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Is Modesty More Than the Clothes We Wear?

Jessalyn Hutto

When I hear the word “modesty” my mind immediately goes back to my early years as a Christian. I was saved the summer before my sophomore year in high school and as you can imagine, dressing modestly wasn’t exactly at the top of my priority list that year. After all, I had just begun to discover my new influence over the male sex (thanks to my changing body) and they were just beginning to notice me (thanks to the same!). It was a difficult time to learn what it meant to dress modestly because I honestly didn’t want to. I liked the attention I received by wearing a tight blouse or the stares I got when my skirt bordered on the “must reach to your fingertips” dress code rule. It gave me a sense of power and made me feel beautiful, desirable even.

The Holy Spirit was gracious however and slowly he began to change my desires, creating in me a heart that cared more about what the Lord thought of me than what the hormone-driven boys in my school did. Modesty became a virtue that I continually sought to attain, and though very imperfectly and over a great deal of time I made progress. My youth pastor’s wife needed to point out my immodesty less and less and over time I was able to make more God-honoring decisions on my own. By college I felt I had modesty down pat. My college roommate and I took great pride in our knee length bermuda shorts and our spaghetti strap free wardrobe. We never even entered a pool without donning a pair of running shorts over the top of our one piece swimsuits!

Now, your standards of modesty may be higher or lower than mine were, but my point is this: to me modesty was about clothing choices. I was genuinely concerned with “causing my brother to stumble” through the way I dressed–and for good reason. Let’s face it, men are extremely visual when it comes to sexuality and very attracted to the female body. I didn’t want to be a stumbling block to my brothers in Christ and so I tried my best to cover up and give them a fighting chance.

Now at the ripe old age of 27, and married with three little children I struggle much less with the the desire to dress seductively. But what if modesty isn’t just about dressing in a way that guards our brother in Christ’s sexual purity? What if it is something more?

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul admonishes the women under Timothy’s care to “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–good works.”

In a strikingly similar vein, Peter challenges Christian women to “not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV)

It would seem from these passages that the prized virtue of modesty has less to do with the amountof clothing you are wearing and more to do with the reasons for why you are wearing what you are wearing. In other words, as so much of Christianity does, modesty boils down to the heart. Don’t get me wrong, modesty is not less than a serious assessment of what you are wearing and how it will affect the men around you. It was indeed good that I was carefully thinking through my clothing choices, but it is also true that modesty is much more than simply discerning what should and shouldn’t be a part of your wardrobe–because at the heart of modesty is the virtue of humility and we are by nature very prideful creatures.

Let me share a personal and practical example of what I mean. While I was busy feeling good about my modest clothing choices (back in my college days) and judging other women who didn’t seem to care at all about showing some cleavage or wearing bikinis to the beach, I was also working hard to make sure that all the men I hung out with noticed me in other ways. I would be sure to give them long and penetrating eye contact so they knew I was interested in them (you know, that innocent and yet smoldering glance from across the room?) or I would make certain to laugh loudly at all their jokes (even the ones that were just plain stupid) so as to let them know how funny I thought they were and that I got their sense of humor. In many ways I was being immodest through my actions because I was seeking to draw attention to myself through my demeanor. I wasn’t trying to point my brothers to Christ through my interactions with them; I was trying to draw their attention to me, so they would see how desirable I was. It wasn’t my gentle and quiet spirit that was attracting them to me or my good works necessarily, but the attention I was purposefully lavishing on them. My heart’s desire for their favor was manifesting itself through immodest behavior.

Sometimes we think that modesty only pertains to how we interact with the opposite sex, but this isn’t the case either. In the Scripture cited above we see that many women in the early church were tempted to flaunt their elaborate hair styles and costly jewels before others, drawing attention to how great they were. How easy is it to fall into this trap? When we are getting dressed for church on Sunday mornings do we find ourselves considering how our appearance will encourage and build up the body of Christ or are we hoping to grab the attention of our sisters so that they know just how fashionable we are compared to the ladies around us? Do we care more about looking like we have it all together so that we will be known as the young, beautiful mother who can do everything or do we care about serving our sisters who may be tempted to envy us or feel inadequate when they look at us? When other mothers are telling stories about their sweet children do we feel the need to quickly one-up them with a story of our own so as to draw attention to our wonderful family? Immodesty and pride are sister sins that have a way of creeping into all our interactions if we are not careful. We must continually be asking ourselves questions such as: “Why do I want to where this?” “Why do I want to say this?” and “Why am I acting like this?” As the prophet Jeremiah tells us, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah17:9).

The question that must be nagging at you now (it sure is nagging at me) is this: if immodesty is so pervasive, if it truly affects so much of my life how can I guard against it? How can I effectively fight against immodesty when I will have to fight on so many different fronts?

Let us not be overwhelmed dear sisters! We are not left to the wickedness of our own hearts. We have been redeemed and transformed by our Savior Jesus Christ. We are daily learning to treasure the gospel of our salvation more and more.

And isn’t this the answer to our question? Isn’t treasuring the gospel, and growing in our understanding of the God we have been reconciled to, the only hope we have of overcoming the foe of immodesty? If we treasure Christ above all else–above ourselves even–won’t we find it easier to think about ourselves less? Won’t we find it harder to draw attention to ourselves when we so desperately want to draw attention to our wonderful God? This is true modesty because this is truth–He is the worthy, beautiful, and incredible one, not us.

He deserves all praise, glory and honor.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:1-11 ESV)