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Modesty From A Woman's Point Of View

I was seeking a good Biblical article about modesty, and a dear sister in Christ, Nina, offered to share hers. It is a wonderful, scripturally based article to aid in worshipping our God and being a light in the world in a way that is becoming of a Christian woman.


Modesty from a Woman’s Point of View 

By Nina Roofe


Introduction

This article is not solely based on my personal opinions or thoughts. What I’m sharing is simply what the inspired Word of God has to say on this subject. When we get to the application section, I will share applications from my point of view as that is what I was asked to do in writing this article. In that section, I will offer some practical considerations for women of all ages and in all stages of life to consider.

 

The Bible verses I will share and the approach I take is one of the authority of the scriptures. On the day of judgment, when I stand before the Lord, I will be judged according to His Word, the Bible—nothing more, nothing less. So, in all that I do, I look for a direct command (John 14:15; 2: Pet 3:1-2; I John 2:3-4:2), an approved example (Matt 16:24; I Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17; I Pet 2:21), or a necessary inference (Matt 22:23-33, 41-46; Luke 20:37-40).  

 

You will notice that I use the New American Standard Bible translation. In comparing

translations and using lexicons to study Hebrew and Greek words, contexts, and word usage, I find this version most often to be the most equivalent translation. I want to be confident of the most exact method of translation possible as that accuracy is important to me as I am studying God’s Word. If anyone reads or hears anything I write or teach and has a question, I will consider you my friend if you reach out to me and bring it to my attention. My years as a teacher have taught me that if one person has a question about something, chances are, someone else does too. With this in mind, let’s consider the topic of modesty.


What Not to Wear

This article is not an exhaustive list of what not to wear. Though that might seem easier at first, it’s not. No mini-skirts, spaghetti straps, or halter tops, right? Well, then you have to define how short is too short and how low cut is too low cut. Once we start measuring inches, we’ve missed the point entirely. It’s not about the clothing you put on your body. It’s about character and what drives the decision of what to wear in the first place.


This article is not about being the fashion police. It won’t be a list of what to wear or where to find modest clothes for today’s Christian woman, though that is a great endeavor. Rather, it is about being taken seriously as a godly woman. We read in Prov 7:10, how clothing sends a message about our character because it reflects our heart.


And behold, a woman comes to meet him, Dressed as a prostitute and cunning of heart. 


As we leave our homes each day, do we stop to think about what message we are sending by how we are dressed? Do we pray about this as we leave our homes, or better yet as we plan what we will wear the next day the night before? Being intentional about this choice shows the value we put on what we wear and the message it sends to the world as we strive to be salt and light to those we meet.


So, what does the Bible teach us about modesty?   

In Genesis 3, we read about Adam and Eve learning about nakedness and being ashamed of

not being covered. We learn that they sewed together fig leaves and made waist coverings

(Gen 3:7). However, later in the same chapter in verse 21, we learn that this was not sufficient

for covering nakedness, because God provided animal skins for Adam and Eve. In Exodus

20:26, we gain insight into how we should pay attention to skirt lengths when the Lord cautioned Moses about walking up the altar steps and exposing his nakedness. In Exodus 28:40-43, we read the instructions given to Aaron and his sons, the priests, for how to dress when coming to serve the Lord:


“For Aaron’s sons, you shall also make tunics; you shall also make sashes for them, and 

you shall make caps for them, for glory and for beauty. 41 Then you shall put them on

Aaron your brother and on his sons with him, and you shall anoint them and ordain

them and consecrate them, so that they may serve Me as priests. 42 You shall make for

them linen undergarments to cover their bare flesh; they shall reach from the waist

even to the thighs. 43 And they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they enter the

tent of meeting, or when they approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place so that

they do not incur guilt and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and to his descendants after him."


Historically, a tunic covered the body from shoulder to knee. We know from John 19:23 that

Jesus wore a tunic. Historically this was a single sheet of fabric with a neck hole cut out in the

center. Poor people could not afford to dye their clothes, so theirs would have been undyed

wool. Men wore knee-length tunics and women wore ankle-length tunics. Those who were

richer could afford to dye their tunics, which would speak to their affluence or political standing. Men with longer tunics would also convey a political or affluent status in the Greco-Roman world, condemned by Jesus in Mark 12:38, And in His teaching, He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like personal greetings in the marketplaces." The use of undergarments provides layering which enhances modesty but also promotes hygiene and warmth in colder months.


This brings up another point about what we wear. What is the purpose?

Is it for show? —No. I Tim 2:9-10: Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper

clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive

apparel, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to 

godliness.


Is it for covering our bodies? –Yes. Prov 31:22, 25: She makes coverings for herself; Her 

clothing is fine linen and purple. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at

the future.

 

Is it for serving the Lord? –Yes. Ruth 3:3: Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself, and 

put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor, but do not reveal yourself

to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.


From these scriptures we learn that our clothing should cover our bodies from shoulder to knee, not be for show, and not be a hinderance to our service to the Lord.


Who is responsible for the sin of lust?

As a woman, how many sermons have we sat through where we are made to feel we are

responsible for men’s sin of lust? Do you ever get tired of it? I know I do.

 

Matt 5:27-28, You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery’, but I say

to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed 

adultery with her in his heart. The Bible is clear, whoever looks at a woman with lust for her

commits the sins of lust and adultery.


If I dress inappropriately, AKA immodestly, do I partake in that sin? No, because I am not

looking at a woman and lusting or committing adultery. Now, if I am looking at a man with lust in my heart, I am guilty of sin, just as a man looking at a woman with lust in his heart is guilty of sin.


However, I don’t think that is the right question. The question I should ask is, ‘As a Christian and godly woman, is it wise for me to dress immodestly?’ The answer to that question is absolutely not. If I dress immodestly, I send a message (Prov 7:10). The message I am sending is that I do not respect the authority of God or His Word. He has given me guidance in His Word through examples of how people should dress including Adam and Eve, the priests, and Jesus himself. Ignoring this guidance and these examples would be foolish and unwise of me. If I dress immodestly, I am also sending a message that I don’t respect my brothers in Christ. I don’t want to be a stumbling block for my brothers in Christ as we read about in Matt 18:5-7: And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the person through whom the stumbling block comes!


Avoiding temptation is hard enough in this world, why would I purposefully make it harder for my brothers in Christ?


What should I wear?

The Bible gives me a firm foundation on which to base what I should wear. First, I should be 

clear on how I should be known. As a Christian, I want to be known for having the fruits of the

spirit as I read about in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things

there is no law. The first three—love, joy, and peace, are heart feelings. As a Christian, I

should have love, joy, and peace in my heart because I know I have a home waiting for me in

heaven. The second three—patience, kindness, and goodness, refer to our relationships with

others. As a Christian, I am called to show patience, kindness, and goodness to others—not

because they deserve it, but because these qualities are shown to me by God, and I am to

reflect His attributes to the world. The last three—faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control refer to our relationship with God. If I’m focused on developing these qualities in myself, which is a tall order some days, I’m not all that concerned with what I’m wearing or drawing attention to myself.


Does the Bible tell me what to wear?

Yes—in Ephesians 6:11-20, we read: Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able

to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and

blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this

darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore,

take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having

done everything to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth,

and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the

preparation of the gospel of peace. In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with

which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the 

helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. With all prayer

and petition pray at all times in the Spirit and with this in view, be on the alert with all

perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be

given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of

the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that in proclaiming it I may speak 

boldly as I ought to speak.


What about a head covering? Does that apply today?

I am often asked about the custom of wearing a head covering. This is addressed in I 

Corinthians 11: 1-16. At that time in history and in some cultures today, women wear a hijab or head covering in certain public or worship settings. In the first-century church, some women had the gift of prophecy. Women with this spiritual gift were instructed to have their heads covered while prophesying as a symbol of submission to God. In these same verses in I Cor, the woman’s hair is referenced as her glory because women who shaved their heads were either slaves or immoral women (prostitutes). Men did not cover their heads while praying or prophesying as it was a sign of disgracing God.


We are not required to wear head coverings today because women do not prophesy today. The need for prophecy and tongues ended because we now have the whole and perfect Bible. There was a temporary need for prophecy and speaking in tongues (I Cor 13:8-13), but we no longer have this need since we have the full canon. We don’t need to be contentious about this though. If someone feels the desire and the need to wear a head covering, it doesn’t hurt anyone for them to wear a head covering (I Cor 11:16).


What about culture today? Does it matter what culture I live in as to how I interpret

Biblical modesty? 

A good example of this is traveling to another country. I took cohorts of students to Italy for

study abroad experiences when I taught at a university. In Italy most of the art depicts naked

human bodies, The David is considered a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance sculpture by

Michaelangelo depicts a fully naked man, and young children swim and run naked on the

beaches of Cinque Terre. One might think that adult Italians would grow up to dress 

immodestly, but I found the opposite to be true. Sitting in an outdoor café and watching people walk by it is easy to spot Americans in crowd. While the American dress style is focused on comfort and casual with bright colors and patterns and is revealing, the Italian dress style is more conservative and elegant. They do not wear pajamas or sweatpants in public. Shoes are comfortable and practice due to the prevalence of cobblestone streets. The men and women wear more solids and neutrals with simple patterns. The women do not show cleavage or wear short shorts or skirts. No one was allowed into churches to view the artwork if shoulders or knees were exposed—or they had to purchase a paper robe to cover their nakedness. This is colloquially known as the “robe of shame”. Pants are typically high-waisted and proper fit is very important to Italians. Jewelry is intentional or not worn at all and when it is worn it is simple and elegant. So, does culture matter—yes, culture matters to the people of that culture. Does it matter to Biblical modesty? Yes, in the sense that I can still dress modestly regardless of the culture in which I live. I can be surrounded by art and sculptures of naked figures, appreciate the talent of the artist, but recognize that walking around naked in public is not something proper to do as an adult. Does God’s Word change or depend on the culture in which one lives and the time in history in which one lives—no. The principles of being covered shoulder to knee apply throughout time and culture.


What about women wearing pants to worship?

Can I wear pants to worship and be considered modest? I think the deeper question here is am I being reverent if I wear pants to worship? Am I wearing pants because it is winter and I have Raynaud’s syndrome and get so cold I can’t concentrate on singing, praying, and listening to the sermon and Bible class teacher, and wearing pants helps me be able to stay warm? Am I wearing pants because I’m unsteady on my feet and I’m afraid of falling and my dress or skirt coming up and being immodest? Am I wearing pants because of what I had to do at work that day? Are my pants well-fitting, not too tight, and in keeping with modesty and discretion? Then why couldn’t I wear pants to worship? I used to worship in a congregation where an older woman in the congregation would only speak to me if I was wearing a skirt or dress. If I came from work on a Wednesday and was in a pantsuit, I could say ‘Hi’ to her and she would turn and walk away or sometimes stare at me and not say a word. I did not feel patience, kindness, or goodness, the fruits of the spirit shown to others, from her. I felt judgment, isolation, and no desire on her part to learn anything about me. I can be immodest in pants just like I can be immodest in a dress or skirt if the pants are see-through or too tight. It goes back to my heart and my attitude. Why am I choosing to wear pants that day? Am I revering God and edifying my brethren while wearing pants at worship service just as I would if wearing a skirt or dress? Then, help me see the difference, please.


Applications 

The Bible gives us examples of women who are known for their godly attributes, their faith, their ability to teach others, and their work to further the gospel. I can’t recall an example of a woman who is written about in the Bible simply for her attire.

 

If we look at a couple of examples in the Bible, we see women who are being taken seriously for their work, their wisdom, and their words—not how they dress. The woman described in Proverbs 31 would today be what we would call an entrepreneur, a businesswoman, or a real estate agent. In Judges 4 and 5, we read about Deborah and her leadership of the nation of Israel. Today she would be a powerful attorney and judge on the Supreme Court dressed in robes totally covering her personal wardrobe. Even Esther, the queen, who must have been dressed in the finest garments of the day, is depicted for her bravery in saving her people, not for her high fashion.


Whether a woman is single, married, widowed, raising children, an empty nester, working

outside the home, a stay-at-home mom, a home-school mom, an aunt, a sister, a cousin, a

grandmother, or a combination of these roles and times in your life, how you dress reflects your heart and your priorities.


Matt 6:33, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be

added to you.” If I am putting God first, using sound priorities, and substituting worry time with prayer and study time, I really don’t have time to think about what to wear.


As I’m now in that category of an ‘older women,’ I’m striving to be reverent in my behavior, not a malicious gossip, not enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that I may

encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be

sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the

work of God will not be dishonored  (Titus 2:3-5). Notice I used the word ‘striving’—I’m not

perfect by any means.


Again, it comes back to priorities and time. If I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I don’t have time to focus on my wardrobe. However, I do want and need to be taken seriously at church, at work and in my community, and to bring honor to my husband. How do I do that?

 

For me personally—a capsule wardrobe with simple, classic lines, fabrics that are machine

washable, and items that mix and match works great. It cuts down on decisions and wears well over time. I can dress it up or down depending on scarves and jewelry—not that I wear much in the way of jewelry, but I can if I need to for a special event.


The benefits of a minimal, capsule wardrobe are a small financial investment, less time spent in shopping, less space needed to store the clothes, less time spent making decisions each day on what to wear, and the freedom to spend all this money, time, space, and brain power on other things. I didn’t always approach my closet this way. The approach I took to reach this place was no-nonsense and unexciting, but I’ll share it with you in case you find it helpful. 

  1. Remove redundant items and accessories.

  2. Keep favorite items and favorite colors

  3. Put all clothing items in one place. If it doesn’t fit, I have too much. 

  4. Choose five favorite outfits for each season.

  5. Keep only the size that fits me right now. Store other sizes in totes. If used within one year, great.

  6. Use a full-length mirror to look at myself in my outfits before I purchase them and before leaving the house. Below are a few guidelines to keep my appearance modest and classy, whether at work or running errands. I never know who I will run into in town and always want to represent my Lord well.

a.  Bend forward—if cleavage or my undergarments shows that outfit must be adjusted or donated.

b.  From the back squat down and bend forward—if it rises above my knee or becomes too tight, that outfit must be donated.

c.  Sit in a chair in front of the full-length mirror—if the skirt rises above my knee, it must be donated.

d.  All skirts must have a slip or sewn in liner so in the sunlight they don’t become see-through.

e.  Raise the arms—if the skirt rises above my knee or the shirt rises to show my belly, it must be donated.

f.  In a sleeveless top be sure the armholes don’t allow for undergarments to show. 

7.  Remember, these guidelines also apply when purchasing a wedding gown.

8.  Let go of any guilt—easier said than done.


I’m not saying this is what everyone should do—it’s just what works for me. Everyone must

adopt a wardrobe approach that works for them.


Conclusion

Modesty is an important topic for Christian women. It is less about the actual articles of clothing and more about the heart and attitude of the wearer. We have ample examples from the Bible to guide my clothing choices, but more importantly, to guide our priorities and focus. Our priorities should be about serving God, developing the fruits of the spirit in my life, putting on the full armor of God, seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, and doing all we can to spread the gospel while on this earth. I hope you find these thoughts helpful as you study the topic of modesty and I wish you a blessed day.


 

Dennis and Nina Roofe are active members of the Prince Street church of Christ in Conway, AR. They have one adult son, Christian, who lives in Harrison and worships at the Capps Road church of Christ.





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