Modesty is God's Design
The Word of God emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine (Biblical teaching). The Apostle Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when audiences would not endure that type of teaching. Rather, people would search for instructors who would offer them something pleasant to their ears, even though it would not impart life to their souls. In 1 Timothy 1:3, Paul instructed Timothy to remain in Ephesus that he might “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” than what Paul had taught him, and what he had learned from the Lord’s teachings.
Modesty is a condition of the heart that is exemplified by what is seen outwardly.
In 1 Timothy chapter 2, Paul addressed a subject that applies to both men and women: modesty. Modesty is a condition of the heart that is exemplified by what is seen outwardly. Pride is the antithesis of modesty, and individuals of either gender can manifest that attitude.
Paul gave Timothy some instructions specifically for women regarding this subject. He wrote, “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works”
(1 Timothy 2:9-10). Christians were to be marked not by the outward appearance, but by what existed within. And the same principle applies in our day.
To “adorn” is to decorate, whether describing a home, a Christmas tree, or one’s person. As followers of Christ and His doctrine, we are to adorn ourselves in a manner that reflects Christ, who is dwelling within. When individuals see us, we want that to be what captures their attention.
We live in a time when what is wholesome, modest, and discreet, is demonized and characterized as odd.
We live in a time when what is wholesome, modest, and discreet, is demonized and characterized as odd. Instead, the immodest and provocative are glamorized. Modern society has a warped view of what is attractive, and that warped view often demands that women who want to be viewed as elegant and sophisticated present themselves in some measure of undress. God has a different view! From what source do we want to receive instruction in this matter—our corrupt culture or God’s Word?
Men and women can have different views of immodesty. A woman in immodest attire might see herself as simply appearing appealing or attractive, while a man sees her as being intentionally provocative, suggestive, and even seductive. When an immodestly dressed woman walks by, men notice. God-fearing men notice, but are not interested. Thus, immodestly dressed women who are striving to get attention succeed in doing so. However, they capture the attention of the type of men they should not want such attention from, and gain an assessment they probably would not appreciate. If you are a woman, remember that immodest attire especially draws the attention of men who have no interest in godliness.
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he noted that immodesty is marked by adornment that is elaborate, extravagant, excessive, or expensive. In contrast, godly women were to be marked by a modest spirit. If we have a modest spirit, we will present ourselves modestly because our desire and motivation will be to avoid capturing the wrong kind of attention. Our motivation will be to capture the attention of the God of Heaven and to live for Him, and that will be reflected in our appearance.
The first lesson in modesty
When God created man and woman in the Garden of Eden, they were modest beings. But then came the Fall of Man. Adam and Eve transgressed, and because of their disobedience, they went from innocence to guilt. God’s Word tells us that their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked. Suddenly, they found themselves plagued by shame and embarrassment. To remedy that, they sewed fig leaves together and “made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:7).
Part of the problem in many societies is that there seems to be no sense of condemnation for immodest attire. Where is the shame? Where is the embarrassment? This makes choosing to dress modestly a challenge, because the fashion world limits options. However, it also makes a modest individual more of a light in a sinful world.
The Lord responded to Adam and Eve’s shame over their unclothed condition; we read that the Lord God made “coats of skins, and clothed them” (verse 21). Notice that while Adam and Eve had covered themselves with aprons, God covered them with coats. In so doing, He began to define and teach the principle of modesty.
Throughout the Bible
Instruction regarding modesty continues in subsequent books of the Bible. For example, when God instituted the worship procedures for the Children of Israel, He commanded, “Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon” (Exodus 20:26). Later, He ordained that the priests were to be clothed with linen breeches, for the express purpose of modesty.
Immodesty is personified in the life of Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab, who persecuted Elijah and the other prophets of God. The Bible says that Jezebel’s religious system included whoredom and witchcraft. Just before judgment befell her, she “painted her face, and tired her head” (2 Kings 9:30). Instead of humbling herself, as one afraid of divine vengeance, she retained her arrogant and ungodly behavior to the end.
Isaiah 3 records what God saw when He viewed the fashionable women of Jerusalem who were more concerned with the latest styles of jewelry, hair dressing, and attire than they were in their spiritual well-being. We read, “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet . . . In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon [adornments in their hair and around their necks], the chains [ornaments which dangled from the ears], and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses [mirrors of polished metal], and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.”
God ordained that because the women had placed their emphasis on clothing and jewelry rather than on God and were proud and haughty, they would be diseased, abused, and judged. Isaiah did not paint a pretty picture. What their culture viewed as fashionable grieved the heart of God.
In the New Testament, godly women were noted by what is referred to as their “chaste” conversation, or conduct. The word chaste is translated in other Scriptures as “pure,” “clean,” and “modest.” The Apostle Peter alluded to these pure, modest women, saying, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Peter 3:3-4). He continued by stating, “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves.” Holy women emphasized cultivating an interior spiritual beauty rather than primarily focusing on outward adorning.
The example of Sara
Peter went on in this passage to refer to one specific woman: Sara, the wife of Abraham. What Peter mentioned was Sara’s modesty, though he was not ignoring that she was a beautiful woman. Scripture records that Abraham told his wife, “I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon.” Sara was very attractive, but Peter noted that she was marked by her modesty. Modesty is always attractive.
When we address a subject like this, we may be accused of trying to send people back to the 1950s. Actually, we are trying to send you back further than that—we would like to send you back to the admonition given at the time of Creation. Do not uncover what God deems should be covered! That principle was instituted back in Genesis and carried through the Old Testament to the New Testament. It applied then, and it applies now.
There was immodesty in the 1950s. There was immodesty in the 1920s, and in the 1800s. It is described in Bible times. Immodesty has always existed! Modesty is not a matter of going backward or forward—it is a timeless principle of God’s Word. It is a matter of learning what the Bible teaches, and being interested enough in pleasing God that we follow the guidelines of Scripture. When we do, we are blessed.
We need look no further than the magazine covers by the grocery store checkout counter to observe how society has glamorized indecency. The devil is selling people a bill of goods that will leave them bankrupt. By contrast, the Word of God offers wholesome teaching that will leave a person flourishing if followed. It instructs, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
A matter of choice
God has created a way whereby we can live holy, soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Yes, we will stand out from the crowd. If we want to blend in with the crowd, we have that option, but that is not an option God desires us to exercise. Which will you choose?
God’s Word makes it plain what we should do as followers of Christ. “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Let us ask God to help us to put into practice the principle of modesty. As we do, we will indeed be a testimony to the world.