What Is Modesty?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, modesty is the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities. So, does this mean we are ashamed of what we look like, or what we are capable of? Does this mean we should never have confidence in our actions, or our demeanor? Doe God even care what I wear?
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. -1 Corinthians 6: 19-20
Do 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
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. -Philippians 4:8
Throughout these few verses we see that we are to respect our bodies and those around us. But we don’t see any specifics, like dresses must come below the knee, and tank-tops must have a one-inch strap. And what about yoga pants and bikinis? So, how do we know what’s right, and what’s our opinion on the subject? And is that all modesty is, just covering your body, and not showing certain parts? Or is it more? Is it your heart in the right place, and your actions and thoughts pure before the LORD? I would like to help answer a few of those questions and piece together what ‘being modest’ really looks like.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul states that “your body is a temple.” I didn’t really grasp the entirety of what that meant until I understood what a temple was.
Temple – Noun – a building devoted to the worship, or regarded as the dwelling place, of God or other objects of religious reverence.
So, what Paul is saying is that our bodies should be held with the same respect and esteem as a holy building. Even people who don’t believe in God, are still usually very respectful of the building in which people find peace and hope. Our bodies and other people’s bodies should be held in the same regard.
In 1 Peter, Peter talks about how we shouldn’t adorn ourselves with fancy things (I’m paraphrasing) but he basically tells us to be plain… but is wearing a braid crown and sparkly earrings really sinning against God? The easy answer is no, the more difficult answer is, it could be. Now, don’t get me wrong - I like looking put together, so should I feel guilty every time I get myself together and wear that pretty necklace and mascara?
Honestly, I personally don’t think that at all, and here’s why: I don’t love looking good more than I love serving the LORD. I think it’s the same reason why having money isn’t bad, but the love of money is the root of all evil. Peter is reminding us that our worth isn’t in what we wear or do to our hair. Our worth is in Jesus and our love for serving God with everything we have. In verse 4, Peter shows us that even though we get older and skin-deep beauty will fade because it is very fleeting, beauty in a heart aspect lasts forever. Having a spirit inside us that is meek and quiet is something the LORD loves.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul is showing us what our heart and minds should be focused on and what we should help others focus on when they look at us, especially as women. So, I pose a question, if I wore a super low-cut shirt and it really didn’t leave much to the imagination, would that be helping anyone around me focus on the things Paul lists out? No, it would not. I’ve heard it said before that it is not a woman’s duty to dress according to men’s feelings and thoughts, but as Christian women - and sisters in Christ - it is our duty to respect our brothers and sisters in a manner that would not move them to stumble in their thoughts (and here’s what Christian guys actually think about modesty!). I understand that sometimes we want to dress in the latest styles and match what our favorite Instagram influencer wore, but when that outfit involves shorts that don’t even cover our butt cheeks and a shirt that is so low there really isn’t a point to wearing it, then should we really wear that?
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. -Romans 12:2
Making sure our bodies are covered is done out of a spirit of love and respect for everyone around us. I’ve heard it said that all modesty does is teach girls to be ashamed of their bodies, and by asking them to cover up we are telling them that they aren’t beautiful, and no one wants to see them. This, my friend, just isn’t true. God is not telling us to cover up to be ashamed of how He has made us, He is telling us to preserve parts of us for one specific person, one specific time.
I know there are a million reasons one could use to justify dressing however she wants. We could point out that all of those Bible verses never really said “Don’t wear shorts that are shorter than your fingertips,” or “Avoid a dress that is really low cut.” None of these things are stated in these verses or even in the entire Bible. So, why is it such a big deal when the youth pool party rolls around, or the spring formal?
I think it is a source of controversy because the Bible may not talk about the length of a skirt that a woman should wear, but it does talk about honoring yourself and others in a way that would direct them and others to the LORD. As a result, many people have a different definition of modesty, some people say tank-tops are fine others say no, some say shorts of a certain length are fine while others say only shorts below the knee are ok. So why is it so hard to come to a general agreement of what modesty is? Shouldn’t it just be outlined in the Bible as to what is acceptable as opposed to what is not?
That would make our lives easier, I suppose. But in all honesty, I think the Bible is showing us how to care for our hearts and minds by relying on the wisdom of God. Because as we walk with God and get to know Him better, that changes what is acceptable. What was once okay, suddenly becomes not so acceptable - even if no one told us explicitly, the Spirit does speak to us - if we’re listening to listen - even when it comes to the clothes we wear.
So, as young Christian women, it is our calling to lead others to Christ through our actions and our words. We should strive to show others the love that God has for them through everything we do, even through the way we dress. Because if I dressed provocatively and wanted others to see God’s light shine through me, I would not be truly portraying God’s character through my actions and lifestyle. But if I dressed in a manner that allowed other to see that I care about myself and about them, they will see a difference and they will see God’s light through my life. They won’t be looking at me, but Christ in me.
All of this is to be said with a reminder that ‘being modest’ doesn’t mean dressing in a burlap sack. It doesn’t mean wearing a floor length dress, or only long sleeves. It is very easy and very possible to dress very cute and stylishly, but do it with dignity and respect for yourself and for others around you. Being modest is not an easy task, but it is doable, and it is what we are called to do as woman who are chasing after God and asking others to accompany us on our journey.
Modesty does mean something different for every person - changing from spiritual seasons as we mature in our faith - but something for us to remember is that “It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:21-23).
If someone tells you that a certain way of dressing touches a weak or vulnerable spot, the Bible tells us not to do something to cause them to stumble; to not to provoke others to sin because of our actions.
Now all of this is said with the understanding that we can’t please everyone. If I wore jeans every day of my life someone would have a problem with how tight or loose, they were. If I wore a tank-top, that would bug someone saying they could see my shoulders. We can not please everyone. And we really shouldn’t try to please anyone but the LORD of the universe and our Creator.
So, take time to pray and make time between just you and God. Listen to what He is showing you about what modesty is. Seek out the advice of other strong Christian women that walk in the light of truth. Ask questions and seek out the definition of modesty. Once you feel like you have found what modesty means to you, test it against the Bible and if it doesn’t stand up to what God has to say on the subject, understand that what you heard is not from God. He will never contradict Himself, so allow the Bible to be your measuring tool, and follow a conviction that lines up with the Word of God. Because when you encounter a holy God, everything changes - even the clothes we wear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hello, my name is Ashley Shrader. I’m 19 and absolutely in love with sharing joy and love. I am so thankful that God has given me the opportunity to serve Him through my life.