Modesty in the Church
Just How Far Is Too Far This Summer?
As summer temperatures kick into high gear, concern increases about women’s church attire. In fact, many churches are printing bulletins this very second kindly asking women to be mindful of their hemlines, necklines, and exposed shoulders. There’s certainly nothing wrong with desiring women to observe modest dress during warm weather. Paul’s appeal wasn’t for women to adorn themselves in modest apparel (unless temperatures exceed 70 degrees) (1 Timothy 2:9). But what concerns me is the limited concept most Christians have of “modesty.” Modesty is a virtue involving much more than women’s fashion choices.
Actually, church dress codes might not even be necessary if more grasped these four lessons in true modesty:
Modesty Begins in the Heart
Many often quote 1 Timothy 2:9–10 to tell women to “cover up.” But Paul’s appeal is actually deeper than that. He’s asking women to forsake gaudiness and vanity in favor of a spiritual posture that glorifies God, inside and out. Paul is essentially saying that what we profess should be reflected in how we dress, assuming what we profess is sincere. True and consistent outward modesty only springs forth when the heart desires to please God. One could certainly “cover up” for the sake of following man-made rules, but it is hypocritical to clean up our exterior to please man while our hearts remain impure before God (Matthew 23:25–26). When we make a decision to revere Him, modest behavior and dress become personal convictions.
Modesty is a Daily Practice
Most women know that dressing like Gomer just won’t cut it for worship service. From my observation, women in general, despite their church-going experience, are keenly aware of the need to cover up and be appropriately attired for church service—even in the dead heat of summer. But what about how we dress for ministry meetings and other events hosted by the church throughout the week? What about how we appear to the world outside of church? The level of care we take to maintain modest dress on Sunday doesn’t seem to translate Monday through Saturday. This may occur because the church often teaches “modesty” as an outward religious practice, rather than a way of life for those who are called to be sanctified and set apart as people of God. For many, Sunday service is where we “officially” meet God. But people of faith should revere God daily, and our hearts, public appearance, and behavior should reflect that.
Modesty is an Act of Love
Men are visual creatures and women definitely know this. To deny this fact is to either be utterly naïve or embarrassingly disingenuous. Genuine concern for our brothers should help us refrain from dressing or behaving in any way that could cause them to stumble. This point is not politically correct, but it is nonetheless legitimate for followers of Christ. We are called to love one another as ourselves and abide by God’s standards, not society’s (Matthew 22:33; Romans 12:2). Jesus makes it clear that any man who so much as looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her (Matthew 5:28). While we cannot be burdened by what men think when they see us, we can choose to honor God by not seeking to intentionally motivate lascivious thoughts and behavior.
Modesty Also Applies to Men
Women are often the burden bearers of modesty, but each point above also applies to men. Modesty is a Christian disposition, not a female characteristic. Men in Christ are also charged to observe decency and propriety and to revere God daily. And just as women should avoid intentionally enticing men with immodest dress or behavior, men must love their sisters in Christ enough to not take advantage of those they assume are “immodest.” Paul is clear that female and male believers must clothe themselves in Christ; walk properly and “don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires” (Romans 13:14).
Dress codes and guidelines for attire may be helpful this summer, but such policies are only half the battle. True modesty is about physical and spiritual clothing. Churches truly seeking to ensure appropriate attire in the house of God must be equally vigilant in outfitting their female and male parishioners in the spirit of Christ Jesus.
How far is too far when it comes to appropriate clothing in the church? Weigh in below.