The Motive to Modesty

by Phylicia on November 19, 2013

I walked through Lowe’s, scanning valances and curtain rods and staring at my list: 96″ Lx 1″W and a small 4″ roller. I chuckled a little as I passed a mirror: I was wearing leggings with green work out shorts pulled over the top, a work out jacket and a hat. I looked rough, but I had those shorts on!

Those shorts. I hate them: green, bunchy, with a ridiculous lining shaped like underwear that no woman with decency would ever WEAR as underwear, so I participated in the uncomfortability with none of the benefits. My Lowe’s-and-painting ensemble was not meant to be a fashion show, but I regretfully gazed at my reflection and asked the question so many of us ask.

“Is modesty really worth… this?”

Granted, it’s an extreme example. I’m a sophisticate at heart and never go to the store without looking nice if I can help it! In this moment I was a positive frump, no doubt about it, and the only one seeing me was Mr. M as I crawled behind the fridge, scrub brush and paint brush in hand. And who really cares? The check out lady? I glanced at the reflection, winced, and turned to walk away.

But as I walked out the door a few minutes later, it suddenly hit me… It’s worth it. It really is.

My previous post on modesty has been the subject of much controversy, somewhat to my surprise. In the crossfire of explosive opinion, I stumbled upon a kind comment from a reader who brought up a very good point:

“I know lots of very cute, sassy dressing Christian women (on and offline), and they KNOW they are cute, sassy dressers, and they KNOW that many men (other than their husbands and boyfriends) find them sexually attractive… From reading and conversing with so many of them, I get the impression that they consider it to be not in their best interest to ONLY be sexually attractive to their husbands, not to mention unreasonable [to be only attractive to their husbands].”

As I read his words, I realized: this is it. This is the great misunderstanding! We as women can tend to believe that modesty is a choice for us alone. We can fall prey to the thought that our dress affects Me, but no one else. But here is a truth: we all stand for something. It’s a part of our worldview!

Married women: you represent your husband’s name. People see you and they associate you with him; are you a reflection of the honor and respect you want associated with that name – the name you bear?

Engaged women: we represent our fiance’s reputation. Did he make a good choice, or are we calling him into question by the cleavage we display as we bend over?

Single and dating women: you represent hidden qualities of godliness, the mystery of femininity that so many men seek. You are the prize, the trophy, the golden crown to someone: does what is showing distract from that?

And we all – married, engaged, single – we all represent the Lord Jesus Christ. No, Jesus did not say we must dress like Michelle Duggar (who is a very sweet lady, though I do not dress in her choice of fashion). Nor did Jesus specifically condemn bathing suits of any kind. What Jesus did was continually address the ‘spirit of the law’ (Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount). Let’s talk about that a moment.

By the time Jesus was born, the Pharisees, a religious sect in Jewish culture, had great sway and prestige among the people. They were believed to have arisen from a group called the Hasidim (faithful ones) who protected Jewish traditions against increasing influence of Greek Hellenism. The beginnings of the Pharisitic tradition, then, were founded in good motives. The scribes, who were professional religious leaders (Douglas, 1118) are credited with the development of oral law, or exegetical tradition. They interpreted the Torah for Israel following the Babylonian exile, and played a great part in reiterating God’s word to the people.

However, in their zeal for the word of God, they forgot the spirit of God. They became so encompassed with the law, with the words, and with the rules that they forgot Who the words came from and what they were meant for. Jesus’ work resuscitated the spirit of the law: grace is the motive to obedience. And yet He said:

“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17)

Grace does not mean absence of Law. Being a woman under grace gives me a freedom: a freedom to choose. I now have the freedom to choose to represent holy behavior, or to choose to live below my calling. This applies to my gossip habit, to my closet, and to any temptation before me and before you! Just because I am saved by grace does not remove the responsibility of honor from my name as a woman of God. Dressing modestly is a part of that.

“Do not let your adornment be merely external – the braiding of hair, and wearing gold jewelry, and putting on dresses – but let it 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.” (1 Pet. 3:3)

The word ‘adornment’ in this verse is kosmos: the same Greek word translated as ‘world’ throughout the entire book of John. Verses you may be familiar with containing this word are:

“He was in the world, and though the world was made by him, the world did not recognize him.” (1:10)

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son…” (3:16)

“…Satan, the prince of this world, shall be cast out.” (12:31)

In these contexts, ‘world’ refers those living apart from the spirit of God. The word adornment, then, in the context Peter used it, indicates ‘outward displays of worldiness’, such as braids, gold, and dresses, which were in fashion in Peter’s day.

She may not look very thrilled about her attire, but first century Romans and Greeks would have found her very fashionable. Notice that Peter does not forbid being fashionable; the verse is translated ‘do not let your adornment be merely external’.

Spirit of the law.

In this verse Peter directs women from focusing on current fashions to a focus on the ‘hidden person of the heart’. This Greek word is kruptos, and is also translated as ‘inwardly’, ‘secret’, and ‘things hidden’. Its root word is krupto, ‘to hide’. Heart, in Greek, is kardia, translated in other contexts as ‘mind’ and ‘spirit’.

I unleash this fire hydrant upon you to, I hope, reveal the very ‘spirit of the law’ I’ve discussed thus far. Modesty is not meant to take away our independence, nor is it intended to shift our focus to a list of do’s and don’ts. But just because we can’t narrow modesty down to a list of rules does not mean it becomes subjective: the spirit of the law remains the same.

The question remains then: “If modesty is not subjective, how do we see Michelle Duggar in jean skirts calling that ‘modest’ while we see Beth Moore in pants teaching the Bible, and girls professing Christianity wearing dresses thigh length and shirts revealing cleavage to their navels? Modesty has to be subjective, if this is the case!”

This does not have to be the case. As I have grown closer to the Lord in my walk with Him, have studied His word, and sought to learn what it means to be a woman after God’s heart, my convictions have changed and deepened. In high school, my parents may have guided me not to wear yoga pants in public, but it would not have been my choice – it would have been a rule. Now, I choose that freely, because as my relationship with God deepened, I desired to align my actions with the spirit convicting within me. It is not subjective to a rule I came up with because of my own opinions; it is subjective to my relationship with God and His work in my heart.

Spirit of the law.

The motive of modesty is to attain to this spirit of the law. Modesty is not merely external; in fact it is so very internal! It is the hidden heart; the secret Spirit within us that motivates us to make changes in our dress and strive to be women who profess godliness without speaking a word. In fact, every encouragement to modesty in the New Testament is associated with the spirit of God and its fruit in the life of the believer.

As I checked out of Lowe’s with my arms full of spackle, curtain rods, and painting tools, I ran into a friend of Mr. M’s. “You’re Josh’s fiance, aren’t you?” He asked. We talked a bit while I checked out.

A day later I was back in Lowe’s looking for another valance. I ended up talking to the lady working there for a good half hour.

The third time I went I ran into a former coworker of mine, a married man I hadn’t seen in a while.

Ladies, modesty is worth it. For every effort I make to write about it and every effort you make to achieve it, you will be attacked by fellow women, by men, and by your own insecurities. But you know what I realized as I walked out of Lowe’s in my ugly, but covered up, outfit?

My spirit is at peace.

In that moment, I had done what God has called me to do in this area of my life. I honored Mr. M with my dress. I honored the married man I ran into. I didn’t cause Mr. M’s friend, at least by any fault of my own, to question his choice in a wife. And if I had the chance to speak the gospel to the woman in Aisle 6, I am at peace that my behavior would match my words.

I write this not as a boast, but as an encouragement. I struggle with my closet; I truly do. But let’s not quibble about rules. The spirit of God convicts us to be women who profess godliness, not just fashion. Peter wrote to encourage us, TODAY, to let our adornment be deeper than our clothing; let it be a spirit that ALTERS our clothing. We don’t throw out modesty because Christ came to abolish the Law; we seek it harder because He gives us the freedom to do so!

I am under Grace, and there is no greater motive to strive after that which is precious in His sight than the love of Christ Himself.

Modesty is worth it.