This is part one of a three-part series on modesty. Stay tuned.
Biblical modesty is actually a far cry from a strong affection for long skirts and a disdain for bikinis, though it has been reduced to that by certain Christian subcultures. However, in response to body-shaming women into more fabric, other Christians have embraced a “reactive theology” (have swung too far to the other side of the spectrum), forgoing any call to modesty that God commands.
In this series, I hope to show you that modesty is a symptom of a heart that is humbled before God and neighbor, and to propose that neither “baring it all” or baring nothing at all is the answer to the calling God has for our bodies, and neither will remove body shame.
Let’s begin with the theology of bodies: Does God even care about our bodies?
In essence, the question of whether God cares about our bodies can be answered by asking a similar question: does God care about the way we use our resources, like money, homes, time, power, jobs, words, etc.? Our bodies are gifts to us, given to us by a Creator to use to reflect His kindness and beauty to the world. How we use these gifts reveals our hearts. To distort our or other’s bodies, abuse them, shame them, or do this to others is not to be Christ-like. Christ promoted life and order with His body. He did this through dignifying others and honoring God through His body. He washed the feet of the disciples, allowed children to come and sit with him, dined with sinners and tax collectors, fasted when necessary, healed with His touch, and ultimately was crucified in the flesh and raised again in the body. These were purposeful, meaningful, and I think we can all agree that these bodily actions deeply mattered and reflect something about who Christ is, and in the same way, the way that we interact with our bodies reveals truth about who we are.
Now onto some Scripture on the matter…
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
It seems here that God very much cares about preserving our bodies… even sanctifying them! So much so that He puts it on the same level as our spirits and souls. Interesting.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
This verse clarifies for us that the modern chant of “my body, my choice” (in whatever context it’s used) is not true. Our bodies are not meant for our own gain, and we aren’t the only ones who have residence in our flesh. Our bodies are also the home the Spirit of God. Not only is it a commandment to honor God with our bodies, but it should be our greatest joy to honor God with our bodies, because we love him. In essence, our bodies should be a living sacrifice of worship, which led us to…
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.
Notice that Paul connects a bodily action to a spiritual reality. A spiritual worship is presenting our bodies before Him for His glory. Giving them up as worship to God because we love Him. Hands to feed the hungry. Feet to travel to spread the Word of Christ. Mouths to speak out about Jesus. Muscle to build good and beautiful things. Eyes to identify those who need help, to experience beautiful things and praise God for them. Reproductive organs to make children, tiny image bearers. Ears to listen and empathize with those who are broken hearted. Touch to care for a wounded neighbor, or to experience intimacy with your spouse. All a living sacrifice for His glory.
Let’s continue with a biblical understanding of modesty:
Does it only pertain to covering up sexually, or is there something deeper?
So now that we have laid the foundation for God caring about our bodies, let us move onto what Scripture has to say about modesty in specific. What you will find interesting in these verses is that the call to modesty is both for men and women, and that it hardly ever has to do with sexuality or lust. More often, it has to do with coveting and pride in one’s looks or wealth. Essentially, the concern here wasn’t as much that lusting would occur, but that distraction from God and true worship would be replaced by a fashion show.
“And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.”
2 Timothy 2:9-11 (NLT)
In this verse, Paul is directing Timothy that women should not draw attention to themselves, in this context, their wealth, by the way they dress. Their dress should be fitting for the occasion. As an example, maybe they shouldn’t be spending hours putting pearls in their hair and doing it up when they are just going over to a friend’s house for a causal dinner or to pray for them or go garden with them. Not because nice hair is inherently wrong, but because it wasn’t fitting for the situation, so it’s probably just distracting from the purpose. We wouldn’t say it was in appropriate for, say, a evening party.
The Greek word for modesty used here is “kosmios,” which is also translated respectable and appropriate for the occasion, and pertains to cosmos, as in the root of “order.” It is actually the exact same word used to describe the behavior men should exhibit just a few sentences after, which leads us to our next verse…
This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money.
1 Timothy 3:1-3
Here, Paul directs men to have the same sort of attitude as women: one that is respectable. The same word, “kosmios” is used here to direct men’s behavior. Paul is calling women and men to the same standard, only He sees that in this particular church, there are differing distinctive symptoms of their pride. For women, it’s the flaunting of their wealth and looks by their clothes. For men, it’s being inappropriate in some general actions.
(Side note: this also says men must have self-control…. This is an interesting point for those who like to blame women for being victims of sexual assault.)
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.
1 Peter 3: 3-4
Peter echos Paul’s sentiment: women should not be focused on how to elevate and “show off” themselves (i.e.: the context here is their wealth) with their clothes, but how to elevate God. Their radiance should not come from clothes, but from the Holy Spirit. It seems this was a common theme in Peter’s congregation, and he wanted women to know in particular that their style of dress was distracting from God and elevating themselves. Though this was directed at women specifically in this context, we can take this principle and apply it to men as well: men, are you trying to bring attention to your body or wealth by what you wear?
1. God cares about how we steward our bodies, in the same way that He cares about what we do with other resources, because it both affects our spirits and reveals the condition of our hearts towards God and others.
2. Since humility is a call to both genders, so it modesty. We saw this reflected in the text when Paul tells both men and women to show “kosmois.” We also see this because since God calls all of His children to humility, then we should expect to display modesty is all areas, dress included.
3. Modesty in the Biblical sense is a result of humility before God, wanting to exalt Him and His purposes above our own. It considers our neighbor and doesn’t try to call attention to oneself.
4. Our commitment to humility (and the outworking of that in modesty) serves as a protection to all—those who might be tempted to covet, those who might be distracted from worship of God by fleeting materialism, those who might be lured into sexual desire, or those who might be a victim of objectification.
I hope this encourages and edifying. If you feel conviction, repent and receive forgiveness! If you feel shame, please know that is not from the Lord and rebuke that in the name of Christ.
Looking forward to share part 2 with you all!