As I continue to follow up on the gender sermon series, I’d like to address modesty. This week I will address the question of how to think through your own modesty. Next week, how to think through others’ modesty.
First then, how to think through your own modesty. Let me begin by saying that modesty is not merely a female issue. Certainly men need to be conscious of they wield their sexuality in society. Historically and biblically, however, the emphasis has been on female modesty. I believe this is because this issue hits near to one of the fundamental differences between men and women. As with all subjects, there are certainly exceptions to the rule, but they are just that, exceptions.
In general, because of the way that men and women are physically designed and how they sexually relate, men tend to embrace physical prowess and strength as a way to express sexuality, and women tend to embrace physical beauty as a way to express sexuality. Practically, this means that when men and women are not securely rooted in their identity in Christ, men will tend to abuse their physical strength in an attempt to manipulate relationships, and women will seek to do the same with beauty.
When we are not secure in our intimacy with Christ, insecurity in human relationships sets in. And when people are insecure, they will reach for ways to wield power in relationships. What do we reach for to wield power? Our closest weapons. For men this is physical strength, for women it is beauty. When a woman is insecure, beauty often becomes a weapon.
In 1st Peter 3:1-7, Peter addresses this dynamic.
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
In this passage, we have a husband and a wife, called into a biblical balance of power: both submitted to Christ, the wife submitted to the husband, and the husband loving the wife. This is what they are called to, but it is not how they are living. The husband is not obeying the word and apparently is given over to attempting to manipulate the relationship through strength. This is why Peter encourages her not to be frightened and encourages him to be gentle with the weaker vessel. He is encouraging him to sheathe his weapon.
Likewise the woman is called to sheathe her weapon. Because the relationship is not rooted in the hope of Christ, and the husband is being frightening, she is attempting to manipulate him into cooperation or submission by wielding her sexual beauty as a weapon. Peter encourages her to sheathe her sexual weapon, and to hope in God, seeking to win her husband not through sexual manipulation, but rather by adorning herself with a godly spirit.
So how does this inform how to think through your own modesty? There is much more to say that can be covered here, but let me begin by saying that I believe the key approach to modesty is not to begin by looking at what you wearing physically, but rather by looking at what you are wearing spiritually. Attempting to establish a dress code for the church is problematic on two fronts. First of all, it is a plunge, not a slippery slope, directly into legalism (more on this next week). Second of all, it completely ignores the way that we are to seek holiness, not by cleaning the outside of the cup, but the inside. Or, rather, to remember that Christ has cleansed the inside of our cups.
So, very practically, what to do? Women, before you get dressed, remember you are already dressed. Christ has dressed you in his righteousness. You have been adopted by God and are co-heirs with your brothers in the Kingdom. You need not fear anything that is frightening. God is your hope. He has adorned you as his bride and is fixing all of his wisdom and power to present you in splendor. Unimaginable beauty is yours. Remind yourself of this every morning. Remind yourself of this as you shop. Sheathe your sexual weapon. Then get dressed.