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Thursday Thoughts: Gospel-Driven Modesty

on February 27, 2014

clothing-rackShaunti Feldhahn, a Christian author and speaker, tells the story here (at about 2:00) of her four year old son who got lost at the mall. Shaunti and her husband found the boy standing in front of the Victoria’s Secret window with his mouth gaping open and staring. The boy’s father said, “Honey, where were you?” The boy pointed at the life-size cut-outs of the models with almost nothing on. Then he said, “I like those ladies; they make my tummy feel good.” The boy’s father said, “Yeah, they’re really pretty. What is it that you like?” The boy answered, “Their bare tummies make my tummy feel good.”

If this story and many other similar stories are not enough to encourage our ladies to dress modestly, I don’t know what can. Yet, the Bible does give a further, even more significant and moving reason for us to dress modestly: Our modest appearance reflects the work of the Gospel in our hearts.

We are going to look at the aim, attitude, and appearance of modesty, based on a study of 1 Timothy 2:8-10:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 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, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

The Aim of Modesty: Love for God

Throughout 1 Timothy, Paul is addressing issues within the Ephesian church. Two of the issues addressed here were 1) men causing division and 2) women causing distraction within the church. The men were quarreling, and the women were dressing immodestly and extravagantly. Instead, godliness should have been the aim!

1 Timothy 2 refers mainly to “worship” dress and behavior, i.e., how one ought to dress and behave in a church’s worship service. Yet, a similar passage in 1 Peter 3:3-4 emphasizes a woman’s godliness rather than drawing attention to her appearance in a situation that is not specific to a worship service. That said, these principles of modesty can be applied in every situation in which we desire to point to Christ–every situation!

Paul discusses the specifics of modesty in verse 9, then he points to the aim of modesty in verse 10. He says that a modest woman is a woman who professes godliness! A godly woman does good works (v 10) and dresses modestly (v 9) to evidence her godliness.

The aim of a modest appearance is to exemplify that a woman is committed to godliness. Thus, the primary motivation for modesty should be love for God.

A woman who loves God. . .

  • Loves God’s Word.
  • Loves to honor God by obeying His Word.
  • Loves to show others she honors God by her modest appearance.
  • Loves to worship God and share the Gospel message without distracting others by immodest dress or behavior.

The gospel message is the motivation for modest dress. The woman who loves the Savior avoids immodesty because she doesn’t want to distract from or reflect poorly upon the gospel. (C.J. Mahaney, Worldliness, p. 138)

Questions for application:

  • Do you love God and His Word?
  • Do you love to worship God and share the Gospel message without distraction?
  • These questions are of first and foremost importance when discussing modesty. A woman who doesn’t love God is not going to care what God thinks and says about modesty. She is not going to care how others view her appearance.

The Attitude of Modesty: Humility and Self-Control

How can you discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and dressing to be the center of attention? The answer lies in the intent of the heart. You should examine your motives and goals for the way you dress. Is your intent to reflect the grace and beauty of womanhood? Is it to show your love and devotion to your husband? Is it to reveal a humble heart devoted to worshiping God? Or is it to call attention to yourself—to flaunt your wealth and beauty? Or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually? If you are focused on worshiping God, you won’t have to worry about how you dress because your commitment will dictate your wardrobe. (MacArthur, Different By Design, p. 132, emphasis added)

1 Timothy 2:1o describes the modest woman as one who “professes godliness.” She has a godly heart. What are the attitudes of this godly heart?

An Attitude of Humility

The Greek word translated ‘modestly’ in verse 9 refers to modesty mixed with humility. At its core it connotes a sense of shame—not shame in being a woman, but shame for in any way inciting lust or distracting others from a proper worship of God. (MacArthur)

Before I became pregnant, I worked out using Jillian Michael’s 30-day Shred. During the work out, she explicitly states, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it, ladies. No shame!” Interesting how the world’s philosophy is directly against Biblical truth!

A woman with a godly heart is humble. In this context, a humble heart is reflected in her clothing; she does not proudly draw attention to herself. Rather, she humbly dresses in a way that focuses attention on her godly works and the Gospel message she promotes.

An Attitude of Self-control

Self-control is the primary idea behind the word that has been translated as “discreetly” (NASB) and “sobriety” (KJV).

Self-control is “restraint for the purpose of purity; restraint for the purpose of exalting God and not ourselves” (Mahaney, p. 120).

Questions for applicationAs we move to more practical matters regarding adornment, examine the attitudes of your own heart. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a humble and self-controlled heart?
  • Am I willing to obey Scripture and apply these heart attitudes to my clothing selections?

The Appearance of Modesty

1 Timothy 2:9  gives three guidelines for how we are to adorn ourselves:

  • In respectable apparel
  • With modesty
  • With self-control

The word adorn means “to put in proper order, arrange.” The following guidelines will make sure that our appearance is in proper order, rightly reflecting how God (not a rule book!) wants us to look.

Respectable: Is it becoming?

The Greek word respectable is kosmios, related to the English word cosmos, the universe. When we think of our universe, we do not think of chaos, but of a unified, well-arranged whole. In the same way, our appearance should be well-arranged.

It should be “becoming”—that is, appropriate or fitting. . . .  Kosmio means that a Christian woman’s ‘look’ ought to be consistently put together, inside and out. (Mary Kassian, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, pp. 104-105)

Questions for application: Mary Kassian (p. 105)  goes on to give several questions to ask ourselves as we make our clothing choices. Rather than simply asking yourself, “Do I like it and does it fit?” ask yourself the following questions:

1.         Does it fit with who I am as a child of God?

2.         Does it fit with Christlikeness?

3.         Does it fit and flatter my body?

4.         Does it fit and flatter my femininity?

5.         Does it fit my age and stage of life?

6.         Does it fit my wardrobe?

7.         Does it fit my budget?

8.         Does it fit my needs?

9.         Does it fit the occasion?

10.       Does it fit the place I intend to wear it?

Modesty: Is it decent?

Modesty is humility in dress. It is a shame to show off our bodies in order to distract or seduce others. The purpose of clothing is to cover our nakedness. We respect the men around us and aid them in their daily battles against sin by not proudly showing off our bodies.

We also humbly realize the need to honor our Savior. In humility, we place our value on what God thinks, rather than on what we think. This kind of humility displayed in dress is a way we can evidence our love for God.

Application: When you try on an outfit, look in a full-length mirror. Sit, stand, reach, bend, walk. . . Is your clothing in all normal positions covering what it should? Ask your dad, husband, or godly woman to evaluate every new outfit. Don’t think only of yourself as you try on clothing. Think of your Savior and your Christian brothers around you. Be humble. Be modest!

Self-control: Is it moderate?

Here, we apply the attitude of self-control to our appearance.

We ought to rein in our impulses and avoid crazy extremes in fashion, hairstyles, and makeup. We also ought to avoid spending crazy amounts of money or stuffing our closets full of crazy quantities of clothing. We ought to govern our wardrobe choices with a sense of moderation, simplicity, and self-control. If the skirt is crazy extreme, crazy expensive, or if it’s crazy for you to be buying another one, then you ought to pass it up. (Kassian, p. 107)

Questions for application:

  • Is my make-up, hairstyles, or clothing extreme or moderate?
  • Do I spend extreme amounts of money on my appearance, or am I moderate?
  • Do I own extreme amounts of clothing and make-up, or am I moderate?

Conclusion:  Immodesty is a timeless problem. In Paul’s day, it looked like elaborately braided hair studded with gold and pearls, distracting the men and distinguishing the wealthy from the poor. In our day, immodesty looks quite different.

However, the principles of modesty are timeless as well. A humble, self-controlled woman whose primary focus is evidencing her love for God will arrange her appearance in a becoming, decent, moderate way so that her good works and godly heart will take preeminence. Her conduct and her appearance support her claim to godliness.

Make this your aim: that there be no contradiction between your gospel message and the clothes you wear. May your modest dress be a humble witness to the One who gave Himself a ransom for all. (Mahaney, p. 138)

In his chapter on modesty in his book Worldliness, C.J. Mahaney gives some very helpful “Modesty Discussion Questions.” These would be extremely helpful for you to go over yourself, then perhaps with a young lady whom you could help as well.

The following “Modesty Discussion Questions”  are taken from Worldliness edited by C. J. Mahaney copyright © 2008 pages 185–186.  Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187 www.crossway.org.

For Your Mind

1) Read 1 Timothy 2:3–10. What do these verses say about the motivation for modest dress?

2) How do we know that 1 Timothy 2:9 does not prohibit women from making themselves beautiful?

3) How do women who dress modestly serve men?

For Your Heart

4) Who are you trying to imitate or identify with through your appearance—godly women, or women of the world?

5) This chapter [“God, My Heart, and Clothes” from Worldliness] notes that your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. What does your clothing communicate about your motivations and priorities?

6) Think of a woman who is admired for her godly character and good works. What aspects of her godliness do you particularly want to emulate?

For Your Life

7) What about your wardrobe may need to change so that your appearance can better reflect the transforming power of the gospel?

8) What steps can you take on your next shopping trip to ensure that your clothing purchases reflect humility, modesty, and self-control? (Some ideas: Pray for God’s help and provision in finding modest clothing; check each article of clothing you try on for modesty as well as fit; ask your father, husband, or a trusted friend to evaluate items you’re not sure about.)

9) Mothers, what steps can you take to train your daughters to value godliness over fashion, to nurture humility and self-control, and to wear clothing that reflects these virtues? Fathers, what steps can you take to care for and lead your daughters in humility, self-control, and modesty?

 **The above is part of First Baptist Church of Rockford’s Ladies Bible Study on Biblical Womanhood.**

{On Thursdays, I share some thoughts about what God is teaching me in my various roles as a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a pastor’s wife.}

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