A Modest Misunderstanding

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I do not wish to bring up controversial topics for the sake of bringing up controversial topics. I’ve had my fair share of arguments that go nowhere. I do not wish to seek that out. But I’ve been seeing a lot about a certain topic lately, and I think it’s important to understand it correctly because until we do, we will continue to do more harm than good.

I’m talking about modesty. There is a plethora of quotes, books, and talks about the topic. Some are good. Some are not so good. It’s a very tricky subject that we often have a difficult time defining. We ask, “What is modest?” “How do I know what crosses the line?” “Is [insert clothing item here] modest or immodest?” The list goes on.

All of these questions miss the point. Modesty should not be about a laundry list of items to do or not do. Modesty is an attitude of the heart.

I know I bring this up a lot, but I’m going to point you back to John 13:34-35 and Philippians 2:3-8:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35, ESV)

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8, ESV)

Here we see that Jesus commands us to love others as He has loved them, and we see that He loved in a way that was completely selfless, considering others to be more significant than Himself. That is an attitude. When we consider others’ needs to be greater than ours, we naturally serve them. This is what God is doing in us – He is changing our hearts and our will to be a servant’s heart and a servant’s will, seeking to serve others and show them the love that God has already shown them through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.

This is the thing about modesty. If we preach to non-Christians to be modest, they aren’t going to listen. They don’t understand or know about the love of Christ. That comes first. Changed behavior follows a changed heart. If we shout at them, “Change your clothes!” You’re not being modest!” and slam them with a bunch of doctrine and theology supporting our point, they’re going to turn away and then probably be hurt by the Church for a very, very long time. So the solution is not to tell the whole world to be modest. That’s legalism, and it doesn’t win people over to Christ. Only the grace of God does that.

However, as Christians, we have a different understanding of humans and God and our purpose here on earth. Our purpose is not to avoid sin, but to love others by serving, just as Jesus did. Serving others means putting their needs above our own. It means putting ourselves in a position of humility, humbly looking for opportunities to meet everyone else’s needs. Jesus did so by actually dying. That’s how serious he was about serving. And when he tells us to “love others, just as I loved you,” well then, that shows us how He wants to shape our attitudes to be.

Modesty is not a line on a checklist we can mark off when we wear one-piece swimming suits or refrain from wearing yoga pants. Modesty is an attitude of selflessness.

When we make intentional choices to cover up our body, it’s more than just respecting ourselves – it’s about respecting others as well. Humans are plagued by lust. It’s just a fact in this sinful world we live in. When we practice modesty, we’re not saying, “I value my body so I’m covering it up.” What we’re saying is, “I understand that someone may struggle with lust, so I’m doing my best to help them and protect their heart.”

With this in mind, we can look at clothing a bit differently. If one of my guy friends is going to have a really hard time with me wearing, let’s say, a tank top, then I should be mindful of his needs. I can wear a t-shirt and be just as comfortable. Yes, I can choose to wear the tank top. I can exercise my right of free will. That’s not a sin. But my attitude totally stinks. I’m basically saying to my friend, “Yooo I don’t care what you think or how difficult your struggle with lust is,” which, essentially, is me telling him that I don’t care about him or love him. I’m telling him he’s not worth my time or efforts to serve him in even the smallest of ways. That’s a really bad attitude. But if I make conscious choices in my apparel, I’m telling my brother in Christ, “I love you and I care about your struggle! I want to be here to help support you in any way I can!”

It’s no longer about the respect I hold for myself. It’s no longer about him carrying the weight of his temptation alone. I am there to help him and serve him. And see, this is where our sin nature fights. We don’t want to give up our rights. We don’t want someone to be more important than us. But to be servants of Christ, that’s where our mindset should be. That is how God is remolding us to be.

I’m not arguing that we all wear plastic bags or hide ourselves away in our rooms and lock the doors. In a perfect world, we could all wear whatever we want and everything would be a-okay. But because we have the reality of sin, we have to look at it differently. Guys lust because of sin. Girls lust because of sin. We all lust. It’s a by-product of the curse. We all face temptation and sin. It’s important that we realize that and be supporting, encouraging, and serving of people and their needs.

It’s really difficult. Our first instinct is to cater to ourselves, not abandon ourselves for the sake of Christ. And that’s what it comes down to. We have to have a change of attitude. Only God can do that, but once he changes our desires, it’s a lot easier to let go of the things we held onto so tightly. We must remember that we are not here to serve our own purposes, but God’s. We must be willing to have a changed heart and be willing to desire God’s desires and not our own selfish ones.

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