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Modesty:
Biblical Investigation,
Contemporary Application

By Louis Rushmore

John 8:32
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.


The subject of modesty is definitively addressed in the New Testament. The New Testament is authoritative, which authority has not diminished with the passing of the centuries. What the Bible says regarding modesty is binding on Christians today. Further, what the New Testament teaches about modesty is truth, which if violated constitutes sin.

Modesty Defined

The English word modesty appears only once in the King James Version of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:9). The word modesty is from the Greek term kosmios. It means: orderly, well-arranged, decent, modest, harmonious arrangement, adornment. This Greek word also appears in the Septuagint (Ecclesiastes 12:9) and is translated "set in order" and is applied to Solomon's proverbs. Kosmios is derived from kosmos which means: order, regular disposition, ornament, decoration, embellishment, adorning and is used, among other ways, of the world on which we live (Matthew 13:35; Mark 16:15). Kosmos is used of modest attire and translated as "adorning" in 1 Peter 3:3.

"Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel."

Modesty can apply to one's manner of dress. The context of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 especially concerns gaudy dress. Also, the word for "apparel," in the same verses, is from the Greek katastole which means: letting down, and is used in the Septuagint in Isaiah 61:3 as "garment" for the Hebrew meaning "covering" or "wrapping."

Modesty is also biblically applied to one's demeanor or behavior. Kosmois appears in the qualifications of elders as "good behavior" (1 Timothy 3:2). The apostle Peter also taught modesty and addressed both what one may wear and an internal modesty (1 Peter 3:1-5); The Greek word for "adorning" in this context is kosmos.

The summary definition of modesty involves both one's manner of dress and inward qualities. The well ordering is not of dress and behavior only, but also of one's inner life which exhibits itself outwardly. Biblical modesty starts on the inside and works its way to the outside of a person.

Modesty In Context

"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" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

The context of 1 Timothy 2:8-11, in which verses 9 and 10 address modesty, relates first to the public worship assembly. Especially in the public worship, women are cautioned to be careful lest their outward adornment pose a distraction both to themselves and others. "Shamefacedness" is the natural internal moral quality of blushing when sin is viewed as repulsive. "Sobriety" is soundness or soberness of mind, resulting in self-restraint. "Not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array" refers to the gaudy show in which women braided their hair with strands of gold and silver which glistened in the sunlight and layered themselves with jewels (Isaiah 3:16-23). "But which becometh women professing godliness with good works" is contrasted with a mere outward display; the inner display is more precious before God and more representative of Christian womanhood. The prohibition is on the extreme and otherwise addresses the priority of adornment, extolling praise on inward over outward adornment.

"Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands" (1 Peter 3:1-5).

From the first verse of this context, one's behavior rather than anything else, such as physical adornment, is commended. Verses one and two champion chaste or holy behavior as the means for a Christian wife to influence a husband whose wife's words are ineffective toward him. The Christian woman does not rely on lavish outward adornment to secure and keep the attention of a man; the references to adorning here are the same as those of 1 Timothy 2:9.

Comparatively speaking, the inward spiritual adornment is more precious to God and more effective for Christians than outward physical adorning. The apostle Peter teaches a disposition that was also practiced by godly women, such as Sarah (verses 5, 6). Peter did not prohibit wearing jewelry, cosmetics or clothes; he did prohibit extreme adornment or that adornment which overshadowed (displaced) a holy and referential behavior. Both Paul and Peter urge holiness that is to be exhibited, not hindered, outwardly.

Is Modesty A Variable?

There is a sense in which modesty is not variable. God's Word does not change. There are no special circumstances either then or now which mitigate or set aside this teaching. It will never be right for one's dress or degree of undress to overshadow and displace a Christian's holy behavior. God is concerned about Christian modesty (men and women) in and out of the worship assembly. Men and women should be modestly attired (inwardly and outwardly) always, especially in public.

There is a sense in which modesty is variable. Modesty in public worship is equivalent to what constitutes modesty in any public setting. However, what is biblically modest in public differs from what is biblically modest in the private setting of a married couple's bedroom. The modern day problem over modesty is not primarily the putting on apparel, but the taking off apparel or clothes. People, and unfortunately Christians too, have taken modesty confined to private settings and moved it to public display. This is sinful, for it discounts biblical modesty, numbs the senses of morality (shamefacedness), displaces holy behavior and influence, as well as promotes lust.

Immodesty Relates To Lust

The attire of a harlot has always aroused the base nature of men. The "attire of a harlot" is discernible and has a calculated result (Proverbs 7:10). Is it reasonable to suppose the dress or lack thereof which if worn by a harlot encourages men to lust will lead to less lust if worn by a Christian woman?

Watching a woman bathe has been known to arouse unlawful lusts in a man. King David saw Bathsheba washing, lusted after her, committed adultery with her, fathered a child, murdered her husband, and brought much misery upon himself and the nation (2 Samuel 11:2-5). Is it advisable for women, especially those professing godliness, to bathe in the presence of men, whether it be sunbathing or swimming?

Lust is a sin which especially men are cautioned in Scripture to avoid; is it any more praiseworthy for women to dress provocatively and excite lust? Lust is viewed by our Lord as adultery only not yet enacted (Matthew 5:28). Lust is a sin for which souls will be lost (Titus 2:12; Romans 6:23; James 1:14,15; 1 Peter 2:11).

Application Today

It is improper and sinful for Christians to dress immodestly in the worship assembly. The greater context of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 addresses the public worship. Mini-skirts, sun-dresses, high-slit skirts and low-cut dresses have no place in public worship. Especially women should be careful to wear appropriate undergarments that contribute to modesty.

It is improper and sinful for Christians to dress immodestly in any public setting. Public immodesty displaces positive Christian influence and promotes lust, and is, therefore, sinful. Added to the former list, short-shorts, halter or tube tops, sheer blouses, swimsuits, tank-tops and other revealing or provocative clothing should not be worn publicly by Christians. The beach or a swimming pool does not lessen the need for Christians to dress modestly.

At home, the modesty of one's dress varies. What may be biblically modest in the inner chambers of one's home is biblically immodest in the public areas of the house while entertaining guests or out in the yard. Further, what may be modest between husband and wife can be immodest in front of the children. What may be modest family dress is immodest when exhibited to others (e.g., night-clothes).

Persistence in immodesty has serious ramifications. Immodesty in the face of biblical instruction demonstrates willful lack of subjection to God and one's father or husband. Immodesty is not a usual and orderly arrangement of clothing. Immodesty overshadows and displaces "shamefacedness and sobriety," "professing godliness" and "good works." Immodesty makes impossible the influence of another with the Gospel "without a word" (1 Peter 3:1-5). Finally, immodesty is sinful, leads to additional sins and corrupts others.

Conclusion

The topic of "modesty" is taught in the New Testament and is binding today. "Modesty" is an orderly arrangement of clothes that does not hide the inner or spiritual side of man. Immodesty leads to lust and other sins. Faithful and knowledgeable Christians do not wear some clothes in public: mini-shirts, sun-dresses, high-slit skirts, low-cut dresses, short-shorts, halter or tube tops, sheer blouses, swimsuits, tank-tops and other revealing clothing. Persistent immodesty is evidence of rebellion toward God, his Word, the church, fathers and husbands. Immodesty ruins the Christian influence and impairs the effectiveness of the Gospel.

 

H. A. "Buster" Dobbs, email: had@worldnet.att.net
P. O. Box 690192
Houston, Texas 77269-0192
(281) 469-3540

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