Modesty is a principle that is important because it involves not just how we dress and behave, but also what is in our hearts and minds. It isn’t just about “covering up,” but it challenges how we see ourselves in the world around us, our concept of beauty, what we think about, and how we act. All of these are then portrayed outwardly in how we dress. To understand modesty is to understand that you are striving to be a person who sees herself as a temple of God and desires to not distract those around you from seeking righteousness. If you’re looking for help on how to develop a more modest mindset, the information here will help you get a good start.
Three things to get you started on a more modest mindset right now are:
1. Prayer. As with anything you would like to change in your life, it should first be committed to our Father in heaven. Prayer can help to reinforce your desire and commitment, and it gives you an opportunity to repent and start a new direction. Pray for the courage to do what the Bible teaches you to do.
2. Prepare yourself for honest self-examination. Coming to terms with a different standard requires a lot of thought. Modesty begins in the mind and works its way out to our clothing and behavior. It takes courageous honesty to recognize the thoughts that might be contributing to a lack of modesty.
3. Keep an open mind. Try to read the information here with an open mind, recognizing that we pick up opinions and ideas that aren’t always right, which can affect our hearts, making it difficult to accept a more spiritual way. Let the words in this article enter into your mind and heart.
Question 1: In India women show their stomachs when they wear saris. In Middle Eastern countries, women are considered immodest for showing their ankles! And what about going to the beach or pool? How is modesty defined when it seems different in different situations?
Modesty is a principle, not a law, and God has designed principles so that we should not treat them as laws—we always need to think about how they apply in different situations. Whatever country you live in, within that culture, you need to figure out how to dress in such a way that you aren’t attracting attention to your body. In other words, you need to determine what is “modest” in that culture. The same idea applies when you consider how to be modest at the pool or the beach. Obviously what you would wear swimming would not be appropriate at the ecclesial hall. But theprinciple applies in every situation. So you dress in such a way that doesn’t seek to attract attention to your body, which is relative. When everyone else is wearing bikinis, if you wear a one-piece swimsuit, your body won’t attract as much attention. Whatever might be the situation, wherever we are in the world, we should not dress and carry ourselves in a way that deliberately draws attention to our bodies. Instead, we should dress and carry ourselves in a way fitting for women who profess to worship God.
For example, when I spent some time in India, I had to learn how to dress and present myself with modesty fitting to Indian culture. In India it is considered immodest to show your shoulders and your ankles; however, it is not immodest to show your midriff, which can be seen when a sari is worn. I also learned that social standing and wealth in India are often shown off by the jewelry women wear, which makes it easy to spot who is rich and notable. Although wearing certain kinds of bangles in North America (or other Western countries) might not attract anyone’s attention, in India we could have caused quite a distraction in some of the smaller ecclesias we visited, had we not been aware of this cultural norm. Those we were trying to teach about the Word of God may have spent the time at Bible class focusing on our jewelry and clothing had we not deliberately decided we were not going to draw attention to ourselves in that way—we committed to being modest!
Question 2: Doesn’t the Bible say that God doesn’t look on the outward appearance but looks on the heart? So does it really matter what I wear?
The answer is “Yes” and “Yes!” when it comes to modesty. When God said that He looks on the heart of a man and not on his appearance, it was in the context of choosing a king. The prophet Samuel thought that surely the tall, handsome Eliab was the one God had chosen, but God wanted Samuel to know that His criteria was different—- God was focused on what was on the inside, not what was on the outside. The fact is that our dress, especially as women, reflects what is in our hearts. As a negative example, consider the seductress that’s described in vivid detail in Proverbs 7. One thing the Bible says about her is that she has “the attire of a harlot and a crafty heart.” This wicked lady wears sexy clothes, and what do you think is on her mind? Sex! The inside and the outside, more often than not, go hand in hand. That’s not to say that we are supposed to judgeother people on the basis of their appearance, but rather it gives each of us personally a warning and a guideline.
Question 3: Modesty is overrated – I don’t dress the way I do to attract men. I wear revealing clothes because I like them and am comfortable with my body. So what?
That’s what a lot of people say, but it doesn’t hold up when you consider the principles that God has laid out for us in the Bible. I’d like to probe the idea of being “comfortable with [your] body.” As women of God, is this an ideal that we should be striving for? Yes and no. God tells us not to be concerned with our outward appearance because it’s the woman on the inside that is precious to Him. In this way we should be comfortable with our outward appearance because it’s not the most important thing to God. Whatever our shape is, whatever hair color or style, and whatever our features are don’t matter to the Creator of the universe. However, God’s perspective on being “comfortable” with our bodies is very different from the world’s perspective. If the world teaches that being comfortable with your body means that you are comfortable showing almost every part of it in public, that isn’t God’s spiritual ideal. God, in Genesis, covered up Adam and Eve after they sinned. The ideal for them was to get away from the state where they were naked; the flesh needed to be covered up. On our “less presentable parts” we “bestow greater modesty” (1 Corinthians 12:23). Comfort with public nakedness is a worldly ideal, not a Scriptural one. We cover ourselves out of an awareness that there are parts of us that should be kept private because nakedness in public is shameful. The place for comfort with your body is within a faithful, committed relationship with your husband in private.
Modesty is a concept that is entirely foreign to the world around us. I once saw a video about purity in relationships, and, in the course of the video, they hit the streets in New York City to ask people what they thought about modesty. The women talked about being comfortable with their bodies and felt that “if you’ve got it, flaunt it!” The men talked about it being an outdated concept—one that was part of their grandparents’ generation but had no meaning now. Overall, no one understood modesty the way that we, who are committed to living for Christ, are called to. Modesty is important to think about because it affects us as women, and it also affects the boys, men, and brothers in the ecclesia with whom we interact. This kit contains information, responses to frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about modesty. It also contains scriptural guidance, and tips to help apply the biblical principle of modesty in your life. The article is written primarily for women because, although men can certainly be immodest, the real temptation and problem of immodesty typically surrounds feminine beauty. It’s the women that the Apostle Paul addresses when he talks about modesty in 1 Timothy 2. And modesty isn’t just about clothes; it’s about your mind and heart, too—that’s why it’s so important.
There are many misunderstandings about the subject of modesty. Modesty is often considered in extremes—either you dress without giving any thought to your appearance or you are expected to wear ugly, loose, unattractive clothing in order to fit a supposed “ideal.” Neither extreme is balanced. To live modestly does require more thought about your standards and the acceptability of your clothing. It also often requires more patience, as modest, fashionable clothing can be difficult to find. On the other hand, modesty doesn’t require that you hide your form entirely by wearing clothing that makes you look and feel unattractive. Women in countries who show nothing but their eyes can still have men lusting after them! The Bible doesn’t say that women are supposed to dress in a way that isn’t attractive; it does say that we need to be careful that we don’t start getting our priorities mixed up and place too much importance on our clothes or our hair or being “attractive.” So many of the women in the Bible that we look to as examples are described as being “beautiful” or “beautiful of form and appearance,” which shows that being beautiful is not a sin! It also shows us that even though they wore modest clothing, they were noticed for their “form.” The difference is that they were not making themselves into sex symbols by wearing clothing designed to accentuate their bodies. It is important to remember that our beauty shouldn’t be “merely outward.” Instead, like those same beautiful women in the Bible, we are to be beautiful because of our wholehearted focus on God.
Results from the Survey
The following statistics were taken from a survey of Christadelphian youth around the world. We’ve included only the statisitics on women, since they are the primary audience of this article. Interestingly, most Christadelphian young women, including sisters, say that they have an understanding of the effect that their clothing has on members of the opposite sex. This awareness places a greater responsibility on us as women with regard to the way that we clothe ourselves. Most Christadelphian young women also indicate that they dress so as not to offend others. This is an attitude that is both Godly and worthy of cultivating. With the desire to avoid offending, a woman is on the right path to really thinking critically about her dress and becoming more modest in her attire as she develops a deeper understanding of God’s perspective on the subject.
1. I am aware of the effect my clothing has on members of the opposite sex
2. I think about how I dress so that I don’t offend others.
One reason why modesty seems so frustrating and difficult – or even downright silly—- is because, whether we like it or not, our idea of what is beautiful is influenced by the world. It is thrown in our faces at the grocery store, at the mall, on billboards, on television, in movies, in magazines, and in books—virtually everywhere. All around us we see images of women and fashion that shape our opinion of what is beautiful. There is a great danger in this if we don’t “wise up” to the influence media has on our thinking.
First, the world around us equates “beautiful” with “sexy.” Take a look at the images on these popular magazine covers, or glance at any magazine cover while you’re standing in line at the grocery store. What is the focus? These magazines are full of beauty and fashion tips—all kinds of advice on how to be sexy, look sexy, act sexy, feel sexy, and think sexy. The objective of making yourself beautiful, according to these magazines, is to be a sex symbol. “Glamour” magazine has the article, “10 Things Men Instantly Notice About You—You Won’t Believe What They’re Zeroing in On!” Take another look at the central focus of every magazine cover—each of these women who are renowned for their beauty (we recognize them, don’t we?)—and notice what they’re flaunting on the cover. That’s what men are zeroing in on. And that idea of “what’s beautiful” influences the clothes that are available in stores. Consider how much clothing is designed to highlight the female body in a way that totally distracts men. Because we see the models on ads and in magazines looking “beautiful,” we desire to wear the clothes they wear, use the expensive make-up they put on their faces, and buy the brand-name handbags they carry all in the hopes that they will make us “beautiful.” The temptation to spend lots of time and money on these things is real and strong. We all want to be beautiful, right?
But looks can be deceiving. Those models in the pictures we see and think, “Wow, she’s so beautiful – I wish I looked like her,” don’t look like the pictures either. Check the following video and watch the process for yourself.
A very normal looking girl, a girl just like you or me, is transformed with the help of make-up, hair styling, and computers to be the gorgeous model on the billboard. Her normal features weren’t beautiful enough so they made her neck longer and thinner, her face thinner, and her eyes and lips larger. The women you see in magazines or on television or in the movies aren’t real women! There isn’t any way to look like that by wearing certain brand name clothing, buying expensive make-up or dying your hair.
Many of the women in Hollywood or in the media have sold themselves as objects of lust. Of course, in the world lust isn’t a bad thing. Many of these women use the fact that men desire them as a way to get ahead; they use their looks to give them power and control. Sadly, though, these women are not noticed and desired because for their minds, their character, their hearts or their faith. Instead, they are noticed and desired for their bodies. Think of the world’s idea of beautiful women: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, and the rest. What do they do to themselves to achieve fame? Often they use their bodies to attract attention, and it is the wrong kind of attention. As women, do we desire to be objects of lust; women whose personalities and characters are unimportant—no more than “things” usedto indulge sinful thinking? No! And as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we really don’t want to be symbols of sexuality, giving young men and brothers in Christ even more cause to struggle with lust and temptation because of our lack of modesty. Beware of the world’s messages of beauty, which would have us to lose all our sense of what is truly valuable.
The key point is to be aware of the influence that the media has on your thinking. Try to remember that what you see in fashion magazines, on television, and in movies represents a different standard of beauty, where sexiness is the objective. The world’s standard is a perversion of God’s true standard of beauty. We do not need to be bound to what the world pressures us to become.
One important fact is that no matter what your size or shape, if you are a woman, then you have the ability to attract and distract a man. It’s a common misconception that modesty is really only important for girls and women who have “good” figures or are obviously attractive (i.e. men don’t notice the others). This just isn’t true. Men are attracted to the female form, and the particulars are less important. Each body type attracts someone, so the importance of a modest lifestyle is relevant to all women, regardless of shape or size. As a female, you have the ability to be very attractive, and if God, in His will, leads you into a marriage with a man in Christ, then you will see that even the parts of yourself that you felt self-conscious about will be beautiful to him. All of us are called to live modestly.
Something else to keep in mind is that applying modesty to the way we dress is a very personal thing. Though each of us has a different shape, size and sense of style, the principle of modesty applies to all of us; however, something that is modest for me may be immodest for you. A top that is perfectly decent on a woman with a smaller chest might attract too much attention on a more shapely figure. What looks short on one woman might look really short on another. Or two women might buy the same exact t-shirt; on one it is modest, but on the other it is not. We can’t make a law about which clothes to buy and which not to buy; instead, you need to decide for yourself what is acceptable for your shape, size, and circumstances.
The Chocolate Cake Analogy
I once heard an analogy that’s worth bringing up when discussing modesty. It went something like this: If someone is on a diet and they are presented with a piece of chocolate cake and they don’t have enough self-control to resist it, who’s at fault? Not the chocolate cake. It’s the responsibility of the dieter to watch their eating habits. It’s the same thing with modesty. Men are supposed to be the ones guarding their eyes so they don’t lust after women, so how can I be blamed or made responsible for just wearing the clothes that I want to wear? It’s the men who have the responsibility in this issue.
These are true facts—but the conclusion isn’t Christlike. Men who are trying to live righteously do need to guard their own eyes so they don’t fall into sin. Jesus says plainly that sexual sin begins with the sight of the eyes, which leads the heart astray. And He also says that if that is a problem, it would be better for the man to take out his own eye than to let himself be overcome by that sin! Galatians talks about adultery, fornication, uncleanness, and lewdness being “works of the flesh”—the desires and passions of which need to be “crucified” (Galatians 5:19-24). Ephesians exhorts believers to “put off” the old way of life, with all its “deceitful lusts,” and put on a new mind—a new way of thinking (Ephesians 4:22-24). And these messages continue throughout the New Testament. We know that in the end, each of us will stand alone before Jesus Christ, having no one to blame for our sins but ourselves. Each of us is “drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14). King David fell to sin by his eyes when he took Bathsheba, and he himself bore responsibility and suffered for it. “Have mercy upon me, O God…blot out my transgressions, wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1-2).
But that doesn’t mean that we have no responsibility for making a difference where we can. Would a true friend give their dieting companion a piece of chocolate cake to start with, knowing that it would likely be a temptation? We may not be judged because men lusted after us our whole lives, but we could be judged for understanding that we were causing men to struggle and not bothering to do anything about it. Ignoring how our actions and behaviors could lead others into sin is an attitude that goes against acting in a Christ-like way. Christ always put others’ salvation as a top priority, no matter what sacrifices were required of him. The Pharisees in Jesus time were brilliant at pointing out the sin in peoples’ lives, but they themselves would “not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4). Instead, the attitude that Christ desires of us is a compassionate, loving one; one where no sacrifice as too great in order to save our friends. Jesus lived and died to teach us this, and He desires us to follow His example. So instead of possibly distracting the guys around us and making it more difficult for them to keep their thoughts on spiritual things, we can help them out and make it easier. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
Modesty and Asexuality
Modesty is not the same as asexuality, but, unfortunately, our culture requires the myth that the two are related to be thoroughly debunked. It has been suggested that women who dress modestly do so because they are asexual—that is, not attracted to anyone and with no interest in or desire for sex. This idea is absolutely and completely wrong. There is a very small percentage of society that would consider themselves “asexual” (about 1%, according to studies). Among those who claim to be asexual, there is no way to tell who they are—the way they dress certainly does not identify them as asexual. Sadly, the age we live in, which has an unashamed fixation on sexuality and impacts how women dress, would lead anyone to think that if a woman does not wear revealing clothes, she is part of a small minority of asexuals. Women in the ecclesia that dress modestly in this day and age do it because of their faith, and it would be a grave error to mistake spirituality and faith for an unusual psychological or genetic disorder. That is like saying that men who are not consumed with lust and thoughts of women are asexual. In reality, they are practicing self-control. If you are a man reading this, never ever let yourself think that a sister or young woman in the ecclesia is asexual because she presents herself with modesty. If you do, you are basing your judgment about someone’s character on the world’s standard, a standard which has led you to believe that it is healthier for females to show off their bodies than to exercise modesty. That is a mistake! Women who exhibit modesty surely have just as much sexual desire as others who have less discretion. Women who exercise modesty will be beautiful lovers—but only for their faithful, godly husbands.
What God Thinks–The Most Important Part
1. Dress Modestly!
“I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 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, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works” (1 Timothy 2:8-10).
“Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
God really is concerned with how we, as women, dress because our dress is a reflection of what is in our hearts. God knows the feminine temptation to be vain, and He tells us directly that we are to place emphasis not on our clothing and appearance, but on our characters. We are told to dress with “modesty” or “discretion,” which means keeping our priorities aligned with God’s: character and faith first, and then outward adornment. The concept of dressing modestly goes beyond just covering up, though that’s definitely an important part of it. It’s the broader idea that includes avoiding anything that makes our outward appearance distracting to us or the people around us. Whether brand-name labels, flashy jewelry, or the fit of our clothing, the point is not to be consumed with the way we look—and especially not at the expense of other people. What God wants to see in us is a mind that is seeking out good works: love, faith, service, and godliness. God desires a woman who takes care of herself but isn’t consumed by appearances, a woman who understands that her character and personality are so much more important in defining who she is.
2. We Are Responsible—and Lust Is Serious
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7).
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
We have a responsibility to those around us to ensure that we are not causing anyone to stumble. Jesus Christ says that for a man to look at a woman lustfully is a serious sin, as serious as committing adultery. We might be tempted to think that it’s funny—that “men are pigs” or “boys will be boys”—but it’s a big deal to God. And it’s a big deal for us, too. Jesus says that it is better to be dead than to cause someone to sin! Our brothers and friends in the Truth face enough temptation from the world—think about the sexual images that are thrown in their faces at the mall, beach, work, school, and television (to name just a few sources). Those kinds of offenses should not come from the ecclesia or CYC. We should provide refuge for our young men and brothers so they will be protected from temptation when they are with us. By the way, don’t think that only “worldly” guys struggle with purity. David was the “man after God’s own heart,” and even he could not resist lusting after a woman’s exposed body! (1 Samuel 13:14).
3. Not a Hint
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3).
We are told that there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among us. Think about the words “a hint of sexual immorality.” What does that mean? It isn’t having sex before marriage or adultery because those are much more than hints. Hints are the unspoken words, the shadows and the thoughts that creep into our mind, the little things we say when we’re flirting, the looks, the way we move our bodies, and, yes, the way we dress. Suggestiveness isn’t appropriate for us as we try to please God. He’s looking for holy people, people that stand out because they don’t act like the rest of the world around them—they shine as witnesses to God’s righteousness.
4. We Live By Different Standards
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
As is the case with so many things in this life, we don’t live according to the same standards as the world around us. This should affect our thinking on many different subjects, and fashion and beauty are no exception. We need to be aware of what is influencing our ideas of beauty and acceptability so that the world will not manage to squeeze us into its mold. God’s idea of beauty is definitely not the girl on the cover of Cosmopolitan or Vogue. We need to guard our standards and not be conformed to the world’s idea of what is acceptable.
5. Godliness is Precious
“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised”(Proverbs 31:30).
Holding on to physical beauty is like grasping at the wind; it will not endure. In contrast, a woman who fears the Lord and lives according to His Word is to be praised; her worth is “far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). The world tells us that our worth and value lie in how we look—the sexier, the morebeautiful. But if we dress modestly because we love God and are concerned for the men around us, we are worth more in His sight than the most valuable riches on earth. Our beauty is one that not only endures, but grows day by day. Don’t let those words fall to the ground as empty. Stop and think about how you want others to value you. Do you want the world to value you—the world that will love and use you as long as you look sexy, but no longer? Or do you want God to value you—the one who will love and value you most preciously forever?
Now What? Practical Guidelines for Modesty
•Be accountable. Find someone spiritual that you feel comfortable talking to about modesty, someone who can give you an honest opinion (mom, dad, sibling, grandparent, close friend—notyour boyfriend). Ask that person to hold you accountable. This could be as simple as you asking that person, “Is this modest?” Use the resource of spiritually wise people that God has given you in your life.
•Be honest. For a start, honestly sort through your wardrobe and be courageous enough to get rid of clothes that you know are inappropriate. Ask your accountability partner about any clothes you are unsure of. It’s pretty safe to say that mini skirts, low-cut or tight shirts, tops with words across the chest, short shorts, pants with words across the backside, or anything that obviously draws attention to your crotch, stomach, or breasts will be distracting for a man. Oh yes, and don’t forget about bikinis! Advice from a brother once was the more skin you show, the more there is to look at. Also consider the way you interact with brothers, sisters, and friends at the ecclesia, gatherings, and Bible schools. Be conscious of any of your thoughts or behaviors that might be seeking attention and causing other people to be distracted.
•Be patient. Shopping with higher standards can be frustrating, and it often takes more time. However, fashionable clothes that are attractive and modest can be found if you are willing to look. Remember, character development can also take some time. God often works over a long period of time—it may take a while for you to grow.
•Be consistent. Show modesty on every occasion, whether it is at the mall, school, work, the prom, or the ecclesia. If lust, vanity, and pride don’t take breaks on special occasions, then neither should we.
•Be confident. Your discernment and discretion make you precious to God and to the men who are trying to be like Him. Modesty also asks all men to treat you with respect because they recognize that you respect your own body. You will attract men not by flirting or sexiness, but by your character, personality, and confident attractiveness. These will shine through a mile away!
•Be aware. It is easy to let television, movies, the Internet, and magazines set our standards of what is beautiful. Remember that the women we often see in the media are made-up and digitally altered—in effect, totally unreal. They are there in front of you because they are willing to make themselves a sex symbol. The media will affect our perception if we are not aware of its subtle influence.
• Be creative. One way of dressing more modestly is to take fashionable clothing styles and alter them just a bit. Wear a tank top under a low cut shirt. Layer clothing so they aren’t too thin or revealing. Button up or pin a deep neckline. Put together combinations that look good and don’t show off too much. A great way to have more modest swimwear is to add board shorts or a wrap-around skirt. Think outside of the box to create your own personalized style.
A Closing Word of Encouragement
In closing, here is a word of encouragement from a brother in Christ to all sisters and young women:
“To girls who make an effort to dress modestly: thank you. Thank you, thank you! Thank you! Because of who you are, the faith it takes to sincerely flee youthful lusts, forsaking the short season of pleasure this world offers, and instead seeking a godly (and more self-sacrificing) way, you are the friends I am looking forward to talking to at memorial meeting, Bible schools, and youth weekends: distraction free. As you dress modestly and conduct yourself chastely, also let your adorning be that which is proper for women professing godliness: good works. Your character shines a beauty that is precious in the sight of God and also in the sight of brethren who seek to think like Him. Thank you!”
What to Do if You Are Approached
If you are a brother approached by a young woman wanting to discuss modesty, don’t spend time alone with her. Instead, pull a sister into the conversation to help, but, by all means, stay present for the discussion, as your input and perspective will be valuable.
Most young women struggle with modesty, but be aware that they will struggle for different reasons. Though the principles discussed in this article remain the same, it is important to understand that for some young women immodesty may be a symptom of very deep feelings of insecurity, a reaction to family problems, sexual, emotional or physical abuse, etc. Women struggling with modesty need a lot of gentle care. Rather than “attacking” them for their clothing or attitude, take the time to nurture a healthy relationship with them. (Again, if you are a man, this job will be best taken by a sister.) Helping a young women deal with the deeper issue or struggle may be a far more effective way of addressing the modesty issue. Be gentle with those who are extremely immodest—this may be their way of crying for help.