Modesty: Are you modest in the sight of God and man?
One example is a land and culture where women wear a veilin public. A woman coming from the United States or Canada could be seen as immodest (though in some cases veils have a religious significance, which is a slightly different situation) if she refuses to show some deference to that custom of the land. Modesty is a word that defines the appearance and behavior of men as well as women. The principles are the same, and appreciation for that quality of character is universal.
Modesty applies to rich and poor alike and reflects a frame of mind that is shown by one’s appearance and conduct. The usual Bible verse cited as a guideline is 1 Timothy 2:9-10 . Paul had been addressing men and then states, “in like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing” (New King James Version). The guidelines apply to men as well as women, and there was a time when men placed a high value on clothes that were fancy; some referred to them as “dandies.” The key to Paul’s comments is “which is proper for women professing godliness.” That is what Christians are to reflect in their actions. Paul went on to say that we need to learn how to conduct ourselves in the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). That is a great responsibility, and one we must not treat lightly. Converted people are called “children of God,” and children carry the name and reputation of their parents wherever they go and whatever they do.
StandardsStandards of modesty are not clearly defined in our society, and since there may be a mixture of tastes and cultures that play a role in defining modesty for any person, we ought to be cautious not to condemn something by standards that we have designed. Those standards are usually our own. For example, God does not give an exact measure for the length of a skirt, though the Bible does state that exposing the thigh is more than just unseemly. Isaiah called it a shame (Isaiah 47:1-3 ). The clothes we wear may be provocative – that differs from being acceptable. The words of Isaiah ought to put the followers of Jesus Christ on guard. Modesty indicates purity of social position; immodesty indicates the opposite.
Proverbs 8:12 carries some good advice. “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion.” Words like prudence and discretion reveal that there is thought behind our actions. We carry a great responsibility if we are considered to be citizens of God’s kingdom. Proverbs 2:10-13 explains that wisdom and knowledge are pleasant to the soul and discretion will preserve you. Proverbs 5 is a whole chapter that advises a man to be satisfied with his own wife and to be on guard for one who is immoral. Proverbs 6:25-29 carries a stern warning of disaster to one who is seduced by that which seems exciting and sweet, but in God’s terms is bitter and sour. It is possible to appreciate beauty without coveting that which is beautiful. Handsome men and beautiful women are not a curse on this earth – misuse of beautiful things is the source of the curses that may come. We need oxygen to live, but too much oxygen can kill us. We need food to live, but eating indiscriminately can lead to poor health and an early grave.
Peter tells Christians to be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5). That is an attitude of mind reflected in how we walk, how we dress, and how we speak. Humility does not allow a person to strive to outshine others by fancier clothing and hairstyles, bigger and gaudier tattoos (the Bible tells us not to tattoo ourselves – Leviticus 19:28), using a loud strident voice to be heard or doing things just to be noticed. When the mind is clothed in humility, the appearance and conduct of a person reflects that mental state. It may be that a person can appear to act or dress immodestly and yet not be conscious of it. At that moment, it is the thought in the mind of another that defines modesty. There is a time when it is acceptable to be stark naked (in the shower or bath, for example). Nobody is there to decide whether you are being modest or not. The closeness of husband and wife is another time where modesty has a different meaning. Going into public wearing that which the public considers modest is where our greatest concerns need to be exercised. Wearing a bikini or tiny male bathing suit in a shopping mall is an extreme that all of us would recognize. Though our tastes in color, style and quantity of skin that is revealed may differ, there are extremes that we would all agree upon. Condemning another person by our own standards is an act that may also reflect a lack of humility. Condoning behavior that is rude, vulgar or unseemly is not right either. Care needs to be taken in judgment and declaration of the modesty, or lack of it, in another person.
The male and female minds differ in what they perceive. A man is attracted and provoked by what he sees in a different way than a woman. Women sometimes do not understand what thoughts they stir in the minds of men by the way they walk and dress. Attracting another person can be defined in a negative or in a positive way. That is where wisdom and intent enter the picture. Paul has much to say about intent and effect. He tells us not to dispute over doubtful things (Romans 14:1) and to be careful we do not put a stumbling block before our brothers by our judgments and demands (Romans 14:10-18 ). He goes on to say that we ought not engage in any activity that could cause a brother to stumble, be offended or made weak (Romans 14:21). To the Corinthians Paul stated, “Give no offense, either to the Jews, or to the Greeks or to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32). He also said the church membership with Godly guidance was to judge for itself that which would be considered appropriate in matters of modesty. Let us conduct ourselves with modesty so that others do not find us offensive. In doing that we please God, and that, after all, is what really counts.