“…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation…which is proper for women professing godliness…” – I Timothy 2: 9-10
Modesty is not a popular topic these days. I personally don’t like conflict, so I’m certainly not posting these thoughts with the intention of stirring up controversy. But ladies, biblical modesty is a very important subject; and sadly, it seems to have fallen on hard times. Now, right off the bat, I would like to clarify what I am NOT saying. I’m not advocating some strict, legalistic set of rules that measures your skirt from the top of the knee or alienates anyone who doesn’t live up to my standard of dress. I am also not saying that every Christian woman has to dress frumpy or look like she stepped out of the pages of Little House on the Prairie. A lady can dress fashionably and modestly at the same time. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I am simply calling for decency in dress that not so long ago was fairly universal among Christian women. That is not the case anymore. I, for one, am appalled at what some professing Christian women wear out in public and thoughtlessly pose in for their social media selfies. I would like to appeal to my sisters in Christ to please consider what your dress is communicating about you, what it is doing to your brothers, and how it may be robbing God of His rightful glory.
In these progressive times, it seems that whenever any outward behavior is addressed, the person daring to speak up is immediately labeled a legalist. This widespread idea that any discussion of the external is legalistic is completely untrue. Legalism would be telling lost people how to dress, not being patient with new or immature believers, or conveying to anyone that modesty can earn them salvation. But none of that is what this post is about. I am writing to women who profess to know Jesus and desire to honor Him. Some folks say we should only deal with heart issues, but they fail to realize that what we do, say, and even wear is a reflection of what’s in our hearts.
Our clothes reveal fundamental things about us. In the seventh chapter of Proverbs a wise father warns his son to avoid the company of immoral women. One distinguishing characteristic he gives of a seductress is that she wears “the attire of a harlot”. He doesn’t tell us exactly what that was, but the fact is that prostitutes dressed in a particular way. They used their clothes to advertise their bodies. That is surely not the message a Christian woman’s wardrobe should be sending.
In the New Testament we are told that ladies who profess Jesus Christ as their Savior are to dress in a way that will not contradict that profession. “…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation…which is proper for women professing godliness.” I Timothy 2:9-10. As those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we are not our own. We have been bought with a price; and our words, actions, and dress are to identify us with our Master. Philippians 1:27 admonishes us to, “…let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” And I Corinthians 10:31 exhorts us, “…whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If the Lord expects us to be concerned with His glory in such mundane activities as eating and drinking, surely He cares about how His daughters honor or dishonor Him in their clothing. The whole of our lives is to reflect the glory of the One we profess to love and worship.
A few years ago I very prayerfully, and I trust in a spirit of humility, reproved a friend of mine because of a lack of discretion in her dress on social media. This woman, just a few years younger than me, had been in ministry for years, and she was not setting a proper example of godliness in posting pictures of herself in very immodest clothing, including bikinis. I am not a confrontational person by nature. Honestly, it’s something I rarely do, but I thought our friendship, as well as, her level of maturity were such that she would receive my admonition. Unfortunately, that was not the case. One of the first things she responded with were these words, “I am very proud of my body.” I’m sure she didn’t mean those words as a confession, but her words, like her choice of clothes, revealed what was in her heart. Our sinful pride never leads us to do the right thing, but often encourages us to do and say things that are grieving to the Lord and hurtful to others.
The two Greek words translated as propriety and moderation (or modesty and self-control in another translation) in I Timothy 2 are the same two words used in the second chapter of Titus when the Apostle Paul instructed the older women to teach the younger women. He wrote that godly, older women are to teach the young women to be discreet and chaste (or modest and pure). It is stressed that the older women are to not only teach these things, but they are to model them before the young women. Two issues were actually being addressed in I Timothy – immodest dress, as well as, flashy, ostentatious dress. Both were manifestations of pride, and both were a distraction to worship.
Are you willing to really be gut level honest with yourself? If so, then ask yourself some hard questions and be sincere in your answers. Why do you wear the things you do? Whose attention and approval are you seeking? Whose glory are you really concerned with? Does the way you dress reflect God’s glory or dim His glory? Think about your clothing and what it announces about you.
One Christian author wrote, “Modesty is humility in dress.” He went on to say that immodesty is an expression of arrogance and an absence of humility, because it is only concerned with drawing attention to oneself. On the other hand, modesty is an expression of humility, because it displays a desire to to serve others and not entice men to lust.
While in Bible college I was blessed to sit under the teaching of a wonderful professor from India, Dr. C. T. Abraham. As a young freshman I had never traveled outside the US, and I was fascinated by things he would tell us about his home country. I will never forget an impromptu discussion we had in class one day. While explaining some of the customs of India, he said that in his country a man and woman would never walk down the street holding hands. In fact, when in public a woman always walked a few paces behind her husband. We young women were aghast at what seemed like a very chauvinistic practice. We protested the demeaning and belittling of women by such a terrible tradition. In his usual quiet, unassuming way Dr. Abraham replied something like this, “Oh no, it is not we who belittle and demean our women. That is what you do here in America. For you see, we would never allow our women to be plastered on billboards half dressed for everyone to gawk at. We have more respect for our women than that.” His perspective silenced our disapproval.
The 19th century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, didn’t mince words when he declared, “England gets its fashions from Paris, and Paris gets their fashions from hell.” If those were his thoughts in Victorian England, I can’t imagine what he would have to say about the styles today. But, he was right. While trends come and go, the goal of fashion designers has never really wavered. As Elisabeth Elliot so aptly stated, “The fashion business thrives on sexual provocation through dress.” If you don’t already know this, dear sister, I have news for you. The fashion industry is not your friend. So, my encouragement is to respect yourself enough not to become their representative, or worse yet, their slave.
For Christians, a very important motivation for dressing modestly is love for others. The Lord Jesus said the second great commandment is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39. As disciples of Jesus Christ, this life is not all about us. We are called to look out for the well-being of others; to help and not hinder other Christians in their pilgrimage. We should dress decently because we care about other people. We should be concerned about younger believers who are watching us and following our example. We should endeavor to help our brothers walk in purity and not stumble in their thought life. We should respect our sisters and not want to tempt their husbands. And we should care about lost people who are looking to see if there is anything different about us.
Most women don’t have a clue as to the mental battle many men have. My husband and I do a lot of counseling, and I think you might be shocked if you knew the struggle some guys in your own church are engaged in. Just this past week, a young pastor we love deeply contacted my husband seeking help to overcome the pull toward pornography. The men around us are bombarded with sensual women everywhere they go – billboards, television, work, school, the mall, their phones, and sadly, all too often, even in the house of God. Out of love for your brothers and sisters please make the choice to dress modestly.
The most important motive for dressing modestly, however, is love for God and an eagerness to bring Him glory. In I Timothy Paul wrote that we are to dress as women who profess godliness. He was saying that we are not to live like those who don’t know God. Our words, actions, and clothing are to match our profession of faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we claim to know Christ, the Scripture tells us our wardrobe should support our claim. We are not free to live, act, nor dress in any way we please, for we are not our own. We have a new Master. As ambassadors of Christ we represent Him!
Why is the instruction for older women to teach the young women to be discreet and pure so important? The fifth verse of Titus 2 tells us, “…that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” When someone professes to know God and to believe His Word, but they don’t live according to it, then the Word of God is dishonored. The significance of these things is stressed again in verse 10, “…that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” We have been given the awesome responsibility, as well as, the amazing privilege to make the gospel believable to the world around us. We can be good or not so good advertisements for the Christian faith. It troubles me to think that my conduct as a professing Christian can dishonor the Word of God. If we’re not discreet and pure in our conduct and dress, and yet we name the name of Christ, the Word of God will be reviled and mocked. On the other hand, what an incredible honor we have been given to adorn the doctrine of God! We can make the gospel beautiful in the eyes of those around us! When people see us conducting ourselves discreetly and dressing modestly in this impure culture in which we live, it makes the gospel believable. In this world full of indecent, provocative clothing there is something so refreshing and beautiful about a feminine, unpretentious, neatly dressed woman.
So before considering if a piece of clothing is cute or flattering, why not ask yourself some more substantive questions. Does this garment draw attention to my body and detract from the light of Christ in me? Will this in any way contradict my profession of faith in Christ? Would I be embarrassed for Christ to see me in this? Will this bring glory to God? Let’s choose to dress in a way that is proper for women who profess godliness. Let’s dress to please our Father and bring glory to Him, and not ourselves. Let’s beautify the doctrine of God our Savior in our choice of clothes. Let’s dress in a way that reflects His glory rather than dims it. Let’s be adorned as unto Him, because we are on mission; and He is worthy to be glorified in everything, even the way we dress.
Soli Deo Gloria