It’s ironic how a prim and proper word like “modesty” has turned into such a dirty word. It’s seen as judgmental and legalistic. And it’s probably a bit cliche for a Christian blogger to write about it, especially in the spring. I’ve read other bloggers’ takes on this (surprisingly) controversial topic. Their posts are sometimes greeted with a resounding, “here, here!”, but just as often with mocking and scoffing at the ridiculous notion that public near-nudity is a problem for anyone.
I want to start with a few disclaimers to un-muddy the waters.
1. A blogger I follow, and heartily enjoy, by the name of Matt Walsh (www.themattwalshblog.com), recently wrote about how modesty is about more than just clothing. Modesty is about not bragging. Not showing off. I agree, wholeheartedly. However, in the smallness of my immediate world, it’s physical, bodily immodesty that seems to crop up most often. So it is that that I’m writing about today. Physical modesty is not the most important measure of character or Christian faith.
2. I’m not going to evaluate any specific articles of clothing in this post. There’s value in those discussions, and they certainly have their place among friends, fellow moms, mothers and daughters, and yes, sometimes even a blog readership. But we will never all agree on how many inches of cleavage or thigh is acceptable, or how long a shirt must be to sufficiently cover a legging-clad booty. There will be those that argue that culture dictates modesty (which it does, to some degree), and as long as you are more modest than the rest of your peers, you’re good. Those conversations are worth having, but they are worthless and actually do become all about legalism if we don’t also discuss where modesty comes from: The heart. True modesty can not be dictated; it must be heart-felt.
3. If you know me in real life, or have read my blog, you know that I have recently become overweight. It’s a mystery to me, but it is my reality. I have seen other bloggers torn to shreds about their position on modesty because, apparently, being overweight means one thing only…..you are jealous. My position on modesty does not in any way stem from jealousy of thin women. Believe it. Or don’t. Whatever.
4. While both men and women struggle with lust, men are more visually stimulated than women. In general. It is not an all-encompassing rule, as there are many exceptions. However, this generalization is a scientific fact. Google it. Likewise, it is not only women that are guilty of immodest dress. Men do this, too, but it’s not as prevalent. Generally speaking. Please assume that when I’m referring to women (how they dress), it also applies to men; and when referring to men (how they respond), it also applies to women.
5. Yes, men already know that you have breasts, and a rear-end, and legs, whether you are dressed sexily or not. Yes, they can be distracted by the sight of a “hot” woman, even if she is dressed modestly. Let’s not ignorantly claim that it doesn’t make a difference how you dress because men are pigs who will stare and gawk anyway. Let’s use common sense, ladies. Does a well-built man look the same in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt as he does in just his underwear? Either way, you can tell what his best features are. But….not. the. same.
6. Men are not pigs who have no control. But they are hard-wired to respond to visual stimuli. Again, Google it if you don’t believe me. Yes, they are responsible for their own thoughts and actions and should work to control them through the grace of God. Discussing modesty is not about blame.
So with all that as a framework, here’s what I want to say: Modesty is, first and foremost, about love. You know, that 2nd greatest commandment, right from the mouth of Christ?
Matthew 22:35-40 One of them [a pharisee], an expert in the Law, tested Him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Pharisees hated Jesus, and were trying to trip Him up, asking Him to choose just one of the ten commandments (“the Law”) as the most important. Jesus’ answer summed up not only “the Law” in one word, but also His entire mission. Love covers it all. If we love, we do not murder. If we love, we do not cheat on our spouse. And it’s the love of our Savior that enables us to love others. So how does this apply to the topic of modesty?
Love one another. Love your spouse (current or future) by keeping the precious gift of your body just for them. Love the men and boys in your life by not giving them one more picture of overt sexuality to be tempted by. Love the women in your life by helping to protect their men from unwanted sexual images. Love the young girls in your life by modeling self-respect and true beauty. Love God by keeping His gift of sexuality in its proper, and more glorious, framework.
One blog post I read on the topic of modesty was followed by pages and pages of arguments, and hundreds of (mostly) angry comments. An astounding quantity of them were from self-described “Christians,” vehemently defending their right to wear whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, claiming no personal responsibility for any repercussions, and if men were tempted to lust by their appearance, too bad. Is this love?