What is interesting is that the Bible doesn’t ever speak to modesty directly, but always addresses the heart. It talks about the lust of the heart, how a man can look on a woman to lust after her. It talks about physical appearance– and how what a woman wears effects men. It talks about how a deacon’s and pastor’s wife must be sober and have an inner beauty. It describes the a woman in Proverbs 31 known more for what she does and who she is than what she looks like. And it also talks about the pure love and desire found between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship.
So, let’s look at a few of these passages, shall we, and see what points God is trying to make about our appearance.
Clothing Tells a Story
Judah and Tamar are perhaps one of the first instances in the Bible where a person put on some clothing and it was shown to have meaning. Not since the fall do we actually have a discussion of what clothing on the outside advertises about the inside. Tamar was definitely seeking to have fulfilled the duty of the next of kin, and she used clothing to trick Jacob into honoring his promise. Clothing telegraphed to him that she was sexually available.
Joab had a woman dress in sackcloth to come see David to try to change his mind about Absalom and to cheer David up. She used clothing in a deceitful way so as to influence David.
Esther, when she wanted to show her authority and position when she was risking her life before the king, dressed in her royal robes. They did not save her from the law, but they made her easily identifiable, and therefore pardonable.
The Priests in the Book of Ezra wore specific apparel to carry out their ministry. It set them apart as someone special.
Mordecai was given the king’s clothes to wear as he was paraded down the street. This signified the amount of thankfulness the king had for what Mordecai had done for him in saving his life. The clothing showed status.
The point of these examples is this– we all know that what we wear telegraphs a message. The Bible shows us plainly that this is the case. Even if we are wearing “what everyone else wears” we are saying what everyone else is saying about their bodies.
There’s Nothing Wrong With Your Body
Before we get too far, I want to stress that there is nothing wrong with maintaining a healthy body. It is something that every man and woman should do. God didn’t give us this body to waste, and we should want to look our best for Him and our husband/wife.
Clearly, this passage in Song of Solomon teaches us this. The companion passage is found in the Proverbs where the writer encourages the men to always be satisfied with the wife of their youth. If there was something innately wrong with our bodies, God wouldn’t have created Adam and Eve naked.
However, because of sin, there is only one person that should see your body– your husband/wife. Displaying that body now tells the story of the morally loose woman, not the morally pure.
The Perfect Woman
Proverbs 31:10ff is not just a good place to find how to be a virtuous wife– it’s also to see what is valuable as far as a person. In this passage you will find nothing of how she looks, smells, or how much skin she shows. Instead you’ll find things like:
- She is trustworthy – doing her husband good and not evil all his days.
- She provides for her family – in the fields, with the merchants, from afar off, buying land, selling goods, makes clothing.
- She works hard – she is girded with strength, she works into the night.
- She is merciful – She helps the poor and needy.
And here is the important one. Her clothing is strength and honor because of her character. Yes, she makes herself clothing that is of silk and purple, fine thing for the times, but she is known for much more than her clothing. You could say that she defines the clothing, the clothing does not define her.
New Testament Commands
When it comes to the New Testament, the passages are more direct commands to women that this is how they should be. Some may say that the commands to the Deacon’s wives and Pastor’s wives should not apply to all women, but since they are signs of spiritual maturity, all women should strive to hold a high standard.
Peter starts out by laying the groundwork for all wives. He starts out with talking about the inner persons and proceeds to talk about the comparison of inner and outer. In fact, Peter goes on to say that a meek and quiet spirit is of great price and is something that should be worn by godly women and that holy women of old adorned themselves with such being in subjection to their own husbands.
I find it fascinating that the Lord led Peter to write about this topic as Peter is one of the apostles that we know actually had a wife. I can imagine the conversations that they had as he was writing about this topic; however, knowing the type of man that Peter was he probably did not have trouble ruling his home.
Paul repeats Peter’s admonition, and encourages women to adorn themselves in modest apparel (a direct reference after all?) wearing good works more than something that attracts to the outer person. Why? Because God created an order of man then woman, and she glorifies God when she submits, and continues in faith, charity and holiness with sobriety.
It’s All About the Heart
So, what can we gain from the Bible’s references to modesty? To boil it down, it’s all about the heart. The heart attitude, the heart’s reflection, and the heart’s desire. We’ve also learned that your clothing is broadcasting a message. It may be broadcasting the message that everyone else’s is– but that doesn’t make it right.
What we wear should be broadcasting the message that we are different. It should be drawing attention to those in authority over us. It shouldn’t be drawing attention to ourselves.