Monday, June 2, 2014

Do You Profess Godliness?

by Betty Jackson

Recently I was asked some questions about modesty and the biblical condemnation of sensuality. I appreciated the attitude of the one seeking to do the right thing. It is for those like her that this article is written, hoping that it will appeal to honest hearts who are eager to apply the biblical directives for daily life. First, we will study the information, then provide some practical applications.

The Bible does discuss the attire of women. In 1 Timothy 2:9 we are instructed to dress modestly. The term “modest” reflects the extremes of extravagant overdressing to the point of ridiculousness, and underdressing in provocative clothing. Note this partial quote on 1 Timothy 2:9-10 from the Expositor’s Bible Commentary

“‘You are Christian women.... This profession you have made known to the world. It is necessary, therefore, that those externals of which the world takes cognizance should not give the lie to your profession. And how is unseemly attire, paraded at the very time of public worship, compatible with the reverence which you have professed? Reverence God by reverencing yourselves; by guarding with jealous care the dignity of those bodies with which He has endowed you....’” 

The author’s vocabulary is more formal than ours; but the point is clear, what we wear should not void our profession of being a Christian. Other commentators point out that the verses cited include one’s general deportment as well as attire. One can act immodest, even when properly clothed.

What Is Lasciviousness?

In some passages the word sensual is the same word translated elsewhere as lasciviousness. What is lasciviousness or sensuality? Since the New Testament was written in Koine Greek (the common language of that time), it may be helpful to consult some scholarly works for a clearer idea of its meaning. It has been defined as: “unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence” (Thayer: 

Burton Coffman comments upon the word where it is used in 2 Corinthians 12:21. It reflects “all kinds of misconduct and defiance of public decency” (James Burton Coffman, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:21,

“It is the insolence that knows no restraint, that has no sense of the decencies of things, that will dare anything that wanton caprice demands, that is careless of public opinion and its own good name so long as it gets what it wants” (William Barclay’s Daily Bible Study.
Besides indecent public display, there is an attitude of rebellion included in the word. When women wear clothing that is indecent, after being thoroughly taught, it seems they are displaying the insolence or disregard for God and godly public opinion. It is the attitude, “I will wear whatever I please, regardless of what anyone says.”

Proverbs 7 warns the young man to be cautious of the woman “with the attire of a harlot” (vs. 10). Even in the days of Solomon, women could dress in a way as to lure men. Likely, the attire of many today is much worse than those prostitutes! Clothing does matter.

It is doubtful than many would disagree with the fact that immodesty is rampant every where, including worship services. Some believe that all women who dress immodestly are wanting men to look at them in an unholy admiring way. That is probably an overstatement, because style often dictates to women who do not think about how clothing defines them. I suppose one may not realize the effect that the female body has upon men. The spiritual woman wants to be known for her head, heart and godliness. The common fashion of the day does not profess those things. Clothes are low cut, tight, short, and see through. Cleavage is not a word commonly used in public among delicate-speaking people. Yet, cleavages are seen every day in the public arena. Modesty is paramount for the woman who claims to be a Christian (1 Timothy 2:9-10). 

How Does One Dress Modestly?

How can one apply the lessons taught in scripture about modesty? Use a mirror! Use your own conscience, guided by the Bible. If you have even a twinge of conscience about the immodesty of what you are about to wear before others, don’t wear it. Take note of other women who dress in a godly way. You may have different tastes in colors and style, and that is fine. 

There are lines that may be a matter of personal judgment. However, immodesty is when the fullness or cleavage of one’s breasts shows above the neckline, if too much chest (even the “flat” chest) is revealed, if a sweater is so tight that it reveals every outline of the body, or is of thin fabric revealing the underlying breast (check the mirror), if slacks or skirts fit like a glove — clinging to every line, or the garment is short, showing too much leg (look in a mirror!). (Cf. Exodus 28:42; Isaiah 47:1-3.) 

Also, you must remember that clothing moves when you move. Standing upright and still does not always determine modesty as you bend over or sit down. Try moving around to see how that skirt pulls up or the blouse shows your chest or backside as you bend over. (Use the mirror!) Don’t be lazy about searching for modest clothing, or ideas for how to make what you have modest. Seek help from a sister who sews if you must. 

Some may agree that one must be modest; but they compartmentalize about where to be modest. Certain events and places are considered exempt from the requirements of modesty. But immodesty in any public place is not beautiful to God. True beauty is precious to Him when we wear a meek and quiet spirit and clothing that matches our profession of godliness (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Paul dreaded a visit to the city of Corinth, “I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier, and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced” (2 Corinthians 12:21). Would the good apostle mourn the sensual way so many Christians dress and act, if he visited us? It is frightening to note that the list of works of the flesh that will keep us out of heaven includes sensuality or lasciviousness. (Cf. Gal. 5:19.)  Are we risking condemnation by Jesus for what we wear?

Love does not tempt another to sin. As Rick Brumback said, “God does nothing to lure man into sin... If we are to be like our Father, we should be certain that we never tempt others to lust and sin either.”  (See James 1:13-15.) We have the responsibility to acknowledge the reality that a person could entice another to lust. We show a lack of love when we violate the biblical requirements of true modesty. (See: Matthew 5:27-28; 1 John 4:7-8.) 

Show others that you have a special dignity in contrast to the women described in 2 Timothy 3:6. Influence is powerful. A woman who demonstrates purity and modesty can bring the word of God to her mate and others by her life (1 Peter 3:1-4). Let us let our lights shine as women whose lives declare we are sisters of King Jesus (Matthew 5:15-16; Hebrews 2:11-17; Revelation 17:14).

Recommended Reading

Barclay, William. 1956. “The Letters to the Corinthians,” The Daily Bible Study Series. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:21, p. 296.
Brumback, Rick. To Disrobe or Not to Disrobe.
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:1.” Expositor's Bible Commentary.

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  1. Beautifully said! My husband and I often have this discussion on the way home from worship, when he had to avert his eyes while serving on the Lord's table, or given a teenage girl his jacket to put over her lap so that he can teach the teen class and not worry about where his attention, or the attention of the other males in the room is focused! He will be using this article in class ;). One mom came to me recently wondering how to fight this battle with her preteen. Other than refusing to buy immodest apparel for the daughter and teaching the reason, she really should have fought this battle when the child was a toddler. I'm afraid she has already lost the war :(

  2. Perhaps an approach could be with such a young girl is helping her to find cute clothes for her age. A positive approach is sometimes better than a battle. Of course the bottom line is.. don't buy them. Find teachable moments, before shopping.