Ah, modesty. One little word that elicits such as strong reaction in Christendom. When we read or hear it, we immediately bring to mind our own ideas about what is and isn’t modest. And because everyone has their own definitions and preferences for modesty, I imagine we will continue to debate this from now until Christ comes.
Recently, Lauren DeMoss and Jarrid Wilson wrote on this hot topic, both primarily addressing women. Lauren doesn’t mince words: “If you really want to be treated like something of worth,” she says, “Get your goods off the clearance rack and place yourself behind the glass where they keep the valuables.” Lauren chastises women who pose scantily clad for pictures on Instagram, comparing them to the harlot in Proverbs 7. She also calls guys out for looking to the internet for “cheap thrills,” pleading with them to save their eyes for their wives.
Jarrid’s post reads similarly, though with less bite. He gives women four reasons “modest is hottest”: respecting yourself, yearning for purity, attracting the right type of guy and standing out (in a good way). These attributes are what attracted him to his wife, and he calls for women to show the world that they are better than the Victoria Secret Angel’s standard of beauty. “I didn’t have to see [my wife] in a revealing dress or bathing suit to know she was beautiful,” Jerrid writes. “I could tell by the way she respected herself and her body that she was worth pursuing.”
In a recent post on iBelieve, Brooke Cooney wrote about this topic too, recalling a time her husband was bombarded with pictures he’d rather not have seen on Facebook. Brooke writes, “Before we post a picture with torso and excess leg exposed, take a selfie with seductive eyes, or show off skintight apparel in stilettos, let us ask, “Does this edify my brothers and sisters in Christ?"
Pieces like these are helpful insofar as they get at the real sin behind the sin—our desire to find our worth, value and beauty in things outside of Christ. As Christians, we do a lot of debating about whether or not a certain piece of clothing is in or outside the bounds of modesty. But should coming up with some set standard for modesty really be our focus? Likewise, should our appeal for modesty really be because it will attract the “right type” of man or woman? If I struggle with dressing provactively to attract guys, but then decide to dress modestly to attract a different set of guys (albiet the "good, Christian guy") has my heart really changed? Am I not still just pursuing the hearts of men, instead of the heart of God?
The Pharisees were a group of Jews in Jesus’ time who were kind of obsessed with maintaining purity. They had lots of rules to follow in order to perfectly obey the law, some they found in the Bible but others they just made up in order to not break any commandments. Instead of commending them for their obedience, Jesus rebuked or ignored their petty rules (Luke 11: 37-54; Matt. 5: 27-28; 12:1-8). Though they wanted to focus on all the outward things Jesus did "wrong," he kept bringing the conversation back to their hearts, not their external obedience.
As always, we can learn from following Christ’s example. While exhorting our brothers and sisters in Christ to maintain purity and modesty is good, noble and right, let’s never lose sight of our motivation. Modesty isn’t primarily about managing sexual compulsions or about attracting the right man or woman, it’s about having a heart bent on pleasing and honoring God.