body of Christ, my default should always lean toward concealing/covering ‘gray area’ and private body parts, rather than risking that they be (intentionally or unintentionally) exposed.
  • If I’m not sure if a particular thing is respectable or not, I will either opt not to wear it (and get rid of it altogether), OR ask my husband (a godly man) for his opinion about whether or not it is OK.
  • Since my breasts are not only utilitarian (for feeding my babies) but are also specifically designated in the Bible to be sexual (for my husband’s enjoyment throughout our lives), I will not risk exposing them to other men. I cover while nursing in public, and almost always at home as well (this wasn’t always the case, but as our sons have gotten older, and we have people in and out of our home, I cover most all the time).
  • When my clothing is event-specific (i.e., playing volleyball in August heat, or swimming), I will choose clothes that are appropriate to that event, but still squarely in the realm of “respectable” clothing for that type of event.
  • Because I am inhabited by the Holy Spirit and want to hear His voice more clearly, I’ve decided in advance that whenever I feel an inward concern/”check” in my spirit about a particular item of clothing, I will listen to that voice of conviction and change clothes to something that I feel more confident is appropriate.

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All pictures from our trip to Maine, 2011.

 

IN THE COMMENTS: I’d love to hear ways you have purposefully chosen to grow in wisdom, and defer to others in your local church through modesty, in order that there might be peace among the Body, and a reverence for the LORD.

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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4 Responses

  1. Christy says:

    YES. I think this question – What clothes can I wear that would clearly indicate, to everyone around me, that I am a respectable woman? – really sums it all up. We ought to strive to be respectable in the eyes of everyone around us. Cultures vary around the world, but we can strive to be respectable no matter where we are. I’m glad you’re addressing this issue, and I think the perspective you’re offering is a wise one. I’m so tired of hearing the objections to modesty that claim that if the man is lusting, it’s not my fault/sin. While it’s true that we each are responsible for our own sin, we can serve one another well by dressing respectably rather than distractingly (is that a word?), especially as we come together to worship the Lord.

  2. Katie says:

    Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 do not just speak about not offending – these passages are about not causing a brother or sister in Christ to sin. There is a difference between someone being offended by our convictions/opinions and us actually causing them to sin. Those whose faith is weak or who are “offended” by another person’s conviction are instructed to not speak evil of those whose faith is stronger (Romans 14:16). We should never cause fellow Christians to sin by our actions, but the other side of the coin in this passage is that we should not speak evil of those whose faith is stronger.

    The important thing here is to discern whether we are causing others to sin against their conscience by our actions, not just “offending” them in the sense that they disagree with our convictions.

  3. Diana says:

    This article is amazing. THANK YOU for speaking on this topic so forthrightly! This is such a problem in Christian women’s circles today. I hear things that frustrate me to no end, because they are so selfishly motivated:

    “Everyone has different standards”
    “It’s his fault if he has a problem”
    “Modesty is a heart issue”

    All of which, translated, mean “I’ll dress exactly as I want, and you’d better not say anything.” Whereas, as you say:

    “I have decided to stop asking, “what is acceptable or permissible?” (with a focus on ‘how much can I get away with?’), and instead ask, “what is respectable?”

    Yes!!! We should be asking how we can be respectable and modest, how we can honor our brothers in Christ – not demanding to be as selfish as we can be by wearing immodest clothing and not caring how it makes others suffer.

    You are also spot on about the “not knowing what we don’t know” bit. YES. I have learned SO much from my husband about this subject, because girls and women just don’t get it. Many times, a woman’s immodesty at a public place will fly under my radar, while my husband will be steaming about it afterwards, knowing how much that tempts men toward lust – including his own boys in a few years when they hit adolescence. We women do NOT have the right to tempt others to sin when we can avoid doing so, and we need to listen to our husbands on this one as well as our own consciences (and the Bible’s guidelines).

    Thanks for writing on this topic!!

  1. May 13, 2017

    […] Unity About Modesty Among Differences of Opinion and Practical Considerations About Modesty, 3 and 4 in a series. […]

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