1 Timothy 2:9 [ESV] “…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.
How many times have you heard the phrase “modest is hottest”? In Christian circles, young women parrot this phrase often and boldly to remind one another to dress in a way so as to not draw sexual attention unto themselves or cause their brothers in Christ to stumble. As anything that gains traction in pop culture, there has been some backlash to this phrase which contends that it 1) means that women are responsible for other’s thoughts and (2 that women are nothing more than sex objects. While that may be how secular women feel about “modest is hottest”, most Christian women I’ve come across understand that biblical modesty includes more than merely their attire; it is ultimately an act of worship to our Lord and Savior in that it indicates a woman seeking to more fully know God and conform herself to Christ-likeness in body and mind.
While modesty is also defined as the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities, for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on the quality of behaving and dressing in ways that do not attract sexual attention. As a Christian woman or man, we know how strongly the Bible speaks against sexual sins and that simply lusting after someone, to Jesus, means you’ve already committed adultery with that person in your heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
The most common application of this concept is pertaining to men lusting after women. After all, it would seem readily apparent that men tend to struggle with lust more than women. A simple search on the Google machine will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of articles exhorting women to dress and behave modestly so as to assist in keeping their brothers in Christ from falling into this temptation. This past weekend, a youth pastor wrote an article in this vein (which has now been taken down) which unfairly placed the entire blame for Christian men’s lust issues at the feet of Christian women. This sparked a viral Twitter hashtag titled #ChristianCleavage where women on both sides of the religious/secular aisle weighed in on why it’s not a woman’s job to control what a man thinks of her body.
To date, the best and most fair comment regarding this controversy was from JD Greear when he said in an article, “As I tell my church often, yes, girls, it’s our fault if we strike the match to ignite our thoughts with lust, but you don’t have to pile up twigs at our feet and douse them in gasoline.” Modesty is about looking out for yourself, for your brothers and sisters, and striving for Christ-likeness. Yes, we often lay too much responsibility at the feet of women to prevent men’s lustful desires, but this does not completely exonerate them from dressing appropriately.
All that said, while wading through the murkiness of acceptable social and religious attire, we tend to forget that women are sexual creatures as well. God created humans to enjoy sex within the confines of a biblical marriage. This means that both sexes enjoy this activity and both, then, are prone to lust. That’s right, men, what you wear can cause women to lust. Further, what you don’t wear likely will cause women to lust. Confused? Don’t be, this is easy; what don’t you wear when you go swimming? What don’t you wear when you’re playing pick up ball and it’s hot out? What don’t you wear while running?
Please fight the urge to blow off the rest of this article, because this is important. In the secular mind there are only two reasons why a man wears a shirt when he goes swimming, either 1) he’s out of shape and embarrassed about it or 2) he fell asleep sunbathing and his skin is fried like KFC. That’s it.
An article on the Christian post a couple of years ago recounted the following exchange:
After one lake outing I did hear a faithful girl say, “Wow! ________ looks fiiiiine with those 6-pack abs!” It was clear she was not talking about one of her female friends…they were all wearing one-piece suits. No abs on display.
Without speculating as to the cause or timing of this shift, let just sum it up this way: there are, even within the body of Christ, teenaged and adult females who struggle with lust. Their eyes betray their hearts in the same way most teen and adult males have experienced since puberty. Modesty is an attitude of the heart (1 Timothy 3:2) as well as a manner of dress (1 Timothy 2:9). Modesty considers how we think about ourselves in relation to God, which is reflected in the way we dress.
Modesty realizes that being “in Christ” means the believer does not need to gain lustful attention through boasting or revealing clothing. It considers the weaknesses of others and strives not to contribute to a spiritual downfall.
I think the question is, “Are women the only ones who need to be modest or are men also accountable?” I think there is no question we are accountable. Male followers of Christ should take modesty as seriously as we want, hope and pray that our sisters in Christ would.1
Now, let’s be very transparent here, shirtless Landon has a very real possibility of inducing nausea before lust ever enters the equation. But there are countless Christian men in great shape and shirtless at every opportunity. Do we think that a half-naked man wouldn’t cause a woman to lust? Do we not think our sisters in Christ are going to be carnally tempted when you ditch the shirt on a hot day? How can we in good conscience exhort women to ensure they wear tankinis so as to cover any unnecessary skin while we nearly bare all at the very same time? Is that leading our women well? I think not.
Interestingly, I’ve expressed this concern to other Christian brothers in the past and received a hearty dose of “legalist” and “Pharisee” language lofted my way. Is guarding the hearts of our women and young ladies legalistic and Pharisaical or is it striving after holiness and growing in Christ-likeness? I believe the latter is the obvious truth. Men, we are held to a very high biblical standard. We are called to be spiritual leaders in our homes and we are called as a body to protect one another. How loving of you is it to cause your Christian brother’s wife to stumble by lusting after you following a day at the lake?
“But wait, how can we control what women think?! They should be able to control themselves!!”
The shoe doesn’t feel as good on the other foot, now does it? JD Greear’s comment above could easily have been uttered by his wife in the other direction, “As I tell my church often, yes, men, it’s our fault if we strike the match to ignite our thoughts with lust, but you don’t have to pile up twigs at our feet and douse them in gasoline.
I challenge you, Christian men, think twice about stripping off that shirt the next time you go swimming. Think twice about stripping off that shirt whilst running, etc. If we’re going to exhort our women to protect our lustful hearts such that we don’t commit mental adultery with them, we should turn the spotlight back on ourselves and protect them from their equally lustful hearts.
Will you likely be teased and taunted from both Christian and secular men? Probably. But Jesus never said we should strive for the acceptance of other humans, rather, that we strive for holiness and Christ-likeness. As I stated above, modesty is more than attire alone, it’s a change of attitude as well. While changing one’s attire protects our brethren from sexually impure thoughts, it also reflects a humbleness of spirit and attitude that indicates a sincere striving after holiness.
Men and women alike are responsible for igniting lust in their hearts, but let’s do all we can to protect one another.