The tricky thing about being a Christian is figuring out what to do with freedoms. I am thankful that God gives us freedom in lots of different ways, that we have the option to choose whether we go on to further study or start working straight away after school, that we can wear our hair long or short, that we can choose what we want to eat for dinner etc. But with great freedom comes great responsibility.
We’ve been chatting beauty and modesty at church lately. We had a women’s teaching brunch where we heard two very challenging talks exploring what the Bible has to say about beauty and modesty. In summary: grow in godliness rather than in vain, and dress wisely so you can glorify God with your clothing regardless of situation.
Since then, I’ve become hyper aware of just how hard it is to pin down modesty. How do we define modesty? Can we describe what it looks like to dress modestly without being legalistic? If modesty is subjective, how can we ever know if we are being modest?
This makes it difficult to work out what we do when it comes to clothes. If nobody can agree on what makes clothing modest, then how will we work it out? And it doesn’t help that thrown into that mix we all have different body shapes and sizes and types and so what’s modest on one person might not be modest on another.
I’m in the process of clearing out my wardrobe (where do all these clothes come from? And even though my wardrobe struggles to close, why do I feel like I have nothing to wear?) and so I’m trying to think through modesty and godliness and the clothes I pick carefully. I’ve started thinking things through in three ways:
Culture – How is this item of clothing influenced by culture? What does it say to the people around me? Does this clothing unnecessarily offend people in this culture?
Context – Where would I wear this? How versatile is this item of clothing? If I wear this how will others react? Will I unnecessarily offend people with this outfit?
Clothing – Do I like it? Does it fit well? Am I wearing it appropriately or am I wearing it in a way that is unloving? Is it fun? (That last question is just something I ask for me. Bright colours, patterns etc make my heart sing).
Sometimes I get hung up on the idea that others might be offended by what I’m wearing. “It’s my right!” I cry. “It’s my right to have bright pink hair and ABC item of clothing and I can wear them where I like because I have the right!” But the reality is that I have been given the freedom to choose my clothing, I’ve been given this freedom by God in order to be free to love those around me. And so I am free to choose clothing that will love others as opposed to love myself.
If the elderly ladies at our early morning congregation would be offended by me wearing thongs or my gym gear to their church service, then does it really hurt for me to wear a skirt and flats? It might hurt my pride, but that’s what humility is: sucking it up and serving others before ourselves. And if I’m asked to dress tidy when I’m up the front of church making announcements etc, well then that’s fine too. I can still wear in fashion clothes, I can still look fun. But what’s more important to me: being free to be fashionable, or being free to love others?
We have the ultimate example of how to use our freedoms in Christ, in Christ. He freely gave up his freedoms in order to serve us when he died on the cross. Philippians 2 tells of Christ’s outrageous humility, as he submitted to death on the cross. How can we possibly cling to our rights and our freedoms in light of this? Surely the only appropriate response is to do the same. We are free in Christ, and we are free to give up our rights for the sake of others. This applies to clothes too.
As for defining what is modest and what isn’t, I’m still not sure…
What do other people think?
Here are some other questions I am thinking through. If you have any answers or insights I would love to hear them.
- How can you determine whether someone is being immodest if we struggle to define modesty?
- What do you do if someone pulls other people up on their choice of clothes, but they’re the only one who is concerned?
- Does this mean there’s no room to challenge people about what they believe about clothes and legalism etc?
- At what point is something just immodest because it’s not in your culture (i.e. some cultures just wear lots of makeup and that’s normal, other cultures don’t and that’s normal for them etc)?