What Does the Bible Say About Modesty?
The truth about modesty is that the Bible teaches it to be about much more than the clothes we wear. It’s about the body and the heart of Christ we are representing. Open your Bible to the second chapter of Timothy and find the ninth verse. Here, it says, “the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing” (Timothy 2:9).
The Book of Peter echoes these sentiments, teaching, “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).
While the heart is the primary issue, the Bible also teaches that we are to be conscious of the shamefulness of public nakedness (i.e. being improperly or insufficiently clothed). God’s standards of proper attire are demonstrated throughout the Scriptures from Genesis chapter three to Jesus’ own clothing. They teach clearly that attire matters, and modesty, both inward and outward, are an essential aspect of the Christian life.
What Does Modesty Mean for Christians?
If you turn on the television, go to the mall, or look at billboards as you drive down the highway, then you know our country has a serious problem with the way we dress. We live in a world that is very confused about how we should clothe ourselves. Sexually provocative is the way of the day, and the dress issue has become so problematic that it has reached the point where people are not even embarrassed about showing off their bodies. In fact, it is encouraged.
You have probably seen many commercials about dieting. The theme often is to lose enough weight so the woman will be able to wear a tiny bikini at the beach. She is not at all embarrassed about it. The prophet Jeremiah said the people of his day had lost the ability to blush: “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15). We live in a world like that. Our people have lost the ability to blush over the exposure of their bodies.
One preacher said, “I would like to find out what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate that made them realize they were naked, because I’d like to pass it around again.” That statement was tongue-in-cheek, but the preacher was right, because many people need to have their eyes opened to what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The world today is very confused with regard to how we ought to dress, but a Christian is not like the world.
A Christian cannot be like the world. We are different! We have been called out of the world. First John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Sadly, the problem of immodesty (lack of clothing) has affected Christians and has crept into the church.
In some congregations men do not want to serve at the Lord’s table because of young ladies who are immodestly dressed in worship. Some wives do not want their husbands to teach teenagers because of the way some of the girls are dressed—or maybe not dressed. Modesty is an unpleasant subject to discuss and sometimes embarrassing both to the teacher and to the audience. Sometimes those who like to dress immodestly get angry because they feel as if they are being insulted. Sometimes when people teach on this subject, others will accuse them of having dirty minds.
Perhaps along with all the anger, some would rather just avoid the whole issue. Maybe they feel it is not worth the grief. But if we are going to please God, the matter must be delved into, and we need to be right regarding this subject. Whether or not we want to admit it, when a woman goes into public in a modern swimming suit or in a mini-skirt or shorts or with her midriff showing or wearing clothing that is too tight, she is doing something sinful. She is corrupting the sexual impulses that God instilled in men to draw husbands and wives together. She is allowing the possibility of a godly marriage to be cheated. The woman might not be consciously doing that, but she is distorting sex as God designed it nonetheless.
Why is it the case that the man is sexually impressed by the
It is not an accident. God made males that way. Why? Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The reason man is sexually impressed by and attracted to woman is because of God’s design. However, there is a big difference in the physical attraction of a husband and wife, and that of a man who is physically attracted to a stranger at the beach, at the pool, or at the mall.
First, look at the husband/wife relationship. Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love (Proverbs 5:18-19). Contrast this to the unmarried man/woman. 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 5:28). Someone may try to rationalize and say, “Well, so long as nothing physical happens, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Another commonly stated expression is, “It’s all right to look so long as you don’t touch.” But that is not right! The Bible teaches that God is concerned not only about our actions, but also with our hearts (Matthew 5:28).
Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1). Job understood it would be wrong to even look at a woman in a lustful manner. This matter of properly clothing ourselves is certainly important, and the world is quite confused about it, so here are some considerations to help guide us in knowing how we should dress.
What Does God’s Law Say?
Sometimes people will say, “The Bible doesn’t really tell us how to dress ourselves.” That is not true; the Bible does tell us. Let’s begin in Genesis 2:25 where the Bible says about Adam and Eve, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
Why were they not ashamed? Because they were not aware of the fact they were naked (3:7). After they ate of the forbidden fruit, Adam’s and Eve’s eyes were opened, and they were made aware of their condition. They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons or, as the New King James Version says, “coverings.” This word means “a girdle or a loin cloth.” One version states they covered “themselves around the hips.”
What is very interesting is that the clothing they made was apparently not according to God’s standards: “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (3:21). This word for tunic means “a long shirt-like garment.” Strong’s Concordance even gives the definition as “a robe.” It was a garment that began at the shoulders and flowed down like a long shirt. Adam and Eve had made themselves “loin coverings”, but the Lord made them “robes” and “clothed them.” The implication seems to be that they were not sufficiently covered by the fig leaves alone. Notice also when God came into the garden, Adam said, “I was naked and hid myself.” He had on fig leaves, but he still refers to himself as being naked, and God did not argue with him! God simply replied with, “Who told you that you were naked?”
Secondly, let’s consider a passage in Exodus 28. This section of the chapter deals with the making of the priests’ garments under the Mosaic system. In Exodus 28:40-42 the text says, “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. So shall you put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests. And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs.” Notice especially the phrase, “they shall reach from the waist to the thighs.”
One version puts it this way, “reaching from hips to knees.” For what purpose was this garment? The text says, “to cover their nakedness.” Thomas Eaves, in his tract on modesty, wrote, “In the Old Testament it was considered nakedness when one uncovered the thighs.” Mr. Eaves also cites Exodus 28:42 as proof for his statement. So what do we have thus far? In order to be adequately covered, clothing started at the shoulders and went down to the knees.
The third passage concerning this topic is 1 Timothy 2:9-10: “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.” We need to notice three things in these verses. First, the word modest. This word means “orderly, well arranged, or decent.” The idea is that the woman is to adorn or beautify herself in a way that avoids drawing undue attention to herself. In the immediate context, the writer is discussing is a woman who is overdoing it; someone who is wearing flashy clothes, too much makeup, and lots of expensive jewelry.
But there is another way a woman could draw undue attention to herself: by under-doing it; that is, by wearing too little. When she wears clothes that are too tight, too short, too thin, too little, or too revealing, a woman is not dressing as a Christian should. The second word to consider is propriety (The King James Version uses shamefacedness). The word propriety is actually closer to our modern word modest. The Greek word for shamefacedness means, “a sense of shame, modesty used regarding the demeanor of women in the church.” The third phrase is in verse 10: ”but, which is proper for women professing godliness.” An additional relevant passage is one more thing to add from Titus 2. It states that the older women are to teach the younger women to be chaste. That word means “pure from carnality, modest, perfect, innocent” (Strong’s and Vines combined).
Now let’s pull it all together. A godly woman is to dress in such a way as to avoid drawing undue attention
to herself. She should have a sense of shame or modesty about her. She should be innocent and pure from carnality, and she should dress as a woman whose most important object in life is to please God. Sadly, modern day swimwear does not fit with this description of modest dress. A person who wants to please the Lord has no business being out in public in modern day swimwear. (That would include both bikinis and one-piece bathing suits.) These cut-off shirts that expose the midriff do not fit with God’s standards. Most modern-day cheer leading uniforms don’t even come remotely close to fitting the description of a woman professing godliness.
Participating in a sporting event, attending a wedding, or being near water does not change immodest into modest. Even hot weather does not make immodesty modest. On one occasion, a woman came to speak to President Woodrow Wilson about some matter. When the woman had left, another man in the office mentioned something to the President about her being an attractive and intelligent woman. President Wilson replied, “She was a well-dressed woman.” The other man said, “I didn’t notice what she was wearing.” President Wilson answered, “That’s how I know she was well dressed.”
Some people may say, “You’re talking a lot about the woman, but isn’t modesty applicable to the man as well?” Most certainly it is. When you read the Bible, it’s interesting to note that generally, principles of modesty are applied to women, and passages prohibiting lust are applied to men. Is that because women never lust, or because modesty doesn’t apply to men? No, it is because of the way human beings are designed. Lust is generally a bigger problem for the man than for the woman. But one of these principles of modesty are also for the man. If a man goes into public with his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, or wearing no shirt at all, or in skin-tight jeans, he is doing something sinful and can no doubt be a stumbling block for women. This leads us to our next point. Our first consideration with regard to our clothing must be God, and our second consideration should be other people.
Does The Way I Dress Affect Others?
A second principle to guide someone in determining how they should dress is how our dress affects other people. If a Christian is living so as to please the Lord, he or she doesn’t want to do anything that would cause someone else to sin! We don’t want to be stumbling blocks in other people’s paths. As it is, the way one clothes oneself or does not clothe oneself can be a stumbling block for others which may lead them into sin. Jesus said in Matthew 5:28, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Did you know you can commit a sin in your mind that can cause you to lose your soul? That is exactly what the Lord asserted in this Scripture. Armed with this in mind, when a person is purchasing clothing he or she needs to think about other people and what effects it may have on them.
One author wrote, “The leading fashion designers admit that the reason behind the short skirts and bare skin is to seduce the men.” But a faithful Christian would not and should not want to do that. Listen to the words of Luke 17:1, “It is impossible that no offense should come, but woe to him through whom they do
come!” One translation says, “How terrible to him for whom they come.” We do not want to be the cause of other people’s stumbling.
Some time ago, a survey among high school boys asked the following questions:
- Can a girl tempt a boy by the way she dresses?
- 98% of the boys answered “Yes.”
- Does fashion use sex appeal?
- 96% percent said “Yes.”
- Do you believe that boys are stimulated by sight more than girls?
- 92% percent said “Yes.”
- Do you believe the passions of boys are:
(A) More easily aroused than girls?
(B) Less easily aroused?
- 87% answered “(A) – more easily aroused.”
- Do you feel that girls really understand the problem of immodest
- 50% said “No.”
- Which part of the female body as seen in public most quickly
arouses your emotions?
- 60% said “Legs.”
- If you were married, would you want other men and boys to lust
after your wife?
- 96% percent said “No.”
- If she dressed like most girls do today, would most boys be
tempted to lust after her?
- 77% said “Yes.”
What does this survey tell us? The way we dress can and does affect those around us! Sometimes people say, “Well, it doesn’t matter how I dress or don’t dress, people are going to sin or they’re not going to sin.” Consider for a moment 2 Samuel 11. King David is walking on the roof of the king’s house and he sees Bathsheba washing herself, evidently unclothed to some degree. The Bible says, “She was very beautiful to look upon.” David sent for her and committed adultery with her. If Bathsheba had been completely covered in a godly manner, would she have had the same effect on David? The answer is easy. It is a fact that the way we dress can tempt individuals in ways they would not otherwise be tempted. Another thing some might say is, “It’s the person lusting ho is sinning, not me” or, “Evil is in the eye of the beholder.”
That is not true, and it shows a low regard for the souls of others. It is also a highly illogical argument to make. If “evil is in the eye of the beholder” as people say, then it would be fine for a person to go out in public completely nude, and the only ones doing wrong would be those looking at him. If a female (or male) has concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others, she should be careful how she dresses. Here is
an excerpt from a church bulletin:
on behalf of and for the benefit of
men who are seeking to live in accordance with the
will of God and to keep themselves pure and holy, to
the end that you not encourage them to lust, and for
your own eternal welfare, please do not call undue
attention to yourself or expose yourself by wearing
immodest apparel. Godly men do not want to see your
thighs (or more) in clothing that is too short, your
cleavage in tops that are too low, your navels in tops
that are too short, your undergarments in clothing that
is too thin, nor the curves and characteristics of your
bodies in clothing that is too tight. Please look in the
mirror at yourself (front and back) and ask yourself if
your attire is becoming one professing godliness. You
may need to make some changes.
Remember the Lord said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In light of this, we need to consider other people when we are choosing our clothing.
How Should The Church Approach Modesty?
For people who are members of the church, this is especially important, because people who wear the name Christian are representatives of the Lord’s body. The way a Christian conducts himself reflects on the precious church of the Lord. There’s a very interesting passage in 2 Corinthians 3:2 that says, “You are
our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men.” The apostle Paul is writing here that Christians are walking Bibles, living examples of Christ’s teachings.
What happens when a Christian dresses immodestly? Christians need to realize we are a holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16). As children of God we are to “set our mind on the things above, not on things on the earth.” We must guard ourselves and not be “conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). Let’s say others know that an individual is a member of the church of Christ, and they hear that person stand and defend the plan of salvation, what the Bible has to say about baptism and the proper type of worship. If that person is then seen dressed in provocative clothing or publicly engaging in practices that even much of the world views as sensual, how is the world going to view the church?
Listen to the description of what Christ thinks about His church, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27).
False Ideas About Immodest Clothing
Does Modesty Apply To Sport Clothing?
One idea is that immodest clothing is acceptable if one is involved in a sporting event. We have already briefly touched on this, but the Bible does not lay aside principles of modesty so that someone can win a swim meet, compete in gymnastics, or even be a cheerleader.
If you have ever watched the Summer Olympics you know that in some of the sports the clothing is nearly non-existent. For some strange reason, even people who would normally oppose 95 percent nudity don’t have a problem with it at a sporting event! This is a false idea, and God does not make that exception. In the marriage relationship, it is appropriate to see each other so scantily clad.
First Corinthians 7:4 says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” There is no verse that makes an exception for sporting events. Sometimes it is argued that “people see so much nakedness these days that they just don’t really pay any attention to it anymore.” This argument is simply not true. You might eat your favorite food until you are sick of it, and lose your hunger for it, but God has not made us that way with reference to sexual desires. Besides, if that was the case, why do cheerleaders continue to wear skimpy uniforms in the dead of winter?
What If Immodesty Doesn’t Bother Me?
One preacher was talking about mixed swimming and he wrote, “There’s not an ordinary man ho can look at a woman clad in nothing but a bathing suit for long without entertaining evil thoughts.” But some will say, “It doesn’t bother me.” One who says so may be so young that his passions have not arisen, or he may be so old that they have subsided, or he may be so ignorant that he does not know what is going on, or he may not be normal, or he may be lying. He fits into one of these five categories, or he is a spiritual giant. But then, would spiritual giants spend their time at mixed swimming parties?
How Does Modesty Apply To Children?
Another false idea relates to our children. A parent might think, “But my daughter is just a child! Certainly she isn’t the object of lust.” Well, she may not be to the parent, but what about a person her age? What about a pedophile? It happens very quickly that our little girls turn into little women, and that’s when Daddy needs to step up to the spiritual headship that God gave him. Some people have the idea that when a girl dresses immodestly, she is intentionally dressing to entice men.
While that may be true of some women, it is not true for all of them. God has made us different. Men and women are wired differently with regard to sexual desires, and many times, especially with young girls, women do not truly understand the effect their clothing has on those of the opposite sex. This is why fathers must take the spiritual lead with reference to what is worn by their wives and daughters.
Modesty Is A Godly Question
How we clothe ourselves can have eternal implications both for us and for those around us. It can glorify God, or it can bring reproach on His church. The factors in choosing what to wear cannot hinge on, “Is this in style?” or “Is this comfortable?” or “Is this cool?” Our number one consideration must be, “Is this godly?” Eternally speaking, none of those other reasons are ever going to matter.