A New Kind of Modesty

Andromeda:  Textile Macro

Andromeda: Textile Macro by cobalt123, on Flickr

I walked down the high street of Cork, my head down, my ears dulled, and my heart aching. The atmosphere of the world washed over me like a warm wind laced with acid. I felt miserable. Every view my eyes beheld had an immodest diva as the centerpiece, framed by sensual suggestions. My stomach churned. I hate shopping. A strange glimmer of something caught the attention of the corner of my eye, and I glanced up. My eyes locked, and I smiled.

A girl. A real girl. Long hair. Long skirt. Subdued dress. Tastefully adorned. Probably homeschooled. Definitely Christian. Very pretty. At least to me she was. She might not be garishly redone and pimped like an android from Venus, but she was clean and wholesome. The sight of her refreshed me to no end as she walked through the teeming crowds of the world’s charms.

The winds of fleshly temptation blew about me unheeded; the heat of devilish suggestion beat upon me unnoticed. God had sent an angel to refreshen me in my battle, and even when she had gone, my heart was renewed, my eyes were alight with resolve, and my smile remained.

-a generic retelling of an all too infrequent occurrence in my life

Oooooh…! Jay is looking at girls!” I hear you say.

Yup. I do that.

Go ahead and gasp all you like; I am not apologizing. I want to talk about this. I want to encourage young ladies like the one described above (who I have never yet met, though I think I have seen the same one a few times here and there) in what they are doing. And to encourage those who aren’t, to start.

Please note what I saw in this girl: her outside features. All I could see was her clothing and her head. And yet I was inspired, encouraged, lifted, strengthened, and exhorted. How was that? The answer is pretty simple actually:

Clothing is a part of language.

Honestly, it is. It is a part of language just like body language or speech. This has been true as long as there have been clothes… in fact the first occurrence of clothes in the Bible (and in the world for that matter) emphasized this fact (Genesis 3:7-21). This quality of clothing is inescapable.

So what did this girl’s clothing say to me?

I am a Christian. I serve God with my heart and my body. I yield my personal desires to His requests. I seek to please Him in all I do. God is glorious, and worth serving. God has changed me. I am not beat down or trampled on: I am living joyously and full of life. I want to save myself for marriage, and I want to help you do the same. Live for God.”

Nice little sermon there, huh?  And that is why her appearance was like a drink of refreshing water straight from the fountain of life: she was glorifying God. She was pointing straight to Him. And His presence was there in that, blessing both her and me. And that was what gave me strength.

Of course I hear you saying, “But what if she doesn’t believe those things? What if she isn’t trying to say those things?” Well, the answer is rather obvious: there is a miscommunication. *grins*

But it doesn’t matter very much to me. See, if someone accidentally says they hate me, and I forgive them, it makes no difference to me than if they had really meant it and I forgave them. I react the same, and I am right to do so.

If someone gives out Bibles in an attempt to go undercover and subvert, destroy, and otherwise attack a church, those Bibles are not blocked from helping people. Lost may still become saved through his efforts, even if he didn’t mean it.

So it is with clothes. Whether you mean what they say or not, they still say it.

Therefore we all ought to take heed to what we wear to make sure we are saying the right thing.

Now, as with learning any language, there is a lot involved. Thankfully the Bible helps us out a ton in figuring this out (believe it or not, the vast majority of the language of clothing is not cultural, but built into us by God, and laid out in His Scripture). Unfortunately, there is also a ton of controversy on every single standard of communication that is in the Bible. Go figure. Lexicology is tough.

I want to focus on one particular part of this, though: adorning.

Leaving aside the standards of modesty, femininity, and cultural significance (assuming we are at least reasonably in agreement on those, though it would be surprising if we were), of course, because those would take a looooong time to go through.

I want to examine two passages in the Bible: 1 Timothy 2:8-10, and 1 Peter 3:1-5. This will be an exercise in hermeneutics, so hang with me. 🙂

Here is the first:

1 Timothy 2:8-10 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

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;

10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

And the second:

1 Peter 3:1-5 Likewise, ye wives, [be] in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;
2 While they behold your
chaste conversation [coupled] with fear.
3
Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;
4 But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

5 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God,
adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:

It is good to take these two in context with each other, since they are talking about the same topic, to a similar audience, in related contexts, and thus act as commentaries on each other.

There are two key words that tie these passages together (among other things of course): Conversation and Adorn.

Conversation means your way of life, plain and simple. 1 Peter actually mentions this word twice, and additionally uses the concept at least 3 times. 1 Timothy does not use the word, but uses the concepts around three times. The theme of these two passages is actually not really clothing, but your lifestyle in general.

This is what I was talking about just a bit ago: these passages are teaching us how to communicate godliness through our actions, including our dress.

Adorn is the important word. It is used in both passages, and provides the key to interpreting them.

ADORN’, v.t. [L. adorno, ad and orno, to deck, or beautify, to dress, set off, extol, furnish.
1. To deck or
decorate; to make beautiful; to add to beauty by dress; to deck with external ornaments.
A bride adorneth, herself with jewels. Isa 6.
To set off to
advantage; to add ornaments to; to embellish by any thing external or adventitious; as, to adorn a speech by appropriate action, sentiments with elegance of language, or a gallery with pictures.
3. To make
pleasing, or more pleasing; as, great abilities adorned by virtue or affability.
4. To display the
beauty or excellence of; as, to adorn the doctrine of God.

Webster’s 1828, of course.

According to Strong’s, every Greek and Hebrew word translated as ‘adorn’ in the Bible has the same definition presented here: to make beautiful by decorating.

With this definition, we are immediately presented with a logical problem.

1 Peter 3:3 Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;

So, at first glance, this would say that women are not supposed to braid their hair or wear gold or… wear clothes?

Then you think, oh, right, it says ‘adorn’ not ‘wear.’ Therefore we aren’t supposed to decorate ourselves with those things.

Which means women are not permitted to put anything on them which would make them beautiful. Even worse, they are not allowed to put anything on them that will make them not ugly (otherwise it would adorn). In which case the Muslims got it right. 😛

This view is untenable, not because of the Muslims, but because in other parts of Scripture, women are commanded to adorn themselves for their husbands… with jewels (which would defeat the purpose of this verse entirely, with this interpretation at least).

An example:

Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh [himself] with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth [herself] with her jewels.

Another interpretation is that they shouldn’t wear clothes at all, which is, ahem, obviously not the right one.

These are the interpretations you get if you look at only this verse. The only way to understand it correctly is to look at the context.

1 Peter 3:4 But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

The wearing of ornaments is not contrasted with drab apparel, but with a different adornment: good conversation. This is born out also in the sister passage in 1 Timothy.

1 Timothy 2:10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.

And if you look at the example that Peter gives, it becomes even more clear (isn’t it great how the Bible interprets itself?):

1 Peter 3:5-6 For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:

6 Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

Notice how it didn’t praise Sara for dressing in a bland and ugly fashion, but by pointing out her beautiful spirit.

And that is the point. This passage is exhorting women to make sure that their primary adornment is that of their spirit. If their clothes outshine their conversation, then that is not a good testimony.

They are saying the wrong thing.

Yes, women can wear gold, jewelry, braids, and even quality clothes fit for a princess of the King of kings; as long as their soul, their walk with God, their good works, their faith, their meekness, their sobriety, their shamefacedness, comes forth with yet greater splendor. In fact they must shine forth to such a degree that those are the things that people see first and talk about.

Ezekiel 16:8-14 Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time [was] the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.
9 Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.
10 I clothed thee also with
broidered work, and shod thee with badgers‘ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk.
11 I decked thee also with
ornaments, and I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck.
12 And I put a
jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.
13 Thus wast thou decked with
gold and silver; and thy raiment [was of] fine linen, and silk, and broidered work; thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil: and thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper into a kingdom.
14 And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy
beauty: for it [was] perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord GOD.

This is the word picture that God used to describe His redeeming work in Israel’s life, and ultimately, in our lives. God would not have used this word picture, which describes in fascinatingly vivid detail putting costly array (and even gold) on a girl, if He disapproved of those very things.

The focus of these verses is to exhort women to make sure their conversation outshines their adornment, not to forbid women from wearing gold or braiding their hair (etcetera).

This true interpretation is born out in the definitions and usage of the words in the context of 1 Timothy:

1 Timothy 2:9 …that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety.

Shamefacedness is easy: it is the opposite of ‘bold’, very close to ‘shy’ or ‘bashful.’ They do not put themselves forward.

Sobriety does not exclusively refer to the absence of drunkenness: it means “Habitual freedom from enthusiasm, inordinate passion or overheated imagination; calmness; coolness; as the sobriety of riper years; the sobriety of age.” Again, reserved, not putting yourself forward.

Modest really doesn’t only refer to sexual chastity, that is actually not even the primary definition. Webster has practically a sermon in his two definitions on this subject (‘modest’ and ‘modesty’), and I wish I had the space to quote it all here, but I am sure you have noticed that this post is fast becoming a book. But here is a snippet:

Not bold or forward; as a modest maid. The word may be thus used without reference to chastity.

Almost enough said, but I can’t leave without quoting this gem (pun intended) found at the end of Webster’s definition of modesty:

In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners. In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor.

He likes to wax eloquent, doesn’t he? 🙂 But the point is made well.

God wants us to be beautiful for His glory, just like a flower, or a waterfall, or a sunset glowing over the horizon of the ocean.

But we have been given a great gift that God did not give to these things. Above and beyond this sort of beauty, God has given us the capacity to radiate His splendor through our actions and our spirits.

And that is the mark of a child of God, when we do that.

P.S. I want to link to another post on this subject by a good friend of mine, Mrs. Parunak, on her blog Pursuing Titus 2. We don’t disagree on much. 🙂 But we do happen to disagree on this point, and her article, in fact, inspired me to write this one. Mine is a bit longer, though. 😛 I am not here to refute her at all (though I do welcome her to comment and let me know what she thinks, and if I missed anything). The only reason I am linking to her article, is because she does a great job presenting the contrary view.

http://pursuingtitus2.com/2010/09/07/you-might-need-to-take-a-deep-breath-for-this-one/

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Riverdancing!

Hello all!

Found this really neat video of some good riverdancing… with the girls in long skirts! I thought that was pretty awesome, so I am sharing it with y’all. Enjoy!

Part 2: Legalism

Greetings,

From what my last post was saying, one would at first glance be unsurprised by my next statement: “we ought to be extremely modest.” Then I can imagine all of the red flags going up and every one of them screaming: “Wait! Do you want us all to be dressed in black bags with only our eyes showing, and them behind a veil?! Do you want me to go live in a cave or a nunnery and never go out?! That is legalistic!” This is the reaction that I want to address. It is very common for people (in topics even far removed from the issue of modesty) to constantly bring up legalism and sometimes use it to attack perfectly sound arguments that convicted them.

So what is the definition of legalism? I tried to find out, but was thwarted by the extreme overabundance of varying opinions. It seems that everyone agrees that it is bad, but everyone disagrees on what exactly it is! Here are some of them…

Legalism:

  • Adding works to grace for salvation.
  • Excessively strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.
  • To focus exclusively on biblical law rather than our relationship with God.
  • Trying to hold to the Old Covenant.
  • Making up a new law that isn’t really in the Bible.
  • Judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
  • Being distracted by little rules from the weightier matters of spirituality like our relationship to God.
  • A collection of facts rather than a study of the Living God.
  • A too-strict set of rules that cannot apply to everybody.
  • A set of rules that do not allow for the working of the Holy Spirit in changing our minds.
  • Relying on human, fleshly understanding instead of God in our seeking to be righteous.

That is quite a list. Most could actually be considered viable definitions or attributes of legalism. Most I would agree need to be avoided in the Christian life, depending on what you mean by them. Here is what I would say is the best, most accurate definition of legalism (derived from my father): “Legalism is the extrapolation of rules/laws (the letter of the law) beyond their intended scope (the spirit of the law) in a prideful attempt to put yourself above others.” This is the definition that is most germane to the manner in which it is popularly used in the type of cases that I am referring to.

When, in my example of extreme modesty, people bring up legalism, they are misunderstanding what I mean by extreme modesty. They are assuming modesty is a set of rules of dress and behavior, and so when you say “extreme modesty” they immediately equate that with extreme rigidity and extent of rules, which, ironically, is legalistic if you think about it. They utterly miss the point: modesty is not about ‘rules’ per se, nor is it utterly about a ‘heart attitude’ as many proclaim, neither is it really a mixture of the two. It is an outworking of an inner spirit in certain definable ways. Just like faith and works cannot be separated, true inner modesty cannot be separated from the ‘legal’ rules that must needs pour out from it.

When I say that something must be extreme, I mean that it must be extremely Godly. The world has overtaken our language and drastically and brutally subverted it to its way of thinking. In thus doing, they have made semantics much harder to navigate, and have crippled many people’s attempts at articulating their otherwise very good beliefs. If we let them define our terms, then they will define our communication, and will in so doing cripple us to a great extent. It is they who have defined modesty as a bunch of rules to create a psychological barrier to us obeying God’s desires.

So the gradient ought not to be more rules or less rules, it ought to be closer to God and further away from God. Everything pours out from where we are on that gradient. This does not mean that it is ‘up to each person’s discretion and conviction,’ but that it is all based on God, who changes not and does not waver, and who would have you glorify Him with modesty in every area of your life to its fullest extent. We ought to reflect our clothing of righteousness to as great a degree as possible.

That being said, I do agree that legalism is wrong, but only in the true sense of the word. Avoiding legalism does not mean that you are avoiding rules that are strict and all-encompassing: it means that you are not perverting rules to match your selfish desires.

With joy and peace in Christ,
Jay Lauser

Go to Part 1: The Goldilocks Fallacy

The Modesty Survey

TheRebelution.com: The Modesty Survey

Modesty is an important issue for every Christian to come to grips with.

Modesty is defined by Webster’s 1828 dictionary:
4. In females, modesty has the like character as in males; but the word is used also as synonymous with chastity, or purity of manners. In this sense, modesty results from purity of mind, or from the fear of disgrace and ignominy fortified by education and principle. Unaffected modesty is the sweetest charm of female excellence, the richest gem in the diadem of their honor.

Modesty is also defined this way in the Bible, when women are commanded to dress in modest apparel. Of course, modesty is clearly indicated by these definitions to exclude ‘suggestive’ dress. I have heard many girls argue that it is not their responsibility how they dress: let the men deal with their own thoughts. And while I do agree that we need to learn to control our minds and dedicate them to the Lord, refusing and combating perverted ideas, I do want to ask a question. Do you want to act as our enemy? Do you want us to have to be creating defense structures and performing evasive maneuvering in our minds to keep from thinking wring? Do you want to be the cause of greater temptation to us? It is a 100%/100% thing: each of us is responsible for our own actions.

Check out these links and especially the Survey itself. I highly recommend to all.

Announcing the Modesty Survey
The Soul of Modesty
The Responsibility of Modesty (1)
The Responsibility of Modesty (2)
The Purpose of Clothing
Free to be Modest
Survey Endorsements
Alex and Brett on the Survey
Fred Stoeker on the Survey
Josh Harris on the Survey