A Better Way to Teach Modesty (Part 1)

Over the next two days I’ll be posting excerpts from an article I wrote for The Christian Woman magazine. The article encouraged mothers to properly equip their daughters to dress modestly.

Why Modesty Matters

Modesty, defined broadly as “moderation” or “being measured,” is mentioned by name only once in scripture. Paul says in I Timothy 2:9-10 “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

While the verse does mention “decency and propriety” it seems focused on modesty in the sense of not dressing to be noticed or to elevate one’s personal status. At the heart of Paul’s admonition here is the idea that all God’s people should be defined not by the clothes they wear or the jewelry around their necks but by their good deeds. Peter puts it this way in I Peter 3:3-5:

“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.” 

Perhaps we’ve too often missed this aspect of modesty in our hurry to talk about covering up. The truth is modesty is far more holistic than we’ve made it out to be. It’s a desire to let God be seen in us, turning down the volume of our physical appearance and turning up the volume of God’s voice. Adorning oneself extravagantly, whether it be too much makeup, too much hairspray, or two much hot pink, is immodest because it puts the spotlight on external not internal beauty.

Of course, what we might term “sexual immodesty” does the very same thing. Dressing in a sexually immodest way spotlights the body, not what’s inside it.

Modesty: God’s Gift

In Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve, God’s first man and woman, make clothes. The text says that before they ate the forbidden fruit “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” But after they ate, they did.

The clothes they make aren’t much (although they’re probably more than the strategically placed leaves we see in most illustrations since they involved sewing) but the point of them is “covering” because they’re called “coverings”. Later, when God makes Adam and Eve “garments of skin,” He further covers them with a sturdier, more protective garment.

Lately, I’ve been revisiting this passage a lot, thinking about clothes and their purpose, which is pretty obviously to cover. Adam and Eve felt ashamed when they realized they were naked, and they wanted to be covered. Somehow, being covered made the shame not so bad. When we see it this way, we realize God’s making garments of animal skins wasn’t an indictment on the clothes they’d made as much as it was a gift, an act of compassionate protection.

Mothers, when you choose to cover your daughters, you’re choosing to be like God. You’re compassionately protecting them. You’re refusing to let your children expose their vulnerabilities to a world looking for ways to exploit and use them.

… More tomorrow!