A Fresh Look at Biblical Modesty

|by | Deep Thoughts

modest woman

Biblical Modesty

You’ve probably heard the word modesty at some point. It most often refers to wearing enough clothing to avoid indecency. And yes, that is an absolutely essential part of being modest.

But modesty is more than that. It’s a deep, rich, God-honoring concept, which should never be reduced to just real estate coverage.

1 Timothy 2:9-10, “I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.” (NLT)

Decent and Appropriate Clothing

Here Paul exhorts Christian women to be modest, choosing decent and appropriate clothing… not raggedy or sloppy clothing.

Remember the woman Proverbs 31 woman?

“She is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” Proverbs 31:22-23

She is dignified and beautiful, a source of purity and light in a dark world, as well as a source of honor to her husband.

What does decent and appropriate look like specifically? I believe this will vary based on the culture in which you find yourself. Look around you. What are the social norms? For me, a nice cotton shirt, jeans, flats, a pony tail, and a bit of make-up are appropriate. This attire is neither flashy nor trashy for the environments I frequent.

The Bible also encourages us to treat our bodies with special care as God’s temple. This may mean hygiene, and grooming and exercise for God’s glory and pleasure. 

Properly Prioritized Appearance

The woman described in Proverbs 31 wore fine clothing, but do you think she obsessed over her appearance? No way.

The other 21 verses describing her reveal a woman who works hard, exercises wisdom, provides for her household, and gives generously to the poor. In her diligence, she maintains a dignified appearance but doesn’t stop there. She sees outside of herself.

Don’t obsessively worry about how others view you. Ultimately, it’s just not about you. This is a subtle sin. If this is where you struggle, don’t let yourself off the hook by wrongly labeling this type of self-doubt as humility.

Be confident in how God made you, trusting His design and plan. Dress to suit your body and culture, and let go of the need to impress others.

{Don’t} Draw Attention

The modest woman presents herself in a way that does not attract attention.

My dear friend Erica opened my eyes to this concept. She once told me, “I want my hair to be long enough that no one says, ‘Wow, what short hair’ and short enough that no one takes special note of its length. I want to wear enough makeup so that no one is distracted by blemishes, but not so much that they notice I’m wearing it.” This, my friend, is a beautiful picture of godly modesty, accurately embodying the spirit of 1 Timothy 2:10.

Because it’s not about you or me. It’s about Jesus. We forget that all too easily.

Do Good

Want to be attractive? The modest woman is not excluded from this goal. God created beauty and placed its desire in us. So what makes the modest woman beautiful more than anything else? Because she is stunningly beautiful.

The good things she does.

Here is where extraordinary and deep beauty lies.

When we rely on the latest hair and clothing styles, or the cutest shoes or perfect makeup to make us beautiful, we sell ourselves short for a sorry substitute. Instead, let us put off the sinful desire to draw attention to ourselves and instead work to draw attention to God by the way we love and serve and bless and forgive.

Self Evaluation

In what area do you tend to fall away from Biblical modesty? Do you tend towards:

  • indecency?
  • laziness in your appearance?
  • over-concern with looks?
  • seeking attention for yourself by the way you dress or fix your hair rather than deflecting it to God?
  • ugliness of heart, attitude and actions?

For me, it’s laziness. I’m home with two young kids, and I often don’t feel like putting in the required effort to look nice. But doing so honors God, makes me more effective overall, and blesses to my husband.

I definitely don’t have this all figured out. And I don’t say any of this to put limitations on you. Please take these ideas as food for thought and ask God how He wants you to dress. There’s no cookie-cutter answer, so remember that ours is not a faith of regulations, but of freedom.

9 Comments

9 Comments on A Fresh Look at Biblical Modesty

  1. Amelia Montoya
    August 17, 2017 at 6:19 AM (2 months ago)

    I dont wear make up or earrings ond only skirts I dont think pants are modest at all not even loose fitting. If its not natural its wrong. Mark 9:42″If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. You are reponsible for what you do and may cause someone else to sin. We must separate ourselves from this word they wear makeup and earrings. We are daughters of the most high and need to be respectful of ourselves. The word of God doesn’t come from of what we think it is what it says simple.

    Reply
    • Katie Bennett
      August 17, 2017 at 7:49 AM (2 months ago)

      I disagree that unnatural things are wrong. Shampoo is unnatural. Motorized vehicles are unnatural. Medicine is unnatural. And in fact, we are called to be all things to all people. We actually are called to be “like” the world in as much as we are also holy and on a mission. There is nothing inherently evil with makeup or earrings, just as there is nothing inherently evil with deodorant.

      These are simply not the things the Bible is most concerned about. The Bible says do not let your BEAUTY come from outward adornment. (Notice it doesn’t say “do not wear outward adornments.” Our beauty should come from a gentle and quiet spirit, from meeting the needs of others, from love, but we have total freedom to wear makeup, earrings and pants if they are culturally appropriate. God is concerned with our heart.

      Consider this, there exist cultures around the world and across history that would consider your clothing immodest. Modesty, in the sense of coverage, is relative.

      There is great value in following our personal convictions (Romans 14), so I am grateful you are doing that. God bless.
      Katie Bennett recently posted…To the Mom Who Feels Distracted From the Things that Truly MatterMy Profile

  2. Lois
    January 20, 2016 at 4:18 PM (2 years ago)

    You have hit many good points, especially with scripture based knowledge. Over the years (which have been many now) we were told we are what we wear and I can definitely testify to that from my own experience. I have something that is heavy on my heart. Our church is Independent Baptist and we have a very kind, out going secretary except when it comes to dress. As a representative of God and the church she dresses very provocative. Low cut tops, very tight jeans and dresses. I know if I notice this the men do to. I spoke to my husband about this hoping he would bring it to the pastor’s attention but he said it wasn’t our business. We have many young people that attend and I don’t believe this setting a good example to them. Biblical teaching points out we shouldn’t doing things that lead others astray. This is one example of what we wear can cause problems outside the home and churches.
    Keep up your wonder writings. God Bless.

    Reply
  3. Jan
    September 15, 2014 at 9:28 AM (3 years ago)

    I love this post. I have thought alot about this over the years and you put it to words. Great job!

    Reply
    • Katie Bennett
      September 15, 2014 at 1:00 PM (3 years ago)

      Thanks Jan! It’s been a dawning realization for me over years too.

  4. Valerie
    July 15, 2014 at 1:03 PM (3 years ago)

    Katie,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this issue. Thank you for talking about the true meaning of the word “modesty” as used in Timothy – we all must fight against materialism and vanity.

    However, I have been thinking about this post ever since you posted it, and I felt the need to comment on one aspect in particular. I agree that drawing attention to yourself for it’s own sake can be wrong. That being said, I think there is danger in assuming motivations for other people’s actions. For example, the idea that it could be immodest to not wear makeup. Certainly, if the Holy Spirit has convicted a certain person about this, I don’t question that. But surely we should not hold everyone to that standard? There are many things people do that draw attention to themselves, but they may have other goals in mind. Perhaps a woman who doesn’t wear makeup is raising a teenager, and trying to set an example that beauty comes from within. No one would suggest a boy with acne should wear makeup lest his face detract from his words, so why would we expect this of girls?

    For some other examples, the nursing mother who doesn’t use a cover may be trying to draw attention, not to herself, but to breastfeeding as a public health issue. The mother with a shaved head may have shaved it in solidarity with a sick child, not in order to be “edgy.” The woman of color who wears her hair “natural” rather than straightened is just being herself, the way God made her! I realize your point was that people should not purposefully draw attention to themselves and away from God, but practically speaking, it seems very difficult to discern when this is happening. By giving such extreme examples of things that could be immodest – not wearing makeup, or having your hair short – it seems like there are an awful lot of people who could be hurt by that, even though they weren’t particularly trying to draw attention to themselves.

    My point, which I hope I communicated effectively in my blog post about modesty, is that women have a lot of voices bombarding them with how they should look, some telling them to be “modest” and some telling them to be sexy, professional, pretty, etc… To me it seems each woman should decide for herself what is right in regards to her own appearance. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree with your advice to not worry about how others view you!

    Let me end by saying that you are one of the nicest and most loving people I know, so I know it was not your intention to hurt anyone with this post! I always appreciate care you take with your words, even if I disagree with some of what you say.

    ~Valerie

    Reply
    • Katie Bennett
      July 15, 2014 at 8:47 PM (3 years ago)

      Valerie,

      I appreciate your thoughts very much! Thanks for taking the time to process and write this response. I wouldn’t say I disagree with anything you’re saying. It is not right for me or anyone to judge others for their appearance, and I sincerely hope I don’t do ever do that as I process what God is showing me about modesty. I was intending to speak in generalities to get women thinking about modesty for themselves, not to promote judging others. Thanks for making this distinction! Love you!

    • Rebecca
      October 11, 2014 at 9:52 PM (3 years ago)

      Thank you Valerie, especially about your comment about wearing make-up. Boys do not wear make-up, why should girls have to?
      I’d also like to point out, Katie, the Bible does say that we should be in this world, but not of it. I believe this means that we shouldn’t conform to worldly dress, even if it does make us attract attention. For example, a lot of times if I wanted to blend in, I’d have to wear clothing that would compromise my standards of modesty. I would like it if I could blend in and retain modesty, but often it doesn’t work like that.

      Rebecca

  5. Ai
    June 27, 2014 at 11:55 PM (3 years ago)

    Such great insights! It’s so good to keep in mind that our outward appearance should not distract someone from seeing Christ in us. I have a 7-year-old daughter, and we’ve been having more discussions about this topic too.
    Ai recently posted…Have You Taken Up Your Cross?My Profile

    Reply

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