Modesty: A Discussion of What Lies Beneath the Clothes (PART 2)

To briefly revisit Part 1 of this discussion, we analyzed a few scriptures, discussed the depth of modesty, and established that modesty is a position of the heart in which an individual is aware of the intrinsic value that he or she possesses and actively stewards that value according to the commands and convictions found in the word of God. While the first part of this series on modesty laid a foundation for the rest of the discussion, this second part will look more to practical applications of what modesty really is and means.

As I suggested before, the concept of modesty, its foundational meaning, has nothing to do with suggestive clothing, but rather everything to do with the heart, with the way that we as individuals view ourselves and present ourselves to the world around us. The original definition of modesty is more closely related to humility and propriety than clothing choice. So, how does a more accurate definition of modesty apply practically to our lives?

Clearing Up the Muddy Water

There are so many articles that deal with individual aspects of modesty, and in doing so, miss the bigger picture. Although these individual discussions deal more in-depth with each aspect, the importance of those various aspects are lost because the reader is unable to see how each one fits into the bigger picture. I’m going to attempt to deal with all of the aspects in one go, although a little less in-depth, and weave them together in a way that completes the bigger picture.

Reminder: From here on out, I will be writing on the basis that modesty is defined as an issue of the heart and not the hem line.

Modesty is all about understanding exactly who and what we are in the eyes of God and presenting that in an accurate way to the world around us. It is all about our heart. Modesty is the words that we choose to say, or refrain from saying, it is the actions that we take or do not take, it shapes everything that we do.

When I read different articles and discussions about modesty, I find that there are 3 overarching themes or parts to modesty:

  1. Lust VS Attraction
  2. The Bikini
  3. Modesty Rules

I want to take each of these in order, break them down as I see them, and then reshape them to fit into the definition of modesty that I presented earlier. I believe that having all three of these aspects presented in a slightly different light and in a more holistic way will bring some clarity and perhaps relief to those struggling with the concept of modesty.

1) Lust VS Attraction

It has been my experience, and the experience of countless others, that lust and attraction are confused and equated within Christian circles. So many teenagers and young adults are misinformed about these two VERY different topics within the walls of a church, and that leads to false guilt and self-condemnation. Lust is not the same as attraction. Let me repeat that, lust is not the same as attraction. Attraction is natural, it is designed by God, and it is good. God wants us to experience attraction, He created it for us to enjoy, it is what draws us into relationship with the opposite sex. It is natural and it is good for you to be attracted to someone of the opposite sex. It is natural and it is good for you to want to kiss someone of the opposite sex. It is natural and it is good for you to experience sexual desire towards someone of the opposite sex. Natural sexual desire IS NOT sinful. The way that we steward our natural, God-blessed, sexual attraction determines whether or not we fall into lust. Lust, at its very core is covetousness. Coveting is obsessively desiring something that you do not have and cannot get. Lust is sexual covetousness. To lust is obsess (sexually) over an individual or a fantasy that started as a healthy and natural sexual desire. Lust is perverted attraction.

A sub-point within the lust vs attraction conversation is the idea of raising children, particularly young men, to be men of integrity. That usually ends at teaching boys and young men to fear attraction and avoid “temptation” at all cost. Integrity means wholeness, it means to be united, whole, complete. To be a person of integrity is to be a unified person. That means that we are consistent across all aspects of our lives (as best as a sinner can be). Having sexual integrity doesn’t mean that a man fears the desires of attraction that he has been blessed with by God or that he must flee every “temptation” by a woman. Integrity in our sexuality means that we steward our sexuality (our natural desires and our tendencies towards lust) in ways that are in keeping with the word of God. It means that we face situations that might be tempting and face them as men, filled with the Spirit of God, and steward our impulses and desires in ways that are holy before our God.

2) The Bikini

This is my “favorite” topic when it comes to conversations on modesty. There are so many discussions about the bikini and whether or not it is appropriate for Christian women to wear. Many times the creation and first appearance of the bikini is cited as being evidence enough for a Christian woman to never wear one again. The bikini is often blamed for being that thing that causes men everywhere to stumble and ‘sin’. So many people ask the question, “What’s the difference between being in a bra and panties and wearing a bikini?” Bible thumpers everywhere love to hammer the bikini with passages on modesty, the body as a temple, passages about stumbling blocks, and passages on lust. Honestly, I want to know what the big deal is. What’s so bad about a bikini? String bikini aside, there is very little difference between a normal bikini and a one-piece bathing suit. The only real difference is that a one-piece covers the stomach and middle and lower back. A one-piece bathing suit still accentuates the breasts and the pelvic area, same as the bikini. In fact, many one-piece suits bathing suits are decorated and designed to draw attention to the natural curvature of a woman’s waist. Regardless of where you might stand on this issue, I think it is important to consider a few things… 1) No matter what type of bathing suit you wear, you cannot prevent a person from lusting after you. If you wear a turtleneck or a two-piece, he will lust if he chooses to. 2) The intentions behind your clothing choices are far more important than what you actually wear. The question is less what are you wearing, and more why are you choosing to wear that? A woman can be more enticing in a form-fitting sweater and tight jeans if she chooses to present her body in an enticing way than if she interacts normally with men wearing a tank top and short-shorts. Presentation is everything. 3) The bikini is not ‘bad’, it is neutral. If you choose to wear one, do so in appropriate settings, give careful consideration to those around you, and select a bikini that is practical for beach activities and suitable for covering your body. If you choose not to wear a bikini, it is not your right to judge anyone who does wear one. They are no less modest than you, and you are no better than they are.

3) Modesty Rules

I have read the stories of many women who experienced certain ‘rules’ pertaining to modesty, rules that made them feel like objects of temptation rather than human beings, rules that made them feel responsible for the safe-guarding and protection of male sexuality, and rules that dictated appropriate and non-appropriate clothing. Let’s be honest, all of those ‘rules’ were laid out with good intentions and probably did some good. Are rules the best way to handle issues like modesty? No.

When women have encountered these modesty rules, they often come as a double-standard, with very strict regulations for women and little more than coddling for the men. Men are told that they are weak sexually and unable to control themselves and women are told that they must be careful not to tempt a man because he is weak. Let me be honest for a moment, if you tell a man he is weak (in any area) long enough, he will believe you and act weak. If you empower him to be strong and to be one who overcomes and to be a good steward, he will thrive in any area of life. Women, you are not responsible for a man’s sexuality. If he cannot control his thoughts when you are wearing a form-fitting shirt, then he was work to do. However, you are responsible for actively and intentionally dressing in ways that are appropriate and practical for what you are doing and where you are going. Wear things that you like, but don’t wear things just to make people (men) look at you. Women, when choosing clothing to wear you have the power to do one of two things, influence a man to see you as a beautiful work of art, as a masterpiece created by God, or to influence him to see you as a sex object, an object to be used, not admired and appreciated. ‘

Going back to the modesty rules, I want to pose a question… Can, or should we, mandate and enforce rules concerning dress across the Christian landscape? Is that the most effective way to spur spiritual growth in those around us? Perhaps, it would be more effective and more beneficial if we issued the challenge to take up the burden of manhood and womanhood and to steward our sexuality and our humanity according to the word of God instead of following a set of rules “because someone said so”.

The Heart

It all comes back to the heart. How we respond to what we see, the clothes that we choose to wear, the conversations we have with others, how we raise our children to think about modesty and integrity and sexuality…it all stems from the condition of our heart. What motivates us to do what we do, say the things we say, or wear what we wear, our need for attention, or our desire to edify others and steward well the humanity that God has blessed us with? Modesty is a condition of the heart, not a measurement of how much skin we show or how tight our clothes are. Modesty is more than what we wear, it is how we choose to present ourselves to the world around us.

Romans 14:5b – “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” (NIV)

Modesty: A Discussion of What Lies Beneath the Clothes (PART 1)

If I were a betting man, I would bet that you have read more than enough blogs posts and articles centered around modesty. It is a BIG topic in the Christian community, bigger than it probably should be. Admittedly, I would be perfectly happy never reading another word about modesty; but here I am, writing my own article about it. I believe that modesty is too broad and too deep of a topic to be dealt with in one post, from one point of view. Having read more articles about modesty than I can count on one hand, I find myself left with several questions, a few objections, and just a little bit of “opinion”. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a scholar, expert, or teacher on modesty, and I don’t write as such. I write as a concerned citizen, as someone who wants to see the body of Christ become a community of individuals who think well and think in a well-rounded way about every issue and discussion point brought to light. With this in mind, I throw in my two pennies.

Beginning At The Beginning

Often times, modesty is discussed or taught as if every listener or reader is familiar with what the term means. Honestly, I don’t think I could give a definition of what modesty is. Merriam-Webster defines modesty as “1) freedom from conceit or vanity” and “2) propriety in dress, speech, or conduct”. I find it intriguing that quite contrary to this definition, every time modesty is brought up, the discussion centers around how little clothing one wears. The above definition never deals with revealing clothing. In fact, a case could be made that it deals more with fanciful dressing than it does suggestive dressing. Ultimately, Merriam-Webster presents modesty as a heart issue, not a hem line issue.

After thumbing through the dictionary, and following suit with other Christians, I quickly grabbed my Bible and began scouring the pages to see what I could find related to modesty. Relating directly to clothing, there are two main verses that deal with modesty in the New Testament, 1 Timothy 2:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4. Let’s stop and take a look at each of these for a moment before moving on to to a few verses that deal more with behavioral modesty.

1 Timothy 2:8-10 (NIV) — “Therefore I want men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV) — “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Hopefully¬† you notice what I notice about the passages (aside from the fact that 1 Timothy is dealing with a worship setting and 1 Peter focuses on the marital relationship), that both of them command women to be known for who they are (their heart, their good deeds and gentle spirit), not for the clothing they wear. Not only do these two scriptures line up with the definition from earlier, they also DO NOT deal with revealing dress, but rather “flashy” dress.

There is really only one other significant verse that is brought up in reference to modesty, and that is 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, which says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (NIV). I can see how, when taken out of context, this verse could be construed as instruction about not wearing revealing clothing; however, reading just one verse above it is very plain that verses 19 and 20 are dealing with sexual immorality, not modesty, and wearing revealing clothing is never considered sexually immoral in the New Testament. At worst, wearing revealing clothing can be called a stumbling block (see Romans 14:1-15). At best, wearing revealing clothing is simply naive or just bad taste.

It’s safe to say that modesty has less to do with clothing choice and a lot more to do with the attitude of ones heart. Modesty is not, and cannot be reduced to the clothing that someone chooses to wear. That reduction undermines the very core of the concept of modesty. No Christian will be denied his or her place in heaven on the basis of how little clothing was worn, but on the condition of that individual’s heart. Matthew 7:21-23 reminds us that it is not our actions in this life, but our relationship with our creator (literally knowing and being known by Him) that determines our eternal residence.

On the other side of the same coin, any person who knows and is known by God cannot continue to live in ways that are not in keeping with the word of God, meaning that you or I cannot purposefully wear clothing that we know is creating temptation for a fellow believer. Modesty is a position of the heart in which an individual is aware of the intrinsic value that he or she possesses and actively stewards that value according to the commands and convictions found in the word of God.

I leave you with this foundation, hoping that it will be an excellent base for the next two parts in this discussion on modesty.

“Same Love”: Macklemore and Christianity

If you haven’t heard the song “Same Love” by Macklemore, you’re missing out on a great song! It is a very simple, yet elegant, and somewhat controversial song. In fact, if you haven’t heard it, or haven’t heard it in a while, here is a link, go check it out. It’s actually pretty important that you are familiar with it, as that song is the focus of this post. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you.

Now that you’re back, what did you think? What thoughts and feelings were sparked in you? Hopefully you found the song to be as challenging and powerful as I did, and still do!

Listening to each line of the song, I find that one of two things happens, either I want to challenge the statements that are made, or I am challenged by the statements that are made. The song is challenging and controversial, it was written that way intentionally. For many, this song will be an anthem, a song of hope and courage; for others, it will possibly be repulsive. I’m not sure where you might find yourself with this song, how you feel about it, what your opinion of it is.

At the outset of the song, the listener is presented with several major topics relating to personal sexual identity and orientation, gender-based stereotypes, sexual predisposition, and theological concerns. Like the young boy, Ben, in the beginning of the song, so many young boys and girls question their sexuality when the interests that they hold fail to line up with the stereotypes set forth by the American culture. Who determines what traits and interests are masculine or feminine? Why should young boys and girls feel pressure to act and think a certain way that may or may not line up with their own interests? A young boy should never have to wonder if he might be gay simply because he likes to draw, keeps his room clean, or likes to play inside instead of outside. Prefering painting or playing piano instead of playing football does not make a boy less masculine, and likewise, loving sports and outdoor recreation (such as hunting or fishing) does not make a girl less feminine. Masculinity and femininity, in the essence of the words relate solely to biological and physical traits common with each gender. Beyond that, personality or behavioral traits are generalities at best. For a nation that puts so much emphasis on the individual, it’s odd that there is pressure to conform to very specific gender roles. It’s like being told “you can be yourself as long as you look, talk, and act like this”.

Throughout the growth of the gay rights movement, predisposition (the concept of being born either ‘gay’ or ‘straight’) has been a dominant avenue for explainging or justifying homosexual desires and tendencies, and in response, many conservative circles, including the Christian community, have responded with attempts to “treat” the gay, to cure them, with religion or other means. While not impossible, the likelihood of an individual being born with a predisposition towards homossexuality is extremely rare. Genetically, biologically, and chemically, men are wired to desire women, and vice versa. Homosexual attraction cannot be a natural occurence for the simple fact that it is not conducive to procreation. Following the concept of evolution for a moment, humans should be changing (evolving) into something better than what they are now (afterall, evolution suggests that we progressed from primates). If in fact, humanity is evolving, or progressing from one form to another, homosexuality is the opposite of that, a digression, because superior genetics cannot be passed down through natural procreation. The only way to justify a predisposition to homosexuality is to acknowledge that there is a sentient being, a Creator, a God, who formed mankind into perfect beings with specific intentions. However, in rebellion, mankind gave up its perfection and became broken within, his spirit and body disconnected. This brokeness marred the natural and created wiring within each individual, allowing for the possibility for an individual to be born gay.

Macklemore closes the verse with the statement that “‘God loves all His children’ is somehow forgotten”. He is right, too often Christians forget that the God they believe loves every individual that has, is, and will live on this planet. He loves them regardless of their skin color, vocation, and sexual orientation. The Bible states that God loved the world (the people of this world more specifically, every individual) so much that He sent his son to make a way, that mankind might be reunited with his creator (John 3:16). It also states that “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The Christian community should focus less on condemning the world for its shortcomings, and more on partnering with the world to develop and strengthen those weak areas.

Later on, in the second verse, Macklemore equates the gay rights movement with the civil rights movement, even stating that the right to be gay is a human right, a natural right, perhaps a constitutional right. The civil rights movement fought for equality among those who were genetically and biologically equal. Biologically, a man is a man, regardless of his hair color, eye color, or skin color. The civil rights movement was about affirming the equality that already existed. The gay rights movement fights simply for freedom of choice. It does not fight for the affirmation of natural equality.

One of the most powerful lines from this verse says “If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.” These two sentences should be a reminder for the Christian community to be dilligent in teaching love, grace, mercy, and redemption. If a Christian claims to follow Christ, it is imperative that he live in a way that mirrors Him. Christians (literally, “little Christs”) cannot claim to represent Christ yet live in a way that directly contradicts the very things that He did and stood for.

The final verse ends the song with a call to action, a call to open-mindedness, to unity. The listener is encouraged, challenged to take a stand for equality, for everyone to have the right to express love as they understand it. Many Christians might cringe at the content of this verse, but it presents a healthy challenge and raises some deep questions. It’s inevitable that gay marriage will be legalized in the future. Society and rights groups push for it, and slowly the lawmakers are succeeding in passing bills to support it. This leaves the Christian community with a few options; resist, submit, or accept. Many Christians will resist these laws and speak out, passing judgement and criticism on the gay community and the practice of homosexuality. Others will submit, somehow attempting to reconcile homosexuality with their theology, hoping to make it fit into the religious beliefs they hold. The third group will accept. They will realize the deep and devastating implications of these new laws, yet they will respond with love for their neighbor, accepting those that hold different, and sometimes opposing beliefs for who they are and showing them the unconditional love of Christ. When asked what the greatest command in the whole Old Testament was, Jesus responded that it was to love God, and that the second was like it, love our neighbor as ourselves. When a Christian loves God and loves his neighbor, the world is given a glimpse of the One who seeks to save.

 

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Coming Soon!

Looking for some fresh reads? Here is a list of articles to keep an eye out for over the next few weeks:

1) “Same Love”: Macklemore and Christianity

2) (Series) Modesty: A Discussion of What Lies Beneath the Clothes

3) Love, Sex, and Dating: Fresh Perspectives on a Youth Pastor’s “Favorite” Topic

I look forward to bringing you fresh ideas and perspectives and am excited to receive your feedback!

Would You Like to Dance?

I believe we are all familiar with that scene in many movies, where the nerdy, overweight, uncool, or just plain ugly guy steps through the crowd and asks the girl who is clearly out of his league that infamous question… “Would you like to dance?” The answer, which we are also just as familiar with, quickly follows in the form of a “no” and lots of laughter.

This time, I’m that guy, asking you to dance, to step out onto the dance floor for one or two songs, to allow me to step on your toes, and asking you to inevitably step on mine.

Admittedly, I’m a terrible dancer. However, since this blog and this post has nothing to do with dancing, that’s okay!

I believe that living life is a lot like learning to dance, in that we start out struggling to find the rhythm and remember the steps. With time, we start to figure things out and are able to sense the next steps coming and even add to the basics. Eventually, we have mastered the dance well enough that we can begin to teach others and lead a little more.

This blog is where I begin to do that, to share what I am learning, to hear what you have learned, and where I continue to master the basics. Perhaps I will teach you something, but most likely I’ll learn from you.

At this point, the question still stands… “Would you like to dance?”

If you say yes, expect me to step on your toes. Expect raw, expect real, expect honest. Expect a little ‘faith’ and ‘belief’. Expect my opinions, even when they miss the mark.

 

I’m ready to dance, are you?