Coming soon to TodaysChristianWoman.com—a beautiful new design. Get an early look

Jump directly to the content
Guest | Limited Access

Subsciber access onlyarticle preview

Available to TCW subscribers only. or subscribe now.

The Real Meaning of Modesty

(Hint: It's not about sexual temptation)

No First PageNo Previous PagePage 1 of 4Next PageLast Page

The tall woman in jeans and heavy eye makeup was wild-eyed and frantic. She carried a yellow legal pad with extensive notes scrawled in blue ballpoint pen, and couldn't wait to sit down with the pastor—who was my husband, Tim—and me to share what was on her mind.

"Women must dress modestly," she began. "Modesty is disappearing in our culture and it is up to Christians to uphold it." Then she started reading Bible verses off her legal pad and readying herself to deliver a passionate sermon.

"Wait, hold on," Tim said when the woman showed no signs of slowing or stopping what was turning into a rant. "What is it that you're concerned about? What do you want to discuss with us?"

He had a vague idea of what it might be because, several weeks before, this woman had loudly rebuked a female member of our church for being "inappropriately dressed" (which was entirely debatable).

As it happened, the woman wanted to discuss the dress I had worn to church the previous Sunday.

As it happened, the woman wanted to discuss the dress I had worn to church the previous Sunday. It was long enough, she said. (I hope so, as it touched the tops of my sandals!) But because I was wearing a denim jacket over it, she suspected it might be strapless. And that would be unacceptable.

"It has straps," I said, "but even if it was strapless, I didn't take off my jacket." (I was 21 years old at the time, which, I hope, partly explains why I felt the need to justify myself when I'd clearly done nothing wrong.)

"Doesn't matter. I couldn't tell that it wasn't strapless," she insisted.

The conversation became even less reasonable from there, and it is perhaps unnecessary to note that it did not end very well.

Defining modesty

One point that my husband and I tried to make in our conversation with the woman was this: What is considered "modest" (or not) depends on your social and cultural context. Many Christian communities, for example, might find the woman's jeans and makeup inappropriate. (Consider what the early church father Tertullian had to say about makeup: "Whatever is born is the work of God. Whatever, then, is plastered on that, is the devil's work.")

The woman, however, was baffled that the Bible verses she'd brought did not make absolutely clear to us—and to everyone—what did and did not constitute modesty for everyone and for all time: in other words, a universal standard of modesty.

article preview

This article is currently available to TCW subscribers only.

To Continue Reading:

Sign up for TCW's free e-newsletter, Lifework with Diane Paddison, for biweekly updates and encouragement for women who desire to pursue God through their calling and career.
From Issue:
Today's Christian Woman, 2014, May Week 4
Posted May 28, 2014

read these next

for further study

Downloadable resources to go deeper
Your Guide to Sexual Satisfaction

Your Guide to Sexual Satisfaction

God's plan for sex is multidimensional-here's how to move past making pleasure your goal to seek a more intimate connection with your spouse.
(TCWStore.com)
Living Water

Living Water

A three-session Bible study designed to quench your soul thirst and invite others in.
(TCWStore.com)
Practicing Contentment

Practicing Contentment

In our culture, we have more, but seem to enjoy life less. Here are tips on how to foster deep, counter-cultural contentment in your life.
(TCWStore.com)
Sexual Temptation

Sexual Temptation

Desire happens. Here's how to keep a misled God-given desire from ruining our lives.
(TCWStore.com)
Today's Christian Woman
The Real Meaning of Modesty