“Mama, Chloe is gonna LOVE this dress!” my four-year-old daughter gushed in front of the mirror one Sunday morning. With her eyes shining brightly and her dimpled grin broad, she was clearly delighted by the thought of her friend’s certain approval.
And that’s how I knew we had a lot of work to do when it comes to modesty.
Not because of the dress’s hem length or sleeve style or neckline.
And not because of its cost or extravagance.
You see, it wasn’t my daughter’s dress that was immodest.
It was her heart.
Her heart that wanted her friend to pay attention to her. To notice her. To admire her.
And that is precisely the attitude at the core of immodesty.
What Does The Bible Say?
The most referenced biblical description of modesty can be found in 1 Timothy 2:9-10:
[L]ikewise 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.
So the Bible is only telling us to avoid extravagance, right?
Gold, pearls, and costly attire certainly seem to speak to an extravagant way of clothing ourselves. But if that’s all there is to it, why include “braided hair” in the mix?
Modesty is much broader than how much our clothing costs or how much skin it reveals.
Based on this passage and the totality of the Bible’s teachings, a good working definition of modesty is not attracting attention where attention doesn’t belong.
So what does that look like? What should we be teaching our kids about modesty?
Principles to Teach Your Kids
Modesty is a mandate. While other valid reasons for modesty exist, the primary one is simply that God says we should be modest, and so we should be.
Glory belongs to God. It’s undoubtedly one of the fundamental truths of Christianity, and yet it’s still one our human hearts want to resist. From cover to cover, Scripture proclaims “glory to God!” And this should have an impact on the way we think and speak and dress and behave.
Modesty starts in the heart. A popular attitude is, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” But my question is: why? So others can look at me and be impressed with my figure or my bank account or my talents? First Corinthians 4:7 reminds us that all things come from God, and so a Christ-follower’s mantra should be: “If I’ve got it and it’s good, God gave it to me and I really had nothing to do with it.”
Modesty is fleshed out through lifestyle. Sometimes people try to avoid accountability for their clothing or other aspects of their lifestyle by pointing out that modesty is a heart issue, implying that modesty has nothing to do with external appearances.
But the Bible is clear that what’s in our hearts comes out in our way of life (Proverbs 27:19, Mark 7:21-23). Modesty starts in the heart, but it doesn’t end there.
Personal convictions come from biblical principles and relationship with God. The Bible doesn’t offer many specifics when it comes to modesty; but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t care about the specifics. It means He wants us to practice biblical discernment in the context of relationship with Him.
Here are some biblical principles you can prayerfully consider when it comes to modesty, and then teach your children to do the same:
- Am I more concerned with what’s acceptable to the world than I am about what’s acceptable to God? (James 4:4)
- Does this reflect humility or pride? (James 4:6, Jeremiah 9:23-24)
- Does this more closely resemble love for the world or love for God? (1 John 2:15-17)
- Could this be a stumbling block to others? (1 John 2:10, Matthew 5:28)
- Does this show that I’m set apart for holiness? (I Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Timothy 2:21)
- Am I interfering with the efforts of others to set their mind on things above? (Colossians 3:2)
- Does this encourage others to pay attention my external attributes or my inner beauty? (1 Peter 3:3-4)
- Does this reflect blamelessness? Is it above reproach? (Colossians 1:22)
Personal convictions shouldn’t be a measure by which we condemn others. This can be tough, because kids tend to see issues as black-and-white, with no gray in between. It has been helpful for me to say things like, “This is what the Bible teaches, and this is how God has led our family to apply it. Other families are accountable to God for their choices, just like we are.”
By God’s grace and with the help of His Word and His Spirit, it’s possible to raise our children with a heart for modesty, even in the midst of our immodest world.
Great post, thank you! I hadn’t thought of modesty of the heart.
It’s a different perspective from what we usually hear, isn’t it? Thanks for taking the time to get in touch! 🙂
What a great post full of wisdom, Jennifer! I think it’s so easy to fall into looking at modesty from the two perspectives – that either modesty means modest clothing and nothing about the heart, or that modesty means the attitude of your heart and that doesn’t need to be reflected in your clothing style.
I love your last point, to make the matter of modesty a personal conviction because I believe that is the only way we will truly follow what the Bible says – not because it is a set of rules but because we believe this is what God is telling us. But it is so very important not to condemn others because of our personal convictions! We can gently guide people towards what the Bible tells us we can never judge or condemn others because we think we know better than them. (Because, surely, they know and obey many things other than modesty better than we do.) Thank you for sharing this!
Exactly, Ronja! Thanks so much for reading, and for letting me know that this resonated with you. 🙂
Oh, what a comviction. I am reminded of something Paul Tripp said about life, the world, being a Glory War. And it’s inside our corrupt hearts. So hard to remember. Thank God for his mercies. I have definitely heard that from one or both of my girls, “so and so is going to love this.” I keep reminding them that isn’t the point.
Yes, there’s so much truth to Tripp’s discussion of a Glory War, isn’t there? I’m so thankful for God’s grace and patience, and the way He persistently draws our attention back to how unspeakably beautiful HIS glory is. He’s so good to give us tastes of this glory, causing us to hunger for more! Thank you for sharing your heart here.
I really appreciate your balanced insight here, and I like the evaluation questions you came up with. True modesty of the heart really is where it must start. I have noticed in myself that not only does my attitude tend to invite certain clothing choices; my clothing tends to directly affect my attitude, as well.
There’s a lot of truth to that, Sheila. Thanks for chiming in!
Great post! I’d love to share this in my weekly series called “Roll Out The Red Carpet Thursday” – I share bloggers’ amazing posts that I’ve found during the week. I hope that’ ok! Have a great day!
Hi, Danielle! I would be honored for you to share it! I’m glad you found this post helpful. Thank you for stopping by! 🙂
Great post, Jennifer. It always come back to the heart, doesn’t it?
I like the definition of modesty you gave: “a good working definition of modesty is not attracting attention where attention doesn’t belong.
Hi, Jerralea, and thank you for stopping by! 🙂 Yep, the heart is central to this topic, as with so many others.
Thanks for this post. I find myself struggling to teach my three beautiful daughters about modesty. I’ve been looking for resources that truly tie the issue to God and His principles. I appreciate the many scripture references, as well as the reminders about seeking God’s glory. I also try to remind my girls, they can feel His spirit more when their outward appearance reflects His light— and others will feel His love more through them, if they aren’t distracted by the girls’ outward appearance.
Jenny @ Unremarkable Files
My preschooler often says things like, “Emily is going to love my hair today!” or “My teacher will love this dress!” I think what she means is that she’s happy and feels good in what she’s wearing and she’s naming people she likes because she assumes they’d be happy when she’s happy. I usually just respond, “Yes, I’m sure they will” but maybe I should respond, “I bet they’ll be really happy to see you, too!” instead.
Hi, Jenny, and welcome! I think that slight change in your response sounds great. Pride and vanity can be so subtle, can’t they? And if I’m being honest, pride and vanity can be pretty cute when they come packaged in a little person whom I already happen to adore. :/ I think you’re wise to view this as a matter of steering her heart through conversation. Thanks for sharing with us from your experience!
Wow, this was so beautifully written and on the point! It’s funny, I have always thought of myself as a modest dresser, thinking that as long as I’m covered, I shouldn’t be drawing attention to myself. Just to get your personal opinion, Jennifer…would you say that make-up and hair dye would fall in the category of immodest? I love dying my hair dramatic colors and dramatic make-up as well, It’s always been a big part of my personality. What do you think? Would you say the Bible refers to extremes as being immodest?
Hi, Rebecca! Thanks so much for reading this and giving careful thought to it. You’ve raised a great question, and one I haven’t really considered before. I think it’s fair to say that the passage from I Timothy warns against extravagance (gold, pearls, and costly attire) and gaudiness (elaborately braided hair). In that sense, I would say yes, “extremes” would be considered immodest. Not because there’s anything wrong with these items on their own merit, but because their extreme use is likely to attract undue attention from other people.
Regarding your own use of dramatic hair dye and makeup, I would urge you to prayerfully consider two questions: 1.)What is my true heart’s desire in using these items? Is it merely self-expression? Is there any tiny part of me that wants people to notice? and 2.)Intentions notwithstanding, do my hair and makeup styles seem to attract particular attention from others?
If the Holy Spirit reveals an immodest heart attitude, or if you realize that your styles are in fact attracting inordinate attention, then it might be a good idea to make some changes. If you prayerfully consider these matters, asking God to show you His way, and you still feel at peace with your style choices, you can continue on in confidence. God doesn’t want His will to be a secret – ask Him, and He’ll either convict you or confirm you.
I hope this helps! Thank you for exemplifying a sensitive heart, and one that wants to obey. May our God bless you with a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.
This is a wonderful article! It is so hard these days to teach this to our young girls. It also can be hard to find clothes that are modest. The fashion trend is not to cover up but to show it off! I really liked the point that you made about reflecting humility. Sometimes it’s hard for young girls to understand modesty but they do understand humility. Thank you for this great article. I will be sharing it!
Emily, I’m so glad you found this helpful. You’re right – humility is a key aspect of a modest heart. Thank you for reading, and for sharing!
Best post I’ve read on modesty. Addressing the heart is so important, because that is what overflows in our lives, into the specifics of of attitude and apparel. I am sharing on my Facebook page. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you so much for your encouragement, Robbi! I’m glad you found some truth here worthy of sharing, and I appreciate your doing so.
Oh, not sure if you have control over the links at the bottom of the post, but one of the ones from The Breastfeeding Place is on nursing with pierced nipples, a little out of place on a post on modesty….
Thanks for the heads up, Robbi! We’ll check into it.
The Lord has worked on my heart on modesty lately. I talked the topic over with my dad, a missionary, and we both learned a lot from listening to each other. His main point was, “Dress modestly because you choose to do so for the Lord, not for what others will think of you.”
When I was a teenager, I wore culottes instead of pants or jeans, because my mom told me it was more modest. I never wore scoop-necked shirts, either. But my heart was far from modest. I obsessed over matching the colors of my outfits precisely, and even more so with braiding my long, long brunette hair into over 40 different styles. My parents assumed it was a hobby for me, and it was, but I spent way too much time in front of my mirror and read and reread books on how to dress, what colors to wear, how to do makeup, etc. As an adult, I finally realized that it is not wise to invest so much time into personal appearance. There are many, many other things to do that are part of building God’s kingdom and bringing Him honor.
When I lost a lot of weight due to a doctor-led diet, and then the following year gained weight with my pregnancy, I had a hard time not worrying over clothes, since I didn’t have a lot of money and my clothing sizes kept changing rapidly! After a while I realized that yo-yo-ing is common among women, and that I didn’t have to give away clothes that didn’t fit and buy more when I was that size again. I could just hang on to them for a while. My mom and I have a “wear my stuff if it fits you, but give it back to me if it doesn’t” policy. Having a share closet of free stuff at church has really padded out my wardrobe, too. God provides in many different ways – not just with money. That’s why He told us not to worry about what we’re going to wear, and how we just need to look at the lilies to see God’s provision and His enjoyment of beauty within His creation.
One more thought: Dresses and skirts are much more forgiving of size changes than pants and capris. They are much more beautiful and feminine, too. I have let go of pants and capris almost entirely over the past year, and I love looking dressy every day. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so I can choose to wear anything I want, and this is my choice.
Thanks so much for reading, Sharon, and for sharing your thoughts with us. I think your dad is wise; we’re freed from unnecessary burdens when we just want to please our Savior – and the best part is that He happens to be pleased with us already.
Great article and I really like your perspective on it! My disagreement is concerning “Could this be a stumbling block to others?” This concept was drilled into my head growing up, and it made me feel that I was responsible for a man’s feelings (how very wrong!) I felt terrible guilt for getting hit on when I was dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. It’s taken me almost 30 years to feel comfortable in my own skin, to feel confidence instead of shame. Who is to say what “might” be a stumbling block? humans have instincts, and those instincts often kick in, regardless of attire.
I have a son. I’m going to teach him that HE is responsible for his feelings, not a girl. I’m going to teach him to respect women, whether they are covered head to toe, or whether they have few clothes. I’ve been very damaged over the years with my own body image due to the church, not to mention the huge emotional burden of thinking I was actually responsible for others emotions. (I mean really?)
What I LOVED is that you addressed this in as a matter of the heart! Yes! I think you hit the nail on the head.
Hi, Becca, and welcome! I see your point, and this perspective is a common one. I suspect it’s a backlash against modesty proponents who have preached the stumbling block principle as the sole reason(or at least the primary one) for modesty. I think that’s such a shame, because there are plenty of other reasons why women should be modest. It’s actually a disservice to Christian men (and even to the Spirit of God within them) when we assume that they are utterly incapable of thinking purely. I applaud your determination to raise your son to be pure-hearted. That’s so important to me as a mom of boys, too. You can find some more thoughts on that subject here if you’re interested.
The stumbling block principle, however, is a biblical one with many applications to the Christian life. Discussing it in full would require a blog post or even a book all to itself, but one important aspect of this principle is the motive behind it. It ought not be a weapon wielded to incite fear of punishment because we can somehow “make” each other sin. Instead, mature believers will choose to live out this principle out of genuine and deep love for their fellow believers, and a God-given, supernatural desire to prefer them over ourselves. Its exercise is not about avoiding blame and punishment for another’s sin; it’s about laying aside my own “rights” on the off-chance that even one new or weak believer might be unnecessarily tempted.
I’m so glad you were able to look past this minor area of disagreement, and to see the heart of this post. Unfortunately, I’ve observed many women discard modesty principles altogether as a way of making a statement against the kind of upbringing you describe here. Thank you for recognizing that while your training in modesty lacked a proper foundation, modesty is still a critical aspect of Christian life. I’m so glad you stopped by and took the time to share your heart!