Thanks to the good old internet, the discussion about modesty in Christian circles has been flaring up on the blogosphere like kindling in the middle of a drought. Essentially, there are two sides to this debate 1) Christian girls need to be more modest 2) Christian girls need to stop being told to be modest, it’s a guy’s fault if he lusts. Contrary to what one might expect, the sides of this battle are not really affected by gender. I’ve seen men and women on both sides, either calling out their own sex or beseeching the other to have a change of perspective. So I’ll begin by dealing with the elephant in the room – Where do I fall in this dispute?
I debated whether I should put this in the beginning, because if I take one side, I might lose the other before they read what I have to say. But with my position I might lose everyone, because I would say that I fall somewhere in the middle. I have read both positions on this issue and given thought to both sides. I think both sides have made good points and that a view that incorporates both is needed. So if you’re still reading, here we go.
First, to those who say that it is not a girl’s fault if a man lusts after her body, I would agree with that position to a point. The Bible commands men not to lust. If a guy ever lusts and thinks, “Well, I couldn’t help myself, she was dressed too provocatively,” he clearly hasn’t read his Bible (I Corinthians 10:13). God always holds us responsible for our sin, because as Christians, we don’t have to sin, we choose to sin (Romans 6). I admit that in some circles modesty may be presented as an escape of responsibility for guys, and based on the above Scriptures, such a view is not only wrong but very dangerous.
Another concern with this position is that many women have walked away from conservative circles with the impression that their bodies are something to be ashamed of. I agree that this is sad, and I think the weight of responsibility lies on those who didn’t teach carefully on this topic. A teen girl shouldn’t dress up because her body is something shameful, in fact just the opposite. Her body is a treasure, a wonderful creation of God. She shouldn’t cover herself because there is something wrong with her, she should cover herself because her body is so incredible that a lifelong commitment is the only worthy price to be paid for seeing and enjoying it fully. Modesty, when taught properly, should exalt women, not degrade them.
Finally, this position has noticed inconsistencies with what I am calling the “classical” view. Men are often unconcerned with their modesty, which can be a serious problem. Girls are expected to wear one-pieces while guys walk around shirtless. While I do think that in general men are more visual than girls, I acknowledge that such is not always the case. As guys we need to be just as concerned for the purity of our sisters as we expect them to be for us. Guys need to be careful not to flaunt their bodies to get women’s attention just as much as girls do.
But, on the other hand, I do feel as though I agree with a lot of the “classical” view on modesty. First, to address the statement that, “guys just need to control their urges.” As I already mentioned, I agree with this to an extent, especially in a society where everywhere you turn around there our culture oozes sensuality. The Bible has a lot to say about lust. Almost every letter of Paul he addresses the topic, because it is one of the most powerful temptations out there. However, the message of the Bible is not “Have enough character to say no” but rather 1) avoid sexual temptations (Romans 13:14, Proverbs 7:6-9) and when you can’t 2) run away!
Proverbs 7 gives us the heartbreaking example of a young man who foolishly put himself in a place where he would be tempted, with disastrous results. When Joseph told Potiphar’s wife “no” the Bible says that he refused to even be with her (39:10). Later when she pressed him hard he didn’t stand there and say “Nope. No. Really I mean it. No I’m not going to have sex with you. Stop asking. No!” he ran away! Paul warned Timothy to “flee youthful lusts.” 1 Corinthians 13, while it does say that no temptation is too strong, it goes on to say that God will provide a way of escape, not the strength to stand there and say no. I understand that this is talking about actual sex, but the same principle should be applied to lust-provoking images. This should be somewhat self-evident. Guys shouldn’t stare at inappropriate pictures and say, “I’m not going to lust after this,” they should turn away!
Now, living in this sex obsessed culture, there will be times when avoiding all temptation will be impossible. You have to go to Wal-Mart. You have to take your car in to the shop. If an unsaved visitor walks into church with a low cut shirt and a mini-skirt, you don’t tell her to leave and come back with clothes on, you look her (in the eyes) and lovingly share the gospel and tell her of her need for Christ. So yes, there will be times when through God’s grace men just have to say no to their urges, however strong they may be. But having said that, men need to avoid sexual temptation whenever possible. Whether that’s movies, commercials, or stores in a mall, the attitude of guys ought to be get away, not stand there and just take it.
With this in mind, women can be help their brothers in Christ or be a stumbling block. I’ve read some blog posts and comments that say girls have the right to wear a bikini. And they do. And Paul had the right to eat meat. But he chose not to if by him exercising his right he tempted a fellow Christian to sin against God.
9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. I Corinthians 8:9-13
Paul was very clear here. If you know that your action makes it easy for someone to sin and you do it anyway because you have the right to, you not only sin against them but against Christ. That is strong, but I didn’t say it, God did. (Interestingly, in this case the perceived sin wasn’t even something wrong. Paul states earlier that there is nothing wrong with eating meat, but if someone believes it to be wrong and does it anyway, that is a sin to them. How much more careful should we be in areas that do actually cause someone to break the commands of Scripture!)
So does a Christian girl dressing in a bikini make a guy sin? (Some Christians claim that a bikini is not sensual. I’m sorry, but only a Christian would make such a statement. Ask the average secular college male if he thinks bikinis are sexy and you would get a blank stare followed by “Of course!” I fear that sometimes as Christians we fool ourselves into thinking certain things are different than what they are because we want what we want and miss the obvious.) Well, in the same sense that a first century Christian “made” another Christian eat meat. They didn’t force them. But they didn’t help them. They made the easy, convenient choice for themselves and were frustrated with those who weren’t as progressed in their Christian walk. They made a decision motivated by a desire to please themselves unconcerned with the affect it had on others. They failed to love others and therefore committed the second greatest sin that one could commit (Matthew 22:37-40).
Again, this modesty things goes both ways. Guys need to put girls before themselves just as girls need to guys before themselves. All of us need to do everything we can to help promote growth in Christlikeness by sacrificially denying ourselves to the advantage of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I think it’s time we stopped talking past each other on this issue and instead listened to each other and stood together united in the love of Christ.
About the Author:
Ben Hicks is currently working on his Master of Arts in Biblical Theology at Bob Jones Seminary. It is clear that he has been gifted as a tremendous scholar. Ben is very skilled in Greek and enjoys applying it to his study of the Bible. Ben is also a gifted communicator having earned an award from Bob Jones University his senior year for his giftedness in communicating the Word of God. Ben has served as a ministerial intern in Phoenix, AZ, a camp counselor, a resident assistant, and as student body chaplain of Bob Jones University. Currently, Ben serves as a counselor in the Dean of Men's staff at BJU and works as a part time youth leader at a local area church. Ben is close friends with Caleb Phelps and partnered with Chad Phelps in ministry for a short time during his college years.
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