As a home schooling mom, modesty is a topic that comes up on a regular basis. Because I have boys, I haven’t paid as much attention to the discussion as I probably should have. Much of the time, the discussion on modesty centers around what girls (or even grown women) should or should not wear. There are so many opinions on this. Everything from shoulders to knees covered! No tight clothing! Nothing low-cut or too short! No spaghetti straps!!!! And absolutely NO underwear should EVER be visible.
While I certainly see the benefits of discussing the practical application of modest dressing, There seems to me to be a significant element missing from these discussions. For all our concern about how our society is dressing, are we not equally concerned about the heart issues involved? If our daughters are clothed from nose to toes, but inside they are counting off the days until they are free from our rules and restrictions, what are we teaching them?
When it comes to obedience and my children, I want them to listen to me and obey me. But I don’t want simply outward obedience. I don’t want them to toe the line and hop to while inside their hearts and minds they are angry and resentful. When my children argue over toys, I want them to learn to share, not just because it’s wrong to grab things from others, but because if they love each other they will seek the best for each other. It’s a heart issue. And from my studies in Scripture I have learned that the heart is very important. This is not to say that outward obedience isn’t important, just that the heart matters too.
In reading the Scripture verses that deal with modesty and clothing, I noticed something. First, I noticed that Scripture gives very little by way of specifics as to what modest clothing looks like. Second, I noticed that Scripture speaks more about what might be termed “inner beauty.” (Again, I want to be clear that I am not disagreeing with those who see the need to address the practical issues related to dressing with modesty.) Here are three passages that address women specifically.
1 Timothy 2:8-10
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 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, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
While we could certainly get into a debate about whether women should braid their hair or wear jewelry, I think the point Paul is making here is that godly women should not worry so much about their outward appearance, but they should concern themselves with living godly lives. Our love for God and His love for us should make us care more about what He thinks of us and less about what the world around us thinks.
This is a very freeing concept. Women and girls who know that they are loved by God, not for anything they’ve done or anything they are, but solely because He has chosen to love them, are freed from the constant struggle for acceptance by the world. The world says you aren’t thin enough or pretty enough to be loved. God says that He loved you before the foundation of time. So much so, that He sent His Son to die for the sins of His beloved children. How wonderful is that!
1 Peter 3:3-4
3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
Here is another example of Paul speaking to external versus internal adornment. He speaks of the “hidden person of the heart” and “imperishable beauty.” What a beautiful goal to set for ourselves and our daughters! To seek to adorn ourselves with a “gentle and quiet spirit” is something to aspire to for all of our lives. When we focus on developing an inner beauty that does not fade with time, we will find that our priorities and goals in life will change. Dressing “sexy” or “provocatively” to get attention will not hold the same allure. Our sons, too, will learn to value women not simply for their outward appearance, if we teach them look for the qualities that God finds precious. Which brings me to my last passage of Scripture:
Proverbs 31: 25-26, 30-31
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.
Proverbs 31 gives us a wonderful picture of a godly woman as she goes about her daily life. She is a model of virtue and industry. The passage doesn’t deal specifically with modesty, as such, but it does give us insight into what qualities we should pursue as women and should look for in potential spouses as men. Here is the most clear warning against trusting in external beauty. Of course, there is much physical beauty in the world, and we should appreciate it as a gift from the Creator. I’m not suggesting that we should seek to be homely. My point is that the characteristics that God desires for us to pursue include wisdom and kindness and dignity and strength and most especially fear of the Lord.
When we consider modesty and how to encourage our children to be modest, I think we would do well to address the issues of the heart as well as how to dress.