1. Placing a moderate (avoiding extremes of behavior or expression) estimate on one’s abilities or worth
2. Neither bold nor self-assertive : tending toward diffidence (reserved, unassertive)
3. Arising from or characteristic of a modest nature
4. Observing the proprieties of dress and behavior : decent.
Freedom from conceit or vanity.
Propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.
When we talk about modesty, generally we tend to talk about the revealing way some women dress – and that is, or can be, a problem, certainly. But the problem of immodesty is deeper than the clothing someone chooses to wear. Modesty is first an attitude, then a behavior. Like virtually everything else Jesus talks about, changing the action without changing the heart is useless.
The word, “modest,” only appears in the New Testament in relation to clothing:
I Corinthians 12:23 – “…and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty.”
I Timothy 2:9-10 – “likewise 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.”
But notice that even there the emphasis is on the attitude, not the clothing. The clothing is only a symptom, not the main issue.
That is why I say that modesty is a lost grace. It’s something we barely have a sense of anymore, anywhere, and it is not surprising that the way we dress reflects our lack of modesty in general. Although the word “modest” is rare in the Scriptures, the attitude is abundant. Let’s take a deeper look at what modesty is and how it applies to us.
According to the dictionary, modesty is first placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth.
Romans 12:3 – “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Psalm 8:3-4 – “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
Psalm 84:7 – “Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”
In this sense, immodesty is rampant among us, and it is not confined to pretty girls in short skirts. We are immodest because we are self-regarding and self-impressed. We want others to cater to us and think our concerns ought to be foremost, and we engage the bulk of our effort in seeking our own comforts.
Marketing says, “You deserve it.”
Education says, “You’re special.”
My heart says, “What about me?”
And my soul eats it up. But God says, be careful how you think of yourself and put others on a higher pedestal.
Modesty is neither bold nor self-assertive. It is unpretentious.
Luke 20:46-47 – “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Luke 14:7-11 – “Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
We rebuke the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, but then spend our time getting the right cars, the right houses in the right neighborhoods, making sure we go to the right schools and wear the right clothes so that everyone will know that we are somebody. But it’s easier just to talk about modest clothing, isn’t it?
Modesty is free from conceit or vanity.
And then it observes propriety in dress, speech, and conduct.
All of us, not just women, are called to be modest people – unconceited, unpretentious, and humble in our dress, speech, and behavior. If our heart is right and if we thoughtfully apply that heart to everything we do, wouldn’t we almost automatically be modest in the way we dress, speak, and act? But if we only try to look modest without actually being modest, it is doomed to fail. First because it is useless before God anyway, and second because a proud heart clamors to be noticed.