Does what we wear matter? Yes, because Scripture clearly indicates that the people of God should dress “with modesty” in 1 Timothy 2:9. But that leads to another question, what is modesty?
Before we attempt to define the parameters of modesty it is important that we acknowledge the standard of modesty. To do that we must go back to the Garden of Eden. Prior to the first sin “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25), but after the first sin “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). What happened that caused nakedness to transition from an acceptable appearance to an unacceptable appearance? Shame happened. Before sin entered the world, there was no guilt and because there was no guilt there was no shame and because there was no shame there was no need for a covering. Thus, sin caused the first couple to experience shame, and, as a result, they “sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” then “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Genesis 3:7-8). In other words, after they sinned Adam and Eve considered their naked appearance to be unacceptable in the presence of one another and God.
But apparently Adam and Eve’s initial outfits weren’t up to God’s standards because God replaced their original clothing with His own design. Scripture indicates that God “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Maybe mankind’s initial effort to become modest failed to live up to God’s standards. Maybe God needed to show them what modesty really looked like and that’s why He replaced the leaves with animal skins. Maybe it was simply a matter of leaves deteriorating a lot faster than animal skin. Regardless of His reason for becoming a fashion designer, God, by clothing Adam and Eve, became the originator and standard of modesty. Therefore, in order for us to determine what is modest and what is immodest we must consult God’s word because He is the one who has defined modesty ever since immodesty entered this world.
So what does God’s word have to say about how we dress?
1. First, God defined modesty as appearance that does not bring undue attention onto the self.
Both Peter and Paul instructed their readers not to adorn themselves with “braided hair,” “gold jewelry,” or “costly garments” (1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3). Why? Because such attire in their culture was designed to flaunt the individual’s beauty, wealth, or status. The problem with such an appearance is that its intent was to bring glory to the self rather than God, which is quite the opposite of the Christian’s intent (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Notice that both Peter and Paul linked modesty to one’s example. Peter associated it with converting an unbelieving spouse (1 Peter 3:1-2), and Paul associated it with a Christian’s profession of godliness (1 Timothy 2:10). The point of such an association between modesty and one’s example is to show that modest attire is that which does not negatively impact our ability to lead people to God or provide a reflection to people of God.
2. Second, God defined modesty as appearance that does not present a potential stumbling block to others.
Although men are responsible for their own actions as it pertains to lust, Christian women must likewise take responsibility for their attire so that they do not place a stumbling block in front of their Christian brothers. You may be one of those who quickly retorts “Christian men shouldn’t be looking,” (and you would not be wrong in saying that) but consider this, should Christian women be advertising? As brothers and sisters in Christ we are instructed to “edify one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and “bear ye one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) rather than create stumbling blocks. Therefore, each of us has a responsibility to those of the opposite gender to consider the potential stumbling blocks we create with our attire.
And it should be noted that Christian men are not the only one’s that may experience a stumbling block. Consider the impact of immodest dress on young ladies whom older Christian women are instructed to train “they be in behaviour as becometh holiness” (Titus 2:3-5). Young ladies can be completely ignorant regarding the fact that men are visually stimulated. If these young ladies, in their ignorance, see Christian women dressing immodestly then they could emulate an example that causes them to become sexual fantasies in the minds of men. As a result, we need to be cognizant of the examples we set for the younger generations of both genders so that we do not unintentionally encourage them to be immodest or fail to control their sexual urges.
When it comes to the stumbling block issue, we need to remember that Paul said, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak” (Romans 14:21, emphasis added). In fact, Paul would later say that if eating meat causes his brother to stumble then he would never eat it again (1 Corinthians 8:13), and such should be our attitude when it comes to modesty.
3. Finally, God defined modesty as appearance that does not promote or provoke sensuality.
In Ephesians 5:3 Paul indicated that among Christians “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints.” Immodest dress that highlights the bodies sex appeal or that is intended to attract the lustful eye of the opposite gender categorically possesses “a hint of sexual immorality, or…impurity,” and, therefore, is “improper for God’s holy people.”
But ultimately, modesty is a heart issue more than it is an appearance issue. Do you remember when Samuel was sent to Jesse to anoint a new king for Israel? He saw Jesse’s eldest sons and based on their outward appearance he assumed that one of them would be the next king. But God rejected each of them and said, “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). In that moment, God indicated that He is aware of and concerned with what is happening in the human heart.
The emphasis on the heart when it comes to the subject of modesty is evident in Paul’s instructions regarding dress. In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul instructed women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel,” which addresses the outward appearance. He then indicated that this adornment should be accompanied “with shamefacedness and sobriety,” which addresses the inner motivation. In similar fashion, Peter said, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning…But let it be the hidden man of the heart” (1 Peter 3:3-4). The point is that your wardrobe is actually a reflection of your heart. It is a statement of your underlying motivations. Your clothing will reveal whether you are motivated to gain the attention of others or whether you are motivated to reflect God to others. As one preacher said, “A modest heart will always precede modest dress.”