I have three daughters, the oldest of whom is seven, so we haven’t had to spend a whole lot of time talking about modesty. Yet. But I know without a doubt that the time is coming when we will be having many, many discussions about modesty. How do I know this time is coming? Because our culture is becoming increasingly comfortable with a highly sexualized version of womanhood. The pornification of society is showing up everywhere, from Miley Cyrus performing in front a national audience to the magazines that show up in grocery stores. As my daughters grow older, they will be increasingly encouraged to use their bodies in ways which don’t please the Lord.
So what will I say to my daughters when I talk to them about modesty? Instead of presenting them with a lengthy list of rules and checklists, I hope to keep things pretty straightforward. I’ll tell them that modesty is a way of life in which they seek to honor God and serve others with their bodies.
MODESTY IS A WAY OF LIFE
When it comes to modesty, it’s easy to gravitate toward one of two extremes. On one end are those who say that modesty doesn’t matter at all (see Miley, Beyonce, et al.). On the other end are those who try to codify modesty into a set of very precise directives (skirts must be at least one inch below the knee, tank tops are strictly forbidden, etc.). I would venture to say that those of us in the church tend to gravitate toward the precise directives end of the scale. In an effort to keep our daughters from immodesty, we are tempted to prescribe all sorts of laws about what clothes can and cannot look like.
While I certainly want to help my daughters think through their wardrobe choices, I want them to understand that modesty is, most importantly, a way of life. True modesty is a heart disposition before it is a particular wardrobe choice. A woman with a modest heart is first and foremost concerned about serving the Lord and serving others. She will certainly make particular wardrobe choices, but those choices will flow out of a heart attitude rather than a set of arbitrary rules.
The reality is, my daughters could follow all my rules for modesty and yet still behave in a way that is both sexually alluring and sexually immoral. This is why Peter writes:
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. (>1 Peter 3:3–5)
Peter understands that modesty is, above all else, something that is internal rather than external. If my instruction regarding modesty focuses primarily on creating rules or checklists for my daughters, than I’ve failed as a dad. I want them to understand that modesty is a way of living before God. Modesty is about God before it is about them.
MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING GOD
In the midst of all the confusion about what articles of clothing are too short, or too tight, or too revealing, it’s easy to forget that modesty is primarily about serving God.
God created each of my daughters, and he gave each of them a wonderful, female body. Because God created my daughters, they belong to him. Their bodies belong to Him, and their bodies are to be used in ways which honor and please him. Lord willing, each of my daughters will grow up and marry a godly man (I don’t want to think of that day!). When one my daughters gets married, she will give herself fully (including her body) to her husband (and vice versa). She will present herself to her husband in ways that are sexually delightful to him. God is so very pleased when a man and wife present themselves to each other in sexually alluring ways. With all our emphasis on concealing the body, we can inadvertently make it sound like sex is a bad thing. It’s not! Sex is a God thing when it takes place in the context of marriage.
As my daughters get older, I want to help them understand that they are only to present themselves as sexually alluring to their husbands. Any other attempts to be sexually alluring are not honoring to God.
So does this mean that I will only let my daughters wear frumpy sweaters and ratty jeans until they get married? Absolutely not! Beauty is a gift from God, and I want my daughters to highlight that gift without flaunting the gift. I want them to present themselves to the world as beautiful, feminine, smart, and attractive, without being intentionally sexually alluring. How will we achieve such a balance? I don’t know yet! Achieving such a delicate balance obviously requires some serious, Proverbs-like wisdom, which can only be obtained through large doses of Scripture and a whole lot of prayer.
MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING OTHERS
I don’t care what people say—the reality is that if a woman dresses in a way that reveals significant portions of her body, it will tempt most men to lust after her. To quote Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change.” I’m not commenting on whether this reality is good or evil, I’m simply stating the facts. Anyone who argues those facts doesn’t know men very well.
With this reality in mind, modesty becomes a way of serving others. Modesty is a way of treating others as we desire to be treated. Modesty is a way of demonstrating Christ-like love, which puts the interests of others above our own interests. All of which matters very much to Jesus.
Before I talk to my daughters about necklines or the length of shorts, I want to help them cultivate a desire to serve their fellow brothers in Christ. Yes, I realize that last sentence sounds totally sexist and misogynistic, but I don’t know any other way to put it. As Christians, we live in community with each other, and our actions directly effect those around us. The way my daughters dress really will effect those around them. Causing someone else to be tempted is serious business to Jesus. In Matthew 18:6 he says:
…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
Before anything else, modesty is about serving others. It is about sacrificing our own personal preferences for the sake of those around us.
Will I talk to my daughters about specific items in their wardrobe? Sure. It’s inevitable. But I want my daughters to see that individual wardrobe choices are part of a much bigger picture. I want them to understand that the clothes they wear in this life echo into eternity. I want them to understand that modesty isn’t just dad flipping out over a shirt that is too tight, but rather, is about using their bodies to bring maximum honor and glory to God. Will I get this right every time? Of course not! I desperately need God’s grace and wisdom to navigate this issue.
I’m confident he will supply me with all I need.