One needs only to go downtown or turn on the television to see the physical manifestation of immodesty in our society. It is obvious that people today are more interested in showing their skin than the quality of their hearts. Is this is a harsh judgment? Is it really right to judge someone’s heart on how he dresses, wears his hair, or covers himself in frivolous adornment? But is it a lie to say that what a man is on the outside is a reflection of his character on the inside? Indeed, much can be seen of a person’s quality by the way he carries himself!
Notice from Genesis 38:15, that Judah was deceived by his daughter-in-law because she dressed herself as a harlot. And also from Proverbs 7:10, “And behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart.” Just wearing the clothes of a harlot can make one seem as if she is of that degrading lifestyle! Modesty is a subject of great importance today. It needs to be preached and practiced by every Christian, as is clear from scriptures relating to it. While we live in such an immodest world, the temptation is always so strong to become conformed to the standards of the general population. “And do not be conformed by this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Modesty Is Within
There is always a temptation for us to focus all of our energy on fighting only the outward manifestation of immodesty. We tend to believe that modesty is only something that is without, and not within, and as long as we force the world around us to keep their shorts knee-length than we will be successful in making society modest. But the truth about modesty is that there is much more to it than simply the length of shorts and skirts and what kind of earrings we wear. There is much more, indeed, than those outward manifestations which we tend to name “modest” and “immodest.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words describes modesty as “orderly, well-arranged, decent. . . of good behavior. . . ‘the well-ordering is not of dress and demeanor only, but of the inner life, uttering indeed and expressing itself in the outward conversation.’” The apostle Peter makes the same point in 1 Peter 3:3-4, “And let not your adornment be merely external – braiding the hair, and wearing jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” A modest person is able to adorn herself by her meek and discreet actions, and not with physical appearance, which passes away (“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” [Proverbs 31:30]).
Truly, the description of a modest person must mean more than what is on the outside – the Bible makes it clear, in fact, that modesty and humility go hand-in-hand together. Turn with me 1 Samuel 9:21. At this point, Saul has not been spoiled by the power of the kingdom, and is thus a humble, contrite Benjamite. He does not understand why someone of his low degree would be spoken to with such reverent words. Surely this is an example of a truly modest person, not merely because of his outer adornment, but more rightly because of the lowliness of his heart and his reluctance to accept words of praise. We, too, can be modest in the same way when we refuse to speak highly of ourselves and only reluctantly accept too much praise from our fellow man (Romans 2:29 reads, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God”).
At its core, modesty of the heart really is where we place importance and attention in our lives. A truly immodest person seeks to draw attention to himself. There is no better description for immodesty than that – any physical manifestation of immodesty can easily fit into this model of “attention-grabbing.”
Turn with me to 1 Timothy 2:9, which says, “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments. . .” Notice the word discreetly in this verse. Surely seeking the attention of other people by means of your appearance is not discreet in any way! Immodesty is the exact opposite of what Paul is saying in this verse. To live a discreet life means to keep yourself out of the spot light. As Christians, we should desire to be in the background, not grabbing attention, not seeking the praise of men, not desiring to be on the cover of every sleazy magazine or gossip column – we should not want to be the center of everybody’s attention! The same word is used in Proverbs 11:22 to describe an immodest woman, “Like a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” It all goes back to acting discreetly! Truly, there is nothing wrong with being “beautiful” for there are a number of very beautiful people in this world – but there is something wrong with being beautiful and flaunting it, or advertising it!
Let us seek to make ourselves as humble, discreet, and inwardly modest as possible, understanding that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). At no place in the Bible does it say that the “show boaters” shall inherit the earth, or the beautiful shall inherit the earth, or the tabloid stars will inherit the earth, or the “real foxy head-turners” shall inherit the earth. No, the Bible says that those people who are quiet, and humble, and modest within shall inherit the earth.
Modesty Is Genuine And Sincere
Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1:12, “For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” Notice the use of the word sincerity in this passage of Scripture. Paul and his companions always considered themselves as acting in all meekness and modesty, not just in actions toward the world, but always with a sense of sincerity, as if they truly meant what they said and did. For us, our modesty should always be just as genuine, not out of compulsion, but out of a sincere desire to please God and not lead our fellow people into sin.
We do not often think about how strongly our actions can negatively affect those around us. In fact, when most people think about how modest (or immodest) they are, they consider it in terms of how they see themselves. We walk out of our houses every day, looking into the mirror at ourselves and say, “Well, I think I look very modest today.” Although, it is not our own eyes we should be concerned about! Rather, we need to have constant concern for how the rest of the world perceives us. The apostle Paul even admits in 1 Corinthians 4:4 that “I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted.” In his own eyes, he was unaware of any transgression in his life, but just because he was unaware of it, does not mean he is not accountable to it. In the same way, we may think we are dressed modest, but we must realize that others may see us differently!
Does it even matter how others see us when it comes to our appearance? It should. In fact, that is at the core of our discussion! Although it is clear from 1 Samuel 16:7 that the Lord does not see men the way we do, “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” we must admit that it is a characteristic of humans to judge based on appearance.
If we will think back on the text in 1 Timothy 2:10, all of the characteristics of modesty and discretion go back to one, primary motive; “but rather by means of good works, as befits a woman making a claim to godliness.” It is true that mankind judges based on appearances, therefore, how we dress can either negatively or positively affect a person’s perception of Christianity. If you truly want to “make a claim to godliness” how can you do it when you lead others astray by your lascivious, provocative, or rebellious clothes? How can you say you are an accurate representative of Christ Jesus, in all purity, by inciting lust in men?
Removing Immodesty From Our Hearts
It takes a great deal of self-discipline and self-examination to deal with the problems of immodesty in or lives. So how do we remove it? How do we make ourselves want to be modest? How do we show the rest of the world and the God of Heaven that we desire to live in a discreet fashion? We must first set our priorities on serving and pleasing God! There are few lessons more valuable than the one found in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The fear of the Lord is only the beginning of our path toward wisdom and understanding, and if we do not first fear God and set Him as our goal and focus, then all the rest of life will be in vain.
As Christians, we have a great obligation to be pure and undefiled in our lives. In our motives, and in everything we do as a result of our motives, should be in line with pleasing God, never to please men. Naturally, if we keep God first in our lives, then we will want nothing else but to live modestly in every way! God is not impressed with how we dress, neither is he impressed by our beauty, so why should we waste so much of our time and energy in both emphasizing and advertising that beauty?! God is more impressed with the opposite of beauty, actually, just as it is written in Psalm 149:4, “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble ones with salvation.” We do not need to try and impress God with our immodesty, because he wants to beautify us in a much more significant way – with salvation! When we consider life from that perspective, we must ask ourselves who would want to be immodest?
Modesty Is Consistent With Holiness
A truly modest person will make the decision to be that way and stay that way. Regardless of the situation, regardless of the company, regardless of the location, we must choose to be modest and discreet in our actions. Too often, we want to force modesty on those around us. We choose to push an exact line from such and such point on the legs, to this point on the elbows. But there should not be a need for that. God is not interested in modesty out of compulsion – He is interested in having a heart that is entirely devoted to His glory. He is interested in transformed lives, not conformists who obey the style pressures of the sinful world around them. He is interested in our willingness to disregard all the temptations of lust, waste, greed, and rebellion and dress in a way that glorifies God.
If we want to be like those godly women in 1 Timothy 2:10, if we want to “make a claim to godliness,” we cannot do that and dress immodestly at the same time! Remember what Paul wrote in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
I will say once more that if we truly put God first in our lives, then we will not even have the desire to push the limits. A Christian should not have to ask how long his or her shorts can be. We should not want to determine how much we can get away with. We should not seek to figure out just how close we can get to sin without actually sinning! And that is the case with immodest dress. We have been given “freedom” under the New Testament to “judge for ourselves” what is appropriate to wear, only “do not turn your freedom into an opportunity through the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).