Solving the 'M' word

As part of the changes that we’re making to Walking Worthy are plans to regularly post series of articles. Today we’re posting the first article of a brand new series we’re calling “Modesty & Propriety”. An article will be posted for this series every Sunday. Please do read what we have to say, discuss the various issues raised and take part in this as we’d love your feedback. This is the first of our articles:

Modesty. What does that word make you think of? Do you picture a woman in hideous cloth which covers her from head to toe? Or do you think of modesty as being shy or polite? In different versions of the Bible we see words used to describe modesty. The words modesty, decency, propriety, self-control, moderation, proper clothing and discreet are used.  My dictionary describes modesty as, among other things, ‘humility expressed through dress’. So modesty is being humble in what we wear.

As pastor C. J. Mahaney says, ‘Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes that are extravagant or sexually enticing. It is a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality. Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short shirt or low-cut top: it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.’ By serving others and not drawing attention to ourselves we are actually serving God.

As you know, the Bible forbids pride. This is important as we decide what to wear. How can we be truly humble through our dress? Mahaney continues, ‘Any Biblical discussion on modesty begins by addressing the heart, not the hemline.’ I won’t condemn you for the inches of skin you show, or the length of your skirts. But I will tell you why modesty is Biblical. Here are five reasons why it is wrong to be immodest.

1. It is disobedience

The Bible clearly states that we are to be modest. 1 Timothy 2:9 says …in like manner also that the women adorn themselves in modest dress, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing’. Paul is not saying that you cannot wear jewellery or plait your hair. Rather he is showing that we are not to wear clothes that draw attention to ourselves by being showy, glamorous, ostentatious or revealing.

1 Peter 3:3-4 says you are not to let your adornment be merely outward;…rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God’. We are not to be so focused on the clothes that we wear that we forget what our inner beauty should be like. You might protest, If people are to look at my inner beauty, then aren’t they just being frumpy and “holier-than-thou” by looking at what I wear?’ Yes, we should not judge people by their clothes, although it can be tempting to do so (James 2:1-7).  But you show your inner beauty by dressing modestly.

Of course, modesty is only one characteristic of inner beauty; Martha Peace says, Godly women reflect reverence in their behaviour by dressing in a manner that is not sensual, provocative, masculine or excessively gaudy and ostentatious. Instead their adornment is their good works, gentle hearts and quiet spirits. We are to dress to please and honour Him. 1 Corinthians 6:20 tells us,You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.

2. It is Inconsiderate
Men and women are different in many ways, including in the areas of temptation they struggle with. Men are tempted by what they see and try to complete the seen picture.  We need to respect people’s weaknesses and temptations. Philippians 2:4 says, ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.’  Wearing a blouse with an extra low neckline may not seem like a big deal to you, but imagine the temptation and distraction you can cause to another believer. Romans 14:13 warns, Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.’ Hebrews 10:24 tells us to ‘consider how to stir up one another to love and good works’. How can you do that if you are stirring up sexual desire in your brothers? Men face such battles and this is to be a concern. Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, states ‘It is time to start seeing other peoples’ purity as our responsibility. Ask yourself, does the way in which I dress encourage him to be pure in his thought life?’

‘But,’ you say, Isn’t that their problem? Shouldn’t men guard their thoughts?’ To an extent that is true; we all need to exercise self-control. But surely, if we as women can do anything to stop our brothers in Christ from stumbling into sin, we should seek to do it. Ask yourself this, Am I in any way in the manner of my dress putting an occasion of stumbling before one of my brothers in Christ?

Luke 17:1-3 says this, ‘Jesus said, “Things that cause a person to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.’ God looks seriously on sins we tempt others to commit. Purity of motives does not cancel the effects of our appearance. If you are unsure about clothes that are modest, or likely to lead others astray, then check your outfit over with your dad or brothers. They are men and know what struggles are faced.

A young man pursuing purity once wrote to women, ‘And to the girls who don’t follow the pattern of the world: thank you a million times over. You are following Scripture’s commands and are helping your brothers in the process.
3. Modesty protects you

As said, men are tempted by what they see. Not all men are pure in heart and mind, and sinful desire is evident in the world around us. In her book, A Return to Modesty, Wendy Shalit shows that women who dress modestly earn respect from men. She writes, ‘Modesty creates a realm that is secure from an increasingly competitive and violent public…[Modesty gives] women freedom to walk in the street without having to fear being harassed…the first thing modesty protects is a certain vulnerability.’

We are vulnerable. Men want to satisfy their lust, and if we, as Christian women, dress immodesty then we are ‘offering’ ourselves to the sinful men of this world. There is so much pornography around. It is cited as a major contributory factor to sexual assault/rape etc. If you want to marry a godly man, showing yourself to the world in this sinful way is not going to keep you pure or reserve your body for your husband alone. We do not want to attract the kind of man who has no bridle on his lust.
Megan Dutil, co-editor of Bloom!, explains, …we are saving ourselves for our husbands. [By dressing modestly]…we are protecting ourselves from the guys who would seek to use us to satisfy their own sinful desires. We are saving ourselves for the kind of guy who is striving for purity with us and will protect us, not use us.

4. Immodesty shows pride and self-importance.

By dressing immodestly you are giving the impression that looking good is a bigger priority than pleasing Christ, that fitting in with the world is better than keeping men's thoughts pure. If you dress immodestly you are not only putting yourself first but you are being too proud to dress differently.

Many girls argue, I might not be modest, but I dress so much better than everyone else. I don’t reveal as much as her. Don’t seek affirmation by doing as the world does. The editor of Bloom!, Jessina Leonard, says, God will not say to you on judgement day “Were you more modest than everyone else in the world? NO! He is going to hold me accountable for how I lived up to his standards…and we are serving our brothers in Christ. Yes, it’s challenging. It is annoying sometimes. Galatians 1:10 says, …am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
The apostles said, ‘We must obey God rather than men. Do not let worldly expectations get in the way of serving God and our fellow Christians.

5. Immodesty reflects poorly on and distracts from the Gospel

If non-Christians see the way we dress, will they see Christ in our lives?  If we are so similar to them in our dress that no difference is seen then something is wrong. Mahaney says, The gospel is the motivation for modest dress. Make this your aim: That there be no contradiction between your gospel message and the clothes you wear. May your dress be a humble witness to the One who gave Him as a ransom for all.

Think about the impression your clothes give. What do they say about your attitude (this means dirty, scruffy, or deliberately dowdy as well; they displease Him also)? Are they God- glorifying? As one author states, We are ambassadors of the King of Kings! Is our appearance a credit to him? Are you drawing men’s eyes from Christ, towards worldly desires? Consider the effect your clothes have.

Please realise that God designed the female body to be attractive to men. Finding someone attractive is not wrong in itself, but sexual attraction is to be given an outlet in marriage. It is important that only your husband is to see his wife in all her gloryA tip from Skeet Savage (editor of An Encouraging Word) is, ‘If it causes men with carnal appetites to ogle and lust, it is immodest. Likewise if it causes godly men to have to turn their eyes away, it is immodest.’ Friends, please consider the plea that I put before you: dress to please God and serve other Christians. If you have any comments/questions/disagreements on this subject, I would be delighted to hear from you and help you if I can.

Elspeth McLachlan


  1. Thanks for posting this. Really good and very helpful. :) I subscribe to Ww so read most of the posts but this one has been a joy and a lesson. God Bless.. Timmy

  2. Interesting article, Elspeth, thank you! I thought your fifth reason was very interesting; people hardly ever talk about modesty actually protecting a girl and I think lots of girls don't realise that the way they dress asks for the wrong kind of attention.

    As girls, I think we have to be very careful when we buy clothes. So many clothes, it seems, are designed to be provocative and revealing, even if they are technically 'decent'. I always run an item of clothing past my father (even when my mother and I agree it's fine and looks nice), because as a man he can tell me if it's sending the wrong message, which as a girl I might not even have thought of!

    I liked the fact that you touched on dressing shabbily and without care not being glorifying to God. It's true but, with the world bombarding you with inapropriate messages and saying you should spend a lot of time and money on clothing and eccessories, it's very tempting to say that you're not going to do *any* of it! I think that God has given girls a natural desire and almost an obligation to look nice and take care of their appearances ... although not immodest, I wouldn't say slouching around in old jeans and hoodies isn't sending the greatest message. :-)

  3. I was just talking this over with my mother and I thought I'd add something she thought you might find helpful. :-) She's been reading a book called "Beautiful Woman, A Practical Guide to Spiritual Beauty" by Anne Ortland. (This is still in print.) One of the chapters is called 'Your Looks' where Mrs Ortland is talking about how we need to take care of our bodies to be most effective in the Kingdom.

    She looks at Proverbs 31 and points out that of 22 verses, one verse only is about how the Woman of Valour looked physically. Mrs Ortland uses this two ways. 1, *only* one verse talks about physical beauty and therefore we shouldn't spend too much time over it. 2, a whole verse is used to show that looking after yourself is an important part of a rounded character.

    So Mrs Ortland suggests that we shouldn't spend more time than we need to on buying clothes or have an over-abundance of outfits - but we should keep everything in good order so that we can find things quickly and look nice for our husbands (or fathers!) and when we go out.

    That might be a diversion from modesty but perhaps can you be modereate and modest about how you are modest?

  4. Very good article Elspeth! Is this the one you sent to me not too long ago? I enjoyed reading it.

    I'm not going to really post what I feel about this subject... as I have already done that. :)

    I do like what was said about modesty, the way one dresses (as far as women) is protecting herself. Wearing tight, form fitting clothing, is a good way to get yourself into trouble!



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