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  • Along with prayer, meditation, fasting, and the other spiritual disciplines, as Christ-followers we are called to a modest, godly deportment.
  • Modesty: "Reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior... lack of pretentiousness" (Free Online Dictionary)
  • We will focus more on dress than anything else (as in not encouraging sexual attention), but a more developed discussion would follow similar lines.

O.T. Scriptures

  • Genesis 38:15 - Tamar, by her clothing, telegraphed the message that she was sexually available
  • Job 31:1 - controlling your eyes
  • Proverbs 31:30 - beauty is vain / fleeting
  • Proverbs 7:1-27 - the prostitute
  • Ezekiel 16 - modesty up to v.14; then misuse of beauty. Similar perversion in Ezekiel 22
  • Habakkuk 2:15 - seduction
  • 1 Samuel 16:7 - focus on the inside (the heart), not on the outside (physical appearance)

N.T. Scriptures

  • Matthew 5:27-28 - lust
  • James 1:13-15 - temptation and the thought-world
  • 1 Corinthians 12:23 - modesty (some body parts should be covered)
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 - controlling our physical bodies with honor, not lust
  • 1 Timothy 2:8-10 - modesty and proper attire
  • 1 Peter 3:1-5 - inner beauty
  • 1 Peter 4:4 - the world will push back, viewing us as extremists
  • Romans 14:19-23 (1 Corinthians 8:13) - refusing to cause others to stumble
  • Luke 17:1-3 - of course people will stumble, but if we're the cause of their sinning, woe to us.

Patristic writers (Church Fathers)
Note: Nearly all the citations are taken from the Ante-Nicene Fathers (patristic writers before 325 AD). The approximate year is supplied after the source. References are to volume and page nos. in the standard edition.

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195)
Let [married women] be fully clothed: by garments on the outside and by modesty on the inside. ANF 2.252

By no manner of means are women to be allowed to uncover and exhibit any part of their person. Otherwise, both may fall--the men by being excited to look; the women, by drawing to themselves the eyes of men. 2.246

... Women may be permitted to use softer clothes [than men], provided they avoid fabrics that are foolishly thin... Luxurious clothing that cannot conceal the shape of the body is no more a covering. For such clothing, falling close to the body, takes [the body's] form more easily. Clinging to the body as though it were the flesh, it receives its shape and outlines the woman's figure. As a result, the whole of the body is visible to spectators, although they cannot [technically] see the body itself... 2.265

Neither is it seemly for clothes to be above the knee. 2.266

[Women through cosmetics] turn their faces into masks... What does God think of spurious beauty, rejecting utterly as he does all falsehood? 2.274

Let the [woman's] garments be suited to age, person, figure, and pursuits. 2.285

Neither is the hair to be dyed, nor gray hair to have its color changed… Old age, which conciliates trust, is not to be concealed. 2.286

They must not do as some do. For some women imitate the acting of comedy. They practice the mincing motions of dancers, and they conduct themselves in society as if  on stage. That is, they go around with voluptuous movements and gliding steps, pretentious voices, and casting languishing glances round. 2.287

Tertullian (c. 198)

They wear in their gait the same appearance as do the women of the nations, from whom the sense of true modesty is absent... In short, how many women are there who do not earnestly desire to look pleasing to strangers? Who does not on that very account take care to have herself painted out, yet denying that she has ever been an object of carnal desire? 4.18,19

Are we to paint ourselves out so that our neighbors may perish? What happened to, "You will love your neighbor as yourself"? 4.19

Let a holy woman, if naturally beautiful, give no one such an occasion for carnal lust. Certainly, if she is beautiful, she should not show off [her beauty], but should rather obscure it. 4.20

Whatever is born is the work of God. So whatever is plastered on is the devil’s work… How unworthy of the Christian name it is to wear a fictitious face – you on whom simplicity in every form is enjoined! You to whom lying with the tongue is not lawful, are lying in appearance. 4.21

...Your dress should not in any way attract attention because of extravagance or artificiality. Otherwise, Christian modesty may be scandalized. 6.160

Novatian (235)
She is not a modest woman who strives to stir up the fancy of another--even though her physical chastity is preserved... Why is the color of the hair changed? Why are the edges of the eyes darkened? Why is the face molded by art into a different form?... Why are the necks oppressed and hidden by outlandish stones? The prices of these -- without any workmanship -- exceed the entire estate of many persons. 5.591

Commodianus (c.240)
[The adornment of vanity] is fitting for women who haunt the brothels. O modest women of Christ, overcome the evil one. 4.214

Cyprian (c. 250)
But self-control and modesty do not consist only in purity of the flesh, but also in seemliness and in modesty of dress and adornment. 5.431

The characteristics of jewelry, garments, and the allurements of beauty are not fitting for anyone except prostitutes and immodest women… All of these things the sinning and apostate angels put forth by their arts. 5.433–434

Apostolic Constitutions (390)
[to men] Do not adorn yourself in such manner that you might entice another woman to you... Do not further enhance the beauty that God and nature have bestowed on you. Rather, modestly diminish it before others. Therefore, do not permit the hair of your head to grow too long... Do not wear overly fine garments... 7.392

[to women] Do not add adornments to your beauty in order to please other men. Do not wear fine embroidery, garments, or shoes, to entice those who are allured by such things. It may be that you do not do these wicked things for the purpose of sinning yourselves -- but only for the sake of adornment and beauty. Nevertheless, you still will not escape future punishment for having compelled another to look so close at you as to lust after you. 7.395

Areas for serious reflection

  • Evangelistic witness: Does the way I dress enhance the gospel (Titus 2:11)?
    • Pursuit of holiness
    • Muslim critique
    • Impact on children and grandchildren
  • My use of resources: Does it honor the Lord?
    • Time
    • Money
    • Focus / energy
      • Thinking about appearance
      • Worrying about what other people see
      • Longing to be younger
      • Denying the inevitable process of aging
      • Buying into the youth culture that surrounds us
  • How would Jesus dress? What can we glean from the scriptures about his personal attire and appearance? 
    • Apparently nothing radical or garish.
    • Normal clothes appropriate to his station in life.
    • He taught us not to obsess over youth we (cannot even add an hour to our lifespan - Matthew 6:27).


  • Are we desensitized? High exposure to programs normalizing immodesty tends to numb the conscience.
  • Where to draw the line? We must make choices about what we view, listen to, and read. The Bible doesn't tell us exactly how to dress or adorn ourselves, but it provides principles so that we may lead holy lives.
  • Are we drawing excessive attention to ourselves? Or is our aim to lift up Christ?
  • Christians are called to live differently from the world. We are in the world, but not of it (John 17:16). Immodesty and vanity are sinful. Let's strive for God's standard of holiness!