In my circle of friends, the issue of modesty is an extremely touchy topic. No one wants to be told by someone holier-than-thou what to do or how to dress.
I fully understand that it is my responsibility to control my eyes and exercise self-control. No matter what others are wearing, as men we simply must learn to look away such that we are not easily stumbled. There are no buts to this, no cop-outs.
I’m hoping you’ll see that these words don’t stem from a prohibitory or legalistic heart fixated on raising necklines and lengthening skirts. I know that’s not my place. I’m not interested in playing the blame game between our eyes and clothes.
I’m simply interested in encouraging purity of heart, not exercising power over another.
A colleague shared with me that she once brought a pre-believing friend to her old church – albeit a very conservative church in a different era – and an usher went down the aisles, row by row, calling people out for their “immoral” dressing, including spaghetti-strapped tops and miniskirts. Her friend was left feeling condemned and rightfully horrified.
That’s the last thing we want when newcomers step into church!
Another friend of mine told me that one of her cell girls dresses modestly in church, but dresses skimpily at friends’ parties without any qualms. The girl’s reasoning was that since she wasn’t in church, there wasn’t any need for modesty.
We should all be moving towards a heart that prizes holiness above our preferences.
I know you shouldn’t have to look a certain way to be Christian, but with time and obedience, your heart should look more like Christ’s. We should all be moving towards a heart that prizes holiness above our preferences.
Without genuine life and heart change, we’ll just be missing the point. We’ll be practising legalistic modesty, not living out a holy modesty of the heart.
But I say this not to throw stones at that sister; God knows I’m just like her all too often in my own sinful ways.
The point is that we need to be the same person wherever we are. We need to exercise self-control with our eyes in church and outside its walls. And we need to dress in a manner pleasing and acceptable to God, both in His house and when in the world outside.
What would your life look like if your chief motivation is to love God? How much holier and pleasing to God would life be if we kept asking whether our decisions translated as love for Him – with every part of our being, inside and out (Mark 12:30)?
Why shouldn’t I look at a woman lustfully, take in all her curves and beauty? Because that’s not love for God. And that’s not love for her either. That’s devaluing His creation to a mere sex object. God, give me eyes to see my neighbour as You do (Mark 12:31).
And why should I dress “modestly” for someone’s prudish rulebook? Well, love is the answer. You may certainly be blameless, but you can yet go a step further and be truly loving, to make a sacrificial choice (1 Corinthians 8:13) that brings both you and your neighbour closer to God.
So living uncorrupted, as per James 1:27, goes for both men and women. I personally struggle to get through a day where I don’t defile my eyes. And as man or woman we are either the light in the darkness, or part of the “pollution”.
How could we lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:13) if we won’t even lay down our pride and preferences?
I was getting ready to hear from God in the sermon this weekend when a girl in a bareback dress came and sat right in front of me. There and then I had a choice to indulge my senses or help myself focus on God’s Word being preached.
I told my friend beside me that I had to move so I could hear better, and quietly shifted to the front row.
I’d never tell this woman what to wear, like the usher in my friend’s old church did. I saw the issue was with me – I had to choose either the front row, intentionally keeping temptation out of my line of sight, or remain seated sinfully at the back.
How could we lay down our lives for our friends if we won’t even lay down our pride and preferences?
The reason why I won’t tell a woman what to wear is because I believe she’s ultimately responsible for what she chooses to wear. If she has taken the time to chew on it, and still feels that dress is genuinely acceptable to God, then I don’t think it’s my place to cast doubt.
My focus is on myself, because I have the agency to change things within me, especially if I’m desiring to change my life for God. I’m responsible for what I choose to see. And so I take care of that as best as I can, protecting both my eyes and the women I look at.
In an ideal world, brothers and sisters would meet each other halfway on this issue. But in a world so fraught with deafening debate, I’m choosing not to be assertive and prescriptive about this issue in the hopes you might hear my heart. I’ll leave two quiet questions for all of us instead:
- Are our choices made – whether in terms of fashion, or food, or whatever preferences we plump for – centred around our love for God?
- With our decisions, are we loving His people above ourselves?