Trust Me

August 28th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Jeremiah, in some of his best known words, wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” The implication to the final rhetorical question seems to be no one can understand it. And, in particular, we cannot understand our own hearts. We think we know ourselves, but our own hearts deceive us, blinding us to our real motivations, thoughts, feelings. We do not need Satan to deceive us when it comes to our own sin; we are perfectly capable of accomplishing that on our own.

 

As I prayed this morning, I asserted boldly that I was not motivated by pride in some specific request. (I am sure God needed that information in any case.) But these words from Jeremiah came to mind almost immediately. If I do not know my heart as well as I should because my heart actively deceives me, then I should pray differently. Instead of asserting my innocence without knowledge, I should take a line from the psalmist: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Rather than assuring myself that I am not, I need to implore God to reveal if I am driven by sin unknowingly.

 

I suspect I am not alone in this overweening boldness. When addressing girls on the issue of modesty, for example, I inevitably hear loud protests. Immodesty, I believe, springs from a lack of satisfaction in Christ, trying to make oneself feel lovable and beautiful apart from God. But most of the women who have heard me speak on the subject assure me this could never be in their hearts; rather, they are only trying to look “cute,” and weren’t even thinking of the response they get from men, other women, or even themselves. Maybe. But I would guess some heart-deception is at work. “Search me, God, and know my heart.”

 

Or consider the thorny issue of gossip. How many of us have flattered ourselves that we’re having a long conversation about someone else because we love them and just want what’s best for them? We have assumed our motivation is love and proceeded accordingly. But if we trusted ourselves less, and asked God to search us more, revealing the many offensive ways within us, we might arrive at a different conclusion.

 

While in Jerusalem for the Passover festival early in his ministry, many people saw the miracles Jesus performed and believed in him. The feeling was not mutual. John writes, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people” (John 2:24). If Jesus would not trust us because he knows what is in us, should we trust ourselves?



Modesty Goes Swimming

July 2nd, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The fourth in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

 

Because the weather is unseasonably warm—swelteringly hot, at least where I am—it seems worthwhile to discuss swimwear in this short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Here especially the wheels frequently come off the modesty train, and one meets with the most stubborn resistance to the plain teaching of God’s Word among many women of all ages.

 

Before we turn to swimwear specifically, we would be wise to review the two guiding principles for modest dress. A woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God (1) will guarantee she reveals nothing inappropriate and (2) will not draw attention to what is underneath her clothes by the way she dresses.

 

One suspects that these two principles would reveal most swimwear as immodest, which is probably true. Bikinis and nearly all two-piece swimsuits in particular, but even many one-piece suits guarantee a woman will reveal much that is inappropriate. Hardly a curve is hidden with form-fitting one-piece suits, and two-piece suits and bikinis unashamedly flaunt areas of the body that should be reserved for a husband’s eyes only. This ensures that much attention is drawn attention to a woman’s body as well. One cannot easily imagine that many men focus on a woman’s heart when she stands before him in a small, tight, brightly colored bikini. So why do so many Christian women still feel free to wear them?

 

One of my main frustrations when discussing the issue of modesty is the implicit belief that no clothing is immodest—that immodesty is cultural, and our culture (whatever culture it might be) accepts all clothing and so we can too. With this comes an implicit denial of the truth of God’s Word, of course. For God commands women to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9-10). If God asks women to dress modestly, it implies that there is such thing as immodest dress (else no command would be necessary). Among modern dress, what could possibly be less modest than a two-piece or bikini (or even many one-piece suits)? Does anything reveal as much of a woman’s body?[1] Why then are we so uncommitted, so unwilling to take a clear stand for Christ against the tide of sin and the world?

 

If women are committed to honoring God by the way they dress, they will have to be radically anti-culture (even blasé church culture) when dressing for the beach or pool. Nothing should change in our desire to obey God absolutely because the weather is hot or people around us are particularly anti-God in their clothing. Of course, one might well ask if Christian women tend to dress more modestly than other women at the beach (or anywhere, really). In my experience, the answer is no. This right here should give us pause and cause us to renew our commitment to honoring God. Anytime a Christian’s life is indistinguishable from his or her unregenerate neighbor’s, immediate reflection, and probably repentance, is necessary.

 

Where might this reflection and repentance lead us at the beach? When choosing a swimsuit, I would recommend the following principles[2]:

  1. Your cleavage should not be visible at any point. Your swimsuit must be cut high (with no plunging necklines).
  2. Care must be taken that the outer layer of your suit is not too tight around the chest.
  3. No midriff should be visible, even when raising your arms.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, your bikini area should be covered (as this is the most attractive part of a woman to most men): women must wear a skirt or shorts with the suit, even while in the pool.

I would say the easiest way to ensure modesty at the beach or pool is to wear a t-shirt or modest tank top (taking care that it won’t be see-through when wet) and reasonably long shorts over your suit, given how difficult it can be to find a truly modest swimsuit in this present darkness.[3]

 

God has called us to holiness because he longs for us to experience the fullness of life he has to offer (cf. John 10:10). Modesty involves neither cost nor sacrifice, only faith that God’s standards for our lives will always bring us greater joy and satisfaction than we could ever know through disobedience. Especially for those women who struggle with body-image, with a sense of your worth and beauty in Christ Jesus, modesty is a strident declaration that you will not listen to the enemy’s lies any longer. You are Christ’s, you are loved, you are beautiful. Let your dress proclaim this good news to a watching, desperate world.



[1] I will grant there might be a few articles of clothing less modest than these, but they simply prove the point.

[2] See yesterday’s footnote for a response to the charge of legalism.

[3] There are, thankfully, some exceptions. This website has many modest swimsuits available (assuming you purchase the accompanying skirt).



Standards for Biblical Modesty

June 28th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The third in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

 

If clothing should draw attention to what’s inside a woman’s heart, rather than what’s under the clothes, what can we do to ensure this is the case? In other words, what practical, concrete guidelines can we establish to focus attention where it should be? I can think of two overarching principles that will go a long way in keeping dress modest.

 

First, a woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God, will guarantee she reveals nothing inappropriate by the way she dresses. No matter the position she is sitting or standing in, no matter how disheveled her clothing becomes during the course of the day, no one will be able to see what they shouldn’t. A loose-fitting, reasonably high-cut top may be extremely modest in a standing position. However, if that same top hangs low enough when the woman bends down to pick something else up that her bra is exposed, it is hard to classify that as truly modest dress. In that case, the woman should take care to wear a high-cut tank top underneath the shirt that is tight enough that it doesn’t pull away from her body when she leans over.

 

Second, a woman who longs to honor God in her dress by drawing attention to the gospel and her hope in God, will not draw attention to what is underneath by the way she dresses. This is an important accompaniment to the first principle. For example, imagine a young woman wearing a short (mid-thigh) dress to a formal event. Of course, she runs great danger of exposing herself accidentally, failing to keep the first principle of modest dress. However, if she wears athletic shorts underneath her skirt, has she solved the problem? Now she has guaranteed that she will reveal nothing inappropriate, assuming for the moment that a woman should expose that much of her legs anyway (a point I am probably unwilling to concede). Unfortunately, those around her do not know she has made these guarantees. She may still draw illicit attention because her dress will almost certainly draw attention to what is underneath it. A modest-fitting blouse with sparkles emblazoned across the chest runs afoul of the same problem. Truly modest dress makes observers forget a woman’s body and remember her heart.

 

With these two principles in mind, I think we can establish some good standards for modest dress[1]:

 

Upper Body
1. No cleavage should be visible whatsoever, no matter the position you are sitting or standing in.
2. No midriff should be visible whatsoever, even when you lift your hands above your head.
3. If wearing a loose-fitting blouse or scoop neck, nothing should be visible when bending down. (A high, tight-fitting tank top underneath can help in this regard.)
4. If wearing a button-down top, nothing should be visible through gaps in the buttons. (Again, a tank top can help.)
5. If wearing a sleeveless shirt, your bra should not be visible through the sleeve-holes.
6. Girls should refrain from wearing spaghetti-strap, halter, or sheer blouses, as these draw attention to what is underneath.
7. Girls should refrain from wearing shirts that are too tight around the chest.
8. Girls should refrain from wearing shirts that draw attention to the chest by writing or graphics inappropriately placed.

 

Lower Body
1. No midriff or underwear should be visible, even when bending over or lifting hands. (Tucking in the tank top [Upper Body #3] can help prevent this.)
2. Girls should refrain from wearing pants that are too tight around the backside (especially if the outline of your underwear shows).
3. Skirts/dresses should cover the knee when one is in a sitting position.
4. Skirts/dresses must pass the “sunlight” test: that is, make sure the dress or skirt is not see-through. If it is, wear a slip.
5. Check any slits in your skirts/dresses to see if they draw undo attention to what is underneath or reveal more than they should.
6. Shorts should be long enough that they do not expose too much leg. They should probably be longer than mid-thigh.
7. Girls must make sure shorts are long enough and tight enough at the leg-opening that they cannot expose themselves when sitting. In many ways, shorts are more dangerous than skirts because girls tend to be less cautious when wearing them. (Wearing athletic shorts underneath may help in this regard.)

 


[1] Undoubtedly many will raise the charge of legalism at this point. I suspect this misses the point of legalism; after all, the apostle Paul, who taught against legalism more strongly than any other biblical writer, nevertheless gives specific ethical instruction in every letter (including the call for women to dress modestly [1 Timothy 2:9-10]). Legalism has to do with trying to win God’s grace by good deeds, and is heretical. However, those who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone—and not by works—nevertheless respond with good deeds (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10). In other words, dressing modestly doesn’t win you God’s favor; but if God has won your affection, this is how women will dress as a grace-inspired response to his goodness and mercy, as the Spirit sanctifies them through and through.



The Purpose of Clothing

June 26th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The second in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

 

Modesty matters because our clothing matters. Clothing has a purpose according to Scripture. If women are going to dress in God-honoring fashion, they must understand that purpose well and dress accordingly.

 

Interestingly, Scripture addresses the issue of clothing at one of the most pivotal moments in salvation history. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve were both naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25). However, immediately after sin and death entered into God’s holy creation, they felt shame and vulnerability. Eventually they tried to sew clothes from fig leaves, which proved ineffectual. So God graciously steps in, sacrifices the first animal (a sign of the ultimate Sacrifice still to be made) and makes clothing for them from the skin of animals (3:21). Clothing serves as a reminder, then, of our failure and God’s faithfulness.

 

No wonder the biblical writers return to the subject so often. And in light of the struggles peculiar to women—feeling unloved, unlovable, ugly—it comes as no surprise that the issue comes up in one of the passages extolling biblical womanhood: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves” (1 Peter 3:3-5). Hope in God, the unshakable foundation of true modesty, produces an inward, unfading beauty in those who cling to it. Outward adornment, especially when pursued to the neglect of robust hope in God, reveals a lack of faith, a lack of understanding about God’s creative and redemptive goodness, a lack of absolute contentment in Jesus Christ.

 

So the crucial difference between modest and immodest dress is where the attention lies. Immodest dress draws attention to the superficial in order to produce a fleeting sense of worth and beauty; modest dress draws attention to the heart, to the gospel of our failure and God’s faithfulness, in order to express the enduring hope a woman has in her Savior.

 

This admittedly short theological reflection should help us move to a discussion of application. (We always must understand the theology well before we move on to practice, no matter the issue.) Tomorrow we will turn to the practical, hopefully now having a solid foundation on which to stand as we make specific clothing decisions.



Emotional Modesty

June 25th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The first in a short series on the biblical virtue of modesty. Despite the Church’s lax stance on the issue today, Scripture nevertheless commands and expects modesty from those who follow Christ. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8).

 

Whether we choose to listen or not, the Bible has much to say on the issue of modesty. Our whole lives, really, should reflect the modesty of our meek and mighty Savior. We are to have his attitude: not drawing attention to ourselves, but rather humbly serving others in love (cf. Philippians 2:1-11). Of course, modest dress is but one expression of a modest heart. A person who cannot help but shade every story he tells so that others will be impressed by his accomplishments struggles with immodesty as much as any girl who wears tight-fitting, body-revealing clothing. Both seek idolatrous attention through illicit means; both lack faith in God and need a greater understanding of who they are in Christ.

 

Nevertheless, I plan to focus in this series on modesty as it relates to clothing specifically. In so doing, I will address women exclusively (though I would recommend men read and internalize the information too). Some will protest that this is a double-standard, sexism, discrimination, and a host of other dirty words in contemporary culture. If by these words my opponents mean to suggest that I treat men and women as fundamentally different, having different struggles and needs, then I accept the charge unabashedly. God made us very different and we would be fools to minimize that difference in the name of a misguided tolerance. Title IX has no relevance when it comes to the essentials of gender.

 

It should come as no surprise, then, that Scripture addresses the issue of modesty very differently for men and women. When discussing proper adornment, modest dress, the writers of Scripture address women exclusively. They understood the fundamental differences between the genders. Paul, for example, says, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10, emphasis added). Peter, while not using the word modesty outright, still raises the issue for women specifically (1 Peter 3:1-6). When “discrimination” simply means making God-created distinctions, we should have no reservations.

 

Of course, this doesn’t mean modesty has no relevance for men at all; quite the contrary, really. While I will aim the rest of this series at women, it is worth addressing men briefly now. Women need to clothe themselves modestly in part because men are attracted visually primarily. Thus, an indecently dressed woman may cause a man to stumble, to have lustful, illicitly sexual thoughts about her. Women, however, are attracted emotionally primarily. Thus, a man must keep himself emotionally modest. A man may cause a woman to stumble—perhaps even by compromising herself sexually—by speaking to her with falsely intimate words, trying to arouse emotions that have no place outside of marriage (and perhaps the final stages of courtship). Men who flirt shamelessly are as immodest (emotionally) as women who reveal their bodies to every passing male. (I don’t think we go too far to call them emotionally promiscuous, in truth.)

 

Men, if this description fits you, it is time to examine your lives and make the necessary changes in the light of God’s grace and by the power of the Spirit. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).