We’ve done a lot of teaching on modesty over the last two weeks, and we thought now might be a good time to post the story of how one woman—Jenni Smith—<came to wrestle with this issue. I’ve known Jenni for almost three years now, and I can say from personal experience that she lives out the words expressed in her testimony (given at our church several years ago). I’m sure you will be inspired by her example!
“Prior to a year ago, ‘modesty’ was a foreign word to me. I viewed dressing modestly as an out of style, frumpy, and nerdy fashion. Having been a Christian for six years, I had not been made aware of how and what ways Scripture addresses this issue. My nick-name amongst my Christian friends was accurately termed, ‘Scantly.’ In choosing what to wear, I only thought of what would best serve me. What would bring the most attention my way, what would most flatter me (in the world’s terms), and what would best compare to what magazines, models, and other women I saw were wearing. The desire rooted deep within my heart was a craving to be accepted and exalted. I enjoyed my attire, the undue attention I received and the way it stimulated my feelings. My motives for the way I dressed were to promote self, not promote Jesus Christ.
An individual graciously confronted me concerning my outward appearance. As they shared their concern and listed specific articles of clothing that drew attention to my body, I was sobered. Lord, is it pride that motivates the way I dress? Does what I wear actually cause my brothers to stumble? Do I bring reproach to your name? I immediately acknowledged my desperation before God and began to plead for His mercy and grace to reveal the sin within my heart and assist me to change.
I began to study God’s Word, read material addressing this issue, and listen to CJ Mahaney’s teaching on ‘The Soul of Modesty.’ By the grace of God, there was no resistance in my heart but a passion to change. God illuminated the simple fact that it is my heart that dictates my appearance and wardrobe. I was faced with the question: ‘What statement do my clothes make concerning my heart?’ The pride and ambition to exalt self was made very clear.
I began to understand the heart and soul of modesty. Modesty is humility expressed in dress, a desire to serve others, neither promoting nor provoking sensuality or lust. It is rooted in a desire to lose any and all consideration of self and live hidden behind the cross of Christ. I became more and more aware that my dress was not an outward expression of the gospel, or humility. I began by aggressively examining my wardrobe.
My husband Jon and I spent a lengthy period of time examining every article of clothing, prayerfully considering which pieces were inappropriate. By the end of the examination my wardrobe had considerably diminished. To be honest, this has not been easy. Even though it has been a year since cleaning out my closet, there have still been many moments where I have struggled picking out my outfit for the day, being dissatisfied with my limited wardrobe. It has been crucial for me to question my motives morning after morning, helping me to see that what is most attractive is my desire to please God and not my outward appearance.
It is something that I must daily fight—to flee worldly desires and pursue godliness in this area. This requires daily application and frequent reminders. I have had the ‘Modesty Heart Check’ posted inside the bathroom vanity so that it can serve as a reminder every morning before I leave the house. I have identified specific areas where I am uniquely tempted and then spent time purposing how I need to change. And when I purchase clothing, I always show my husband Jon to be sure that it is modest.
Dressing modestly blesses my husband because it is a way that I can save myself and my body for him alone. And it also serves the other men around me by helping to guard their hearts against temptation. By pursuing modesty in spirit as well as in dress, I can bring glory to Christ and further the gospel.”
We interrupt our series on modesty to bring you this news bulletin. Over at Crosswalk.com, you can read articles from both my parents on the topics of “Greatness Redefined” and “Expressing a Tender Love for Your Children” (by Dad and Mom respectively). So take a moment and click on over there.
Last September, when CJ and I had the privilege of going to The Bible Church of Little Rock, CJ spoke on the topic of modesty. At the conclusion of my husband’s sermon, the church’s worship pastor, Todd Murray, presented an additional appeal in his closing remarks. He urged all girls to consider modesty even when shopping for formal attire and wedding dresses. His words were laden with care and compassion, yet they carried an appropriate soberness. We felt Todd’s exhortation was too important to be heard only by the girls of his church, so we asked if we could post his words here at girltalk. He graciously agreed. Let’s listen in and be challenged by one pastor’s heart and plea to the women of his church:
Ladies, please don’t forget to apply these principles of modesty to formal events and weddings. In recent years, I have become increasingly grieved by the immodest dresses of both brides and bridesmaids at the weddings that I officiate. I have observed a number of young ladies in our fellowship who have dressed modestly all their lives appearing on their wedding day in extremely provocative dresses, exposing more of themselves than on any other day of their lives.
I assume the best about what is going on in the hearts of these young women. I don’t think that they went to the wedding dress shop determined to be provocative. No doubt, they just wanted a dress that would be elegant on this day that they have dreamed of all their lives. When a bride and mother set out on their expedition to find a wedding dress, they are, quite naturally, thinking like… women! Unfortunately, there is no one in the shop who is thinking like a man! I’d like to make a radical proposal, girls. Why not take your father with you to the wedding boutique? If that thought is just too much for you (or your Dad!) at least consider taking the dress out on approval and allowing your dad to see it before you make your final purchase.
Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself when shopping for a wedding or bridesmaid’s dress:
Does this dress reflect the fact that a wedding ceremony is a holy service of worship and not a fashion show?
Can I picture myself standing in this dress, for an extended period of time, just a few feet from my pastor as he opens the Word of God and leads me in my solemn vows?
Pastor Todd Murray isn’t the only one concerned about immodesty at weddings. I know the pastors of my church share this concern as well.
Having three married daughters, I know the challenges involved in finding modest wedding attire. However, with a lot of time and effort, it can be done! As Todd mentioned, the dad’s role is crucial in this process. CJ helped our girls by providing guidelines for appropriate bridal wear and giving final approval to their choices. Quite simply, the standard of modesty and self-control didn’t change. Here are some criteria CJ gave to the girls:
1. Find a wedding dress with a neckline that completely conceals any cleavage.
2. Avoid dresses without sufficient covering in the back.
3. Strapless gowns or dresses with only spaghetti straps are revealing and thus do not serve the men in attendance at your wedding.
4. A modest gown should not be excessively tight and draw unnecessary attention to your figure.
Once again, we hope these specifics assist you in evaluating modest bridal and evening attire. However, please be on guard against the temptation to be self-righteous toward those who choose differently. If you think a bride is dressed immodestly, her wedding day is not the appropriate occasion to comment on her dress! Simply rejoice with her in the goodness of God displayed in her marriage.
And if you are preparing to get married, we hope these thoughts serve you in your effort to plan a ceremony that brings glory to God. May He give you much joy on that special day!
So, you’ve been diligently reading this series on modesty for a week and a half now. You eagerly desire to honor God by being modest. You’ve meditated on 1 Timothy 2:9-10. You’ve asked God to help you.
Then you trot down to the local mall.
As you survey the dizzying array of clothing options, you suddenly feel lost and confused. Which items are seductive and immodest and which display a heart of modesty and self-control? You’ve searched the entire Bible, and while you’ve found various maps of Jerusalem, you’ve yet to discover pictures of hemlines or addendums with appropriate neckline specifications.
This much we do know—God clearly commands modesty and self-control both in heart and in dress. Therefore, if we sincerely seek to apply His Word to our heart, it will be revealed by what we wear.
However, as our friend David Powlison says, “change is in the details.” Just as we don’t shop for clothes without knowing what size we are, we can’t pursue modesty without developing some specific criteria. To assist you in this, we want to humbly offer this Modesty Heart Check for your consideration. Now, we don’t think we are the final word on modesty or that we know better than anyone else. We simply want to serve you as you seek to shop for the glory of God. And if this little bunch of questions helps you do that, we’ll be thrilled.
We are requesting that Modesty Heart Check only be read under the following two conditions: 1. You’ve read all our previous posts on Fashion and Following the Savior, and 2. You read the “heart check” questions before the “modesty check” questions.
“Why these conditions,” you ask? Well, it is very important to us that you read the “modesty check” questions in the context of biblical truth. Otherwise, we all are prone to the temptation to turn a tool like this into a list of rules or to sinfully judge others who don’t agree or to excuse ourselves on a technicality. But we want you to consider these questions in light of the beauty of God’s standard of modesty.
So, will you agree to comply with these terms and conditions? (We didn’t know how to install an “I agree” button so we’ll have to go with the honor system here.)
We hope this Modesty Heart Check helps with the “Confused Shopper Syndrome.” May God pour out His abundant grace on you as you seek to glorify Him. We know, without a doubt, that He will!
I want to add a quote to the young men’s thoughts from yesterday. Richard Baxter (writing 400 years ago) had this advice for how we as women should relate to men in the area of our dress:
“And though it be their sin and vanity that is the cause [of lust], it is nevertheless your sin to be the unnecessary occasion…You must not lay a stumbling-block in their way, nor blow up the fire of their lust…You must walk among sinful persons as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder; or else you may see the flame which you did not foresee, when it is too late to quench it.” (qtd in The Look by Nancy Leigh DeMoss)
Let’s walk among sinful men in a manner that seeks to protect them from temptation. Let’s serve our brothers through modest clothing.
Last week, we began our series from 1 Timothy 2:9-10 by considering the attitude behind the clothes we wear. Fashion that honors God comes from a heart of “modesty and self-control,” and modesty is humility expressed in dress.
As for the appearance of the modest woman, we learned that she is to “adorn [herself] with respectable apparel.” Not that it is wrong to look attractive! We learned that the essence of our desire to beautify actually comes from God. However, seductive, ostentatious dress is dishonoring to our Savior.
Today, we continue to focus on the appearance of the modest woman and one reason why it is so significant: it protects our brothers in Christ from temptation and sin. As my sister Nicole wrote in the book Girl Talk,
“Women are sometimes ignorant of the effect of their bodies on the eyes and hearts of men. But, for the most part, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we know exactly what we’re doing. We enjoy the attention of guys. As a pastor-friend of ours once remarked, ‘Guys lust and girls want to be lusted after.’”
To instruct all those who might be ignorant, and to remind the rest of us, I want you to hear from the guys themselves. Here are two young men sharing their struggle with lust. Let’s call them “Kevin” and “Jack.” I know they speak for the majority of godly men today.
“Each and every day is a battle—a battle against my sin, a battle against temptation, a battle against my depraved mind. Every morning I have to cry out for mercy, strength, and a renewed conviction to flee youthful lusts. The Spirit is faithful to bring me the renewal I need to prepare me to do war against my sin, yet the temptation still exists.
Sometimes, when I see a girl provocatively dressed, I’ll say to myself, ‘She probably doesn’t know that a hundred and one guys are going to devour her in their minds today. But then again, maybe she does.’ To be honest, I don’t know the truth—the truth of why she chooses to dress the way she does. All I know is that the way she presents herself to the world is bait for my sinful mind to latch onto and I need to avoid it at all costs.
For the most part, the church serves as a sanctuary from the continual barrage of temptation towards sin. However, the church’s members are not free from sin yet, and there are girls both ignorant and knowledgeable of men’s sinful tendencies. I must confess that even church can have several mines scattered about.”
“The one place where I might think I wouldn’t have to face as much temptation is at church, but this is not always the case. When ladies whom I’m friends with dress immodestly, it definitely has a negative effect on our friendship. When a woman dresses immodestly it makes it difficult to see her as a sister in Christ. There is a constant battle going on as I’m talking with her. Communication becomes more difficult as I’m trying to listen to her, because I’m trying to fight temptation.”
Here’s what these young men say about women who do dress modestly. Hear the appreciation in their words:
“I am so grateful for the friendships that God has given me with the ladies in my church. I am so appreciative of the sacrifices that these ladies make to glorify God and to serve and care for the guys. I heard of one girl who went shopping and really liked the shirt she was trying on. But then she thought, ‘No, I can’t do this to the guys.’ That was the first time I had ever heard of anything like that and it made me so grateful. It is such a blessing to have friends who care for me enough to be selfless and sacrifice what might look attractive in order to help me and other guys with sexual lust. When ladies dress modestly, it’s attractive and makes me want to hang out with them more. I think modesty is so attractive in friendships because it makes it easier for a friendship to be centered around God and for fellowship to be unhindered.”
“To the girls who don’t follow the pattern of the world: thank you a million times over. You are following Scripture’s commands and helping your brothers in the process. Despite all that godly men are doing to defeat the sin of lust, they still need help, and they need you to provide it.”
The appeals of these young men striving for holiness pierce my heart in a unique way. Perhaps it’s because I’m the mother of three young boys—boys who will become men someday and will undoubtedly face the same temptation to lust.
So, ladies, let’s take to heart the temptations and pleas for help from Jack and Kevin—to serve the men today, and the young boys who will become men tomorrow.
One of the many things I love about my friend Kimm from Philly, is that she always makes me laugh. During my recent busy season she sent me the following video clip with this email: “Here—this is my treat to you….cause you are workin’ sa hard.” I hope it makes you laugh as hard as it did me!
Much more on Fashion and Following the Savior next week!
for Nicole, Kristin, and Janelle
In 1 Timothy 2:9, Paul insists that the women “adorn themselves with respectable apparel” and not with gold, pearls or braids. Yesterday, we learned that he was not forbidding stylish clothing or banning jewelry. So what was Paul getting at?
To the women of this first century church, Paul writes to warn them against imitating the dress and adornment of the ladies of the Roman court and the prostitutes. These women were known for their extremely expensive, showy clothes and ridiculously elaborate hairstyles. They dressed, not only to attract attention, but to seduce as well. Paul does not want the women of the church to dress in this manner and thus be a distraction during the church service, or at any other time.
What he is condemning is not attractive attire, but the association with worldly and ungodly values. Women who profess godliness, he says, should not dress in such a way that resembles those who are extravagant, or worse, intent on being seductive or sexy. Simply put, we are not to identify with our sinful, worldly culture through our dress.
So, the question for us is this: Who are we seeking to imitate or be like in our dress? Who inspires our wardrobe? Are we preoccupied with looking like the latest American Idol winner or the actresses and music stars on magazine covers, or the immodest woman next door?
A while back, I saw a few minutes of one of the innumerable makeover stories on television (I’m surprised we haven’t all been “made over” by now!). Two women were going to receive a new look. One of them wanted to look exactly like Jennifer Anniston, and the other like Jennifer Garner as I recall. These two ladies (who, I’m sorry to say, didn’t look a bit like the actresses they so admired) were just gushing about how much they admired everything about these glamorous stars—their style, their way of walking, their clothing, their hair. It might have been comical if it wasn’t so sad.
Most of us are not trying to look exactly like a famous actress—we know it’s a lost cause! However, if we are seeking to imitate the sexually enticing clothing of the women in our culture, we are no different than these two wannabes. That is why Paul’s message is urgent—not just for the original recipients of his letter, but for us today. He doesn’t want the women in the church looking exactly like the ungodly, seductive women in the world.
Women in the church are to be different from the world. We should be stand-outs—not because of our revealing clothing, but because of our distinctly modest heart and dress.
More discussion of 1 Timothy 2:9-10 coming your way next week!
Now that we’ve established that modesty begins in the heart, it’s time to consider what it means for our wardrobe. What’s a modest girl to wear? Once again, let’s turn to our 1 Timothy 2:9 passage. Here Paul instructs the women to clothe themselves in “respectable apparel.”
Now let me set your mind at ease. Adorning ourselves in “respectable apparel” doesn’t mean we must restrict ourselves exclusively to cheap, out of style, unattractive clothing. Paul is not saying that gold or pearls or braiding are forbidden. In fact, you will find other places in Scripture where godly women wore fine clothing and jewelry.
For example, the Proverbs 31 woman – who is put forth in the Bible as a model for biblical womanhood – wore colorful, high-quality clothing (Pr. 31:22). We read where the bride in Song of Solomon adorned her appearance with jewelry (S of S 1:10). We are told that Esther underwent 12 months of beauty treatments – 6 months with oil of myrrh and 6 with perfumes and cosmetics (Es. 2:12).
So we are not to take this verse to mean that godly women should try as hard as they can to be out of style and unattractive. No! Quite the opposite. God is the creator of beauty. God delights in beauty. All we need to verify this fact is to consider the beauty He created all around us: whether it is an elegant flower, or towering trees, or a meandering river, or billowy clouds or the majestic night sky. Every time we stop to take in one of these breathtaking scenes on display in God’s creation, we can’t help but be convinced that He delights in beauty!
And because we are created in the image of our Creator, each of us has this propensity to make things beautiful. That means, when we decorate our homes, or plant a lovely flower garden, or seek to add some form of beauty to our surroundings, even when we attempt to enhance our personal appearance – we are actually imitating and delighting in the works of our Great Creator.
Now granted, these activities can be sinfully implemented; but still, we must not overlook the fact that the essence of our desire to beautify comes from God. John Angell James in his book, Female Piety (first published in 1860), offers this helpful thought:
This taste [for beauty], however in many cases it may be altogether corrupted in its object, wrong in its principle, or excessive in its degree, is in its own nature an imitation of the workmanship of God, who, “by his Spirit has garnished the heavens,” and covered the earth with beauty.
Now hopefully we have convincing proof that our desire to enhance our appearance isn’t wrong, that “respectable apparel” does not have to be dowdy or out of style. So what exactly does Paul mean by “respectable apparel”? We’ll consider the answer to that question as our series continues.
Numbers of you are writing in with questions on the topic of modesty. Rather than using our normal Wednesday Q & A format to attempt to answer these questions, we hope to address them along the way in this series. So hang tight and keep reading!