I read your article about modesty, entitled “What Should I Wear?” I want to commend you for your passion and desire to serve the Lord.
However, I want to share with you some things that God has been teaching me about modesty. I was once just like you (okay, okay, I was once you), and I was passionate about modesty. I had made a commitment not to look at immodestly dressed women, and I wanted to reduce the number of women that I couldn’t look at. In the summertime, especially, there were many women who revealed too much skin for me to look at: tank tops, shorts, low-cut tops, sun dresses, swimsuits, etc.
Jesus says that a man who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart. I don’t want to be guilty of mental adultery. I believed that if I looked too long at a woman who was wearing something like what I mentioned above (immodest clothing), I would lust, and I needed to look quickly away if I saw a woman dressed that way. Sometimes I would have to talk to one of these women, so I would either focus in on the woman’s face or look somewhere else to avoid my eyes shifting to any forbidden areas, because that would be lust or the next thing to it.
In recent years, God has taught me more about modesty. I have realized that I was wrong. I took down that article that you wrote, because it was teaching things that God didn’t want me to teach. In His grace, God has been showing me that the things you wrote do not work, and are false.
So I’d like to share what I wish someone would have told me when I was your age.
The Concept of Modesty is a Farce
Teaching about “Biblical modesty” centers around one word in the entire Bible: “modest”, in 1 Timothy 2:9: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array…” From that one word, I made all sorts of conclusions about what a woman should or shouldn’t wear.
But when I investigated it in Strong’s Dictionary, I discovered that the Greek word doesn’t mean “modest” as we think of it in relation to clothing, but “orderly” or “decorous”. It is not referring to how much of the body is exposed.
This is the only verse in the Bible that uses the word “modest”. And, as I just mentioned, that word “modest” is a mistranslation, at least in modern-day English. (It could, after all, have meant exactly the right thing 400 years ago.) The farthest you can take it is that women should be modest-minded (“shamefaced and sober”), and wear orderly clothing that is appropriate to the situation they are in. There is no basis for saying “This is modest” and “This is not”. Nor does this verse give a basis for condemning certain styles of clothing.
In other words, there is actually no Biblical command to dress modestly.
God Has Not Said that We Must Cover Certain Parts of the Body
It took me a long time to come to grips with this fact: God has not commanded that any part of the body must be kept covered!
Of course this doesn’t mean that God wants us to walk around naked. What it means is that there is no Biblical basis for commanding women to cover certain parts of their body. I have not found any Scripture, for example, that says that women must never show their shoulders or upper arms. Biblically, then, we can’t tell women who wear sleeveless shirts that they are sinning.
I know that you will react in disgust to this, Joel, but God never even commanded women to cover their breasts. Now, I don’t recommend that women go around topless. However, we cannot say that every woman who has a little cleavage showing is a sinner, because there is no specific command that she is breaking.
God Does Not Want Us to Judge Others by the Outside
When I was your age, I judged women by their clothing. Those who wore modest dresses and skirts were Godly women or at least better than the society around them. Those who wore tight, revealing clothing were wicked mental prostitutes. I knew that they were dressing that way because they wanted me to lust after them, which was disgusting.
In John 7:24, Jesus said, “Don’t judge according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” He does not want us to judge someone based on how they look. He was speaking to people who were rejecting Him because they didn’t like the looks of His ministry, but failed to grasp His divine heart.
Recently, God has been pounding into me that I must not use someone’s external appearance to judge their spirituality. He has not commanded that we must cover any specific part of the body; therefore, I cannot condemn anyone for revealing anything. I know that some women probably do dress to get men to lust after them. But I also know that not every woman in tank top and shorts is a slut. Furthermore, God has not commanded me to stay away from immodest women. It’s my job to preach the Gospel to every creature, regardless of what they are or are not wearing.
God Has Not Said that Women Cause Men to Lust after Them
One misconception is that an immodest woman will cause men to lust after her. Joel, you perpetuated this kind of mindset when you wrote, “I would submit that since it is adultery for a man to lust after a woman, any woman who wears revealing or suggestive attire is a mental prostitute, whether she intends it or not.” This is so wrong. This puts false blame and guilt upon the woman who just wanted to stay cool in 95 degree heat.
Women do not cause men to lust after them by revealing skin. They may tempt men to lust, but God never said that women can cause men to lust by their clothing. This is huge. If a woman can cause (force) a man to lust after her, it means two things:
- The man is not responsible for lusting—he couldn’t possibly help himself.
- It is possible for a woman, by the way she dresses, to force a man to commit adultery with her, even if she is a Godly woman who would never commit adultery.
I am disgusted, now, by the guilt trips that people place upon Godly, pure-hearted women, telling them that if they dress a certain way, they will cause men to lust after them. God never said that. He only told the men that if they look upon a woman to lust after her, they have already committed adultery in their hearts. He said nothing at all about what that woman might be wearing.
Many people (including myself) have stated confidently that certain styles of dress “tempt men to lust” or “stumble”. But that’s based on opinion, not fact. In the last ten years, I have seen a couple modesty surveys. The only thing you can say with confidence is that different men are different. Some men struggle more than others. Some men have no problem with styles of dress that you would find highly immodest. I do not find “immodest” women nearly as tempting to the eye as I did at your age.
You might say that a woman should dress to keep her weaker brothers from lusting after her. But how far should she go? Must she wear a sheet hanging down to the ground, ghost-style, so that no one can see her form and lust after her? You would never promote such a thing, yet some men will lust after women who are dressed very conservatively.
Oh, that God’s people would stop condemning guiltless women who have no evil intentions in their dress!
God’s Point is that Women Need to Adorn the Inside
In both 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:1-6, God’s real point to the women is not to give them a list of do’s and don’ts about the way they dress. His real point is this: “Your true beauty comes from the inside and results in changed behavior. Adorn the inside instead of the outside.”
If a woman truly is dressing to tempt men to lust after her, she needs a heart change, not a clothing change. Then she will stop trying to seduce men. At that point, what she wears is between her and God. He is the One who will guide her in what to wear. If, as a daughter of God, she is led by the Holy Spirit, He will guide her in how to dress to glorify Him and advance His kingdom. It may not be the way that some people think she should dress, but if God is pleased with her, that is all that matters.
This really needs to be the bottom line for both men and women, in everything they do: “Is God pleased with me?” Nothing else matters.
Modesty Isn’t Working
Joel, your dad, who taught you modesty for years, is now working on a book that greatly expands on what I’m sharing with you here. It’s currently over 500 pages of evidence that shows that, if anything, modesty rules increase sexual sin, instead of decreasing it. He’s been working on it for five years, and he hopes to publish it soon. We still have some work to do on it, including recording a music CD to go with the book. It’s called The Failure of the Great Amish and Conservative Mennonite Dress Experiment.
I can’t summarize the book in this article, but rest assured, if you want more evidence that what I’m saying is true, it will be there.
Joel, I wish that someone had written this letter to me when I was your age. Unfortunately, I can’t rewind ten years and deliver this to my 17-year-old self. So I’m sharing it on my blog in hopes that I can help others like you who believe in modesty.
You might be concerned that if women don’t dress modestly, you’re going to have problems with lust. I understand. God showed me some myths about lust—maybe I’ll share them another time. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this verse:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)