The Distaff
The Foolishness of Preaching About Modesty

Debbie Rowen

The temple of Diana at Ephesus was a huge palace of marble columns. It was beautiful and imposing with an air of majesty. As the Ephesian passed through the massive colonnade to the golden interior, his perverse worship of an idol with prostitution was validated by the splendor of the structure itself. He was joined by almost all of Asia. How could that many people be wrong? Even their economy was consumed with the support of their religion. Then along came Paul with his teaching about a God not worshipped with idols made by hands. How foolish he must have seemed to the Ephesian silversmiths in the shadow of their temple! In like manner, God's message about modesty may seem foolishly old-fashioned in the shadow of our culture. One may be influenced by fashion magazines, clothes worn on television, or all of the tempting goods at the mall. Together they can make an impressive temple to the god of this world. Here is the comparison: just as Paul's preaching was foolishness to the Ephesian living in sight of the marble temple to Diana, so may sound doctrine about modesty seem foolish to modern man.

God's Definition of Nakedness

When Adam and Eve gained knowledge of good and evil, they knew they were naked (Genesis 2). They tried to make clothes for themselves, but they were inadequate; so, later God clothed them with animal skins. The Hebrew word used for the garment God made indicates that he made a tunic which reached to the knee. Along this same line, God told the priests serving the temple to wear trousers that covered their nakedness from the waist to the thighs (Exodus 28:42) - so that they did not incur guilt and die. God's law has taken nakedness seriously from the beginning. Consider the incident of Noah and his sons. Noah became drunk on wine and uncovered himself in his tent (Genesis 9). Ham saw Noah's nakedness and was cursed to be a servant to his brothers. When Shem and Japheth covered their father they walked backwards and kept their faces turned. Later in the Mosacial law there are many passages against uncovering nakedness (Leviticus 18-20).

In Isaiah 47:2, the prophet speaks of the condition of Israel in captivity as a woman sitting in the dust, her skirt stripped off, leg uncovered, her nakedness uncovered and her shame exposed. It is apparent that a lack of clothing is shameful to people who are old enough to know right from wrong. And it is obvious God has made some definition of nakedness as the legs above the knee.

Modesty Defined

In 1 Timothy 2:9 we are told that godly women should be modest and discreet. The word modest means well-arranged and decent. It can apply to your clothes and your conduct. A simple example of the opposite of modest would be a flashy sequined spaghetti strap gown that falls short of the knees. You can see how it fails to meet the standard in more than one way:

Likewise a woman covered adequately may behave in a flirtatious manner that would not be modest. Young women are to be soberminded (Titus 2:4) and shamefaced (1 Timothy 2:9). This means to have a godly fear with a sense of awe, to be restrained from foolish passions, and to be self-controlled. A modest dress and demeanor will reflect these attitudes.

Don't Bathe on the Rooftop

Bathsheba started a vicious cycle of destruction when she bathed within sight of the king's palace (2 Samuel 11). Just as her actions provoked King David to adultery and murder, so are many of today's fashions designed to be lascivious (Galations 5:19-21, 2 Cor. 12:21): a work of the flesh, literally meaning to incite lust or passion. Consider the sheath dress. It is tight and form-fitting with a low neckline and short hem. It is designed to show a woman's figure to advantage. Should you wear it anywhere much less to the worship service? What about a short skirt? When you are seated in the pew, your thigh is exposed almost all the way. Sit in front of a mirror and see for yourself what happens when you cross your legs. Now think of the man who is serving the communion as the tray passes over your lap. You have just been exposed on the rooftop. Is this the image you want to project? Even if no man is provoked, what about the LORD who is assembled with us? Will he be pleased?

In Conclusion

Nakedness is not defined by our culture; God has placed limits there. Examine the scriptures and be convinced of what he expects. We should monitor our wardrobe to see that we are walking in the light as he is in the light (1 John 1:7) and not in the shadow of the temple to worldliness. No matter how appealing to our eye, and no matter how great our desire to be admired, we must resist an immodest display of the flesh. We must present our bodies a living sacrifice and not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). Chaste behaviour (1 Peter 3:2) starts with the first impression we make with our dress.

So don't bathe on the rooftop like Bathsheba. Rather adorn yourself in a manner that becomes women professing godliness.

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