Ethics: Modesty

As Christians, we should want to dress and conduct ourselves in a manner which professes godliness (1 Timothy 2:10).  We should want to present ourselves in a manner which glorifies God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31).   We should not want to do anything which hinders the cause of Christ.

Dress, Dance:

How we dress conveys a message (cf. Genesis 38:14-15).  This is recognized by many.  Mary Quant, the mother of the mini skirt said: “Mini clothes are symbolic of those girls who do not want to wait until dark to seduce a man to bed” (McCall’s 1970, quote in Biblical Ethics, editor Terry Hightower, p. 520).  Theodore Reik stated, “the other day the owner of one of our elegant dress stores stated that a dress is successful when it awakens in a man who looks at the woman the wish to take it off, to undress her” (quoted in Morals – From God or Man, Editor David Brown, p. 357).  Billy Bland has written, “Most women know the effects of immodest apparel.  When a Portuguese ship was taken over by pirates, the women ceased to wear their shorts, halter tops, etc.,  fearing what the pirates would do to them” (ibid, p. 358).  Marilyn Morris has advised teenage girls, “Boys are turned on by sight; girls are turned on by touch.  It takes very little to make a boy think you want to have sex.  When a girl walks in a room with short shorts and a tight top on, she can drive guys crazy.  This is not necessarily a compliment.  The fact is any girl can turn any guy on (or at least many girls can turn on many guys, B.H.).  If you wear seductive clothing, you are either teasing your boyfriend, which is very cruel, or giving him an open invitation to get physical.  Neither of these are going to help you succeed at sexual abstinence (ABC’s of the Birds and Bees, p. 294).

We certainly don’t wish to leave the impression that it is only females who should be modest in dress.  Males should as well (cf. Exodus 20:26; 28:41-43).  God clothed not just Eve, but also Adam (Genesis 3:21).

We should also be concerned with the way we move.  World Magazine (May, 19, 2001) stated, “This year’s prom season is causing turmoil at schools across America: Dancing has become so sexually explicit that some officials call it sex with clothes on and many want it stopped” (Alan Webster’s tract: You’re not going to the Prom?).  Dance may be getting more explicit in its sexual nature, but the sexual nature has been a part of modern dance for a long time.  Just think of the flappers of the 1920’s.

Furthermore, think about the dress and movements of many cheer teams.  In the year 2000, the Los Angeles Avengers (an arena football team) ran an ad campaign to promote their opening game.  Their billboard ads read, “On April 9th, six beautiful women will show you their panties” (source: Foxnews.com).

Guidelines

1.  Keep in mind that from the earliest of times, God has shown concern over dress.  Adam and Eve made “aprons” out of Fig leaves (Genesis 3:7).  The term refers to a belt or loincloth (Strong’s, Wayne Jackson, Background Studies, p. 43).  God made them “coats” of skins (Genesis 3:21), a more substantial covering.

2.  God’s concern for modesty is seen in the instruction for the Priests of old (Exodus 20:26; 28:41-43).  Linen breeches were to be worn under their robes.  This covered their hips and thighs (Dr. Kin Chambliss, Law of Moses, p. 76).

3.  Naked and nudity were not the same under the Old Testament.  Adam and Eve were naked while wearing a loincloth (Genesis 3:10).  Exposure of the thigh was considered nakedness (Exodus 20:26 cf. 28:41-43).  Wearing only under garments was to be naked (John 21:7).  Moreover, it was considered shameful to expose the buttocks (2 Samuel 10:4; 1 Chronicles 19:4; Isaiah 20:4).

4.  I should dress and conduct myself with “shamefacedness” (1 Timothy 2:9 KJV).  Other versions read: “Modesty” (NASB); “with propriety” (NKJV); “with modesty” (ESV).  The word means: “Having regards to others… always restrains a good man from an unworthy act” (Vines); “Having regards to others… precedes and prevents the shameful act” (Thayer).  I should not dress or conduct myself in such a way that is likely to stir up sinful desires or emotions (like envy, impure thoughts, etc).

5.  I should dress and conduct myself with “sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:9 KJV).  Other versions read “discreetly” (NASB); “moderation” (NKJV), “self-control” (ESV).  The word refers to “that habitual inner self-government, with its constant reign on all the passions and desires, which would hinder the temptation to these from arising” (Vines); “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-control, temperate” (Thayer).  I should dress in such a way as to prevent attracting temptation.

6.  I should dress and conduct myself in “modest apparel” (1 Timothy 2:9 KJV).  Other versions read “proper clothing” (NASB); “respectable apparel” (ESV).  In context, one is so dressed when he is dressed according to our points 4 and 5.

7.  It is not inherently wrong to dress nicely, and to give attention to appearance (cf. Ruth 3:1-3; Proverbs 31:21-22; Matthew 6:29).  However, I should remember what true beauty is.  I should give more attention to how I am clothed spiritually, than physically [Proverbs 31:30; 1 Peter 3:3-4 (Note: 1 Peter 3:3-4 is a relative negation.  This is obvious for the literal reading would forbid women wearing clothing.  The term “fine” italicized in the NKJV is not a part of the original text.  Other examples of relative negation: John 6:27; Matt. 6:19-20; Mark 9:37; 1 Cor. 1:17)].

8.  I should not conduct myself with “lasciviousness” (Galatians 5:19 KJV).  Other versions read, “sensuality” (NASB/ESV); “lewdness” (NKJV).  This word is defined as “filthy words, indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of males and females, etc.” (Thayer).  Maurice Lusk III said, “The word has to do with… activities or conduct that tends to excite lustful desires” (Ethics, p. 457).

9.  I should seek to do what edifies and makes for peace (Romans 14:19).  I should avoid things which provoke unnecessary controversy.  I should conform with cultural standards of modesty so long as such does not involve sin, or hinder the cause of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 11:2-16).  Example: if one was in a part of the world where the wearing of knee length shorts was considered immodest, one should not bring unnecessary controversy by openly wearing such.

10.  How one dresses can bring temptation (cf. Genesis 38:14-15; 2 Samuel 11).

Objections

1.  Much of modesty is cultural.

I do not disagree.  The veil once signified prostitution (Genesis 38:15).  The meaning changed later in history (1 Corinthians 11).  Long hair on men was once acceptable (2 Samuel 14:25-26; Song of Solomon 5:2; 5:11; Ezekiel 8:3; cf. Numbers 6:1-21; Judges 13:3-5; 16:13-15).  Later it wasn’t (1 Corinthians 11:14).

However, there are principles which still need to be followed.  Review points 4, 5, 6, and 9 under guidelines.

2.  Some would lust even if dressed in a burlap bag.

This no doubt is true.  However, caution should be exercised to avoid tempting those who are good men (see guidelines, point 4).

3.  Sometimes, the Bible mentions dance in a neutral or approved of way (Exodus 15:20; Judges 11:34; 1 Samuel 18:6-7; 21:11-12; 2 Samuel 6:14; Psalms 30:11; 149:3; 150:4; Jeremiah 31:13; Lamentations 5:16; Luke 7:32; 15:25).

No disagreement here.  Any rhythmic movement could be classified as dance. However, nothing in scripture sanctions movements which tend to excite carnal lust.  Due to the nature of what is generally referred to as “dance” today, it is wise to avoid it.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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