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What Scripture Teaches about Modesty

on April 2, 2014 by Jami Balmet 31 comments

An honest and open talk about modesty must begin with the Bible.

As Christians, the Bible is our ultimate authority for what we say, how we dress, how we act, and how we live our lives. It doesn’t matter what I have to say on the subject or what the world has to say. Ultimately, the only truth in this world is what Scripture teaches, and its teachings are all we need to run our lives.

What Scripture teaches about modesty

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~2 Timothy 3:16

God’s Word is truth. He gave us His holy Word so that we could learn how to live lives for Him. By reading and studying God’s word, the man (or woman) of God may be complete, and ready to handle EVERY good work. Scripture is sufficient to teach us all that we need to know about living a Christian life, parenting, work, ethics, morals, and yes, even how to dress. We must first know and grasp that before we can delve into how the Bible handles modesty and dress.

Scripture does not go into every detail. It doesn’t talk about hemline lengths or how tight is too tight. But it does give general principles on how to live a Godly life. From there we must go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to convict our hearts and show us His way for modesty.

1 Timothy 2 9 - 10


Modesty is an attitude

While Paul does not speak to specific guidelines when it comes to dress, he does call women to be modest and to have self control. The New Testament church, hearing this for the first time, would not have been confused on what Paul meant by modest dress. Many in the church that Paul wrote to were copying the fashion of the Roman ladies, which was provocative and extravagant. They dressed to seduce. In contrast, the woman of the church were expected to wear modest clothing that did not draw sexual attention to themselves.

Essentially, modesty is putting on an attitude of humility. Humility in dress, in speech and in life. A humble woman does not draw unnecessary attention to herself, but rather serves her brothers and sisters in humility.

Part of our modest and humble heart is serving those around us. The Bible commands us to not be stumbling blocks to one another. You may feel comfortable wearing a mini skirt, but chances are, it is causing a brother around you to stumble.

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8:9-13

This verse is talking about eating food that was previously forbidden under the old law, but is now acceptable under the New Testament covenant. But, even in this context, where eating the food is acceptable by God, if it makes your brother stumble to eat it, then don’t. God clearly commands this, if it is causing your brother to stumble then it’s not okay.

Modesty from Time Warp Wife
Image from Time Warp Wife

We need to be careful to not take this to the extreme. Some men have such a problem with lust that looking at any woman in any condition will cause them to lust. We obviously cannot base modesty on them. But we should be concerned about the teenage boys in our youth groups, and the men across the pew, and the pastors in charge of our congregation. Are we making it difficult for them to stay pure at church and at Bible study?

And unfortunately, our modern fashion and clothing are designed for just that. Sex appeal. We must be careful to not buy into this fashion crazed culture. We can have some fun shopping and enjoy being trendy without causing our brothers to stumble or not being humble and modest in our dress.

C.J. Mahaney said it well:

Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality. 1

Likewise he shares what immodesty looks like:

Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.

Scripture commands that we dress modestly. God wants women to learn to be modest, self-controlled, and humble in our dress and how we act. We are also commanded to not be stumbling blocks to our brothers. This means wearing clothing that will not cause them to lust. Clothing that emphasizes cleavage, is too tight, too short, shows too much skin, too much leg, etc. Specific modesty guidelines will differ from household to household based on how the Lord convicts each person individually. 

But a good starting place is to read C.J. Mahaney’s God, My Heart, and Clothes. His wife, Carolyn Mahaney wrote an excellent pamphlet, the Modesty Heart Check, which helps outline certain styles of dress that may be less modest than others. Another excellent resource is to ask the men in your life.

Do you live at home still? Ask your father before you buy a new outfit or leave the home. I know, this sounds extreme if you are not used to doing this. But your Dad can give you an accurate idea of what MEN are thinking of when they see you in an outfit. What seems cute and innocent to us, can drive men wild. My husband greatly helps me with this. My husband can give his opinion and share how men might be seeing my outfit.

More in this series:

Cultivating a Modest Heart Series

1. C.J. Mahaney, God, My Heart, and Clothes Page 2.

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  1. What a great beginning to the series! And I love that Timothy verse, it happens to be one of my favorite scriptures.

  2. thanks for sharing – i agree with the issue being mainly pride & a desire for attention. it’s so hard to communicate to young girls (i’m thinking jr. high and high school) that there are some kinds of attention that they’re better off not getting! but since we’re always comparing ourselves to others, we struggle to believe that all the attention other girls are getting for their looks really isn’t desirable.

    also, it has no practical implications, but i just wanted to note: paul wrote 1 timothy, not timothy.

  3. Thank you so much!! I loved this article of the series as well! Especially this part:

    Essentially, modesty is putting on an attitude of humility. Humility in dress, in speech and in life. A humble woman does not draw unnecessary attention to herself, but rather serves her brothers and sisters in humility.

    This is so true and I guess you could say the “heart” of the matter. I’m truly enjoying this series and keep up the good work!!

    • Thank you! I think that is essentially what this whole talk boils down to. Humility in submitting to God’s word and serving Him in that.Thanks for the encouragement Crystal!

  4. You hit the nail on the head, Jami! So often pride is what keeps Christian women from desiring to serve God by what they wear. Looking forward to the rest of the series (btw, have you seen the survey that the Harris guys did on what men perceive to be modest/immodest? I found it very enlightening, and useful for any woman who truly desires to dress modestly.)

  5. Thank you for these thoughts on modesty! In the world that we live in, it is so unappreciated and it is wonderful to find someone else who feels it is important still! 🙂

  6. I’m so grateful for a series like this. Thank you for being willing to speak out humbly about something that can be so controversial!

  7. A very interesting subject and already some good comments!!

    The Bible is the conclusion of the whole matter!!

  8. I was given the task of speaking to a group of young people on a range of topics including dressing and i must say I got a lot of useful tips from your website. I am going to use them to help them recognize that you can look good and not cause a brother to sin…..I especially liked the bathing suit sections….keep up the good work and may God continue to bless you and your family

  9. […] “…Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” 1 Timothy 2:9-10 (ESV)  Here’s a good blog that speaks more in depth to modesty. […]

  10. “Essentially, modesty is putting on an attitude of humility.” That’s a deep look at a rich topic. I’ve never seen modesty this way, but I think you’re spot on. Thanks for your insight!

  11. Hi, Thank you for writing this series. I know it was a few years ago but the information is very important. My husband has asked me to change clothes or said that he didn’t like an outfit and wouldn’t say why. After being married for a year I finally asked why and he said it’s too revealing. My father taught me to protect and cover (which I did until end of college) but it never crossed my mind that my husband would want me to do the same. Thanks, this series will help me to get back on track.

  12. When The Lord was convicting me on modesty 8yrs ago I thought. If Jesus Himself the humble man had a wife how would He have His wife dress? Would He have her got to the store to get the latest and greatest to stay in style or be clothed simply and covered? When I get dressed and look in the miror I think of Jesus standing in front of me and if I would feel comfortable or ashamed.

  13. Yes, I think women should wear burkas in church so that men will be able to control themselves, because men are very weak. That is why they end up raping women. Isn’t it strange, that the Bible tells women to submit to and be subservient to men, to let them do all the talking in church, etc., when in fact, men are terribly weak?

  14. Though it’s two years old, as one addressed kimberlee’s misconception, I will, though she’ll likely never see it. I want anyone who believes this to find in the Bible where there is any Scripture at all about women being subservient to men. Meaning you must find that word or meaning (submissive does not qualify because it does not fit the definition of subservient) that tells women they must be subservient to all men. Hint: you won’t find it.
    You went to the extreme when you brought out the Burks and rape. I have NEVER seen any article on modesty that ever implies or states that women are responsible for rape. I’m not sure why you’re so upset. Perhaps you have been victimized by men. I was too, and if that’s the case, I’m so sorry. But try to think of it the other way around(and honestly, there should be articles on male modesty if we go off of Noah’s example). If men were half clothed in church, or anywhere, can you say they aren’t distracting? Pretty sad when we defend our women’s fashions that show far more skin than men’s but don’t expect the same sort of fashion choices from them.

  15. I am just starting a Bible Study on Modesty with my daughters and friends. I was glad to come upon your article. I was very blessed by a number of your thoughts in this article. But I will say I was VERY shocked when I clicked the link to but modest clothing. My husband saw several of the outfits and suprisingly said. MODEST? Far cry. Yes, there were some modest dresses. But is hinting to what lies behind the dress modest? Just a surprise to see these outfits defined as Modest.

    • Modesty is such a hard topic because God’s Word doesn’t give us specific guidelines on what modesty is. Each believer needs to pray about it and decide on their own convictions. And there are no links on this article to clothing, so I’m not sure what website you are talking about 🙂

      • I am sorry maybe I commented on the wrong blog. It is a link to popular posts. It is labeled where to buy modest clothing. I agree that each person needs to search scriptures and come with their own convictions. A few references to read that really opened my eyes the first one is written from a man’s point of view. Bathsheba – An Address to Christian Woman. Get your copy at Strands of Finest Gold 6523 Township Rd 346 Millersburg, OH 44654. Also Bible Helps @ biblehelpsinc.org they have several little tracts on Modesty.

  16. I really appreciate this wonderful article about biblical modesty. There is one area, medical modesty that many Christians and non-Christians do not really think about.

    It bothers me about how many Christians preach that you should dress modestly, but that your modesty does not matter in medical settings. It is odd that many Christians preach that young women should dress modestly to help men to stay pure, but they see nothing with male gynecologists. This is a huge cultural blind spot. I think that in general, people tend to accept almost anything that the medical industry does because our culture sees doctors as the definitive “experts” on the human body. Often Christians fall into this trap; they submit to a doctor’s methods without questioning, but often doctor’s methods go against God’s nature.
    I do not believe in situational ethics. If nudity is always wrong with the opposite sex except for your spouse after puberty, I believe it is wrong in all settings including medical. Doctors and nurses are humans like all of us and not exempt from God’s moral standards. Many Christians have fallen to the cultural blind spot that opposite sex intimate medical care is okay. I encourage you to check out some articles about this issue at http://www.truthmagazine.com/modesty-and-your-physician and http://www.biblicalmodesty.com/malegynos.aspx.

    Look at how one man’s marriage was hurt by his wife going to a male gynecologist at http://www.patientmodesty.org/modestycomments.aspx?ID=2.

    The abortion issue reminds me so much of opposite sex intimate medical care. Abortion was not performed in the bible, but infanticide was. There are plenty of bible verses that indicate that life begins at conception and that an unborn baby is human. We know murder is wrong based on God’s word so that is how we know abortion is wrong. Think about it this way: it is wrong for a man to shoot a pregnant woman in the stomach and kill her unborn baby, but it is okay for a doctor to kill an unborn baby through abortion in the name of medicine according to the pro-choice movement. Both the man and the doctor are equally guilty of murder. It is wrong for a person who is not in the medical profession to examine and touch private parts of a sexually mature person of the opposite sex she/he is not married to, but it is okay for a doctor or nurse to do that in name of medicine. It is ridiculous because God has the same standards for everyone including medical professionals.