Modesty (5) – The Heart’s Attitude of the Modest Woman

C.J. Mahaney

The second of seven excerpts from C.J.’s chapter on modesty in the forthcoming book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Crossway, Sept. 2008).

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Any biblical discussion of modesty begins by addressing the heart, not the hemline. We must start with the attitude of the modest woman.

This emphasis on the heart is front and center in 1 Timothy 2:9. Note the phrase “with modesty and self-control.” All respectable apparel is the result of a godly heart, where modesty and self-control originate. Your wardrobe is a public statement of your personal and private motivation. And if you profess godliness, you should be concerned with cultivating these twin virtues, modesty and self-control.

Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality.

Immodesty, then, is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.

Self-control is, in a word, restraint. Restraint for the purpose of purity; restraint for the purpose of exalting God and not ourselves. Together, these attitudes of modesty and self-control should be the hallmark of the godly woman’s dress.

In Paul and Timothy’s day, modesty and self-control were foreign to many women walking through the local marketplace, just as they were to Jenni and are to the majority of women at the local shopping mall today. And these concepts are certainly foreign to modern fashion designers, whose goal in clothing design is sensual provocation.

But for godly women, modesty and self-control are to be distinctly present in the heart. The question is, are they distinctly present in yours?

Such an attitude will make all the difference in a woman’s dress, as pastor John MacArthur has observed:

How does a woman discern the sometimes fine line between proper dress and dressing to be the center of attention? The answer starts in the intent of the heart. A woman should examine her motives and goals for the way she dresses. Is her intent to show the grace and beauty of womanhood?…. Is it to reveal a humble heart devoted to worshiping God? Or is it to call attention to herself, and flaunt her…beauty?  Or worse, to attempt to allure men sexually? A woman who focuses on worshiping God will consider carefully how she is dressed, because her heart will dictate her wardrobe and appearance.*

Any conversation about modesty “starts in the intent of the heart.” So consider for a moment, what is the intent of your heart in purchasing clothes to wear? Does a humble heart and a servant’s heart dictate your wardrobe and appearance? Is your shopping informed and governed by modesty and restraint? Or is your dress motivated by a desire for attention and approval from others? Does your style reflect a lack of self-control?

There’s an inseparable link between your heart and your clothes. Your clothes say something about your attitude. If they don’t express a heart that is humble, that desires to please God, that longs to serve others, that’s modest, that exercises self-control, then change must begin in the heart.

For modesty is humility expressed in dress.

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* John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, The MacArthur New Testament Commentaries (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 80–81


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Taken from C.J. Mahaney’s chapter “God, My Heart, and Clothes,” in the book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, © 2008. The book will be available from Crossway in September. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.org;  published on Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2008

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