Modesty – Is It Really What We Think It Is?

While doing some research for a post a couple of weeks ago, I came across something I had never really put a lot of thought into: modesty. And by not putting a lot of thought into it, I mean that I had grown up assuming that what I heard from the people around me was the correct way to think.

Please know that I don’t believe there is a definitive answer regarding modesty; everyone has different beliefs and different things with which they are comfortable.

My original view on modesty before this post: make sure your body is covered up enough as to not entice others. I don’t think I was on either extreme end of this – probably somewhere in the middle. I guess I try to not compare myself to others, so this is just my presumption (I have recently gotten into leggings, so maybe I have moved toward the “liberal” end of the spectrum, haha).

Anyway, this is the verse that started all of my thinking:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Read more about where this verse came from in this post.

Rachel Marie Stone wrote an article that addresses this very concern I had. She notes that the Greek word for modesty is kosmios which is translated as ‘of good behavior, modest,’ or in a letter from Paul as ‘respectable.’

As it turns out, this word that we often attribute to meaning “make sure your clothing covers you up” has very little (if anything) to do with the clothes you wear. Which makes sense, because there are many verses that talk a lot about not putting too much thought into the clothes/jewelry/makeup you wear, but rather to focus your energy on ensuring you have qualities such as gentleness, compassion, kindness, humility, and patience.


Verses such as these, if you want more to study:

For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:23)

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30)

likewise also that 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)

Based on what I can see about the word for modesty, it seems like this verse should really say something along these lines: wear clothing that others find respectable. Have good behavior (behavior that deserves respect) and practice self-control. Don’t worry about fancy hair or spending a lot on jewelry, but focus on doing good works to spread the kingdom of God!

This verse is similar:

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

It seems that a lot of the bible says to not worry too much about clothes, hair, jewelry, etc. but to make sure you look and act in a respectable manner, focusing on cultivating good personality characteristics.

Do I think you should have your body hang out of your clothes? No, but I think that maybe we put too much emphasis on the “correct” amount of skin showing – I would like to challenge you that maybe there is no right way – that if you are respectable looking, that’s fine. And that everyone will have a slightly different of a view on this. And that’s okay.

So if people may have a different view on what is respectable, what are we to do? Well, Rachel Marie Stone has a thought on that too:

It’s easy for us to understand that certain occasions call for certain kinds of dress. It would be equally odd to wear an evening gown to help someone clean out a flooded basement as it would be to wear basement cleaning clothes to someone’s wedding. But it is often harder for us to accept that what is considered respectable, appropriate, and well ordered in other cultures is not categorically ‘wrong.’ (Rachel Marie Stone)

She goes on to state that in certain parts of Africa, knees are considered sensual. Seems weird to us (my knees are definitely not getting anyone excited), but covering up your knees is respectable and polite in that place. It would show disrespect if you had your knees hanging out, just for the sake of it. And really, is it that much of a burden to wear a longer skirt or shorts if you are in a place that has these values?

Are you dressing respectfully for your place in the world? And perhaps a more important question: are you cultivating good values in yourself? Something to think about this week.


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