1 Timothy 2:9-10 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
Here is THE passage in the NT (though not the only principle in the word of God) on dress codes, proper attire, how a Christian lady is to adorn herself. And the passage centers on the principle of modesty. (Sort of. It more so centers on the adornment of good works – cp. 1 Peter 3:3-5 – but as far as apparel goes, modesty is the standard).
So if we want to please God and if we want to obey His word, then what we need to figure out is what it means to be modest. Sounds easy enough.
What makes somewhat it difficult is the fact that this is the only time the word is used in scripture. Not only that, but the word associated with it – shamefacedness – is used only here as well. It’s not that “modest” is an uncommon word. Anybody who wants to know what it means can figure it out fairly easily. But because the word appears only here in 1 Timothy 2, many have mistakenly based their definitions for the term on “the Greek” or their own personal standards and convictions.
Having said that, let’s look at the definition in Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary.
1. Proper; restrained by a sense of propriety; hence, not forward or bold; not presumptuous or arrogant; not boastful.
2. Not bold or forward.
3. Not loose; not lewd.
4. Moderate; not excessive or extreme; not extravagant.
The definitions match 1 Timothy 2. Modest apparel, then, is conservative; not sensual; does not draw improper attention to oneself. Modest apparel is not extravagant, does not reveal one’s flesh, does not draw attention to one’s body in a bold, forward, loose, lewd, improper, or boastful way.
Now the purpose of this post isn’t so much to come up with a dictionary definition for modesty as it is to describe what so commonly passes for “modest” among so many so-called Christians that just doesn’t hold up to the Biblical definition.
Our approach in preaching and teaching the word of God is to emphasize biblical principles and allow the Holy Spirit to work out the details. For a number of reasons, I believe that is a good approach.
But every now and then, it seems like there are those just don’t get it. Most of the time, it’s obviously because they don’t want to get it. If that’s you, there’s really no way to help you until you get your heart right. But every now and then, there are some people who seem to genuinely care about what the Bible says but for whatever reason lack the wisdom that is necessary to apply Biblical principles to the reality of daily life.
For those of you who might fall into the second category, what I want to give you is a small list of things that don’t qualify as modest apparel, and why (without going into detail that would be better left for a lady to discuss). Here we go.
· A bikini. To me, that seems like it should go without saying, but there are people who go to the same church I go to (and probably some in yours) who don’t seem to understand that. So let’s get this out there in the open. I’m 100% certain that God is not OK with a Christian girl or a Christian woman wearing a bikini in any type of public setting. To expose your flesh in such a manner is loose, lewd, bold, forward, and immodest to the utmost degree.
· A one-piece bathing suit. Too many Christians seem to define modest as one step above the standard of the world. It’s some sort of comparative or relative modesty. Like a one-piece is OK because it’s not a bikini. But the word of God sets the standard. “What’s wrong with a one-piece?” High legs. Low neck. Form-fitting. There is nothing proper about the attention it draws to the one who’s wearing it.
· Short shorts (dresses, skirts, etc). No one (well, almost no one) would contend that it’s OK to leave your bedroom completely naked. Then why in the world would you walk out your door with a skirt 2 inches above your knee, or even worse a pair of shorts halfway up your thigh? Because you define nakedness differently than God does. (See Isaiah 47:1-3; Exodus 28:41-43). God says to uncover your thigh is to uncover your nakedness and allow your shame to be seen. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the lake, the beach, the gym, the mall, or the house next door. The definition doesn’t change.
If you’re a Christian woman or girl and you wear (or a Christian father and you allow your daughter to wear) any of the above, either (1) you know it’s immodest, but you do it because you don’t care; or (2) don’t think it’s immodest because you’re more influenced by the world than the word of God. The solution to either is the same, and it’s simple. Repent, and start obeying the word of God.
Along the same lines are the low shirts, the tight shirts, the not-quite-long-enough shirts, the spaghetti strap shirts, and the strapless shirt or dress. I’m not real comfortable explaining why all those are immodest, but I think you can figure it out. If not, seek out a godly lady who can help you (Titus 2:3-5).
Here’s the point. 1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. As Christians, everything in our lives ought to be about glorifying God. Back to 1 Timothy 2, what glorifies God is when a Christian lady adorns herself in modest apparel AND good works. So modest apparel doesn’t cover for a lack of good works, and good works don’t excuse you from dressing modestly. God wants both.
Two more points to wrap up this lengthy post:
1. Guys, it’s important that you’re modest, too. So keep your shirt on. Again, it’s not OK to go out naked, right? Since when is the definition of naked different for a guy than a girl? Do a Bible study on Ezekiel 23:8-18 and John 21:7 then report back on the Biblical reason why it’s OK for you to be bare-chested in public.
2. Yes, it is possible for a woman to be just as immodest in a skirt or a dress as it is for a woman to be immodest in a pair of pants. But if you have to bring this point up every time somebody talks about clothing (a) that might just be conviction, and (b) you need to understand the fact that it’s possible to be immodest in modest clothes doesn’t mean that it’s possible to be modest in immodest clothes. Read that again and think about it for a minute.
Click here for a sermon on “Principles of Proper Attire”