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The Modesty Question: How Far is Too Far?

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The Modesty Question

How Far is Too Far?

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It doesn’t matter what your size or shape, immodesty can happen anywhere. It can happen as a result of an intent to be provocative, or to get attention, or can result from naiveté or even a wardrobe malfunction! After all, any outfit can become immodest when trying to wrangle an active toddler. I think I can safely say that I have probably been guilty of all of these at some point—as a teenager, single young adult, wife and mother. 

What’s so difficult about modesty is to pin down just how far fashion can be followed without causing problems—for ourselves or for others. How can we even know what “too far” means? Everyone has their own opinion, and of course they think they’re right (it is, after all, kind of the defining feature of opinion).

But there is no black and white line on this issue. If there were, it would be so much easier, would it not? “Aha! This skirt is one inch too short, as God has designated in The Book of Textiles,chapter 10, verse 3.”  However, as He has done on so many other equally important issues, He expects us to work within the gray areas and find a way to do our best to make Him happy, and as a result, to not cause offense to our brethren if we can avoid it.

Well, no one said it was going to be easy, did they? Sorry. I can’t give you easy. But here is some food for thought stemming from my own prior challenges (ahem, failures) in this area, otherwise known as opportunities for growth.

Before you dress for the day, pray!

God is actually very interested in fashion and textiles. You see clothing referenced often in Scripture. Look for references to clothing as you read your Bible. He loves beautiful things—and He loves you. Period. So begin to ask God very specifically to open your eyesto see if you are displeasing Him through your mode of dress.

If you need some inspiration and encouragement, remember Matthew 20:33-34 Matthew 20:33-34 [33] They say to him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. [34] So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
American King James Version×
, where two blind men asked Jesus Christ for mercy as he passed by. “They said to Him, ‘Lord, that our eyes may be opened.’ So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.” How encouraging this is, on so many levels! They not only received physical sight, but they also received another kind of healing, since they immediately followed Him. When we ask God our Father for eyes to see our shortcomings, He can perform this miracle, too!

Dressing Room Calisthenics Is Your Friend

Standing and turning slowly around a few times to see how it looks in the dressing room is no way to decide what to buy. You’ll wear that outfit in a much more complicated reality, so why not put it to a rigorous test before bringing it home?

So, don’t just stand there—unless you want to be deceived by that overly-complimentary dressing room mirror. Mimic all the things that you would practically be doing while wearing that outfit before you decide it’s a keeper. What about when you go to work or to church, and are sitting down and standing up so often? (How’s that skirt length cooperating now?)

And then there’s getting in and out of the car, lunging to grab the toddler before he helps himself to the snack table, lifting your arms up to fix your windblown hair or hug a tall friend, or bending over to pick up the contents of your spilled purse. How would a sudden gust of wind affect your dignity in this outfit? Or if you plan to wear it to a dance, by all means vigorously dance the chorus to “YMCA” and twirl around a couple of times to see what happens. Whether or not you sing aloud while doing so is completely your call.

Be Observant!

One way to find out if your mode of dress is potentially offensive is to become well-read in the body language of others. See how different people react when you wear certain things. If you are getting a lot of eyes lingering anywhere but your face when you encounter people at work, at the grocery store, or at church, be conscious of what that might mean to them, but also be aware of how that attention makes you feel. Do you feel pleased? Do you feel happier or more confident than you felt about yourself before?

Afterward, during your quiet time with God the Father, make it a point to talk to Him specifically about what you’ve observed in others and how you understand it. Tell Him openly what your feelings were, and ask Him to help you to have the courageto understand what He would prefer you to do, even if it’s not the answer you want to hear! Ask Him specifically to give you the courage to either creatively modify or let go of any items that are inappropriate.

A word to the wise: If you get to the point of letting go, a very honest closet purge is quite liberating! Maybe it’s not for everyone, but you may find that vocalizing through these purges may help you to stay strong. “Get thee behind me, temptingly cute blouse! Away with you, beautiful but inappropriate skirt!” And into the bag it goes—to someone who could possibly wear it without looking inappropriate, or to a thrift store. Or even into the trash! Do as your conscience allows.

Perhaps most importantly, when you talk with God, tell Him openly and honestly of the temptation to wear things that result in unhealthy attention. Ask Him to help you get to the root of that temptation and to help you conquer it! Ask Him to help you replace any shallow desires with the gift of seeing your worth and potential as He sees it. Ask Him to help you to discover fulfillment and pleasure in the beauty of His attention rather than in a temporary and unfulfilling flattery.

As someone who has come a distance in this area (and no doubt still has miles to go), I confess it was a long time before the key point to me wasn’t about not embarrassing myself or my family and friends in public or trying not to offend my brethren. Eventually, I also wanted to dress in a way that was lovely and pleasing to my Father.

And Before You Condemn Another...

At the start, I acknowledged that this is an issue that I’ve struggled with at every stage of my life. What I didn’t mention was that after repenting of several levels of immodesty and doing the closet purges, the sin of self-righteousness was hard on those 3-inch heels.  My attitude became very negative at seeing the provocative dress of others around me.

I remember feeling so annoyed by the immodesty of a female acquaintance and, probably more maddening to me at the time, a need to be adored by men. My reaction was to avoid contact whenever possible. I was not only irritated but began to despise her for doing something of which I have also been guilty!

After a time, God mercifully showed me that my attitude was wrong. But since I still found it difficult to be in her company, it was evidently going to take more than just realizing I was wrong. It actually took a miracle.

In the same vein as “I believe! Please help my unbelief!” there is a point at which we need God to help us make a leap which we cannot make on our own. So ensued a very earnest prayer asking my Father, who somehow loves me despite my many annoying traits and hurtful actions, to please open my heart to love her.

And so He did. The change was almost immediate. We certainly can’t limit God to showy miracles. He can also quietly unlock a heart that seems to be an impenetrable fortress.

So before you condemn one of our brethren for immodesty, please consider not only the outward symptom that is immodesty, but also the underlying causes. In 1 John 3:16 1 John 3:16Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
American King James Version×
, we read that if someone “sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” The context is a physical one, but should it not also apply to intangible needs?

Perhaps if we keep ourselves from reacting with a dismissive or condemning attitude, we might discover ways to help fill an emotional need that is fueling this outward behavior. Not that we can be the only solution or “fix” someone, but we might find constructive ways to give positive attention and friendship. And if our opinion is asked directly, of course we should be open and honest, but also gentle.

The parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 is a good reminder for us to have “compassion on [our] fellow servants” just as God has had pity on us. Consider how merciful our Father has been in our own struggles to overcome our human nature. Remember the patience that He has shown through our many stages of development, and the incredible joy that comes in finally having the heart to do His will.

For me it took a long time to get to that point, and once there it became apparent that having a heart to obey God was really another starting point. It seems there are enough gray areas and weightier matters to keep us all very busy for our entire lives.

How Far Is Too Far?

The question posed in the title of this article is actually not a very good one. It may seem perfectly helpful at first glance, but when you stop to consider the matter deeply, this is not really the attitude we should have about any challenge we face as Christians. Instead of trying to find out how much we can possibly do without crossing over into sin, a better attitude would lead us to continually search for ways we can better please God and serve His people (1 John 3:18-23 1 John 3:18-23 [18] My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. [19] And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. [20] For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. [21] Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. [22] And whatever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. [23] And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
American King James Version×
). Going above and beyond the baseline of the law means not only loving our fellow brethren, but also being conscious of how we present this temple for the Holy Spirit of the Living God! 

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