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Gentle Jesus, Meek and…Modest

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I live in Southern California and now that it’s summer, a familiar problem has returned.  The problem is immodesty and now that the temperature is rising, the problem is becoming more and more obvious…again. But summer or not, modesty has been a topic of concern for me during my whole life.  For instance, back in the days when I was in Catholic school, modesty was demanded. At any point during the day a nun could check to see if I was obeying the rules about skirt length. I had to kneel on the floor and if my skirt didn’t touch the ground, I was given demerits. (Of course, as soon as the nun turned the corner, we all hiked up our skirts again!)

Taking a cue from my parochial education, perhaps now that it is summer, I’m tempted to think that we should install immodesty checkpoints at the doors of the sanctuary. Perhaps we should make up rules about inappropriate clothing and station a deaconess or two at the doors to be sure that the rules are being enforced…better also station one ‘around the corner’ for when the young girls hike their skirts up again!

 On the other hand, perhaps we should just ignore the whole immodesty problem all together because after all, “God looks on the heart…” And our pastors and brothers will just have to learn to look only at a woman’s face.

Rules? No rules? Is there a better way? Is it found in the gospel?

 Hebrews 4:15 informs me that my Savior has been tempted in “every respect” as I have, yet without sin. Could this possibly mean that Jesus was tempted to immodesty but didn’t sin? Because we don’t usually think in these terms about Jesus, perhaps at this juncture it might be helpful for me to define what I mean by “modesty.” Christian modesty is simply a refusal to show off out of love for God and one’s neighbor. Jesus refused to show off His power. For instance, when tempted by Satan, He refused to show off His ability to turn stones into bread or cast Himself off a high tower (Matt 4:1f). When attacked by His accusers, He “opened not His mouth” (Isa 53:7). When facing the humiliation and excruciating pain of the cross, He refrained from appealing to His Father for legions of angels who were waiting to bring Him deliverance (Matt 26:53). Jesus didn’t show off His power or authority because He loved His neighbor, His bride. Jesus was modest because He loved the church.

Conversely, immodesty flows out of the heart of a show off. Maybe we’ve worked hard at the gym or purchased an expensive new pair of jeans. Maybe we want to prove how free we are to dress in any way we choose, no matter how scandalous. When we show-off we’re failing to love our brother (and sisters) who may be tempted to lust or covetousness or sinful imitation. Showing off is a fruit of pride and love of self. Immodesty demonstrates a cold unconcern for the church.

The beauty of the gospel, however, is that it informs us about who we are and what Jesus has already done. While it convicts us that we’re all unloving show-offs (in some way), it also assures us that we’ve been loved and that we no longer need to show off to get other people’s approval because  (here’s the best news of all!) the record of our Modest Redeemer is ours! Our identity isn’t wrapped up in the approval or envy or lust of others. Our identity is found in Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Christ is our life. He loved us and refrained from showing off so that we could be His and freed from the need to prove that we’ve got a great body or wardrobe or…because we’ve been lavished with His love instead.

 Of course, in this promiscuous culture women (and men) might need to be taught what modest attire looks like and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. It’s just that the transforming power that changes a show off into a servant doesn’t come from rules about blouses or skirts. It comes from remembering the gospel and seeking to show Him off instead. So, let’s spend this summer talking about modesty…mostly His. 

Posted on July 10, 2014