I wince when I look at the photo. Don and I are standing in the sun with our firstborn son, flanked by Don’s elderly grandparents. Grandpa has just lifted up our son toward heaven to give thanks. All of us are beaming with joy.
And I am wearing a very short dress.
The dress was in style at the time, but it looks immodest. I wish I had been wearing a different dress for this impromptu, but now important picture.
That’s a tough word.
That’s a tough concept for women.
Modesty is a relative concept that is difficult to define. Take the hijab, for example. When the young woman waited on me at the store, I did an involuntary double take.
“So, N______ allows the hijab,” I said.
“Yes, they’re really good about it,” she answered.
“Why do you wear it?” I asked.
“It’s for modesty.”
“Modesty?” I questioned.
“Yes, to cover the hair and look more modest. Of course, in Muslim countries it works better because a woman wearing one blends in, whereas here it makes her stand out. I get lots of stares!”
“So why do you wear it, if people stare?”
“It’s what God wants,” she answered.
I asked, “Why does he want that?”
“For me to be modest,” she said again.
What is modesty? Is it necessary for a woman need to wear a hijab to be modest? Surely not. Yet, what does God want from women? Does He give us a list to follow so that we know we are modest? Shall we adopt the hijab just to be ‘safe’ and ‘know’ that we are pleasing Him? And what about cultural factors such as age, geography and climate, and what activity we might be engaged in, e.g. sports, beach?
Modesty is needed in every century and in every culture. It is needed by women of every age, but it is variable. Modesty has to do with the occasion. What is modest and appropriate for exercise and beachwear, is not appropriate for worship and weddings or the workplace. And modesty has to do with the expectations of the culture in which one lives. Swimmers of an earlier era would not have dreamed of wearing the modest bathing suit I wear to swim with my grandchildren.
What does God have to say in His Word about modesty for women? It may surprise you to learn that He says very little about the word modesty. The word modesty appears only once in the NIV, as does modestly.
Each of these words is translated from a different Greek word. In 1 Corinthians 12:23, “the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty” the Apostle Paul uses euschemosyne. In 1 Timothy 2:9, “I want women to dress modestly” he uses kosmios to convey his meaning. These two Greek words are used infrequently in the New Testament, making it difficult to build a theology of modesty.
But what we can do, quite well, is build a theology of purity. Purity is the value God is seeking in women. This is standard for dressing ourselves. Purity beats modesty any day. Purity addresses a whole different issue—whom does my heart want to please as I clothe my body?
Purity is an internal quality—no one can see it. But as soon as we dress ourselves and live our lives, purity begins to show. Purity is a choice of the spirit, the soul. God calls for both women and men to be pure. The NT writers—Paul, Peter, James and John, all use the same Greek word for purity, the word hagnos. They consider purity an essential of the Christian faith.
Paul says that we are to think about whatsoever is true, noble, right, pure (Philippians 4:8). He wants to present the Corinthian church to Christ as a pure virgin with right doctrine, not deceived by the serpent’s cunning (2 Corinthians 11:2). He admonishes young pastors to keep themselves pure (1 Timothy 5:22), and to instruct the older women to teach the younger women to be pure (Titus 2:5). He counsels young pastors to treat the young women in their churches with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2).
Peter says that the purity of a woman’s life can win over an unbelieving husband to faith in Jesus (1 Peter 3:2). He links purity to a woman’s style of dress, saying that her beauty should not come from braided hair, gold jewelry or fine clothing. He stresses that she should depend upon her internal gentle and quiet spirit for her attractiveness (1 Peter 3:1-6).
James says that the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving (James 3:17). And John uses the word pure to describe our Lord, asking his readers to purify themselves just as the Lord is pure (1 John 3:3).
Wow, powerful stuff about purity.
If we Christian women are truly seeking God’s purity, we will have no issues with modesty.
To be pure is to please God, in every way, with everything that I put on my body. To be pure is to look in the mirror, and ask, “Are you pleased, Lord? Do the clothes that I have put on bring glory to Your Name? Am I dressing for You or to cause men, and women, too, to look at me? Is this neckline too low? Is this skirt too short? Are my jeans too tight? Do these clothes reflect Your purity, Lord?”
Aren’t you thankful that the Lord didn’t decree a dress code in the Bible? We are not called to wear the hijab or the burka, and we don’t have to wear a corset as women did centuries ago, to the detriment of their own health! No, we are free to wear pants to school and comfortable shorts for a hike, to wear a swimsuit to swim at the beach, to wear a skirt to a wedding. And we don’t need a ruler to measure the length of our skirts.
All we have to do is meet God’s standards for being pure.
So easy, and so hard.
May God give us women grace and courage to follow His ways.
In an ideal world, all Christians would maintain three types of spiritual relationships as they walked through life. (Disclaimer: There have only been a couple times in my own life when I have had all three going at once, but this is still an ideal worth aiming for.)
Let me focus on the third category. No matter how far along you are in your spiritual life, there is always someone who is newer yet. You can spend time with this person talking together about spiritual issues, reading the Bible together, praying together, serving together, doing hospitality together, sharing the good news with unbelievers together. (If you do share with unbelievers together, you may end up with more people to spend intentional time with!) You can read books (spiritual, theological, practical) together, talk about issues such as singleness/marriage/parenting together, and share in one another’s suffering. The key is that you spend time together with the goal of growing in the Lord together.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, the Apostle Paul challenges his spiritual mentee and co-worker Timothy: “The things you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” There are four implied spiritual generations in this verse: Paul, Timothy, the people Timothy was to teach, and the people that those people were to teach.
When I was an elementary school boy, I used to lie on my bed and do doubling math in my head for as long as I was able: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192…
Spiritual relationships of the mentoring variety can initially seem slow and without much fruit. But the fruit often turns out to be exponential, a bit like the doubling I used to do in my head as a kid. You may see little immediate fruit when you are spending time with two or three, but if those two or three truly learn to walk with the Lord and spend intentional God-honoring time with others, who knows how many others will be impacted? And if you do this as the pattern of your life, the impact might not only be in the dozens, but could in the long run be hundreds and thousands.
The life of Moses is intriguing to me. I think he had no idea what he was signing up for when he met God at the burning bush. In his leadership role he did what God asked him to do, with a few minor problems along the way, yet the nation of Israel was constantly grumbling at him, not pleased with his leadership. It even caused Moses to grumble to God a bit, but overall he continued on in faithfulness.
I also find Joseph’s life intriguing. When he had those wild dreams as a youth and told of them with such fascination to his family, I think he had no idea what he was signing up for. Again, this was a man who seemed to honor God in every detail of his life, yet disaster was brought on him repeatedly. In the end, he summarized his experiences as “you meant if for evil, but God meant if for good.” He continued on in faithfulness.
Both of these men were following God, yet they found themselves in unexpected places. Perhaps you find some connection with their lives, both their desire to follow God and the subsequent unexpected places, where life does not quite go as you anticipated or planned.
Recently in my sermon preparation for Mark 3, I pondered the calling of the twelve. What a moment! Jesus gathers all of his followers together and chooses twelve so that they could be with him and so that he could send them out to preach. Imagine the joy of being chosen for this ministry. There must have been chatter amongst the crowd as Jesus announced his decision. “Why him? He has no education at all.” “He certainly chose a peculiar bunch.” “This is not fair. I have sacrificed far more than any of them to follow Jesus.” And let’s face it, Judas Iscariot was not a good choice except that he fulfilled what Scripture had spoken. In the end, they all desert him. Maybe the murmuring crowd had it right.
I do think each one of the twelve must have felt special in that moment. I would have. I am certain their parents did. They were ready, but did they know what they were signing up for? I remember as a college freshmen looking at my professors or leaders in the church and longing to be one of them. I was eager, but did I know what I was signing up for?
I am certain that those twelve men had little idea how this call to be one of the twelve would transpire. In fact, they had little idea how it was going to turn out for Jesus. In my pondering the Lord led me to the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. It had been awhile since I had flipped through these pages of “men of whom this world is not worthy.” The deaths of these first disciples are recorded in this book. Their stories are mostly based on tradition, but they are worth noting nonetheless. Consider the deaths of the twelve:
Simon Peter – crucified upside down (not worthy to be like Jesus)
James – executed by the sword
John – even though he died a natural death, he was sentenced to be boiled in oil, exiled to Patmos, and was forced to drink poison
Andrew – crucified
Philip – crucified and stoned
Bartholomew – flayed by whips and martyred upside down
Matthew – beheaded
Thomas – speared to death (in India)
James – stoned
Thaddeus/Judas – executed by arrows/javelin
Simon – sawn in half
Mark – dragged through cobblestone streets until his body was ripped
Matthias (the replacement for Judas in the book of Acts) – stoned.
Perhaps the murmuring crowd was wrong after all. These men continued on in faithfulness after Jesus died, was buried, rose again, and ascended. There were ambassadors who brought the message of the gospel that changed the world, including you and me. They may not have known what they were signing up for, but they knew who they were signing up for. Their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And they remained faithful.
So, it is a good question to ask yourself: when you became a Christ-follower, did you have any idea what you were signing up for? As we follow Christ, we are often led to unexpected places. These places can be uncomfortable and stretching to our faith. These places can be full of difficulty and pain. And if you were God for a day, it might not be the way you would lead. However, our God is to be trusted. Our experiences are “common to man.” Our God will provide “a way of escape.” His “grace is sufficient” for us. He has not only given us eternal life, he offers us abundant life daily. In the midst of all of our experiences, he gives us a “peace that passes all understanding.”
God has a plan. We do not know it. With the great crowd of witnesses looking on, we simply walk in faithfulness, day by day, until Jesus returns. Maybe we did not know what we were signing up for. But let’s do remember who we were signing up for. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last week I posted a piece in which I encouraged each of us to actually pray when we pray. Since then my thoughts about prayer have moved in another direction, particularly as it relates to the training of our children. I am becoming increasingly convinced that one of the most significant ways we convey spiritual truth to our children is through our prayers. I believe that when we pray with our children, our children learn about our relationship with the Lord and what we believe about God. Let’s look at three things we teach our children when they listen to us pray.
1. When we pray, our children learn that we have a sincere relationship with the Lord.
This past Sunday I was talking with a friend about what children learn when they listen to their parents pray. He shared with me that when he was growing up his father’s prayers were formulaic and seemed artificial to him. But in recent years my friend has noticed a change in his elderly father’s relationship with the Lord. What’s significant is that the chief way he has come to recognize the change is by listening to the way his father prays.
I grew up with a mother who had a sensitive relationship with the Lord, and I knew it from the way that she prayed. When I was a child she used to tell me that even if all my friends stopped being my friends, Jesus would always be my friend. I believed her. The reason I believed her is that when she prayed I could tell that she was talking to her closest friend.
2. When we pray, our children learn that we actually believe that God can and will answer our prayers.
Honestly, learning how to pray in groups in the United States has been kind of tough for me. When my wife and I lived in the Middle East, we were often around Christians who were expecting God to do big things. We knew it because of the way that they prayed. But one message has come through loudly and clearly to me in most of the prayer meetings I have attended in the United States: we don’t actually believe anything is going to happen when we pray! I want my children to know that when we pray, we are speaking to a God who is strong enough to answer our prayers and who cares deeply enough to act on our behalf.
(Please note that you don’t generate such faith by trying really hard to believe; rather you increasingly develop sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who helps you know how to pray and who increases your faith as you pray in dependence upon him. But that is another topic for another day.)
3. When we pray, our children learn what we believe about God.
I’ve thought more about this since reading Fred Sanders’s recently released book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. The basic biblical pattern is praying to the Father, on the basis of what the Son has done, empowered by the Spirit. It is, of course, possible that we could communicate to our children a deficient view of the Trinity by praying always to Jesus as a friend, or being overly Spirit-focused in our prayers. (I am not saying that a prayer thanking Jesus for his death on the cross or a prayer to the Holy Spirit asking for him to empower you for witness is wrong, just that it isn’t the biblical pattern.)
Your children will learn from you that God is holy by listening to the way you confess your sins; that God is a God of power when you worship him; that God truly cares when you call upon him in your time of need, and so on.
When I’m alone with the Lord, one of the prayers I pray more than any other is: “Lord, I want it to be real. I don’t want to be a fake. I need your grace to live out what I teach.” And now, by God’s grace, I want my children to see the same thing in me. I don’t pray for them; I pray to the Lord. But I think it’s good to remember that our children are listening.
The Good Book Blog is the faculty blog of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Representing the diverse areas of specialty within the seminary, but bound by a common commitment to biblical authority, the blog seeks to engage with important topics in biblical studies, theology, philosophy, spiritual formation and Christian education. The Good Book Blog is a resource for anyone seeking solid biblical scholarship that engages contemporary ideas from a decidedly evangelical perspective.
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