Without reading more than the title, I’m sure that you immediately thought about women’s clothing.
Modesty has been discussed and debated ad nauseum in church circles without (on many occasions) arriving at a conclusive end. This article strives to shed light on the other aspects of the issue that are either rarely considered or perhaps largely unknown by the average Christian.
The Right Motive for Modesty
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never instructs a woman to dress modestly in order to temper men's lust.
In I Timothy 2:9, Paul advises women to “adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly … if they profess to worship God". There is absolutely no mention of doing it to help men not to lust. The same author who instructs women to dress modestly is the exact same author who instructs older men to "encourage the young men to be self-controlled" (Titus 2:6). A man's lust is a result of his lack of self-control, not her dressing.
A woman should be instructed to dress modestly as an act of worship to God. Her body is inherently precious since she’s made in the image of the all-powerful, almighty God. To reflect God’s nature in any way is a tremendous honour, and therefore her body deserves to be treated (and dressed) honourably.
She should also be reminded that she is a daughter of the Most High King, so any man who wants to see (far less touch) any erogenous part of her body must earn that incredible privilege through nothing less than giving her the rest of his life in unwavering, exclusive commitment in marriage.
Covering her body in modest dress speaks to the majesty of the God that her body shares the glory of reflecting.
Helping men not to lust is a positive side-effect, not the main purpose, of modest dressing. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33). But to strive to assuage men's lust more than to worship and honour God with her body is to place the former on a higher level of significance than the latter. And anything - I mean anything, even good, noble, moral things - that is prioritized more than honouring God is a form of idolatry.
Modesty in Men
Modern understanding of the concept of modesty suffers from a painfully narrow focus in Christian circles. It is limited not only to clothing but to women’s clothing, even though a cursory exploration of the original language reveals far deeper truth and meaning.
As explained by Meggie Cotonethal in her Desiring God article, “Modesty Misunderstood”, the original word used in I Timothy 2:9 is ‘kosmios’, a Greek word, which means well arranged, proper, respectable.
It is the same word that Paul uses later on in I Timothy 3:2 when he addresses men, insisting that “an overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable (kosmios), hospitable, able to teach.”
The English word “cosmos” is derived from kosmios. Think about the cosmos: They draw you in, almost helplessly, to gaze upon their grandeur and spectacular beauty. They have an unparalleled presence in the night sky. Their raw, powerful, elegance is unquestioned and uncontested. They command attention with their mere existence.
That is how both men and women should operate, in their behaviour and their dress respectively. Men (particularly those in church leadership) are called to conduct themselves in such a manner that others inside and outside the church would gaze upon them in awe and respect.
How he manages and controls himself in any situation (sexual, financial, social, etc) should capture the interest and admiration of those around him. Likewise, women should clothe themselves in such a way that their presence (not just physical appearance) should draw others in.
The cosmos also speaks to the significance of the order of things. Our best astronauts are only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding the highly complex systems in our galaxy.
If even one star were to slip out of orbit, there would be darkness because they’re too far away to emit light we can see, or scorching heat from being too close to our planet, or disruptions in our atmosphere and natural environment that could lead to starvation and death. The potential consequences of a star out of alignment are catastrophic. Nevertheless, avoiding these consequences is not the primary purpose of a star’s existence. The purpose of a star is to shine.
The Bible turns ……
In this and many issues, the Bible turns natural logic on its head. Modesty, not raunchy dressing or uncouth behavior, is what really turns heads. Modesty is what truly commands attention, not to you or your worldly accomplishments, but to the Light that lives within you.
May both men and women return to the original purpose of modesty – to honour God in their conduct and dress, to reflect His supreme glory is how they use and dress their bodies, and to shine bright in a dark world.
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica thus far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. In January 2021, Kacy launched Caribbean Christian Response, an online movement that reviews the news from a biblical worldview and gathers millennials across the region to pray together and seek God’s heart on these issues.