A Godly Woman’s Indiscretion:
Thoughts on Modesty
This booklet is from an address that l gave at a Women's Retreat in 1994. Being a man, asked to speak at a women's retreat, I asked myself what subject could I speak on that might be helpful coming from a man instead of from a woman? I decided to speak on modesty.
When a woman speaks to women on this subject, there is the potential that some might be less than receptive, thinking that the female speaking might be jealous, or just plain nit-picky.
As a man, my approach would be a bit different. My approach is in the form of a simple plea for Christian women to be aware of the difficulty men have, including Christian brothers, when they see certain things. The aim of this not to legislate a Christian dress code. It is an appeal to the heart to be sensitive to the struggles others have, being willing to sacrifice one’s liberty for the sake of another’s weakness.
As a guide, I used an anonymously written booklet entitled “The Sin of Bathsheba.” I like the idea of using Bathsheba’s example because she appears to have been a godly woman. This is important because if a study on modesty is based on the clearly immoral seductress warned about in Proverbs, most Christian women would be tempted to feel that what I was trying to say did not apply to them. After all, they are not seductresses. Bathsheba is a great example because she does not appear to have set out to seduce anyone. She was merely careless. She allowed herself to be in a position where she was a stumbling block for David. Likewise, though godly Christian women are not seductresses, many naively dress and carry themselves in ways that pose no less of a difficulty for men.
While I have used “The Sin of Bathsheba” tract as an outline, I have chosen not to use the title, and I have sought to speak in a tone of voice that is different from that found in the tract. I pray that my title and tone will be a bit more disarming, and therefore help my sisters in the Lord to be receptive to this simple appeal from a brother in Christ to His sisters in the Lord. May God bless all who read this.
A Godly Woman’s Indiscretion:
Thoughts on Modesty
Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. --2 Samuel 11:2
We hear a great deal about the sin of David, but not so much about the Bathsheba’s lapse in discretion. It is true that David’s sin was great, while Bathsheba's injudiciousness was relatively small. David’s sin was deliberate, while Bathsheba was merely careless. Compared to David’s sin, Bathsheba’s lapse in caution was small. But could it be that her mistake turned out to be the spark that ignited a great forest fire of sin that plagued not only David’s family, but, because he was the king, the whole nation? Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was killed. Other soldiers were sent to death along with Uriah. The child of this sin died. Absalom’s sinful defiling of David’s wives might also be traced directly to this family sin.
James 3:5 says, “see how great a forest a little fire kindles!” Is it possible that none of this evil may have taken place if Bathsheba had only been more careful to see that this man, who was not her husband, was not exposed to her body? There is no way that she designed or foresaw any of the evil that would result from her lack of modesty, but alas, one thing led to another. She didn’t display herself purposefully. No godly woman would do so. She only did it thoughtlessly. Yet the disastrous results are a part of the biblical record.
Please do not misunderstand. Bathsheba’s indiscretion does not exonerate David’s guilt. He was wrong. He was held responsible for his actions. But could some problems have been averted had she simply been more careful?
Why do I address this issue? There are many Christian women today who, like Bathsheba, are careless when it comes to modesty. Many godly women who would recoil with horror at the very thought of displaying their bodies, do that very thing carelessly, thoughtlessly, and habitually. Like Bathsheba, they may be innocent of deliberately exposing themselves, but whether deliberate or not, the error is committed and the results are still damaging.
Forgive me, but I marvel at those who do not, or will not, face the reality that there are certain styles and fashions that are provocative and tempting to the eyes and hearts of men. Are we really so naive? If it is a lack of instruction, please allow me to give some. I do not want to make anyone angry, nor do I want to provoke defensiveness. I merely ask you to consider the issue from the perspective I am presenting. I ask you to receive it in the spirit in which it is offered: a sincere desire to glorify God and build up His people. I pray that you will be thoughtful and considerate of your male counterparts in this world, and that you will train your daughters to do the same.
Certainly some in the world would think this topic is backwards and prudish, but as Christians, our standard is the Word of God, not current trends in society and/or fashion.
With that said, the first thing that must be understood is that nakedness before the eyes of anyone who is not your spouse is wrong. It is wrong for a man. And it is wrong for a woman. When Adam and Eve sinned, God made “coats of skins and clothed them.” The sole reason God clothed them was to cover their nakedness. Note that God clothed them with tunics. They already had aprons on made of leaves. Either God is a prude, or the aprons didn’t cover enough. Note that even with their aprons on, they still hid. They still knew they were naked. God didn’t clothe them in skimpy tops that left their midriffs exposed, and I doubt that the tunics were either skin tight or see-through. And note that the man’s nakedness was just as in much need of covering as the woman’s.
Here I want to address a double standard. The man’s nakedness is no less wrong than the woman’s. However, the man’s nakedness doesn’t cause as much of a problem as the woman’s. Why? Because men are much more susceptible to be tempted through their eyes than are women. Some may want to debate this, but that is a fact of nature. Generally, men think about sex far more than women do and are tempted to lust because of what they see far more than women.
When a woman exposes herself even a little, whether purposely or not, she becomes one of Satan’s fiery darts in the heart of every man who sees her. As a Christian woman, you are not therefore at liberty to dress any way you may choose. You have a moral obligation not to expose yourself in a way that would cause any man, other than your husband, to even think about you in an immoral way.
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
These passages, and many others, instruct us to do all that we do—including how we dress—to glorify God. Dressing in a manner that causes men to lust after you, whether intentional or not, does not glorify God.
Some men in the world are lustful and will lust after you in spite of anything you may do to prevent it. Those men will answer to God for their sin. As a Christian woman however, you must do everything you can to prevent this, or else you may have some things to answer for as well.
Godly men are not wicked. They are merely men, and are therefore weak to certain sins. David was not wicked. He was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 1321). But when an unclothed woman was in view, he was weak. I do not know too many men who would not be if they were in a similar situation. Though your brothers in Christ are not wicked, most are weak. The devil knows this and will use whatever he can to derail their faith and weaken them further, including using your body.
We live in a world where men are bombarded with more sexual stimulation than we need. The Church doesn’t need to add to it. Christian women must not unwittingly help the devil ensnare men with lust. Oh, that you could understand the fierce and bitter conflict in the souls of your brothers in Christ when you provoke them by the careless display of your body! Oh, that you could feel the guilt that many men have to deal with on a habitual basis for having entertained lustful thoughts that were prompted by the indiscreet dress and actions of women even at church! If you could feel the tears of shame and repentance, I think you would be more considerate. I don’t think you would argue for your right to dress as you please if you knew how your brothers are affected by this.
According to Romans 15:1-3, we have the moral obligation to “bear the weakness of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good edification. For even Christ did not please Himself.” This includes denying our “right” to dress as we please. It includes sacrificing our liberties in fashion for the sake of others.
Christ was willing to deny Himself the glories of Heaven because we were too weak to save ourselves. Can we plead for our right to dress as we please even if another is harmed by it? Can you deny yourself a little comfort to save a man’s conscience? Is being in style more important than being conscientious of your brothers?
You may think I am making too much out of too little. You may doubt that this issue is as serious as I make it out to be. You are a woman. You do not know what it is like to be a man. You have passions, but they are not the same as a man’s. They are not as easily inflamed as a man’s. If you are ever to understand how a man feels about these things, you will have to hear from a man.
If you insist that you wouldn’t give in like Bathsheba did to David, I commend you. But you have no idea how much base pleasure a man can derive from merely looking and imagining. He doesn’t have to touch to be in sin. You will never know that you have been the object of a man’s sinful imagination. Jesus clearly taught us that the guilt for lusting is as the guilt for actually committing adultery (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus said “if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” (v.29). The eye. That is where it starts, unless there is nothing to see. Please do not treat this lightly.
At this point many, if not most, of you are saying “Amen!” Some of you may feel confident that this doesn’t apply to you because YOU dress modestly. Are you sure? If you follow certain trendy fashions, you probably do not dress as modestly as you think you do. Because you are woman, and are not able to see yourself as a man might, you may not be dressing as modestly as you think.
I hope at this point I have argued convincingly that this is an important issue. Therefore, I will proceed to address a few specifics that you may or may not be aware of. Because styles change so frequently, I will speak in generalities rather than about specific styles. And again, I pray that you would be open and teachable.
Short Dresses and Shorts
When the question arises, “How short is too short?” The answer is, are you asking, “How close can I get to immodesty and be OK?” or, “How pure can I stay?” I hope you are not one who wears dresses as short as you dare, while persuading yourself that you are okay. If you constantly have to pull down and adjust your clothing so it won’t be too short, it is too short!
You may stand straight in front of a mirror before leaving home and think that your dress or shorts are plenty long. But are you going to stand that way all day long? Remember, your eyes are at an angle at which you cannot see what others do. When they sit down, bend over, get in or out of a car or a booth at a restaurant, many otherwise well-intentioned ladies have no idea what a spectacle of indecency they become. Like it or not, a woman’s bare legs, especially the thighs, are a provocation for men toward lust.
Clothing that reveals your form is no less damaging than clothing that reveals your flesh. Even the world calls such clothing “revealing,” which is exactly what it is. If it clings to your body, it is probably not a good idea to wear it. This goes for sweaters, skirts, shorts, and slacks as well.
Consider skirts and dresses with slits up the front, sides, or back, cut high enough to reveal your thighs. Let us not be so naive that we cannot see that that design is intended either to tantalize or to make wearable an outfit that is otherwise too tight. If you cannot walk in a skirt unless it has a high slit in it, it is likely too tight.
From time to time popular fashion dictates that women wear pants that are practically painted on. From a man’s perspective, a woman might just as well wear no pants and paint her legs. Tight pants, especially those made of thin stretchy fabric, may cover your legs, but they also outline them so well that little is left to the imagination. Do your Christian brothers a favor: don’t wear these kinds of fashions. No godly woman would go out wearing only dark pantyhose, would she? Would you?
When it comes to shorts, how tight they are, and how they are cut, may make them a poor choice. There is one area of a woman’s body that she never sees as others do. It is behind her. If her pants or shorts are designed to draw attention to, or make her seat more attractive, she should choose a different pair.
It should be obvious that tight tops are a problem. Because a woman’s bust line is a most provocative and tempting part of the female body for a man, why would a woman who is seeking to glorify God want to wear something that draws attention to and outlines that area to the detriment of her brothers? Is she aware that she is causing men to look and to lust? Add thin to tight and a woman is displaying more than her shape. There is no reason for men to know what kind of undergarments a woman is wearing, or details regarding your anatomy. We men do not need to think about these things.
Low or Loose Necklines
Every person must know that low necklines are a temptation to the eyes of men. If you are a godly woman, you wouldn’t dream of purposely wearing a neckline too low. But many thoughtlessly do anyway. It is not only the low necklines that are a problem. The large or loose ones are just as much a problem. When a woman bends over and her blouse falls forward, if there is a man there, no matter who that man is, or how godly he may be, his eyes will naturally be drawn straight down the front of that woman’s clothing to peer at this most provocative and tempting part of her body. He’ll do it before he even thinks about it. Then if he sees anything, he most certainly will think about it. Even if the blouse isn’t low, if the top buttons are left undone, men’s eyes will be drawn.
Even when not low, blouses with buttons spaced far apart are also a problem. When the wearer looks down, she sees nothing. But from the side, men know all about a woman’s undergarments. In addition, even if buttoned up, if a blouse is too tight, the blouse may be closed where the buttons are, but in-between they are stretched open, revealing the woman’s body to men’s eyes.
Short Tops and Low Waistlines
The fashion merry-go-round brings tiny little tops that reveal the female abdomen and navel. The reason to wear these kinds of tops is fashion. It cannot be comfort, since the ladies who wear these are almost always pulling and tugging at these tops that are too short. These kinds of tops certainly cannot be worn to glorify God. Ladies, please, don’t wear fashions that succeed only in exposing your skin to men.
When the “waistlines” on pants go up only as high as the hips, it’s time for Christian women to wear tops that are long enough to cover what fashion gurus mean to reveal. It is not enough to wear tops that barely touch the “waistline,” as can be seen when a woman either reaches up for something, or sits down with her backside toward you. Men do not need to see what brand or style of underwear you have on, let alone too much skin.
It ought to be unnecessary to say anything about clothing which is sheer or see-through. The purpose of such clothing is to side-step the purpose of wearing clothing and to expose one’s body. When a woman wears such clothing, unless the outfit includes a modest covering underneath, it is just plain immodest. Please, wear clothing, not netting!
It embarrasses me to say this, but some women have apparently never been instructed about the use of slips. I am so embarrassed when I see a dear sister wearing light-weight dress or skirt, standing with the sun behind her. When she looks down she does not see it, but others see way more than we should. Slips are important if dresses or skirts are even slightly translucent!
Is it somehow more acceptable before God to be immodest while at the beach or around the pool? What a woman wears on the beach or at a public pool needs to come under the same careful scrutiny as how she dresses elsewhere and at other times. Please be more concerned about the spiritual aspect of modesty than of tan lines.
Apart from clothing, many women simply do not seem to know how to stand, walk, sit, bend, or get in and out of a car or booth at a restaurant in a graceful manner. I am not competent to teach a woman’s charm class. I can only say what looks tacky. I do not want to do that. Let me just ask that you carry yourself in ways that do not expose or draw attention to your body or undergarments.
It may seem a bit strange to address the subject of breast feeding in a booklet like this, but there is a connection. While breastfeeding is natural and good for mothers and their children, it can become a modesty issue. In the same way that a woman should seek to be discreet concerning her attire, mothers need exercise careful discretion when breastfeeding in public places. Humans perform all sorts of natural functions, but not all natural functions are for all to see.
Men are not animals, but as stated earlier, their eyes are attracted to women’s breasts. When a man catches a glimpse of part of a woman’s breast, his eyes are naturally, almost involuntarily, drawn for a closer look. A nursing woman may think that this is strange—maybe even sick, but please understand that men and women are different.
Besides being a problem for males, many other women do not want their children, much less their husbands, exposed to your nursing. What is the solution to this dilemma? Here are some ideas: When it is possible (and of course it is not always possible) try to schedule feedings at times when you will not be in a public place. When you must be in a public place, a) look for an out-of-the-way place where you will not be as visible, or, b) cover yourself and your baby with a light blanket or other such covering.
On this I plead with you as a man to his sister. No one is saying that breast feeding is not good or that it is shameful. I am only appealing to your Christian charity to be discreet, laying aside your rights for the sake of your brothers and others who may be uncomfortable.
"What right have you to tell me what to wear?"
I am not telling anyone what they can and cannot wear. This is not an attempt to establish any sort of Christian dress code. That legalistic approach based on rules will not solve anything. Rather, this is an appeal to the heart. I am simply asking that my sisters be more thoughtful and considerate when choosing what they wear and how they carry themselves.
As a man, I have a perspective you do not have. I ask you to be teachable. I believe that all who are teachable and who desire to honor the Lord with their whole lives will receive the instruction on these things, even if it is hard to understand a man’s point of view.
"Times have changed. Do you want us to go back to the 1800’s?”
Times may have changed, but God hasn’t. Human nature hasn’t either. Yes, times have changed, but are they any better? Has the sexual revolution helped or hurt our society? The answer should be obvious.
As for going back to the 1800’s, no, we do not need to adopt the styles of that era to recapture some of the morality of yesteryear. We can be stylish, while still being modest.
"You are making such a big deal out of a small thing. Why don't you let the Spirit teach us?"
I believe this is a big thing. I believe the Bible makes it clear that sexual sin is a very serious issue, and this is a matter of sexual sin for men. As women, you have an opportunity to help rather than hurt your brothers.
As for leaving you in the hands of the Lord and saying nothing, that approach is unbiblical. The biblical way to communicate spiritual truth is through teaching. Besides, the Lord has spoken, but we are not very good listeners. In Titus 3, the older women are instructed to teach younger women. That is as it should be. However, I understand that many Christian women resist teaching on this subject from other women. Those who try to teach on this delicate subject are often accused of being jealous, prudish, or legalistic. Even if some are, all are not. And even if all were, if the truth is spoken, dare we resist a truthful message because we do not care for the messenger or her manner?
"Any man who has noticed all these details must be perverted. And if all men are that way, they are all perverted."
Absolutely true! Sin has perverted all people. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But when a man asks you to help men deal with our sin, this is no time to condemn men for their sin. Women have sins of their own to deal with as well.
While it is true that the passions of all men are alike, by God's grace the practices of all men are not alike. There are many godly men who are doing battle with these issues. They are genuinely seeking to get victory over their sin. They need your understanding and help, not your scorn.
David was a man after God’s own heart, yet when the temptation presented itself, he fell. May Bathsheba have been able to prevent that by being more discreet?
Please do not look at your husband, or any of the men in the church as animals. God has called Christian wives to be the moral conscience in the marriage. Please don’t fail us. Christian women, have the courage to protect your husbands, your sons, and your brothers.
"If a man sins, is that my problem?"
Ever since Cain killed Abel, people have questioned whether they were responsible for their brothers and sisters. The answer has always been YES! Paul instructed the Philippians, “Let every one of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) If your apparel causes a man to sin, it is your problem as well as his.
"But if I did this, I would have to buy a whole new wardrobe!"
When people come to faith in Christ they have to get a whole new life! What would you say to the professional criminal who gets saved but balks at forsaking a life of crime because he isn’t trained in any other line of work? Admittedly, that is a bigger and more obvious matter than dressing inappropriately, but sin is sin. If God says, “Don’t,” it isn’t up to us to determine how serious He is about it.
Are you supposed to wear a sack? No. But even if you did need to, is your comfort and desire to make a fashion statement more important than a man’s conscience?
"But I am not attractive or shapely. No man is going to lust after me."
You are not the proper judge of what is attractive to a man. It is true that a young, beautiful, shapely woman may turn more heads. But it is also true that a woman who is not attractive to one man, may well be to another. In addition, what about your example to other sisters? Do you want others who are young, beautiful, and shapely to excuse their immodesty because of your poor example?
Some women are so naïve, they actually think that since men are not making advances to them, they must not be attractive. Men don’t have to say or do anything with you. They receive great fulfillment from merely looking! You doubt that? Why do you suppose pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry? You say, “But I am not aroused by looking.” No kidding. That is why the pornography industry is aimed at men!
"My husband likes me to dress provocatively in public. What should I do?"
It is natural for a man to like others to notice his wife’s beauty. However, satisfying this desire is not as important as doing what is right. Think of how you feel when a provocatively-dressed woman passes in front of your husband, catching his attention. Can you see how hurtful it can be if you did the same to another woman’s husband?
If your husband is a believer, explain your concern, asking him to respect your conscience, even if he doesn’t completely agree. If your husband is a non-believer, it may be harder for him to understand your concern. Before the Lord, you still must do what is right.
As a wife, you should do everything you can to make yourself attractive and sexually pleasing for your husband. If your husband likes provocative clothing, wear provocative clothing—in the privacy of your home. Then use wisdom before answering the door!
"What do you do when you try to dress modestly but your husband says you look dumpy"
Modesty doesn’t have to be unbecoming, unattractive, or dumpy. Look sharp. Dress as nicely as your budget will allow. Just don’t dress so as to be revealing.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm in competition with other women who do not dress modestly. How can I compete?"
You cannot, and you should not feel you need to. There will always be someone somewhere who will be more glamorous and will dress in a more provocative manner. If you insist on competing, you will not only lose, but you will have to compromise your standards.
In Luke 16:15, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for “judging themselves by themselves” (comparing themselves with one another). He reminded them “That which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Again, you must do what is right regardless of the temptation to compete.
1 Peter 3:1-4 addresses some of these issues. Verse two reminds women to be “chaste.” Verse three says do not depend on “outward” adorning, and verse four charges the wife to be most concerned with the beauty of “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” This was not intended to encourage neglect of the outward beauty, but rather, not to depend on it.
There is nothing wrong or sinful about the human body or physical beauty. You are a creation of God. You were created in His holy image. When God looked at what was created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27), He said, “very good!” (v.31). The Bible makes it clear that the woman was created “for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). Therefore, the perfectly obvious design of your body and physical beauty is to ravish and satisfy the heart of a man. But A man — NOT EVERY man!
Glorify God with your body. Do not allow your body to be on display for the whole world to gaze upon. If you do, you are not glorifying God. You may be glorifying yourself, and you will be leading others into sin.
If you are married, you should seek to present your body to your husband in a way that is attractive and satisfying to him and him alone.
If you are not married, save your body — even as something to be looked at — for the man God will give to you.
If you are called to lifelong singleness, your whole being belongs entirely to the Lord.
If you have daughters, teach them.
You who are mature in the faith, teach the younger sisters.
All of you, hold each other accountable.
An afterthought for a select few.
Over the years, I have discussed this subject with a number of women. I have been told by women that most women who dress immodestly know exactly what they are doing. I have been told that there are many women, including Christians, who for the sake of vanity and a naughty desire to be looked at and desired by men, dress in revealing ways—on purpose. I would not venture to even guess which, if any woman who might read this, are among that number. I can only say to any who are, please, examine your heart before the Lord. Repent of any sinful desire to be looked at and longed for by any man other than your husband. Be reminded that while Solomon warned men to steer clear of the seductress and the immoral woman for the sake of their souls, the women Solomon warns men to avoid, only bring sin, guilt and condemnation upon men because they have first brought it upon themselves. (Proverbs 5)
 As men have certain sins that they are especially weak to, so do women; so please do not be unduly harsh on us. Instead, try to be understanding and charitable.
 Wives, because most men are less sensitive to resisting sexual sin than most women are, God calls you to be the “moral conscience” in the marriage. When your husband wants to loosen the moral restrains in your marriage, lovingly resist. Ask him to respect your conscience. We men may not like it, but in the long run we will be thankful you helped us.