On Feminine Modesty and Masculine Lust
A rather delicate issue here, I think, and not least because I have as much a problem with lust as the next guy. I once read somewhere the following quote, paraphrased due to inadequate memory on my part: "I've read that the average guy thinks about sex every 30 seconds. When I read that, I thought what a preposterous figure. I can go for a whole two minutes without thinking about sex." It is especially distasteful for a man to tell a woman that she is dressing immodestly. At least, it's distasteful to the woman. Why is that?
Well, in the spirit of Einstein, let me conduct a thought experiment. Let us suppose a woman named Cheryl (I have no particular woman in mind here, and the name, though common, is fictitious in this case) attends church, and to use Douglas Wilson's phrase, is almost wearing clothes. Now suppose Frank (along with every other guy at church, I might add!) notices that Cheryl is barely dressed. So after church, he buttonholes her in some corner of the building (if she even has buttonholes...) and tries to tell her she is immodestly dressed. What will her reaction be? Naturally, she would be shocked that Frank would be even thinking about the way she was dressed! Her reaction is extreme anger; perhaps she is frightened because she thinks Frank is stalking her; the furthest thing from her mind is that perhaps her clothes really were immodest. The world has conditioned her to think these things. Apparently, Frank is supposed to resist the temptation to lust even if a parade of naked women were to pass him by. The notion that she is doing something wrong would never occur to her.
Now, let me make one thing clear. Frank is supposed to resist the temptation to lust even if a parade of naked women were to pass him by. The Bible is unequivocal on this point. (Perhaps this is one reason Cheryl is angered, and justly so. But my whole point in writing this little piece is to try to communicate a way for you ladies to help your brothers in Christ in this matter.) However, I have my doubts about his abilities to do so. While Frank's lust is certainly a sin, and therefore certainly not attributable to God, it is equally certain that God gave Frank his desires. The desires themselves are not sin, it is how Frank handles them that can be a sin, or not. In my experience, the temptation to lust is one of the most difficult for men to conquer, even with God's help. Nevertheless, God has promised that no man, including Frank, is ever tempted beyond what he can bear. If Frank truly rests in Christ, he can conquer his lust. And he can have forgiveness for past offenses. Certainly, his lust is not her sin.
BUT: this is the typical red herring that Cheryl will throw at Frank after Frank confronts her. I call it a red herring, because Frank's lust really does not have that much to do with what Frank just told Cheryl. In fact, we could even suppose for the sake of argument that Frank, with the help of the Holy Spirit, has resisted the temptation to lust (this is not unheard of, despite what some may think). In that case, Frank's lust is truly irrelevant, because it is nonexistent. Frank is telling Cheryl about her problem. And he is telling her that her problem is her dressing immodestly. Is this a problem? Well, what saith the Scriptures?
Matthew 18:5-7 says, in the ESV, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!"
This passage says that whoever causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for them if they had never been born. I believe that in the context of this passage, which states that all believers must humble themselves like "this little child", it is perfectly acceptable to extend this verse to include anyone who causes any believer to sin. So if you cause any believer to sin, it would be better if you drowned. Woe to you!
The next question is this: is dressing immodestly a temptation to sin? Pardon me for asking it. If you ask this question, and you really don't know the answer, you are, with all due respect, a woman. No man would answer this question in any other way than to say, "Yes!"
The final question is this: if Jesus pronounced a woe on the person who "provided" the temptation, is it safe to say that this person sinned in providing the temptation? In a courtroom, the lawyers would object to this question: asked and answered. It is a sin to provide a temptation to sin.
The logic here is inescapable. Dressing immodestly is a temptation to sin. Jesus has pronounced a woe on those who tempt. Therefore, tempting is a sin. Therefore, since Christians are saved by grace from their sins and to good works, it follows that no Christian should tempt another to sin. Therefore, ladies should dress modestly.
Ah, but you ladies are going to object, saying that you didn't know that the way you dressed was provocative. Excuse me for being blunt, but you lie. I used to think that for women who dressed provocatively, there were only two possibilities: either they didn't know what their clothes did to guys, or they did know and that was the intended effect. I no longer think these are the two possibilities. I have ruled out the first. I believe, deep down, that every woman knows what her clothing does to guys. In any case, ignorance of the law is no excuse. It never has been since the creation of the world. Why? Because God has given every human being a conscience, such that there really is no ignorance.
You have no excuse whatsoever. You must dress modestly. You may be thinking to yourself that actually, you do dress modestly. Are you sure? If you dress according to the world's fashions, then assuredly you do not dress modestly. What is modest? I have thought up a rule, which I think good. Please note, and this is very important: this is an extra-biblical rule. It is a man-made rule, and as such is not absolute. The last thing I want is a bunch of Pharisaical women running around, slavishly obeying my rule, and condemning others for not obeying it. I have seen modest outfits that don't strictly follow this rule (though not many!). But I can safely say that I have never seen an immodest outfit that followed this rule. That said, here's the rule: neck to knees, and not too tight. That's it: neck to knees and not too tight. By that I mean that everything is covered such that you can't see it, front and back, from your neck to your knees, and none of said covering is tight. I did not say it had to be baggy, but it just can't be tight. Something else I should mention, is that you may dress this way, and think you are modest, but in certain bodily positions, this rule is suspended. You can probably imagine what I mean here. In that case, you haven't followed the rule.
I think that if you obey this rule, you will do well. You will be following the Bible's command not to make your brothers stumble in this way. In addition, I would add that if a brother comes up to you and has the courage to tell you he thinks you are dressing immodestly, do not be uptight and offended. That can only damage relationships. Believe me, I know! Instead, take it gratefully, for the kisses of an enemy are deceitful, but faithful are the wounds of a friend. No guy in his senses would tell you such a thing unless he believed it.
Suppose you have dressed immodestly in the past, and my dismal epistle here is enough to convict you of that fact. What now? Can you change? Can you be forgiven? Of course. It's all in the grace of God. You need God's grace to be forgiven for tempting the brothers in the past, and you need God's grace to change your dress to be modest. And, I might add, you need ingenuity in avoiding worldly fashions! Pray that God will give you what you require. Our God will abundantly pardon, so throw yourself on Him and rest on Him alone for all your needs.