Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What is modesty?

(Note: This is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation I hope to have as I wade through what the Bible says about modesty.)


The word "modest" is only found in the Bible once. Are you surprised? People make such a big deal about it, it's as though it's the number one sin. Maybe even the 11th commandment.

Here is the one occurrence:

"Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works." (I Timothy 5:9-10)

The word for modesty there is kosmios: well arranged, seemly, modest.

That Greek word is only found one other time in the New Testament, and in that instance, it is talking about men, and it's translated instead "above reproach."

"Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach." (I timothy 3:2)

A simple word study, then, does not shed any light, really, on this touchy topic.

So what is modesty?

I do believe that the Bible contains everything we need for life and godliness (II Peter 1:3), but it's going to take a little more digging for me to see for myself God's plan for our wardrobes. I'm up for the challenge. Want to join me?



Jared Shaughnessy said...

Ah modesty, one of the most discussed topics in most of the churches in which I grew up. One church went so far as to have a bust of a woman's head to show how long a woman should wear his hair so as to be modest. Time and time again, I have found myself thinking that if we are truly focused on Christ and His glory, then modesty would not be an issue. After all, is it not God who judges the thoughts and intents of our hearts? Many quote verses regarding causing brothers to stumble. The Bible talks much more frequently about focusing on how we adorn our spirits. 1 Peter 3:1-4 ESV / 21 helpful votes

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 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.

REM said...

I Timothy 2:8-10 is a good guide on modesty, with its context being prayer, the city of Ephesus and riches. About Paul to Timothy, Calvin wrote,
"He expressly censures certain kinds of superfluity, such as curled hair, jewels, and golden rings; not that the use of gold or of jewels is expressly forbidden, but that, wherever they are prominently displayed, these things commonly draw along with them the other evils which I have mentioned, and arise from ambition or from want of chastity as their source." (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom43.iii.iv.iii.html) Warnings are warnings and they are there for a reason.

To further it, I would also say the word modesty itself has fallen on hard times. Our culture has a way of boohooing words before decent understandings present themselves. Even worse, the whiplash effect is that there are well meaning Christians who construct something entirely unscriptural to combat that misunderstanding. It could help to look at this through the eyes of the past, and I don't mean technical fashions-although those white wigs for men are funky!

The little I have read on modesty that's decent (usually a footnote) zeros in first on principles, then items, just like I Tim 2. It is in our better interest to look at those principles of the past (1800's, etc) and not mimic their outward adornments, although they could serve as decent models. By God's grace, we are to carry scriptures charges with God's strength and two great words Joe used last Sunday-clear consciences.

How I see it, it's foolish for a Christian to ignore modesty entirely (they are not reading their Bibles) and even worse for a believer to minimize the gospel in order to obsess on modesty. Error is error. But both the scrupulous and the provocative dresser need something beyond being straightened out about garments. What they need is what we need every day and need most-the gospel. And I’m happy to hash out threads with someone who gets that.

And yep, the real estate of our wardrobe should be governed by scripture, all in proper focus, like everything else we do. Not to be exhaustive, but that moves into areas beyond modesty and gets into cost, fit, material, # of clothes, cleanliness, presentability, honor, etc. Lord help all of us-particularly those of us with daughters! Blessings,

BeckyE said...

I love these comments, guys. Really. It's great to get the mind going. Thanks for the time you put into them! I couldn't agree more on all accounts. Especially the part about having daughters - oh my. That probably is what started much of my searching into the heart of the gospel regarding modesty, because I want to clearly communicate to my girls God's heart, and not just a list of rules.

Stephanie Johnson said...

Becky, It's good to search the Scriptures because well-meaning Christians can take things out of context or misuse and major on the minors. I agree with Jared and REM. REM is much more eloquent than I will be. Like Jared, I've heard this topic mis-taught - even to the point that part of the word referred to a certain length of hair (men) or skirt (women). However, when I was a teen - in the same church Jared referred to, we had a week where the regular SS teacher and most of the students were at camp. That meant that the music director had to pitch hit last minute. It's still my most memorable class (all these many years later). At any rate, he brought in concordances, dictionaries, etc. and we did a study on that very passage of Scripture and discovered the meaning of kosmios.

Melody Green has an article on this subject. http://www.lastdaysministries.org/Articles/1000008635/Last_Days_Ministries/LDM/Discipleship_Teachings/Melody_Green/Uncovering_The_Truth.aspx

Below are a couple of passages that have more influence on me in the subject of modesty (as it applies to what we wear).

Rom 14 (whole chapter) ESV 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

Phl 2:3-4 ESV 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In high school, college, and career, I've worked with mostly men and very few women. When you're the only woman in the class or office, men don't filter their conversations. I gained an insight that many women don't get to have. Even non-Christian men will feel uncomfortable around women with revealing clothing - why? - because of where it takes them in their hearts and mind. There are godly men who choose their seats in church based on what they won't see, so they don't have to have the battle in their heart and mind and can focus on Worship.

I've found evaluating what I do (& wear) through the lenses of the above passages helpful to my own godliness - if only I did it all the time.