There are some thoughts you will rarely hear from the pulpit today:
1 Peter 3:3-6 NIV Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. (4) Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. (5) For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, (6) like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
Can you imagine the idea that we should teach any of our women that their beauty doesn’t come from makeup, jewelry and clothes, but rather the inner self? The congregation would simply not sit still for it; it would not be “seeker friendly” – not at all.
The world’s view would be very different. The virtue of modesty would be quickly rejected:
- First, because all virtue is old-fashioned, or worse. Such a view contradicts the church’s teaching that radical feminism is what the church has always taught. (Another good reason for not emphasizing Bible reading today).
- But of all old-fashioned virtues, modesty is the worst. It is condemned because:
- It is unfashionable. Such a virtue means that a woman might have to dispense with this year’s high fashion. Please note – this is not just the province of the young. Neiman Marcus caters to a wide variety of clientele.
- It is “old.” Is there anything more horrible in our youth oriented culture?
- It is cowardly – it means you don’t have the courage to follow the crowd.
Indeed, virtue of any kind has its pre-requisites, and modesty no less than all the others:
· It requires courage. We teach our children to be bold and rebellious by following the dictates of fashion. Obedience and modesty take guts; rebellion makes you one of the crowd today.
· Virtue requires knowing what’s right. Of course, there are far more ways to go wrong than right – so isn’t doing what’s right just being narrow minded?
· Virtue requires the willingness to pay the price. Even in the matter of clothing, your closet and your budget will only hold so much; to buy one item is to forego another. Sacrifice is necessary. So often we see the price of sacrifice, but not the price of following the fashion.
Let’s take a look at an example of that sacrifice.
Esther 1:10-22 NIV On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him--Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas- (11) to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. (12) But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger. (13) Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times (14) and were closest to the king--Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memucan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom. (15) "According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?" he asked. "She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her." (16) Then Memucan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, "Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. (17) For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, 'King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.' (18) This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord. (19) "Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. (20) Then when the king's edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest." (21) The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memucan proposed. (22) He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language, proclaiming in each people's tongue that every man should be ruler over his own household.
(It should be noted that the ancient Jewish commentators, in the Targums, were clear on the fact that Vashti was being summoned wearing her crown – and nothing else.)
This is not a pleasant situation for Vashti. Sacrifice? You bet. She’s going to pay the price either way. Let’s look at the price tags:
What if she goes along with this? After all, she’s good looking; the guys will certainly see that! What does it cost her?
- It costs her the transition from wife to stripper. Her value to her husband goes from being wife (and mother of his heirs) to that of “babe.” From then on, the king values her by her body – alone.
- There is also the personal humiliation. It’s not like the king wanted her in his bedchamber that way; he wants her to strut her body in front of the boys. Can any of them look at her innocently from then on?
- Later, and perhaps not too much later, there is the issue of trust. The king will know that she willingly stripped for the boys; can he trust her to be faithful to him?
The price of modesty
But suppose she says no? Does this cost? You bet it does!
- This king is the most powerful man in the world at the time, and a complete autocrat. It’s not unknown for him to execute someone who refuses to cooperate. He just might be that drunk.
- In fact, he was (by his standards) merciful. He just parked her in a back corner of the harem for the rest of her life. No kids, no sex, no husband – just a fixture in the closet.
- But worse, her name (and thus by implication her family) now becomes a bad example to all the kingdom. Women are warned by what happened to the queen! Keep these broads in their place! Can you imagine how her father felt?
So this is no simple, happy choice.
What it says
Have you ever considered what modesty says about you as a woman? Remember that modesty is not just about the erotic in clothing but also the extravagant:
1 Timothy 2:9-15 NIV I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, (10) but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. (11) A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. (12) I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. (13) For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (14) And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (15) But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
I’ve left the whole of that section in, even though only the first two verses really apply to modesty. It shows a style of behavior which is almost unknown today among Christian women. Submission is unthinkable; there must be something wrong with you if you do this. (Preachers now proclaim this passage to be “cultural” – meaning that it only applied then, not now.) But I ask you: by what logic do we now say that Christian women should not dress modestly, but in the latest fashion? Hair, gold, pearls, clothes – are these now preferred to modesty, decency and propriety? The answer seems to be yes; it is the new virtue. But the indication here is that it is not just the erotic but the extravagant which is immodest.
Either way, erotic or extravagant, what does your dress say about the church? The new message of consumer Christianity is that we are just like the world – and we certainly maintain that message in our clothes.
Of course, the short skirt and fishnet stockings are now “bold” and “courageous” – it shows that a woman has confidence. Confidence – or just brass?
What does it say about your marriage?
One might at this point conclude that your author is some sort of psychologically warped prude. (It’s the standard accusation; we’re all so repressed, you know). The point is missed. I love to see my wife in the heels and fishnet stockings – in the bedroom. But she’s not going grocery shopping like that.
It brings up an important point: the world says the basis of a good marriage is sex. As long as she can perform, things will be great. But is that so? Is it sex, or love, that makes the marriage?
Modesty, you see, is opposed to divorce. “Sexy” eventually fails; goodness doesn’t. If your marriage is all about sex, it is also all about short.
So I ask: is the woman you see in the mirror a child of God? Can you wear modest dress knowing that you are worthy in God’s sight (and your husbands?) Or are you a tramp with a wedding band, knowing the time is running short?
May I suggest that we have brought on this state of affairs ourselves? I submit the following failings for your consideration:
- What do we teach our young men to look for in a young woman? Is her value in her skirts, or her character?
- Likewise, have we taught this virtue to our young women?
Did you know the Bible commands this?
Titus 2:3-5 NIV Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. (4) Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, (5) to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Can you imagine anyone in our church today asking the older women to teach such things to the younger ones? In our times we’d have the younger one tell the older ones how out of date they are, and what they need to do to catch up. It comes down to this, as it often does. There are two ways before us. One is prescribed by Scripture, the other by the world. Sadly, we are busily engaged in re-interpreting
I should point out, in fairness, that this is a broad brush. I know of at least one group of young women in our church of whom modesty can fairly be said to be a virtue.
Nor, in fairness, would she ever think of wanting to.