Let’s talk about modesty. Wait, wait…don’t run away! I know you’ve already read about this subject, probably many times over, and I saw you flinch when I brought it up. But I want to get real about modesty. In fact, I might even rant a little. So read on.
Modesty is an ongoing issue in our culture. In case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of women out there show off a lot of their bodies. In today’s world, guys don’t have to step too far out of their house to see images or real women with curves, cleavage, “camel feet,” and cutaneous membrane (aka skin). Given how visual many men are, it can be a struggle for many of them to keep their thoughts entirely pure.
I feel for them. And so, I’ve talked to wives about modesty in the past — how we need to choose stylish clothing that covers enough, the care we should take in choosing swimsuits, even my own practice of sometimes asking my husband when I put something on, “Is this okay?” (I learned years ago that he’s a better barometer for whether a miniskirt is short enough to attract male attention I’m not looking for.) We certainly don’t want to contribute to the temptation for men to lust.
I’ve also been frustrated with women who don’t get it. Like how I was once going through a church potluck line and caught a not-so-brief glimpse of the woman in front of me with her thong peeking out of a low-rise miniskirt. Thank goodness my husband or teenage sons weren’t in line behind her! I don’t want my sons or my husband to have such information waved in front of their faces.
1 Timothy 2:9-10 says: “Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God” (HCSB, emphasis added). Women should be modest, for the sake of the men in their midst and to honor God’s will.
However … not too long ago, I was reading a post that mentioned modesty and some blessed wife had as part of her comments something like, “But please don’t take my yoga pants. You have no idea how nice it is to be in something comfortable …” (I wish I could find that comment!) I laughed and found myself agreeing. I often wear yoga pants and a T-shirt while working at home and doing laundry. And then, I need to run out to the store. So am I supposed to change from yoga pants, even when my shirt covers almost the whole backside? Seems a bit silly to me.
And yet you can find entire articles castigating women for wearing yoga pants. In another post written to women about modesty, two men in the comments said they’d basically been visually assaulted by women wearing yoga pants in their presence. Really? Is the prevalence of yoga pants the downfall of otherwise good Christian husbands?
Job 31:1 says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” And I fully appreciate men who take this covenant to heart. Many Christian husbands are dedicated to keeping their minds pure and avoiding visual temptation.
But my thinking about modesty and lust is changing. Partly because I see so much blame placed on women for men lusting. I’m not letting us women off the hook for needing to use decency and good sense when we go out in public. However, I don’t see men getting the same flack for how they present themselves in public. If you want to see what I mean, read this humorous post on “When Suits Become a Stumbling Block: A Plea to My Brothers in Christ.” Men in suits are attractive. So are men in uniforms. I mean really, how could any man proclaim to be a holy Christian if he’s also a well-built firefighter in uniform? Don’t you know what you’re doing to us?!
We’ve also preached this modesty message so much to teens that some of them probably think Psalm 119:9 reads: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By ‘bouncing his eyes.'” No, no, no. It says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.”
What does the Word of God say about modesty?
In addition to the verses referenced above, not a whole lot. Here’s a quick run-down:
“The Lord says,
‘The women of Zion are haughty,
walking along with outstretched necks,
flirting with their eyes,
strutting along with swaying hips,
with ornaments jingling on their ankles.’”
(Isaiah 3:16; and verses 17-24 explains you how God will punish those women)
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes” (1 Peter 3:3).
And that’s it. At least specifically regarding modest apparel. Of course, there are principles of modest and God-honoring behaviors. We also have scriptures that talk about not being a stumbling block to others, about building up our brothers and sisters in Christ, about living with reverence before God. Obviously, if you’re walking around in low-rise shorts with your bum hanging out, that’s not exactly an advertisement for Christianity. (And, by the way, you’re essentially wearing your underwear in public; they might be expensive denim, but you’re in undies. Stop that.)
But you know what else the Bible says? It says to treat people with respect, to look beyond their appearance and see them how God sees them, to purify our minds and our hearts in Christ Jesus.
And I’ve become really bothered by the idea that men are just bouncing their eyes off every woman who shows a little more cleavage than they want to see or who ran up to the grocery store on the fly in her yoga pants to grab much-needed diapers for her infant. Doesn’t that pigeonhole women’s bodies as temptation? As if “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13) is referring to women’s curves or yoga pants. Doesn’t that approach have the potential of objectifying women as well?
Rather, how did Jesus treat women who were immodest in their lives? Jesus let a sinful woman anoint his feet with oil and spoke directly to her to forgive her sins (Luke 7:36-50). He had a direct conversation about faith with the Samaritan woman who’d been married five times and living with a man outside of marriage (John 4:1-26). He refused to condemn a woman caught in adultery and encouraged her to stop sinning (John 8:1-11). Jesus looked past their immodesty and saw the woman His Father saw.
Which makes me think that maybe we’re missing something.
Maybe the problem is only partly what someone’s wearing and more what our hearts are doing. Is the test whether we can look at each other as sex objects or whether we can see the person underneath?
This is by no means meant to let women, and men, off the hook for dressing modestly. But you how about we hear a little about how men dress and behave in public? And how about taking responsibility for our own thoughts and hearts?
If you can’t have a conversation with a woman who shows too much cleavage or a guy in your gym who’s muscled and shirtless, you’re going to have a really, really, really hard time in this world. And it’s not entirely the world’s fault.
We have to own our responsibility to not lust. And if it’s hard? Well, being a Christian isn’t supposed to be eating-cupcakes-easy all the time. (What did you think that verse about taking up your cross meant? Matthew 16:24.)
As for me, you might see in my yoga pants at the grocery store. Not because I’m wanting any guy to get a full-view of my caboose, but because they’re comfortable and I was too lazy to change. However, I will make sure I’m wearing a long T-shirt to cover everything that should be covered. And if I have any doubts about how I might come across, I check with my husband, because he has a better sense of those things at times.
I suspect plenty of other women, good Christian wives even, will be dressed in exercise or lounge attire as well. And we hope you can still have a nice conversation with us. Because that is nothing like the immodesty of the women Jesus dealt with, and He managed to handle it all just fine.
We believe in you guys. We don’t want to tempt you, but we also believe that — with God’s help — you can keep your minds and hearts where they should be.