Saturday, September 19, 2009

Modesty Equals Humility Part I

Last summer I wrote a devotional on the subject of modesty and shared it at Alexa's small birthday gathering of friends. I thought I would share it with you as well.

Modesty = Humility

1 Peter 5:5-6 says, "Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves therefore, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you." (emphasis mine). The phrase "clothe yourselves with humility" jumped out at me as I read this recently. I believe this verse can be taken literally as well as figuratively.

Some Christians may say, "Well, God cares more about our heart than He does about what we wear." This may be one way of interpreting the scripture, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (I Sam 16:8). However, we must be careful to interpret Scripture with Scripture if we are to have a balanced view on any topic, including modesty. And there are several scriptures that indicate God does care about our clothing, for the way we dress and adorn ourselves speaks volumes about the condition of our hearts. And since man does look on the outward appearance, we should take heed all the more not to be a stumbling block to others with our garb and adornment. This is particularly true for women and young ladies. We should dress with regard to treating each man and boy as a "younger brother" who is vulnerable to stumbling.

Here is the balanced view from Scripture. On the one hand, we have freedom to adorn ourselves as befitting daughters of the King. Psalm 45 describes a wedding celebration (probably Solomon's).Verse 8 speaks of garments fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia, of the King desiring the bride's beauty.
Verse 13-15 says,
"The King's daughter is all glorious within;
Her clothing is interwoven with gold.
She will be led to the King in embroidered work,
The virgins, her companions who follow her,
Will be brought to Thee.
They will be led forth with gladness and rejoicing,
They will enter into the King's palace."

Notice the sumptuousness of the occasion: the embroidered clothing interwoven with gold, the perfume, etc. This prefigures the return of Christ the Bridegroom, where we who are clothed in robes of white will meet Him at the final wedding feast. How glorious it will be!

In the meantime, there is much to celebrate, and much joy alotted us in dressing to honor special occasions in our lives.

We should also dress appropriately for our station as daughters of the King of Kings. We can find other passages describing the adornment of godly young ladies such as Rebekah and Esther. There is no hint of condemnation for their adornment.

In counterpoint to that, we have I Peter 3 to wrestle with. My NASB reads thus:
"1(A)In the same way, you wives, (B)be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be (C)won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
2as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
3(D)Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
4but let it be (E)the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
5For in this way in former times the holy women also, (F)who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;
6just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, (G)calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right (H)without being frightened by any fear." (Italicized words were added by the translators.)

Because the word merely is not present in other translations, I assume some Christians have read verse three to mean it prohibits the wearing of gold, braiding of hair, etc.--in other words, plain dressing is required. This is the tradition of such groups as the Amish, Mennonites, etc. While I have the utmost respect for these groups for their conscientious attempt to obey scripture with their plain, simple living, I believe they have elevated this passage over other passages, such as the psalm passage above. (As a side note, notice they do NOT take "the wearing of dresses" as a prohibition :).)

There is beautiful balance to be found in scripture. It does not contradict itself; it only limits and defines the meaning by its various passages on any given topic. It is a truly remarkable document, sufficient for every good work. It is, after all, God's word!

So how do we apply this to our every day choices regarding dress, apparel, and adornment? See Part II.

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