A Case for Holiness: Modesty

definition modesty international pentecostal church

Opening verse

1 Timothy 2:8-10 says, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

What is modesty?

The definition of modesty is as follows: behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency. Modesty is tied to humility, and the rejection of pride. That mixed with decency, or being decent, leads to modesty in behavior and appearance. Like many things, you can fake modesty – i.e. look the part, but not act the part. But you cannot truly be modest without acting and looking the part. It’s like holiness in general, it’s got to be inside and out.

Both men and women don’t like being told what to do, or how to do things (this is especially true in America). There is a rugged individualism and freedom that permeates every part of American life. All you’ve got to do is swipe through social media for a short time and you will see every variation of lived life under the sun. Because of this individualism, to even hint that you shouldn’t dress a certain way would cause even Christians to revolt.

Why does God care about appearances?

At the end of the day, it’s undeniable…the Bible has a lot to say about modesty of spirit, attitude, behavior and yes, even dress/appearance. Just because churches and leaders have misused or even abused these scriptures, doesn’t negate them or make them disappear from the Bible. People can “culture this” or “history that” or “grace” them away, but it is obvious that God cares about it all.

Think about it for a moment. Think about all the laws in the Old Testament Pentateuch (The first five books of the Bible). Not just the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3-17, but all 613 commands that God gave the people of Israel when they left Egypt. Laws and commandments of all kinds; from spiritual laws to health and quarantine laws, criminal and civic laws, sexual relationship laws, clothing laws, dietary laws and everything in between. Does all of that mean nothing now? Did Jesus or His grace erase the laws? Were they just for the Jews, so really we don’t have to study about that stuff? Or were they put there for a grand, overarching, powerful and delightful reason?  

Think with me now…could it be that God cares about it all? That he cares about everything that we humans do; not only with to and for God and others, but with, to and for ourselves? Does God care what we do to our body? How we dress ourselves? If the laws and commandments of the Old Testament are any indication, the answer is unequivocally YES!

So if God cares about every single aspect of our life, it should go without saying that he cares about living, acting, dressing, and thinking modestly. It would be crazy to think otherwise. This doesn’t mean, God doesn’t care about our relationship with Him – that is obviously where everything starts – but God can walk and chew gum at the same time. He can care about maintaining and growing a loving relationship with us, AND care about everything else about our lives.

Men, women, or both?

One of the most common arguments against the church preaching a lifestyle of modesty is that it unequally affects women. And on the surface, it really does appear that way. Why? Because most people’s idea of modesty deals with how a person dresses – how much skin they expose – how seductively they appear – which seems to speak to women more than men. But if you really think about it, modesty is more than outward appearance…the Bible says it – modesty is also a mindset, an attitude, your behavior (good deeds in 1 Timothy 2:10). And guess what? This part of it does affect men. Can men dress immodestly? Remember, it’s not just about being under dressed (sexual allurement), but also about being overdressed (dressing to impress).

Let’s back up a minute… everything starts with the inside – what is the state of our heart and mind? What are our motivations? Our desires? Are we subconsciously presenting ourselves in such a way as to compensate for our emotional and mental weaknesses? Is our lack of self-esteem driving us to wear certain types of clothing to compensate for this very lack? Are we dressing for attention? Are we dressing to cause certain responses from people? All these motivations can be subtle and subliminal, therefore, hard to pinpoint or admit.

Lust of the mind

In Matthew chapter 5:7-8, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

This famous scripture is plainly and clearly aimed at men, and places the responsibility of lust squarely on their shoulders. What’s not being said here, but implied, is that women shouldn’t be the excuse given by men for this moral failing. But let’s dig deeper, shall we? Why would a godly, modest woman want to dress in a way that “draws” the lust of a man, thereby causing him to commit adultery in his heart. I know, I know… a man could still lust in his heart, even if a woman dresses and behaves modestly, but let’s be honest, the ladies can help the situation.

Scripture time

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you…? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Romans 12:1-2 says,Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…Do not conform to the pattern of this worldbut be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”

1 Peter 3:2-3 says, “…Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

A modest spirit

The “rather” in 1 Peter 3:3 is pointing to what is truly important, your modest spirit. Using the contrast of the outward is important, because we as humans tend to emphasize the outward. To negate the importance of the outward altogether, though, would be a disservice to scripture and God’s holiness. Remember, holiness is inward first, then outward. What is in your spirit emanates outward.

In conclusion, our only true safeguard against ourselves is the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. At this point, some of you may be saying, “Gotcha! It’s a personal relationship with Jesus, so stay out of my business! Stay out of my bedroom and stay out of my closet! We don’t need a church or Pastor preaching to us…” And it’s this type of attitude that proves that we need this type of preaching and teaching in our lives. May God help us to be more holy.

Editor’s note

*This is Part Two of a series on “A Case for Holiness”. Click here to read Part One of this topic. Be sure to tune back in for Part 3 of this series on “Separation”.

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