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  • Writer's pictureJen Ayling

Modesty - Old-Fashioned or God-Honouring?

Proverbs 31:30 

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

The journey toward true purity and discretion as a godly woman is one we all share as Christian ladies, and I felt this subject has been desperately lacking in attention. The topic of modesty needs to be addressed and taught according to God’s Word.

Firstly, it is important to realise that our bodies are not our own. The born-again believer’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit—and we are instructed to glorify God in our body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

This means we are commanded to (and as believers want to) conduct ourselves (both inside and out) for the glory of God—whether it be where we go, what we do, how we dress, what we speak etc. We need to remember that we are witnesses for God and therefore are required by Him to live holy lives—a life that is pleasing and acceptable to the Lord.

Romans 12:1 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

How can we be a light to the world when we look, act and talk like the world?

James 4:4 

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We have been set apart from the world, therefore it makes perfect sense (spiritually) that we will look, act and talk differently to the world. The way we dress, what actions we choose to take and even the words we allow to come out of our mouth are all outward signs of showing the world who lives within us—who we serve in our daily lives.

We all – married, engaged, single – we all represent the Lord Jesus Christ no matter where we are or who we’re with.

If we are dressing provocatively, taking part in sinful behaviour and swearing, what sort of witness are we being? And more importantly, are we honouring God with this kind of behaviour?

You may feel that these outward manners are not really that important because as the saying goes, ‘It’s what’s on the inside that matters’. However, let me put to you something that the Bible teaches in regards to this:

Who you are on the inside will inevitably show on the outside.

John 3:5-6 

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

When a person becomes born of the Spirit, he has been transformed from death to life (John 5:24). He now has a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) with new desires—and those desires are to no longer live selfishly, but to do God’s will—to do things that are pleasing to God.

Romans 13:14 

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

So one who has been born of the Spirit should ensure that he/she dresses, speaks and acts with biblical discretion at all times.

What about our words?

Besides the fact that God created the whole world using words, He has warned us about speaking idle words of nothingness (Matthew 12:36), against gossiping and the like 

(Proverbs 20:19), and even against speaking filthy words.

Ephesians 5:3-4 

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

Foolish talking and coarse jesting are evil. The negative words we speak can be hugely damaging (James 3:6).

And more than that, allowing curse words and swearing to come out of our mouth is sinful and not of God. 1 Peter 3:10 - Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.

Our lips should always only ever be used for speaking good, godly words. After all, whatever we speak about the most is what we’re focusing on—and out of the abundance of our heart the mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45 - The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

It’s interesting to note that throughout the majority of the holy text, the Bible speaks disapprovingly of any form of nakedness, with the only known exception being before the fall (Genesis 2:25). However straight after Adam and Eve sinned against God, the first thing they noticed was their nakedness.

Genesis 3:7 - Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Along with their nakedness came fear and shame (Genesis 3:10).

Then we see in Isaiah 20 that God had Isaiah walk around partly naked for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:3), that they will be dismayed and ashamed, naked and barefoot with their buttocks uncovered.

Again nakedness is seen as a sign of shame.

Also in 2 Samuel 10:4 we see that Hanun, the king of the Ammonites, seized David’s servants and shamed them by shaving off half their beards and cutting off their garments in the middle, at their hips, which meant they were exposed to view that which modesty requires should be concealed; so that they must be put to the utmost shame and confusion.

According to God’s Word in all these situations the result is the same—nakedness brings forth shame.

The Bible even makes mention of a woman’s inappropriate attire being like that of a prostitute. This goes to show how what you wear has the ability to come across as respectable or despicable. We see an interesting message in Proverbs 7 where a harlot was seducing a man into sexual immorality.

Proverbs 7:10-11 - And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home.

Then a few verses down at the end of this chapter, we are left with this strong warning:

Proverbs 7:25-27 - Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death.

So in knowing that our bodies are temples of the Lord and should be used for the glory of God alone, along with the fact that nakedness is a biblical sign of shame, how should a godly woman dress? What sort of clothing is deemed as appropriate or inappropriate?

The writer of Proverbs answers this question very bluntly, summing it up perfectly.

Proverbs 11:22 - Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.

There’s so much we can learn from this one sentence. In order to understand what this verse means, we need to identify what is really being said. And the essence of what is being said here is that a beautiful woman will quickly ruin her appearance when she lacks discretion.

Modesty is a beautiful gift of dignity and purity.

The definition of ‘discreet’ is: ‘careful and prudent in one's speech or actions, especially in order to keep something confidential or to avoid embarrassment.’ So showing discretion means a person is careful in their actions in order to avoid embarrassment. We used to live in a society where people had respect for others and therefore would take care in how they conducted themselves in public so that they didn’t make a fool of themselves. However in today’s culture, things are very different.

We have a society of people continually pushing the boundaries—seeking the thrill of shocking the public by exposing that which should be covered. They carry out appalling actions in front of strangers just to get a buzz from causing shock value.

It seems anything goes nowadays. From women bearing all and leaving nothing to the imagination with their low-cut tops, tight-fitted leggings and short shorts, to teenage boys wearing pants below their waist with the full intention of having their underpants on display for all to see, either our society is severely mentally damaged and require education on how to properly wear clothes, or there is a complete lack of respect for not only themselves, but also for those who they come in contact with.

We see celebrity women constantly having what’s known as a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, where too much of their chest is exposed. However, my advice to these women is that if they had an adequate amount of material that actually covered their personal areas, there wouldn’t be any possible chance of a ‘wardrobe malfunction’.

Another definition of ‘discreet’ is: ‘intentionally unobtrusive’. That means to deliberately be inconspicuous so as not to attract attention.

This is what it means to have discretion—and discretion is desperately needed in many ways among our modern culture, not only in what we say and do, but also in regards to our attire. The first thing someone will see is your outward appearance—so instead of dressing to impress, we should be dressing in an appropriate way that represents godliness and holiness.

Most alarming is the fact that discretion is all but lost within the church.

It’s understandable to see the world declining in their desire to wear proper attire with etiquette and speak politely and respectfully to one another, but why are we also seeing this in the church? What’s happened to this generation of believers?

Galatians 5:19-21 - Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The works of the flesh are evident with the list of sinful behaviours apparent. Sexual immorality, impurity, drunkenness, sensuality and idolatry are all sins that can easily stem from the clothing you choose to adorn yourself in. That’s a sobering thought.

When we get down to it, what’s the main reason someone would want to wear revealing or tight-fitting clothes? It’s simple: to impress. When a person denies wearing revealing clothing for the purpose of showing off, they’re in denial.

If you don’t want anyone to look at it – don’t show it!

Perhaps some women have just gotten used to wearing clothes that expose too much and they hadn’t really considered the consequences of their actions. Admittedly it is extremely difficult for a woman to buy a nice top without it being low-cut—but this is where wisdom comes in—and sourcing a suitable undergarment is good wisdom (James 1:5).

So in understanding that wearing seductive clothing is often a way of impressing others and asking for attention (whether you want it or not), this sensuality becomes a dangerous ground for breeding more calluses like sexual immorality, which could very well become a stumbling block for your brothers in Christ. For example; if you decided to wear a low-cut top to church on Sunday, and it may not even be that low, however it’s enough to reveal some cleavage, where do you think men’s eyes will turn to? Now you may be thinking that these men at church shouldn’t be looking—and of course they should not, however the Bible implies that men are weaker than women when it comes to the area of sexual temptation (Matthew 5:28), so it’s like deliberately dangling a large chunk of meat in front of a crocodile and expecting the hungry creature not to jump for it. It’s ridiculous. And let’s face it, what other reason would one wear a top that reveals cleavage except for the fact that they want people to gaze in that direction?

Romans 14:13 - 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.

I’ve heard all the hyped-up feministic stories about how it’s a woman’s right to wear what she wants and she should be able to wear revealing clothes without having to worry about being hassled by men—however wanting to wear revealing clothes is an unholy attitude. In a world where sexual immorality was non-existent, these ideologies may very well work. However, that would still leave women with a problem, because the Bible teaches us that we are to dress appropriately, in a way that is God-honouring. And if you’re a true Christian, then this surpasses all other reasoning and excuses.

1 John 2:16 - For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.

We are required by God to dress in a way that is pleasing to Him. If we continue to ignore the Bible because we feel its views on such subjects are unrealistic or old-fashioned, then we’re restricting God into an era and effectively exalting ourselves and our own thoughts above Him.

Pride inspires us to dress seductively to impress.

Pride deceives us into thinking it’s fine.

Pride brings with it idolatry of self.

Pride and arrogance are evil (Proverbs 8:13).

Pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

I love how Benjamin Franklin explains pride:

‘In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.’

Pride and humility don’t mix. They are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

1 Peter 5:5 - Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

The Bible instructs us to always have humility, which means pride needs to be squashed.

Not only does inappropriate clothing cause pride to rise in the heart of the woman, it also can have detrimental effects on the men around them because for a woman to flaunt her body, she is essentially calling a male’s attention to her and this could inadvertently tempt someone to sin.

Matthew 18:6-7 - But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

Woe to the one by whom temptation comes. A godly woman does not ever want to be responsible for causing someone to fall into temptation—it really isn’t worth it.

A woman who loves the Lord with all her heart (Luke 10:27) and strives to enter His rest (Hebrews 4:11) and live according to His Word (Psalm 119:9) wants to please God in all she does, resembling holiness from the inside out.

Paul gives clear instructions on how a woman should dress, and this advice is not only for when attending church, it’s for everyday living.

1 Timothy 2:9-10 - Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

I love that—modestly and discreetly. How beautiful is a woman who dresses like this. By covering her outward body fittingly, her inner beauty is able to shine. And what light does she shine? The light of Jesus Christ! 1 Peter 3:1-4 - 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.

What a beautiful picture this verse paints. The heart of this Scripture is that women should always have pure conduct, not focusing on material things like their body, hair, clothing or jewellery. It’s the heart of the believer that is of most importance, because this is where true beauty of their gentle and quiet spirit glows—this is what’s very precious to God.

A pure heart will reflect a respectable outward appearance.

Titus 2:3-5 - Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

The writers of sum up modesty very well:

‘Modesty in the way we dress is not just for church; it is to be the standard for all Christians at all times. The key to understanding what constitutes modesty in dress is to examine the attitudes and intents of the heart. Those whose hearts are inclined toward God will make every effort to dress modestly, decently, and appropriately. Those whose hearts are inclined toward self will dress in a manner designed to draw attention to themselves with little or no regard for the consequences to themselves or others.

A godly woman endeavours to do everything with a “God-ward” perspective. She knows that God wants His people to be concerned for His glory and the spiritual state of their brothers and sisters in Christ. If a woman professes to be a Christian yet she dresses in a way that will unduly draw attention to her body, she is a poor witness of the One who bought her soul by dying for her on the cross. She is forgetting that her body has been redeemed by Christ and is now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). She is telling the world that she determines her own worth on a purely physical basis and that her attractiveness depends on how much of her body she reveals to them.

If a woman’s heart is inclined toward godliness, she will wear clothing that is neither provocative nor revealing in public, clothing that does not reflect negatively upon her personal testimony as a child of God. Everyone else in her circle may be dressing immodestly, but she resists the temptation to go along with the crowd. She avoids clothing designed to draw attention to her body and cause men to lust, for she is wise enough to know that type of attention only cheapens her. The idea of causing men to sin against God because of her dress is abhorrent to her because she seeks to love and honor God and wants others to do the same.’

So what clothing is too revealing?

This is a question you will have to pray about yourself, however I believe there are some simple guidelines that we can follow as a general rule of thumb.

Appropriate: Clothes that cover the entire cleavage. Inappropriate: Clothes that reveal any cleavage (even a little).

Appropriate: Dresses/skirts/shorts with the length below the knee. Inappropriate: Dresses/skirts/shorts with the length above the knee.

Appropriate: Loose slacks. Inappropriate: Thin, tight slacks.

We are ultimately responsible for how we conduct ourselves in all areas of our life; in our actions, speech and apparel. Living a life of godliness is to detach from this world and cling to almighty God—abstaining from even the slightest appearance of sexual immorality by way of provocative clothing, enticing words or inappropriate actions, and honouring the Lord by being holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).

1 Thessalonians 4:3-4 - For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor…

It is the obligation of a teacher of God’s Word to bring forth the whole counsel of God—leaving no parts out, even the difficult ones that people may not like or agree with. Moreover, it’s all the more important that these harder areas are spoken of and shared around because many of these subjects just aren’t being preached in many churches anymore. All the Scriptures sighted in this article are written in God’s holy Word, yet sadly most of them are rarely even read, let alone taught.

1 Timothy 4:12 - Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

I may not be an aged scholar, but I believe God has placed me in this position to speak the truth to His daughters so that they might grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.

Modesty in dress reveals a modesty and godliness of the heart, attitudes that should be the desire of all women (and men) who live to please and honour the Lord.

1 Corinthians 10:31 - So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

For the glory of Jesus Christ, this article comes to you in prayer with love.

-- By Jen Ayling

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