Certain words immediately bring an image to our minds or make us feel something deeply.
Some of these words have a negative connotation, others are positive, but they all bring an image to our minds when we read them.
Another word that has rocked the boat across many cultural, denominational, and generational lines is MODESTY.
How does the word “modesty” make you feel? What image does it bring to your mind? Modesty has a negative connotation for many women who have felt shamed or put down by other people championing the concept.
How many times have we heard “don’t make your brothers stumble” from an older woman who was essentially advocating for us to cover everything up under layers of shapeless fabric? But is that truly what it means to be modest? Is it all about clothing or something much bigger?
I believe modesty is something that should be understood in light of our identity in Jesus and not our own judgments about it. We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), made in His image (Genesis 1:27) to do good works.
The Greek word for modest used in the New Testament translates as “well ordered, respectable, or unpretentious.” That wasn’t what you were expecting, huh? As a matter of fact, most references to modesty in the New Testament speak to behavior rather than the amount of skin shown or hidden. Modesty isn’t merely about outward appearance, but about our hearts, attitudes, and actions.
When modesty is strictly defined by the amount of skin shown, that limits our bodies to sexual instruments rather than the holistic instruments God created us to be! Think about that for a moment!
Your body isn’t a problem.
Your curves aren’t a problem.
Your butt isn’t a problem.
Your breasts aren’t a problem.
But you are also so much more than just a physical body — you are capable of loving others, being an instrument of restoration, a champion of freedom and a bringer of hope. Modesty is about how we choose to represent God with our physical appearance, as well as our words, actions, and lifestyle.
“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)
Many people today take Peter’s words literally and believe that modesty for any woman should be exactly as he wrote: no braids or pretty jewelry (honestly, if that were the case, I would freak out). But when we take this verse at face value, we can overlook some important facts.
The women in the community Peter was writing to who did wear elaborate jewelry, braids, and expensive clothes were placing their identity in the vanity of outward beauty, trying to keep up with the other women of great status. It’s not at all about the hairstyles themselves or the jewelry but the heart of the person wearing them; there’s nothing inherently wrong with jewelry, braided hair, or nice clothes.
In this particular community, there was an obvious distinction between the pagan and Christian women in the way they adorned themselves. Peter desired the women at that particular church to be distinguishable from the world by accepting that their beauty originates from within. Modesty in Peter’s eyes, for these women, was a virtuous spirit and a life that displayed the love of God because those are the things that reflect Him and last forever.
So practically speaking, how does a modern day woman living in the western world take the principles of this verse and apply in to her cultural context? What behaviors or dress expectations does the world in your community enforce? How can you strive to be a bit more distinguishable from what culture is forcing on all of us?
Because modesty isn’t just about clothing, but how we live, this applies to how you use your money, the pride you place in your status, and your public and private behavior. God made us to reflect His character and proper modesty is all about living in a way and dressing in a way that gives a proper representation of the righteous God you serve.
There is no perfectly right or wrong rule about modesty. Please hear me when I say that: There is no perfectly right or wrong rule about modesty. Always take your culture into consideration and then allow the Holy Spirit Who lives on the inside of you to tailor your convictions, lead you along the right path, and make wise decisions regarding modesty. He’s the One Who will give you the answers you need.