Biblical Standards of Dress: Modesty A Matter of Heart
“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.” (1 Timothy 2:8–10)
As we continue our study of biblical standards of dress, we come to the subject of modesty. What is modesty? The dictionary meaning of the word deals with that which is well ordered or seemly. Our text above presents modesty to us as such as well. It also describes modesty in a broader sense, speaking of it as a matter of the heart.
Let us notice that modesty is not simply that which pertains to women because men are mentioned here as well. Men are told to pray “without wrath and doubting.” We shall see soon how that this relates to modesty, but for now we can simply state that it is certain that wrath and doubting are issues of the heart. Women are to dress modestly, yet their modesty must also be internal. They are to have a shamefastness and sobriety about them, as they profess godliness. Modest apparel seems to be the outward working of a modest heart. True modesty is a well-ordered heart that then orders one’s behavior rightly.
Often there are those who reply, stating that the Scriptures say that God looks on the heart. This is indeed so, because God told Samuel, who was evidently expecting God’s choice for the next king of Israel to be kingly looking, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) God does indeed look on the heart. On what, however, does man look? Man looks on the outward appearance. How are we to show our modesty and holiness if not by how we look outwardly? How will our light shine (Matthew 5:16), if Christ is not seen in our deeds and our dress? Modesty is indeed a matter of the heart, seen of God inwardly, and seen of men outwardly.
The Immodesty of Wrath And Doubting
Paul tells us that men are to pray and to do so without wrath and doubting. He tells us that men should pray lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. It would be impossible to lift up holy hands if one was filled with either wrath or doubt. Both of these things are serious matters of the heart.
Wrath is extremely immodest. It is not only disordered, but it manifests itself in manners that are disorderly and harmful. Solomon said, “Only by pride cometh contention: But with the well advised is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13:10) Contention comes from pride, and the proud heart is a heart that is not right with God and is not trusting in God (Habakkuk 2:4). That is by no means orderly. Contention is generally not a good state of affairs, yet some seek and pursue it. In so doing, they neglect to pray and often do much ill to others. James described this sort as pursuing their own selfish lusts, neglecting prayer, being friends of the world, and spiritually adulterous. Such immodest hearts and deeds lead to “confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16).
Doubting is also disorderly and unseemly. It is a matter of a heart that is unwilling to submit to what God says. King Ahaz was given the opportunity to seek a sign from the LORD, and yet he refused. God gave him the opportunity to have a confirmation that God’s promise would come to pass. In fact, Ahaz was commanded to ask for this confirming sign and yet refused to do so. God’s word to Ahaz was, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” (Isaiah 7:9) We are later told that we are to pray in faith without doubting because the one who is wavering is double-minded and unstable in all of his ways (James 1:5-8). When a person is like this, he leans to his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-7) and follows his flesh and his pride rather than humbly seeking the will of God.
In both of these instances, we find that an immodest heart will promote self. Proud self-promotion is by no means a helpful thing but is very detrimental to the health of a family, church, and society. It stirs up strifes, leads to chaotic conditions, and distracts us from the all-important pursuit of the glory of God. Remember, when Paul said, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” (1 Corinthians 14:40) it was because the Corinthians had yielded to arrogant self-promotion, which led to chaotic conditions in the church.
Most of us recognize this sort of immodesty when we see it in others. Jesus spoke of the immodest self-promoters and spoke a parable regarding folks who went to public functions seeking positions of prominence. Jesus said that there would be times in which those who set themselves in positions of honor would be told that they were sitting in seats reserved for others. This would lead to their shame when they would have to then take a lower seat (Luke 14:7-11). Most of us would respond and say that such folks simply got their comeuppance. This is so, and God’s people must resist having such immodest hearts.
The Modesty of Shamefastness And Sobriety
Paul told Timothy that women are to dress themselves in modest apparel with shamefastness and sobriety. It is to be noted that apparel is generally reflective of what is within us. Servants are to adorn the doctrine of God, we are told (Titus 2:10). In other words, what was in their hearts, their professed beliefs, and their convictions would be seen in their actions.
Shamefastness is a word that is no longer in standard English dictionaries. It means that one has a sense of honor or shame, propriety and impropriety, and a certain bashfulness as opposed to self-promotion. Just as men are very prone to promote themselves by exhibiting wrath or arrogant self-promotion, an immodest woman will often dress so as to be seen and recognized. For this reason, Paul contrasted shamefastness with the immodesty of some who elaborately plaited their hair, wore much flashy jewelry, or wore much expensive and showy clothing. Peter, too, spoke of the meek and quiet spirit of a godly woman, rather than the attention-seeking person who would dress to catch other’s eyes (1 Peter 3:1-6).
Sobriety is not simply the issue of whether a person is intoxicated or under the influence of mind-altering substances. Sobriety is thinking clearly and sanely. We are taught to think soberly concerning ourselves in relation to God and the body of Christ (Romans 12:3). Sobriety and modesty go hand-in-hand because one who is sober will recognize their need to seek to be a blessing above simply trying to direct every eye her way. Sobriety is modesty of spirit, in which a person recognizes the need to glorify God and be a blessing to others above everything else.
Other Matters of Immodesty
Notice that modesty is not simply a matter that relates to whether or not a person’s nakedness is covered and concealed. We have seen previously what nakedness is, and why God gives us a command to wear clothing. Modesty extends beyond that, however, and is related to the desire to call unwarranted attention to ourselves. Sometimes we do not have an accurate measure of ourselves and think too highly of ourselves. We desire our opinions to be known by those around us. If we are not careful, we will think ourselves to be worthy of other’s attentions, or worthy of their obedience and reverence. This will manifest itself in an immodest display of loudness, arrogance, anger, or wrath; and it is sinful.
Modesty is also an issue of being a distraction. Can you imagine being a poor person in Timothy’s day, and look around in the church service and see a woman who is dressed in very expensive clothing, wearing much flashy and expensive jewelry? A man might not be tempted to lust after her, and yet he could be distracted by her. He might look at this ostentatious display of wealth and think, “Wow! I could sell that necklace and buy groceries for a year!” It could minister to envy and strife also because of the flaunting of wealth. This seems to be a part of what happened in James chapter two, and it ministered to envy, strife, and division in the church.
Solomon spoke of the immodesty of the harlot in Proverbs chapter seven, warning young men against this sort of woman. In his description of her, he said, “She is loud and stubborn; Her feet abide not in her house:” (Proverbs 7:11) In other words, she is an attention seeker. She is not meek and quiet but is loud and stubborn. She desires to draw attention to herself. In her stubbornness, she resists yielding to the authority of God and her husband in honoring her marriage, and she goes out to seek attention and affection in ungodly manners. While we are dealing with biblical standards of dress, it is instructive to note that her immodesty made itself known in the volume of her voice, and her attitude toward authority and her marital obligations. True modesty is humble and seeks to quietly honor God, godly authority, and godly commitments.
This loud immodesty brings to my mind the Pharisees, who prayed loudly in the streets, dressed in such a manner that people would know when they were fasting, and wore apparel that drew attention to their religious devotion. Jesus stated that they had their reward, which was the praise of men. True modesty does not make a vain show of religion, but simply tries to live to the glory of God regardless of who sees or does not see us.