When we turn on the television or we walk down the streets at any given time in any given place it’s not usually very long before we see someone who is either inadequately or inappropriately dressed.
To set the stage for this lesson, let’s recall the account of Peter, Thomas, Nathanael of Cana, the sons of Zebedee, one of them being John, and two others left unnamed, went fishing one night after the Jesus had been crucified and had arisen. They fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus appeared on the shore and instructed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat and when they did, they caught so many fish they couldn’t draw their nets in. We are all familiar with that story. But I want to make an observation about it. We find this account in John chapter 21 starting in verse 1. In verse 7 we read, “Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea.“
According to the record, they were about 300 feet out in the sea of Tiberias. When Peter realized that it was Jesus, he immediately puts on his outer garment and jumped into the water to go meet Him on the shore. Peter put his coat on before he plunged into the water.
Have we ever thought about that? Would that not be an odd thing for a man to do in the company of other men? Peter is about to swim a hundred yards in the water to go to the shore and he puts on more clothes. The term in the original Greek used here for outer garment is translated as “fisher’s coat” in the KJV. It was a garment similar to the coats we would wear today to protect us from the elements. That would be like one of us putting on an overcoat before jumping into the water to start swimming.
People in the world and some in the church have a serious misunderstanding of modesty. Most people think that if somebody dresses in a way that causes another person to lust, it’s immodest, and certainly that is true but brethren that is not enough. How many of us want to put ourselves in the position of saying that if Peter believed that he did not put his outer garment on that Jesus Christ was going to lust after him? Think about that. There had to be another reason why Peter put on his coat to go meet the Lord.
Peter was going into the presence of the Jesus Christ and he realized that dressed in just his undergarments was not appropriate. They had been working all night, sweating and straining with the boat and the net. Peter had removed his outer garment in order to work more freely with the fishing gear, but he put it back on in order to swim over to the shore? One has to ask themselves, would Peter have put on his coat to swim to the shore if Jesus Christ were not standing there?
The reason Peter did this is because, Modesty doesn’t just govern the area of causing lust, it has to do with appropriateness. It has to do with being proper. Now we need to understand that while modesty and appropriateness are related, they are not the same. We will see this later on as we develop this lesson.
This story doesn’t start in John chapter 21. Let’s go back to where this really starts to Genesis chapter 2 with Adam and Eve. In Genesis chapter 2 starting in verse 21 and following we read,
21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23 And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”
24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
25 And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
Now turn over one chapter to Genesis chapter 3, starting in verse 7, we read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
Something pretty significant happened between Genesis chapter 2 and chapter 3 because before they were naked and unashamed, now they’re still naked but now they are ashamed of their condition. They had eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They understood now because of having this new knowledge that the way they were dressed was inappropriate.
Now we need to remember something when we consider this example of Adam and Eve. How many other people were there on the earth at this time? There were none. Scripture plainly says that Eve was the mother of all living, (Genesis 3:20). Adam and Eve were alone as far as other people were concerned and they had come to the understanding that just walking about on a daily basis without any clothing on was inappropriate because who were they in the garden with? They were with God. And they understood that they could no longer do this so what did they do about it?
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
They fashioned themselves coverings from fig leaves. By today’s worldly standards, they probably could have appeared as they were, dressed only in those fig leaves in public or on our television sets without fear of reprisal. But what we need to focus on in this lesson is that even though they were covered in some fashion, Adam admitted to God that he was naked. The first thing we need to take from this lesson today is that a man and a woman can be somewhat covered and still be considered naked by the Biblical standard. We are going to focus later in this lesson on the fact that the clothes Adam and Eve made for themselves were not modest.
When we think about the sin of Adam and Eve, we focus more on the sin of rebellion against God’s command to refrain from eating of the forbidden fruit than we do about them being naked in the garden. We don’t pay much attention to the fact that they were naked and ashamed of themselves. After they ate of the fruit, they used fig leaves to cover themselves, yet for all of their efforts, when God came into the garden, they still considered themselves naked, so they hid. Having acquired the knowledge of good and of evil, they experienced guilt from being immodestly dressed.
Due to their sin, they suddenly found themselves living in a world where nakedness was immodest. And brethren, we still live in that same world today. Nakedness is immodest and you don’t have to be totally nude to be considered naked by God.
Immodesty dominates much of what we see on our TVs in our country today. Music videos, commercials, regular TV shows. It’s a constant flow of immodesty into our homes. And make no mistake about it, modestly goes way beyond just what we wear. Immodesty is expressed in the way these people move, in the way they act and interact, in their speech and in the way they present themselves. Modesty is far reaching and goes way beyond our apparel. It is entirely possible to be modestly dressed but still be immodest through our behavior.
So how does a Christian remain modest in a immodest world? First we have to know what is modest and immodest. We have to know what God’s standard for modesty is. We do that by studying what God has revealed about it in His word. He certainly did not command modesty but leave us with no way knowing what He considers modesty to be.
Going all the way back to Adam and Eve, we see that God made “coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). Now keep in mind here that God made the same clothes for Adam that He did for Eve. Now we need to consider that while at the some time remembering that the world thinks that men can wear something different, or less than a woman and still be modest.
Why would God have made these coats of skin if it was not necessary? Adam and Eve were alone in the garden. There was nobody else on earth but them. the coverings that Adam and Eve made for themselves, by their own admission, was simply not good enough. They still hid from God because of their shame and because of their guilt.
At that time, God saw fit to make them clothing that was both adequate and suitable. Now we have right here an example of divinely designed and God approved coverings of the human body. We are not going to find a better example of how God wants mankind dressed than clothing designed by Him. God fitted them with coats of skins. The word for “Coat” in this passage indicates that they were entirely covered from their shoulders to the bottom of their thighs. God’s personal designer clothing for the covering of mankind included the upper and lower portions of our torso, for both men and women.
The same thing applies to Adam and Eve as it did for Peter out fishing. If modesty were only about not causing someone to lust after another, then why oh why did Adam and Eve feel shame for their nakedness. I will submit to you that the last thing on Adam and Eve’s mind at that time was concern over God lusting over their nakedness. Just like Peter, Adam and Eve were not just dressed immodestly, they were dressed inappropriately. Appropriateness is as much as part of modesty as proper covering of the body is. Let me illustrate. Skins covering Adam and Eve from their shoulders to their knees was modest. And for the situation at hand on that day, it was appropriate dress as well. But, that same outfit that God designed and fit them with would not be an appropriate way for me to have dressed this morning for services. Imagine the reactions here if I showed up this morning all ready to preach to you dressed in fig leaves and an animal skin coat.
That is why we do not find a step by step detailed account of how a Christian ought to dress in scripture. Because if we did, it would almost certainly be first century type dress and we would be constrained to dress exactly that way all of the time. God did not do that to us. What He did do is give us guidelines for overall righteousness and leave it up to us to accomplish both modesty and appropriateness in the way we present ourselves as Christians before the world.
How does a Christian remain modest in an immodest world?
First we must know God’s standard for modest dress. Second, we must know and understand the consequences of immodesty. And third, we must accept our responsibility as Christians and take a stand for modesty. One cannot be modest in an immodest world and not know the standard of modesty, and not know the consequences of immodesty and not take a stand for modesty. And brethren, make no mistake about it, that is the hardest part. It’s easy to take a stand against murder and robbery isn’t it? It’s easy to take stand and oppose lying and cheating. But it’s harder when it’s something that permeates our entire culture. It’s harder when taking a stand is going to put you at odds against society as a whole. It’s harder when taking a stand is going to cause you to stand out as different, strange, not like the rest and therefore risk the disapproval and scorn of society, your friends, and in all likelihood your families.
First, what is God’s standard for modest dress?
What do we need to have covered up? We have already seen that God clothed Adam and Eve from the shoulders to the bottom of their thighs. God gave commandments concerning His priests in the Old Testament. Priests were commanded not to climb the steps to the alter in such a way that their nakedness be exposed to those standing beneath in Exodus 20:26. In Exodus 28:40-43 we read God’s instruction concerning the attire of His priests, “For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics, and you shall make sashes for them. And you shall make hats for them, for glory and beauty. 41 So you shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him. You shall anoint them, consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister to Me as priests“. Ok, so here we have them being dressed in tunics which was the standard article of clothing at this time in history. A tunic commonly covered one from the top of the shoulders down to the bottom of the thigh. But that’s not enough for a priest who is going to ascend to the top of the alter. You can see under a tunic if the wearer is standing above you. So we read on in verse 42, “And”, (meaning in addition to), “you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. 43 They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die…” NKJV
During the times when the priests were engaging in activities such as working overhead or reaching up to light candles where their nakedness would be exposed, they were required to wear trousers that prevented that. These trousers worn as undergarments beneath their tunics were to cover them from the waist down to the bottom of their thighs. The consequences for failure to keep their nakedness covered was to incur iniquity and die. God considered the exposed thighs of men to be nakedness. The modesty of God’s priests was important enough to God that He set in place measures which would insure their modesty regardless of their activities.
Now one might ask what bearing the adornment of a priest in the old testament has to do with us who live under the new covenant. We need to be aware that there are priests of the new covenant and who they are. If God had a standard of modesty and appropriateness for priests under the old covenant, what makes any of us think it would be any different for a priest under the new covenant? Peter wrote in his first epistle in chapter 2 verses 9 and 10, “But you” (speaking to fellow Christians), “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.”
We are a chosen generation, we are a holy nation, we are the people of God, His own special people, we are God’s royal priesthood. Every Christian alive on this earth today is a priest of God. Man or woman, young or old, we are all priests of God if we are a Christian. We have to ask ourselves, when are we priests? When are we not priests? When do we act like priests? When can we not act like priests? Are we priests after we leave here today, or do we leave this place of worship and leave our priestly responsibilities behind and embrace the ways of the world? Certainly not.
The consequences of immodesty
So we have the standard of modesty and what God expects of us as His priests. What about the consequences of immodesty? The first and most obvious consequence of immodesty is sin. It promotes “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes” as written in 1 John 2:16. Immodesty is a double edged sword. It is sinful to be immodest and it promotes sin in others.
Consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The same goes for men who dress immodestly where women are concerned. We are going to be judged by the desires of our hearts. Immodesty can cause someone to stumble and fall. We can, with immodesty, cause someone to lose their salvation. And scripture is clear that to cause someone to stumble bears the same consequence as those who do stumble. Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.” So when we dress or act immodestly, we are not only guilty of personal sin, but we can cause others to sin as well.
Another consequence of immodesty is sexual crimes. There is no way we can quantify the pain and suffering brought upon humanity as a result of immodesty. There is a multi-billion dollar industry we know as pornography which is built around immodesty. Immodesty is linked to more than sexual crimes too. King David saw Bath-Sheba on a roof-top washing herself. She was immodestly exposed. King David lusted after her and when it was all said and done, Uriah, Bath-Sheba’s husband died because of it. He was an honorable man, unjustly murdered because of David and Bath-Sheba’s sin. We must ask, how many people today suffer because of someone else’s immodesty? How many children have been molested because of someone else’s immodesty? How much needless pain and suffering have innocent people had to endure because of other people’s immodesty?
And the last and most serious consequence of immodesty is spiritual death. It is sin to be immodest or to cause others to lust. James 1:14-15, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Immodesty, whether by one’s actions or by one’s dress is primarily used for one thing. It is used to appeal in some way to a member of the opposite sex, to attract them, to cause oneself to be desired or to look desirable to them. It is wrong to be immodest and equally wrong to succumb to immodesty. And the consequences for both is spiritual death.
And the third thing a Christian must do to be modest in an immodest world is to know our responsibility and take a stand against it.
What is our responsibility as a Christian? We have already seen from 1 Peter 2:9 that Christians are a royal priesthood. Peter wrote in his second epistle in chapter 1, verses 5-7, “…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” What does godliness mean? Godliness means to be “like God”. We are to be “like God”. This means in our manner of dress, in our actions, in our speech, in every facet of our lives. We are to strive to be like God. Decent, modest and appropriate at all times. We are let our light shine before the world so that they can see our good works and glorify God in heaven (Matthew 5:16). God expects the world to see His light through us, His royal priesthood.
As God’s royal priesthood, we are commanded to glorify God in all our actions. Read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” What is left out of “whatever you do”? We have to ask ourselves, does our appearance out in the world being glory to God? Our appearance out in the world starts with the way we adorn ourselves. Are we presenting ourselves to the world as priests of God to His glory, or are we presenting ourselves as children of the world? Are we promoting God with our appearance or are we promoting the things of the world? Are we as the royal priesthood of God representing Him properly to the world? What does the world see, when they see us out in it. These are questions we must ask ourselves.
Let’s consider the words of Jesus in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
James wrote in chapter 4:4-5, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Are we as the priests of God trying to serve two masters? Are we as priests of God trying to be friends of the world? Where is our loyalty? To God or to the world?
1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
We know our responsibility as Christians, now how to we take a stand against immodesty? The exact same way that we take a stand against murder, lying, fornication, and other forms of sin. We abstain, we keep our distance, we shun it, we shut it out of our lives, we don’t have anything to do with it. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:17, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you“.
Taking a stand means more than just avoiding it too. This is the hard part. This is where it gets really tough brethren. Let’s consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 5:5-7, “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them.” We cannot partake of the sin of immodesty with the world, but it doesn’t stop there does it? Paul had more to say. Reading on in verses 8-12, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” The KJV translates that as “reprove them”. That word means to convict, convince, point out a fault, or rebuke.
Brethren, it’s not enough to just abstain from immodesty. We are commanded to rebuke immodesty. We are commanded to make a stand. To know God’s standard, abide by it and be intolerant of immodesty and to point it out when we get the opportunity, perhaps with our friends, our family, our co-workers. The word of God says to take a stand.
So how is the best way to convict, convince and point out fault to others? It starts with our actions. We cannot participate in immodest behavior. If we participate in immodesty, we show the world that we approve of it. We universally show our disapproval by our own modest speech, behavior and dress. When others perceive in our actions that we do not support or approve of immodesty, God is both glorified and the light of truth has been shown on darkness. There is without question times when a verbal rebuke is appropriate, but for the other situations which arise on a daily basis, our behavior, actions and appearance are the way that we point people to the light. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
As priest of God, Christians need to be aware that we are God’s representatives out in the world. He is counting on us to show others the way. It has been left to us to be the examples, to live the Christian life, to lead others to God by being what we ought to be. We must shine the light of truth on the path to heaven so that others can find it. The world out there is a mess with all the things that are going on. Christianity is the only hope the world has. God is the only answer, God is the only way, God is the only hope. Righteousness and truth is the remedy for what we see in the world. God’s righteousness is the solution for all the troubles we see out in the world. As Christians, we must resolve ourselves to be part of the solution. If we aren’t part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem and we don’t want to be a part of what we see going on out there. Jesus taught in Matthew 12:30, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.”
Let’s consider the words of Paul in Titus 2:11-15, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority.”
We deny ungodliness by living soberly, righteously and godly in the present world. Living godly means living as God lives. And by so doing, we are not going to be like the world. We are going to be a peculiar people, God’s own special people. The people of the world are going to see and know from our actions and the way we live that we are different from them. They are going to know that we do not consider this world our home. And indeed, scripture refers to Christians as pilgrims in 1 Peter 2:11.
We’re going to look at some guidelines for modesty, then we’ll close the lesson for today.
1. Will what we are wearing, doing or saying bring God glory? (1 Corinthians 10:31; Exodus 28:40,43; Isaiah 61:3)
2. Does what we are wearing meet or exceed God’s standard for being modest (Genesis 3:21; Exodus 20:26; 28:40-43)?
3. Will our clothing, speech or actions help or hurt my influence for Christ (Romans 13:10; 15:3; Philippians 2:3,4)?
4. Is our clothing too short? Sit down, cross your legs, bend over, squat down, reach up. At any time, does the garment reveal any of your leg above your knees? (Exodus 28:42) With tops and blouses, is your midriff showing at any time (Genesis 3:21)?
5. Is our clothing too tight? Are we revealing the form of our bodies which highlights or emphasizes sexuality, thus tantalizing, enticing or tempting others to have impure thoughts (Matthew. 18:7; Galatians 5:19?
6. Is the neckline too low? Remember that God covered Adam and Eve from the top of their shoulders to the bottom of their thighs. Bend over – what can you see? Sit. What can be seen while looking down at you. Keep in mind that God made sure His priests were appropriately covered in every situation while performing their duties.
7. Can our skin or undergarments be seen through our outer clothing? Peter was considered naked while wearing only his undergarments in John 21:7.
8. Is what we are wearing appropriate and respectful (Genesis 41:14; Matthew 22:11-14)?
9. Because of how we dress act or speak, would someone mistake us for a worldly individual (Proverbs 7:10; Genesis 38:15)?
10. Is our apparel, actions or speech stating that we are pure and holy, or objects of desire by others?
11. Will our apparel, actions or speech cause someone to lust after us, thus causing others to stumble and sin (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 8:9; Matthew 5:27,28)?
Does our apparel, actions or speech properly reflect our status in the kingdom of God as a member of His royal priesthood. Would God be proud to be seen with us, or would He be ashamed of us? Would He point to us as His example of righteousness before the world, or would He turn away from us? Does our modesty illuminate the path to Heaven, or does it lead us and others down the other path? Are we always pointing the way home to others who are lost? Are we always glorifying God with our actions, dress and speech. Are we a beacon of light to a dark and hopelessly lost world? Do others look at us and see through heaven’s gate?