Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Modesty Defined

Our dress is definitely an important topic and should be considered serious enough to take it before the Lord. It is obvious that the Church body universally has wrestled with this issue and we can see some pretty amazing extremes—the Amish for example—creating rules as to even the color and cut of a woman’s garment. There are a many standards (sometimes conflicting) that have arisen through recent years and been touted as biblical. Some people quietly hold them to themselves, while others boldly proclaim that all Christians should dress a certain way—defining modesty to be a length of skirt or length of sleeve or closed toe shoes, etc. It is obvious, that in these cases, the danger doesn’t lie in being immodest…if you are fully covered in a loosely fitted garment you are definitely in the safe zone there. The danger lies elsewhere. Personal standards, preferences, and convictions are one thing. Using the word “biblical” to give credence to certain standards is another.

So, what DO we wear? Does the Scripture give us a pattern as to color, cut, or style?

While the Bible doesn’t give us specifics (“Thou shalt only wear a dress—that covers your calves—with sleeves to your wrists!” ), He did give us enough instruction that was required of a Godly woman to teach us how to “adorn [herself] in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety…(which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

It is always important to start on the inside—for "out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Clothe your heart with modesty—first and foremost with the “garments of salvation…a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10) and then with a “meek and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). Once you give the Lord full inspection of the wardrobe within…you will want Him to take inspection of the closet in your room as well.

God made you a woman! And He wants you to both dress and act as a woman! (Deuteronomy 22:5) He loves femininity. And, I believe the Lord did not give us specific information on dress in His word on purpose.

God isn’t against creativity or style. Those were actually His ideas. And, as the Creator of all things, He loves us to be creative ourselves. He made us all unique, with unique tastes. What one person thinks is pretty, someone else would never put on. What one person thinks is stylish, someone else would not be caught dead in. God gave us personal style on purpose…He wants us to enjoy it!

What God does tell us in His Word is that He hates worldliness—He hates sin. And here is where the rubber meets the road. This takes what we wear or don’t wear to a different level. It really is not about rules and regulations.  It is a decision. And like all decisions, once they are made, they must be managed for the rest of our life. We should look at the question: “what is modest or not modest?” with that perspective.

God wants us modest in order to take away our shame.

Remember that in the Garden of Eden both the man and his wife were naked and they were not ashamed. There was no need to cover up their bodies. Sin had not entered into the world, and therefore, neither had the guilt that accompanies sin. But we are told that as soon as Adam and Eve took the fruit and ate it (disobeying God’s one command), their eyes were opened, “and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). Not only did they now have the knowledge of evil's existence, they tried to cover it up by sewing fig leaves together and hiding when God came to call.

Yet God, who knows everything, took the time to ask a most important question to the guilty party, “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? (Genesis 3:11). And, as you know, the Blame Game commenced…and everybody lost!

“Who told you?” What a question! God wanted Adam and Eve to take His question personally and own the reason for their shame. There were immense consequences for their behavior—He put a curse on the entire earth and all that dwells therein—and then banned them from the Garden. He did not want His special creation, and all their descendants, to know this shame forever. As believers, we rejoice in the fact that God gave a promise of redemption that day and graciously kept that promise through the Lord Jesus Christ.

I know that Genesis chapter 3 is all about the doctrine of “The Fall” and is not a lecture on “Modesty”—but I want us to look at it from that perspective for just a few minutes.

Covering oneself appropriately is a serious issue, for it involves our shame!

Modesty is covering our nakedness.

Nakedness is shame—and shame is a result of sin!

Note that God did not allow Adam and Eve to live like they always had—fig leaves or no fig leaves. We are told in Genesis 3:21 that before Adam and Eve were forced out of the garden, God took an animal and killed it (the first death) in order to “make coats of skins, and [He] clothed them.”

It is interesting that the word for “coat” in this passage—Kethoneth—is a tunic, "generally with sleeves coming down to the knees, rarely to the ankles."

In desiring to cover man’s naked shame God did not put them in a bulky tent like garment, but He definitely did not leave them attired in their scanty leaves either. We are told He made them coats, He made them kethoneth. And I believe we can, from the rendering of the word, be safe to say it covered them from their shoulders to their thighs (which would practically mean all the in between—chest, torso, and thigh).

This is how God, the Creator of mankind, first defined what appropriately covered man's shame, man's nakedness—as well as His mercy, in the shedding of innocent blood. And I believe it would be good to heed it

This gives me as a woman a better idea of what I should cover in order to be modest—at the very least. This, on the other hand, does not give any specific idea of what that covering should look like. And here is where all believers really must use discretion.  God highly values a discreet women.  Learn discretion.  Remember that the only specifics God gives for women to adorn themselves in happens to be the clothing of the heart!

As Christian women, we must take all things to God for His approval. All things! Ask the Lord to teach you what is modest and what is not. Make modesty a matter of prayer. If your desire is to dress in a way that pleases your Heavenly Father, He will show you what is appropriate. He will do this in several ways:

1. Through your own spirit. Don’t ever forget that the Lord gave you a conscious and He never wants you to allow it to grow cold, or worse, to sin against it. You must allow His Spirit to communicate truth to yours…allow it to shadow every motive. And remain as sensitive as you can. If in doubt, don’t!  That doesn't mean you never wear such and such again.  It does mean you were sensitive enough to the Spirit to allow time and truth to try all things.

2. By asking your husband, if you are married, or your dad (or close brother) if you are not.  Remember that, as a woman, you were designed to attract. And you do. Because of this fact, you must be very aware of how your clothes (their fit or lack of material) affect the minds of men. Don’t be embarrassed or filled with too much pride to not inquire if you are in doubt.  Give them permission to pull you aside if you ever wear something that appears too provocative.  (Note: Girls, please keep this strictly to your dad or brother or husband—taking this issue outside your family would be both silly and indiscreet).

3. Be open to the counsel of Godly women. This is vital in the life of every girl who strives to be like Christ. It may first be your mother…but will then include other women who you look to with respect. These women will speak directly and indirectly to the issue of dress…and you would be wise to glean from their words and example. Sit under their teaching, ask them specific questions, and allow them to lift specific requests up to the Lord on your behalf.