Modesty, Beauty, and Men. Why Should We Care?

"Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control . . ."
~1 Timothy 2:9

We live in a day of exhibitionism, and summer exaggerates the desire for more skin to be shown. Yet, our appearance is one of the most powerful ways we have of sending a message about the condition of our hearts. Do we ever ask ourselves, "What message am I sending?" We hear exhortations to be modest in the way we dress. With different opinions swirling around about necklines and skirt length, how should we understand biblical modesty?

The Root of Modesty

Modesty is actually rooted in how we think about beauty. When God created us male and female, He designed us with profound differences that go down deep to the core of our personhood. Our femininity is the beautiful handiwork of our loving, heavenly Father, and one of our unique responsibilities is to develop and use this God-given beauty.

Although holiness is not directly proportional to hemlines, it is related.

God made us creatures who enjoy beauty. He wired us together in such a way that the beauty seen in His creative works releases in us an irrepressible admiration and delight. Beauty is hard to define, but it is a universal quality that fascinates us all—it makes us stop and stare.

But what is God's definition of beauty? He is the one who created it, so what He finds beautiful in women should concern us. The Bible tells the stories of physically beautiful women: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Bathsheba, Abigail, Esther, and others. Yet the Bible also cautions us not to elevate physical beauty above its proper place. God even warns us in Proverbs 31:30 that beauty is fleeting—it's is hard to capture and impossible to retain for long.

Embracing God's Description of Beauty

To understand how beauty and modesty are related, we must embrace God's description of true beauty that reaches beyond our human definitions. This kind of beauty, the Bible affirms, surpasses what earthbound eyes can see. It is a beauty that no cosmetic, wardrobe, or diet can enhance.

Peter describes what God finds beautiful in His daughters in 1 Peter 3:4.

"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."

This is a beauty that wrinkles can't diminish, age can't dim, and death can't destroy. It is powerful and permanent. And most important of all, it is precious in the sight of God.

Why is it a gentle and quiet spirit, not physical beauty, that's precious to God? Because serenity is a sign of trust. And trusting God will affect how you present yourself to others. A modest woman seeks to leave no ambiguity about Whom she serves.

We may be tempted, at times, to overemphasize God's warning to us, but the Bible never encourages us to choose the opposite of beauty in our appearance. When Peter tells us how not to dress (1 Peter 3:3–4), he is speaking to our hearts, warning about excesses and preoccupations that detract from our true beauty as women. God highly values the inner beauty of godliness, and we can feel the freedom to display that in our outward appearance (Prov. 31:21–22—"All her household are clothed in scarlet . . . her clothing is fine linen and purple").

A Sister's Responsible Love

True beauty also demonstrates a heart that loves others well. In particular, it shows sensitivity to the men around us. When we come to Christ, we enter into a family. We no longer think solely in terms of "my body" but The Body (1 Cor. 12:25–27). Being a family member brings responsibilities—it means we help each other, we consider each other's needs, and we bear each other's burdens (Gal. 6:2).

Now, a woman's immodesty never excuses a man's sin. That's between him and God, and God will hold him responsible. But let's continue to be open to accepting our responsibility to support men in their pursuit of purity and not place all the responsibility on them. Let's be like our Father who said through Paul,

"All things are lawful, but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor" (1 Cor. 10:23–24).

A Heart for Holiness

Setting rigid guidelines isn't the answer to immodesty, though, because it will never be successfully dealt with through rules, alone. Instead, we must have hearts consumed with a desire for holiness. And although holiness is not directly proportional to hemlines, it is related.

A woman of good taste can adapt to her culture without displeasing her Father. She knows that her body is a fine work of art, and she displays it as such—with just the right exposure. A gospel-filled woman is beautiful because of her modesty and discretion, not in spite of it.

We are called as Christians to honor God with our very bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). The ransom He paid for us changes everything, and it becomes our delight to present our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Rom. 12:1). Paul uses a verb here that hints at a willing dedication, the way a bride presents herself to her bridegroom. This calls for a conscious, intelligent, consecrated devotion.

Seeking to be pure ultimately brings us back to the cross. It means having a simple, sincere heart toward God that asks, "How can I best point others to Jesus?" instead of, "What can I wear to get attention?"

The pure in heart do not say, "Christ is the best thing in my life," but rather, "Christ is my life." What does your heart say? Modest beauty will not make sense to you until Christ becomes your greatest treasure.

Dear sisters, let's reset the standard of what makes a woman beautiful. We have the privilege of joyfully dressing to serve our Savior. Let's seek His help in making our outward appearance reflect the beauty, grace, and honor of biblical femininity.

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About the Author

Jani Ortlund

Jani Ortlund

Jani Ortlund, Executive Vice President of Renewal Ministries, loves spending her energies connecting women with the Word of God. Serving Jesus Christ through writing, speaking and discipling are her chief passions in life. Jani and Ray, Pastor of Immanuel Church, have four married children and twelve grandchildren, and minister in Nashville, Tennessee.

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