The email came several days after our annual family gathering with my sister and her family and my dad and his wife. I really wanted to be offended, but for some reason, I couldn’t. I don’t have the email any more. Didn’t save it. But I’ll never forget it. It served to put me on alert. Heightened my sensitivity. The subject was modesty. Mine. The area of concern, my décolleté, otherwise known as the chest. The email pointed out how revealing some of my shirts were, especially since I’m short, which sometimes gives those who are not a straight shot down. It went on to suggest that even small chested women (like me) need to be careful with revealing too much of the décolleté. Sitting in front of my computer a little caught off guard, I reflected on what I’d worn while we were together. A few selections came to mind, ones I wouldn’t have given a second thought. But as I did, I could see what she meant. One wasn’t terribly low, necessarily, but because the neckline was relaxed, it easily exposed its contents with a bend of the waist or a glance from a taller person, which most people are. Another was a dress that criss-crossed from the shoulders to an empire waist line. I thought nothing of the fact that the “V” plunged into the area where most women have cleavage. I simply have skin and bone. Nothing sexy about that! But on second thought, it was low.
I thought about the guts it took to send the email. It was a gamble. I could have been offended and angry. It showed true love. So I responded. I couldn’t resist a little bit of humor, explaining how offended I was that the person thought I had a small chest! And then I thanked her. In the months that have passed, I’ve offered a prayer of appreciation to God for giving me a sister willing to speak truth in love. Willing to take a risk to protect the men in her life and me. I thank God that something so simple as an undershirt can bring such a sense of security and rightness. And that’s all it’s taken. A few different colors and styles, and I dress with no nagging doubts as to whether or not something is questionable. No bothersome gapping to worry over every time I lean forward or sit down. Secure. Right. Free!
So are there hard and fast rules we can follow? First Corinthians 10:23-24 tells us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being.” Then in verse thirty-one, it says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If all things are permissible, but not necessarily beneficial, the question becomes: How do we dress to the glory of God? I’m sure there are dozens of lists to find and follow, and if you discover one that lines up with the principles of scripture, I say go for it. Use it as a guideline. Monday, I’ll share “Ten Modesty Makers,” and if you find the list helpful, you are welcome to use it as a guideline in your home. Since there aren’t specific scriptures that set forth exacts, such as the proper length of a skirt of pair of shorts or the proper height of the front of a shirt, we can find out what the Bible says as to how we should conduct ourselves in principle. What we’ll find is even how we dress is a matter of the heart. A matter of what is most important to us. Who or what we worship. Are we putting a higher priority on our outer beauty than our inner beauty?
First Timothy 2:9-10 is an oft-quoted passage on modesty: “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” Yes, we are to be modest, seemly and well arranged, in the Greek, dressing in a way that does not draw attention to ourselves, is not extreme or excessive, but rather simple and reserved. This speaks of our attire and that with which we wear on the outside. But then Paul goes on to say we should adorn ourselves with good works. What people see of us and therefore know of us shouldn’t be how cute we dress or great we look, but how we act and what our insides project on our outsides. First Peter 3:3-4 expands on the subject: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” I don’t interpret either passage to mean we shouldn’t style our hair, wear jewelry, or wear nice clothes. He’s saying this shouldn’t be our only adornment as he establishes what should be our utmost priority: beauty on the inside, which He defines as a gentle and quiet spirit.
All the way back to the time of Samuel and David, God reveals what matters most to Him: "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). That is where our true beauty exists and from where it exudes. As such, it should hold a place of greatest importance, especially in light of the fact that “He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Modesty is also a matter of loving our brethren. Whether it is our deliberate intention or not, when we dress in a manner that draws attention to our womanly features, or we allow our daughters to do so, we take the risk of causing men of all ages to stumble. Romans 14:13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.” By making modest choices, we can refuse to be stumbling block that causes men to fall. It is not breaking news that men are visual. Their desire is stimulated by what they see. If they see sexy in you and me because of careless or intentionally sensual attire, and it produces lustful thoughts, we share responsibility. Matthew 5:28-29 explains, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Lust is serious. First John 2:16 explains, “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world.” Our world appeals to this weakness all the time everywhere. It’s hard enough for men to remain pure in their thoughts when they’re visually assaulted with immodesty everywhere they go and every direction they look. We have the opportunity to guard their eyes and hearts by appropriately covering areas of our bodies that might stir desire. First John 2:10 says, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” Let us abide in the light with our dress so there is no cause for another to stumble. Romans 14:21 confirms, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.” I propose that “do anything” would include how we dress. Love covers a multitude of sin (I Peter 4:8). As we love and cover ourselves, we are covering a multitude of sins.
It’s hard. Honestly, I enjoy feeling sexy. It feels good to know I look attractive in a particular outfit. Sexy is aggressively promoted as synonymous with desirability in our culture, and who doesn’t want to be desirable? And there’s nothing wrong with longing to be desired. It’s natural, in its biblical context. In marriage. I can be sexy and desirable all I want, in the privacy of my relationship with my husband. It’s not that the desire is wrong. It’s not that it’s wrong to want to be sexy and to do something about it. It’s doing so in the holy and pure context for which God designed it: marriage. So it’s not a NO or a DON’T. It’s a YES! And an amen! For marriage. For your husband’s eyes only. One read of Song of Solomon strongly illustrates such passion and desire.
As is His way, the Lord is moving beyond my décolleté to my jeans. How tight is too tight? When someone asks if I painted on my jeans (as happened to me the other day), perhaps that’s a first clue they’re a bit too snug!
Lord, “whatever we do in word or deed, (let us) do in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:7). Help us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." (Romans 13:14) as we become wholly Yours in our fashion and dress today. Even when it’s difficult. Even when it means getting rid of clothes we love. Even when the cost is high.