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.