Modesty and the Law of Charity
by Paul deParrie
"In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel . . ." (1 Timothy 2: 9 KJV)
"Modesty." It is a word hardly in use in modern times. In fact, to most people it connotes a negative much like "puritanical." Yet the Bible commends modesty in dress to women.
In my experience going to many churches, I must confess that it is a virtue not often practiced. With the young especially, the idea of modest dress is either laughable or quizzical.
Recently, a picture of Katie Harman, the 2001 Miss America and a self-professed Christian, was featured in The Oregonian newspaper wearing what could only be described as less-than-underwear. It was a picture of her during the "swimsuit" portion of the Miss America competition.
Without getting into the propriety of Christians being involved in such competitions, I wonder if it ever occurred to Sister Harman what the young men in her church might be thinking about her next time she showed up there. Did she even stop to think that some of those young men (and older men) might use that picture as a basis for lustful fantasies in violation of Matthew 5: 8?
Actually, given the current sex-suffused society we live in – and the Church’s acceptance of the vast majority of this normalizing of open sexuality – it would not be surprising that she did not. (I am assuming she is a real Christian who is simply ignorant of the impact she is having on the sexual fantasies of the men she is showing her body to.)
To some people, the idea that Christians ought to promote modesty of dress among women makes them imagine some dour-faced matron with a ruler at the door of the church to enforce a lengthy and detailed Dress Code. However, such extremes are not necessary, nor is it what our Lord intends for us.
In the first place, He is not looking to create in His Church a revised Law of Moses, with all of the intricate details and dictates. He is looking for the hearts of individuals. In this case, those individuals are the women to whom this injunction is addressed.
Permit me to explain.
The Law of Charity
In the New Testament we have essentially three commandments. Succinctly put, they are: Love God (Matthew 22: 37); Love your neighbor (Matthew 22: 39); and Love the brethren (John 13: 34).
Romans 13: 10 further tells us, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." (KJV)
This is the law of charity. The way charity works out in everyday life has everything to do with modesty, as you will see.
Consider the example of Paul the apostle in 1 Corinthians 8 when he was talking about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul explained that idols were nothing, and, as such meat sacrificed to them was not made unclean for the Christian. However, some, he said, could not eat that meat for conscience sake, and that to them it would be sin to do so. So, there were many who understood that it was okay to eat the meat, but others who might be stumbled into sin ("offended") if they followed their example.
"Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend." (v. 13 KJV)
Paul would forgo anything that would cause someone to stumble into sin or to make the way plain to salvation. He was all things to all men. (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23) This was his obedience to the law of charity.
The secret world of men
It is evident that most women today simply have no idea how strongly sight-driven men are when it comes to sex. The infamous serial-rapist-murderer, Ted Bundy began his sex fixation looking at lingerie ads in the Sears catalogue. The most powerful urge men have is sex, and sight is the trigger – and it is a hair-trigger.
Not only is this unknown to most adult women, it is even less known to young women because their mothers don’t understand it well enough to teach them.
This is obvious by the way many Christian women dress. They dress in such a way as to accent those parts of their bodies that men’s sight locks in on. They play straight into the things that are most likely to get any boy or man to start lusting.
You may say, "These guys have to ‘get over it’ and learn to control their thoughts." While I agree that men should learn to control their thoughts, the kind of dress I have seen at most churches these days is certainly a temptation even to strong-minded men.
However, it is worthy of note that the command to wear modest apparel is aimed at women. Women generally don’t understand the strength of this drive because they are simply not sexually driven by sight. God knew that and commanded the women to dress modestly as a way of making temptation less for the men.
What to do
So what do we do? Do we start measuring skirts? Banning V-neck sweaters? Requiring veils?
No. That would simply replicate the system that failed under the Law of Moses. What must be done is that individual women must begin by applying the law of charity to their dress. More than this, the older women must really educate themselves about the way men respond to the sight of women’s bodies and begin to actively teach the young women about that – stressing the law of charity toward the men around them.
The Church must actively begin to teach this. Of course, there will still be women who will dress uncharitably. They will not see how their clothing could be provocative. I am not suggesting that anyone publicly rail upon these women. Where women dress in such ways as to provide temptation, fellow believers should try to persuade these women of the need to live by the law of charity.
As an older man, whom some might think would be beyond such temptations, I can tell you that it is already difficult to get through the day driving past billboards, newspaper photos, television ads, and summertime suntan seekers without having to confront these issues from my sisters in the Lord.
How about it, sisters? How about a little charity?