A few days ago, I shared with the TLM Sisterhood Facebook group a story about a young couple from my past that I had decided was inappropriately dressed for church. This incident happened several years ago. There I sat on a Sunday morning in my usual self-righteous, stylish garb. I was wearing my Sunday best and feeling certain that many in the church were thoroughly impressed with my choice of clothing that day. As this young couple walked in, I sat shaking my head at this young lady’s obvious lack of modesty and her male companion’s lack of effort.
All I could think was “what is she wearing” and “what was he thinking.”
I also shared that it only took what seemed like a millisecond for the Holy Spirit to prick my ego and have me check myself as well as my role as a Christian. Nowhere in my walk with Christ has He given me the privilege or duty to judge anyone.
However, the Bible does speak on modesty. So, let’s turn to Scripture and see what God, who alone has authority to judge, has to say about how we are to present ourselves.
My study bible defines modesty as propriety in dress, speech or conduct, freedom from conceit or vanity.
Boom, there it is! I was behaving immodestly with my vanity hanging out all over my proper attire as much as the young woman who was dressed immodestly in her tight skirt.
You see, I was raised in a church environment that said you did not walk into the Lord’s house without your Sunday best on. Every week, women wore their best dresses, gorgeous hats, and glowing pearls. Men suffered in their tailored suits, perfectly knotted ties, and freshly polished shoes.
Each Sunday there was a silent parade that streamed into the church, resembling a lavishly odd fashion show rather than a church family gathering to worship the Lord. Parishioners openly looked each other up and down nodding their approval while secretly scoring their neighbors attempt to show off their Sunday best.
Even as a kid it seemed odd to me that our love for the Lord somehow was equated to the size of the hat or the expense of the suit worn. Couldn’t the poor family in the back without the fancy threads love Jesus just as much?
My church and many others had it wrong. God has never been concerned with us presenting to church with the best outfit money could buy but rather clothing ourselves in a gentle, loving spirit. 1 Peter 3:3-5 states:
Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted God and accepted the authority of their husbands. NLT
Now while this passage is talking to women, the next several verses in 1 Peter 3 speak directly to husbands. Nowhere in this passage does it say men must wear a suit and tie. What it does state is for husbands to honor their wives and treat them with understanding. They are called to realize that while women may be physically weaker, their wives are equal partners. Again, this speaks to modesty in temperament versus dress.
But let us get back to women, since after all this is a sisterhood and we are all about lifting each other up in our day to day.
When I think back to the fashion show I witnessed every single Sunday of my youth, I admit there really is nothing wrong with beautiful dresses, adorned hats, or shining pearls. Fast forward to today’s churches, we have basically gone to the exact opposite end of that spectrum. Today, sundresses, shorts, flip flops, and graphically designed t-shirts are more the norm, which is also not a problem to most.
Here are the real questions I think we need to ask. Is our lack of modesty in both dress and demeanor turning off someone who has a longing to seek Christ? More importantly, are we keeping someone from walking into the church because they can’t match our opinion on the proper dress code for Sunday, leaving them to feel that their wardrobe choices voids their ability to love the Lord or even worse for Him to love them?
Are the clothes we wear getting in the way of our directive to lead people to the Lord? Is our attire distracting someone from their Christian walk because we choose to dress in a fashion that may lead to lustful thoughts? How casual is too casual?
How about the other six days of the week? Are we being hypocrites? Do our neighbors see us out to dinner on Saturday night dressed in a manner that leaves hardly anything to the imagination and yet Sunday we wear something resembling a nun’s habit? Or do we dishonor the Lord when we roll into church in an outfit that looks like it’s what we fell asleep in the night before?
Does any of this really matter?
In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul writes this:
And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. NLT
Ladies, Paul is not telling us to wear sackcloth. He is simply saying that as Christians we should not dress or behave in a manner that draws attention to ourselves. Rather we should always act in a manner that draws people to the Lord.
Let’s close by going back one more time to that Sunday when I sat in judgement of that new young couple who walked into church. Was she modestly dressed? No, of course not! But get this, maybe she was an unbeliever seeking Jesus or a fairly new Christian and honestly thought she was wearing her best outfit. Could the gentlemen who accompanied her tidied up a little more? You and I will never know and quite frankly, it is none of our concern. What was important in that moment was that they were in church and that was something to celebrate. Unfortunately, for a moment, I missed that.
I certainly learned my lesson that day. Although I may have been dressed modestly, I did not behave how God expected me to behave. So, take it from me, learning to be modest means working on how to present both our bodies and our demeanor, not one or the other.
My final word – modesty is not a synonym for drab, boring, or submissive. It is a way of living, which brings out our best feature, a gentle and loving spirit. As daughters of God, let’s wisely teach our younger sisters this gift God has given us.
Written by Rhonda Carlsen
All scriptures are from the NLT.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.