The True Meaning of Modesty

Growing up, I don't recall anyone using the word "modesty." Sure, there was the Sunday school teacher who took me aside and gently suggested that the lace-up bodice of my beloved thrift store Gunne Sax dress tended to come loose, revealing a wee bit of bosom. ("You're getting older now, and have to think about these things," she said.) But nobody explained why I should care if said bosom showed.

I grew up performing in theater - a profession where true modesty tends to be ignored. As a teen, I became a pro, but before then, I often performed in community productions where there was very little dressing room space. It wasn't unusual for me to have to strip down to undies in the wings - and though my mother had me wear teddies in such situations, I really never considered why.

Even as an adult, modesty didn't much enter my thoughts. I recall the crew of one musical I was performing in jokingly giving me an award for "best cleavage." Looking back at photos of that show, I can see how the folks in the lighting booth must have found it difficult to look at anything but my cleavage.

It really wasn't until I began having children that the topic of modesty even crossed my mind. So, unlike a lot of Christian bloggers talking about modesty, I have a bit of an unique background in this area; I've gone from someone who never thought about it at all, to someone who's gradually learned its importance.

As has been mentioned by many writers, the trouble with the modesty discussion is that it tends toward legalism. In fact, I see many Christian women who were raised with strict rules about modesty rejecting all teaching about modesty because modesty was used as a control device in their childhood households.

To be sure, we should never become like the subjected women of some other religions. As Christians, we are free. Nobody should use our looks, what we eat, what we drink, etc., to control us.

However, as Christians we are also called to wisdom. As Galatians 5: 12 - 14 says:

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
There's no doubt we are visual creatures and that what we see can cause us to sin. Although many women reject the idea that females are responsible for men's thoughts, as Proverbs 31 women, we must not think as the world does; we must not put ourselves above anyone else - including men who may sin because of our short skirt or low-cut blouse. Because if we love one another, we cannot be a stumbling block for each other. As Romans 14: 13-15 says:
"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister...If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died."
Or, as the ESV version says (emphasis mine):

"It is good not anything that causes your brother to stumble."

So as I teach my children (both my boy and girl) about modesty, I focus on the basics. I started when they were toddlers, with conversations that began like this: "God wants you to keep your private parts private. They are called 'private' because they are for you, your doctor - and someday, when you're married - your husband to see."

But we don't just focus on our bodies - because the root of modesty isn't how we dress, but how we think and feel

The definition of modesty isn't "long skirts" or "not wearing low cut blouses." The actual definition of modesty is being free from vanity, pretentiousness, and a general attitude of "look at me!" The jist of the most famous Bible verses on modesty are nicely summed up in 1 Timothy 2:9: We should not wear (or do) things in order to draw attention to ourselves.

So modesty is all about the heart. (Isn't that just like God?)

Therefore, our conversations often sound like this:

"Are you feeling humble? Or are you feeling vain, wanting others to notice you?"

"Are you putting yourself above others by acting this way? What would Jesus say about that?"

And yes, even:

"If you wear that skirt and bend over, will your undies show? Or will onlookers expect that your undies will show? Will that draw attention to you?"

"Are those pants so tight, your private parts are obvious? Will that draw attention your way? What does Jesus say about that?"

"Why are you so worried about how you're dressed? Are you feeling pretentious? Or humble?"

It comes down to this: The modesty issue does not have to be complicated if we simply know the definition of modesty, and recall that God calls us to serve and love others.

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