Modesty in Dress
This is a subject that seems to be more relevant in our day than ever before. While ‘fashion’ is not a subject in which some of us are experts, nevertheless it is a subject that should not be ignored by any Christian. It obviously applies to us all in one way or another. Should we be concerned if we see a Christian dressed in a manner that seems inappropriate or immodest? Should current fashion trends influence how Christians dress?
The Apostle charges older Christians, and ladies particularly, to address such issues, and be good examples to the younger, as taught in Titus 2:3-5 where the word ‘sober’ means chaste and modest. One of the commentators commenting on these verses says, ‘such ought to be in their clothing, and in their speech, and in the whole of their conduct and conversation, as become the character which they bear, and the profession they make’. Peter has similar teaching on the whole subject of appearance (1 Pet. 3).
All of us have a duty to care for one another, but biblical love for our brothers and sisters in Christ may mean that at times we have to address awkward issues that may be difficult for us. Any correction or advice should be given in a loving gracious manner but if we are of a teachable spirit we will see the Lord’s kindness in a fellow believer being willing to address such situations with us. We can have much to learn from our blessed Saviour in this!
Whatever our congregation, it is an issue which ought to be seriously considered, and it is not always the younger ones who need to be reminded of the biblical norm regarding how we present ourselves in worship services and also in public.
While the focus is usually on women in this matter, there is also a need for men to take great care in not drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. The Lord requires the same high standard from both male and female. As Christians, to provoke anyone to talk about what we wear rather than about our Christ-likeness is a shame to us.
What does it mean to dress modestly?
Both men and women should seek to bring glory to God in their manner of dress as in every other area of life. Paul exhorts women to dress modestly and decently: ‘In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works’ (1 Tim. 2:9-10). Our dress, jewellery or hair style, is to be sober, and not in any way showy, immodest, or obviously costly. While the Bible here only addresses women, and that in our own day too can be where most problems lie, the same teaching must also apply in principle to men.
Modesty in the way we dress is not just for church; it is to be the standard for all Christians at all times wherever they are. The key to understanding what constitutes modesty in dress is to examine the attitudes and intents of the heart. Those whose hearts are inclined toward God will make every effort to dress modestly, decently, and appropriately so as not to attract attention for the wrong reasons.
A godly person endeavours to do everything with a ‘God-ward’ perspective. We are not to forget that our bodies have been redeemed by Christ and are now the temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20).Those whose hearts are inclined toward self, will dress in a manner designed to draw attention to themselves with little or no regard for the consequences for themselves or others.
Dressing in an immodest fashion, especially wearing revealing clothing, may cause brothers and sisters in Christ to fall into sin. Remember our Lord’s searching words:
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hellMathew 5:27-29
While the emphasis in this part of Scripture is on the ‘lookers’ could it not be argued, while not excusing such sin, that the ‘looked at’ have a duty not to dress in any way which would tempt to sin?
What about keeping up with fashion?
When Scripture says we are to dress modestly, what exactly does that mean? Does a woman have to be covered from head to toe in drab clothing and deliberately wear what is just as likely to attract attention by being years out of date? There are cults and religions in the world that demand this of women. But is that the biblical meaning of modesty? Certainly not! However a Christian woman in her dress should resist the temptation to go along with the fashion of the day, when that is immodest, being wise enough to know that that type of attire will not be honouring to her Lord. She should be aware of her responsibility as a witness for her Saviour. Also the thought that she may cause some man to sin against God because of her dress should cause her to avoid such. Her great wish should be to reflect her love for her Saviour by modesty and sobriety in all aspects of her life.
Should a man only wear a dated dark suit and never anything fashionable? That surely is not what Scripture means for men any more than for women when it speaks of ‘modest apparel’. Yet men should be sober in dress.
When clothing is purchased the impression we are to give by what we wear should always be in our thoughts. There is nothing wrong with being fashionable, and especially for our young folk, as long as there is no compromise on modesty nor intention to be provocative or showy.
Biblical modesty with regards to clothing then is to do with being ‘sober’ and ‘decent’ so as not to draw attention. If people’s hearts are inclined toward godliness, they will ensure they wear clothing that is neither provocative nor revealing in public, and so do not adversely affect their personal testimony as children of God.
Casual clothing in Church?
There seems to be a growing trend for more casual clothing to be worn to church by some. This especially can be seen in men, young and not so young. I fear this may often speak of a casual attitude to worship. While a man may not have the same problems as far as modesty is concerned, he can still dress sinfully by deliberately drawing attention to himself.
Some will say, ‘It’s the heart that matters’. Indeed, but what the heart is like will be reflected in everything about us. Whether we like it or not, judgments are usually first made on the basis of appearance. Granted, sometimes wrong judgments are made that way, but why give anyone reason to question your motive for wearing what will attract unnecessary attention?
We all, whatever our age, need to be aware of worldliness in our attire and demeanour. In coming to God’s house we are coming in a special way into the presence of the King of kings and should dress appropriately.
None of course will ever be refused entry to our congregations for not appearing in ‘right clothes’ but we would hope that any such would soon learn as they see the good example of how to dress appropriately in God’s house.
How we dress reveals much about us. Modesty in this, as in every area of life, shows humility of heart and a concern not to offend. This should be the attitude of all who love the Lord. Young and old, male and female, must ask themselves, ‘Am I, wherever I am, appropriately dressed, “modest (in my) apparel?”’ (1 Tim 2:9).