Modesty? Which one?

I love how words in our English language can take on different meanings. When I first learned the word “modest,” (which was probably when I was in elementary school learning vocabulary words) I got the impression that it meant being humble, not being overly assertive. The first definition of it in Merriam-Webster’s Online dictionary is: “placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth b : neither bold nor self-assertive : tending toward diffidence.” I like to think I had a fairly good grasp on the word, right?

Well, as I became a teenager, “modest” took on another meaning. As a conservative Christian, it meant that girls shouldn’t wear short shorts or halter tops or spaghetti-strap shirts. Doing so would be “immodest,” I was told. And really, I don’t see a major problem with keeping to a wholesome moral standard when it comes to how one dresses, but I still can’t get over how it’s been labeled “modest.” I think the idea behind the use of the word in that way is that when you wear skimpy clothing, you are showing off your body and are therefore, being immodest. I can see that, I suppose. Ah, a lovely quote from the eloquent Dave Chappelle comes to mind, “you may not be a whore, but you’re wearing a whore’s uniform!”

But I think an equally important and often overlooked aspect of modesty is how we can “overdress,” not how we can “underdress.” Observe 1st Timothy 2:8-10, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” Not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire? I wonder how many people have broken that rule!

Have we not emphasized “giving our best” when it comes to what we wear to worship God? If you ever asked your parents or an older person why we have to “dress up,” for worship, what do they say? “You’re supposed to give your best.” We’ve tied together our physical clothing with how acceptable our worship to God is! That’s absolutely ludicrous!

Ah, but the plot thickens with James 2:1-4, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there,’ or, ‘Sit down at my feet,’ have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”

What James is saying there is just as relevant today as was when he wrote it. We have alienated the very people we’re trying to help. Look at verses 5, “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” It’s backwards! We’re supposed to seek out the poor of the world and bring them to Christ. But it’s almost as if they have to meet “our standards” of what is “appropriate.” This concept contradicts the essence of Christ’s teachings altogether. Verse 6 tells us that whoever would hold to these ideals has “dishonored the poor man.” How convicting is that?

In conclusion, I totally agree that we should be modest in the sense that we should not show off our bodies or cause our brothers and sisters to lust. But in reality, I think the man who wears the 3-piece suit and tie with gold rings in worship is just as guilty as the girl with the tube top and short shorts out in public.

 

 

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8 Responses to Modesty? Which one?

  1. Matt Vaughan says:

    And I think it is interesting that you automatically used women as examples for immodesty and men as examples of gaudiness. But, as I am sure you know, these principles can be applied to both sexes.

    That having been said, I think your post is right on line with what the text is actually getting at: equality. Right? Isn’t that the reason for the modest dress? What else could it be?

    So why is it that churches seem to think that you are only reverent if you dress well? We have allowed our cultural norms to regulate religious practice. And I think you see that–as your post exposed.

  2. Braden says:

    Matthew, you never cease to point out things I forget to mention! I purposefully chose women to kind of satirically describe how our culture addresses this issue. Does that make sense? It’s like women wearing skimpy clothes are automatically what is talked about when modesty comes up. Equality, wow that’s another point altogether. Excellent ideas, thanks for the comment.

  3. Scott says:

    We must also remember that dressing respectfully for assembly should not be looked down upon. Yes, it is cultural, but culture decides so many things like how we show gratitude, respect, and love. Should we quit shaking hands as respect when someone who does not have hands is around? This parallels to not dressing respectful when others have not.

    Also, James did not tell Christians to dress “shabby” like the poor. It is true that there should not have been poor in the first place when there are the rich, but if we criticize dressing respectfully that just sounds like the words of a sluggard. Our “cultural norms” are important. Should Jesus not have washed feet because it was cultural and some Apostle would get his feet washed last? Certainly not. Should the Corinthian women have not covered their heads in public since afterall it was just their standards of culture? Certainly not. We must respect culture, social forms, for every word of our language is dependent upon such. We all respect social forms, culture, when you even use American English somewhat properly and we know even the extremes of that subject. We can’t cast aside culture unless such contradicts the Gospel. We must not take an extreme position on this subject.

    Just look at the dress of thugs to see disrespectful clothing. Our society does know a dress code that is respectable and it is neither rich nor poor. This code shows respect to other people. We dress appropriate for work, job interviews, graduations, weddings, and funerals. We must show respect to our brethren even by our dress. We should also show that the Assembly is more important than a wedding, work, funeral, or graduation even before God.

    We must remember that we are to take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men according to Romans 12:17. We should also honor and show hospitality to all men, which always includes culture, (1 Pet. 2:17 , Heb. 13:2). I guarantee that everyone of us will wear the kind of clothing that is honorable in the sight of others in future job interviews and our open evangelism. You both showed respect and love by clothing before at a wedding as bestmen.

  4. Braden says:

    Good point, I’m not saying we shall all dress disrespectfully by any means. I do think it’s important to dress reasonably and respectfully. And culture can’t be thrown out the window. But it does change over time, it is very subjective and varies from place to place, notwithstanding the fact that it has its flaws. I think we agree that how we dress does not necessarily affect the quality of our worship.

    Also, I see the assembly as a haven from the norms of society and culture. It is without question, more important than formalized cultural occasions of all shapes and sizes. But it is also completely separate from those things. To a certain degree, I think in the assembly, we’re a part of a unified culture, not restrained by the facets of the culture we live in. Does that makes sense?

    I really have a tough time seeing Paul, a tentmaker, in a suit and tie. Even when Christ washed the apostles’ feet, I don’t think He would’ve had on a tuxedo. Quite frankly, whenever I wear a suit to church, I do it because I think I look sexy in it. Call that a sin, but I’d rather wear it for that reason than to wear it because I think I appear more holy to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope you appreciate the humor there.

    Matthew mentioned equality, and I think that is central to this discussion. We are all equal in the eyes of God, shabby clothes or not. Being respectful is one thing, but I think to a certain degree, humility and modesty should play a role in balancing out the way we dress. Ideally, I’d say we should dress respectfully, reasonably, and of course modestly, however you choose to interpret it.

  5. Isleib says:

    The same culture (Southern US only – other regions of the nation don’t care much at all about dressing up in your best) that wants dressing up on Sundays only seems to want it truly on Sunday mornings. Dressing somewhat downward on Sunday nights (and for college students, T-shirts are fully acceptable) is perfectly fine, because according to this same culture you probably changed out of your Sunday clothes to go to lunch at some restaurant (isn’t it just a tad odd that the church culture of going out to eat after services requires that some people don’t want to go to worship so they can work at these restaurants and serve us?), and you wouldn’t want to change back into your old clothes. Perhaps the apostate congregation who mentioned to my dad in a meeting that “Sunday morning is to impress the visitors; Sunday night is for the members” was speaking for a lot of other congregations as well.

    Even if you say “give your best,” in the typical scenario that means the rich person will outdress the poor person, reinforcing the inequalities inherent in the congregation. (Of course, the rich Christians are supposed to be giving to the poorer Christians, so that no one has need – Acts 2 through 5).

    The whole “dress your best” argument smacks to me of Pharisee v. Publican.

  6. Braden says:

    Excellent observations. I also thought the argument of “dress your best” was similar to that Pharisee/publican passage. In fact, I looked it up thinking that the attire may have been mentioned in that passage but it was not. However, I wouldn’t doubt that the publican was clothed in sackcloth and ashes, hardly his best and the Pharisee probably had on his finest with broadened phylacteries. Here’s another point I’d like to throw out: if the Pharisees’ broadening of the phylacteries was to cover up their spiritual deadness inside, couldn’t dressing fancy for worship be similar?

  7. Scott says:

    Along the thoughts of Isleib’s comments with no disagreement, how would a rich man “give his best” by dressing in expensive clothing? His best would be modest and respectful attire not a foolish boast of what the Lord has blessed him with and what he keeps from his own brothers. We’ve got to dress respectfully, and I must add that we should be impressing visitors all the time (1 Cor. 14). We could also spend time criticizing our culture of dress at funerals, weddings, graduations, etc. I know I can. Now, I cannot dress respectfully on Sunday night with a T-shirt untucked no matter how poor I am. I’m the man who has only own 2 pairs of jeans and 4-5 shirts from Walmart and those clothes passed to me even by dead men my whole life and still I dress respectfully. It’s not hard to dress casual and respectful with a tucked in polo while not judging others when they are not quite there. This is also a matter of maturity, which many college student think they have.

  8. Braden says:

    Well what I think it gets back to is that modest means neither fancy nor shabby, but a happy medium (i.e. like what you mentioned with a polo shirt). I don’t think visitors are impressed by what we wear nearly as much as by what we do and how we do it. I’d venture to say that some visitors might be turned off by people dressing in fancy suits and dresses thinking that they may be out of their league in a sense. Like you said, a lot of it’s about maturity, respect, and not judging others for dressing less “nice” as you do.

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