Christian Reflections on Lust, Modesty, and Beauty (Part 10): Conclusion

modesty1I am not always the best judge of what is or is not modest. There are some personal circumstances and experiences that can sometimes cloud this truth from me. The reality of course is that modesty is not nearly so neat and easy to discern for any of us. Some Christians want to make it simple. I mean, there are some obvious matters that we can generally agree on (don’t expose yourself in public, don’t intentionally dress to incite lust, etc.), but the more specific applications of Biblical principles are not always black and white. This study through modesty has been good for me, if for no one else. It has revealed to me the simplistic way that many of us think about this issue may actually be harmful to the church. The church needs to be more intentional and careful in how it thinks about, talks about, and applies the concepts of modesty. In particular, ascertaining true biblical modesty requires thoughtfulness, assistance, and grace.

Throughout this series we have discussed a host of issues related to the concept of modesty. We’ve discussed beauty, lust, and responsibility. We’ve noted the sliding scale of human evaluation, the important roles of context and humility. Each week I have been reminded that this is not a simple subject. The Biblical principles about modesty are easy enough to understand – though even those have not always been clearly articulated – but the application is difficult. The bridge between the principle and the application is not always neat and tidy, and God does not spell the details out of us in a nice tidy way. He requires us to think about our situations, our hearts, and our closets. In other words, thinking biblically about modesty requires us to use our brains.

To make rules about modesty without taking into consideration the host of related issues is to slide quickly in reductionism. If we begin with restrictions and rules but without understanding all that is involved in the composition of those rules we will inevitably do harm to the church. Modesty can lead us easily to legalism. We can end up policing other people, creating cultures of shame, and certainly applying rules hypocritically instead of reasonably. There’s a lot involved in understanding this issue, we need to recognize that in order to be the most helpful that we can. The danger, as has been pointed out, is that we can heap on women a burden they cannot bear, let men off the hook for their sin, and universally apply rules that end up shaming beauty. We need to be thoughtful in our approach to modesty.

We also need help in thinking Biblically about modesty. This whole series started because a loving brother gave me some pushback on the subject. He gently asked me some questions I realized I needed to think more carefully about. My answers have been formulated in conversation with a host of godly brothers and sisters who each took me to the Scriptures and asked relevant probing questions about the application of biblical principles. Because of our limited perspective it is so important to hear from others. Sometimes what we think is modest another finds appalling, it is worthwhile to hear their reasoning. Maybe we are wrong, maybe we’re not, but their perspective can still help us understand the application of the principle from a different angle. We need help in thinking through modesty.

Above all, however, we need grace. The Evangelical culture of shame that surrounds this subject is not healthy for the church. We need to cultivate communities where grace abounds to one another over even the sins of immodesty. We need to cultivate communities that recognize some flexibility in application, and which urges us to disagree in love, converse in love, and even challenge in love. We need to treat women with respect and dignity, not objectifying them even in our response to immodesty. Grace is given to us that we might show grace to others, which applies even to the issues of modesty. Love covers a multitude of neck lines.

It is not that there is no place for challenging and correcting each other on this issue. There must be room within the church’s conversation about modesty to correct one another when we are wrong, and to challenge one another when we’re concerned. Our clothing choices cannot be off-limits to our brothers and sisters. How we confront one another, however, is extremely important. We need to seek biblical modesty for our church with grace.

We need to seek biblical modesty for ourselves with grace too. Each of us needs to recognize our inability to be perfectly modest. We need to try hard, we need to be considerate and thoughtful, but at the end of the day we cannot take responsibility for the sins of others. We cannot heap up on our shoulders the protection of all others. Accept the grace of God, not in order to be lazy and self-indulgent, but in order that you might not take on more responsibility that God permits.

This is not a simple issue, and the church’s recent history reveals we have treated it as such for far too long. The damage is sometimes serious. We need to recognize the complexity of our world and of our humanness, and as we apply Biblical principles we need to seek to be comprehensive. Modesty is an important issue, but it’s not a simplistic one.

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