Validating the Gospel in Modesty

View Video Version or Listen to Audio Version

Message delivered on Sunday February 24, 2008 in the adult Sunday school class at
Trinity Baptist Church,160 Changebridge Road, Montville, NJ 07045.

One area that has marked our life together which has also both validated and illustrated the power of the gospel in days gone by has been the decided modesty and the distinctive femininity of the dress and the demeanor of the women in this church, the decided modesty and the distinctive femininity.

However, in the past year or two there has been a marked erosion among us in both of these areas. We have had men come to us vexed in their hearts and in their minds as they struggle to maintain mental purity before God, eyes that do not become the inlet of lust on the basis of what they see.


Let me begin with three introductory concerns that will kind of set the field, clear the field of misconception as I then come to the heart of these issues.

The first introductory concern is this. In all that I say I am addressing the members of this congregation and their families. Should God be pleased to bring among us some raw 21st-century pagan women dressed with mini skirts, cleavage almost down to their belly buttons or with slacks of stretch material that hug their thighs and their buttocks and their crotch, we will NOT say to them, “You can’t come in here and listen to our gospel dressed like that,” and then hand them a shawl and say, “Wrap this around you before we welcome you into this place.” No. We would welcome them exactly as they show up - among us unless they showed up naked! We would welcome them to come and sit under the ministry of the Word of God, to sit under the gospel.

However, as they sit among us and as they look around, it shouldn’t take long for them to draw this conclusion. “If I begin to believe what is preached in this place, I will have to dress like the women in this place who are marked by decided modesty and by distinctive femininity”.

In other words, we take them as they are with a view to seeing them become what God says the gospel will make them. I want to make that very clear, lest anyone go out and say, “The pastor doesn’t want sinners to come to our church.”

The second introductory concern is this. I am not saying that we believe that the women members of this church are deliberately seeking to be seductive or sexually provocative to the men who sit among us or that the women who are members of this church are willfully, deliberately and defiantly seeking to blur male and female distinctions in their dress.

However, society has so degenerated in these two areas of decided modesty and distinctive femininity and is presently “squeezing some of you into its mold” contrary to the will of God revealed in Romans 12:2, being “not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

We believe that the world’s pressure is being evidenced in this place in the dress of some of you. Therefore, I come to you this morning with a burdened heart and with a bent knee seeking under God to sensitize your consciences in this area of gospel fruit.

You will notice how from my opening statements I will continually use the terminology, validating and illustrating the power of the gospel. And that is the issue that is at stake. It is the gospel that is at stake.

Yes, the men among us need to take seriously Matthew 5:28 which says, “Whoso looks to lust upon a woman, whoso looks with a view to lust after her, has committed adultery already in his heart.” Any man that willfully goes from what he sees to what he would desire to have will answer to God for his sin. That is clear from the Scriptures.

However, my dear sisters in Christ, there are two other passages that need to be brought into your deepest concern as a woman.

The first one is Luke 17:1-2. “And Jesus said to his disciples, ‘It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come.’”

In other words, the world being what it is, the human heart being what it is, occasions of stumbling are going to come. “But woe unto him, woe unto her through whom they come. It were well for him, for her, if a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were thrown into the sea rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” The little ones are those who believe in him.

And, my dear sisters, I beg of you to listen to this passage. Any man that lusts after you will answer to God for his mental adultery. But you will answer to God if you have provoked it by the manner in which you are dressed.

The second text of Scripture is Romans 14:13. “Let us not, therefore, judge one another anymore, but judge this rather, that no man, no woman, put a stumbling block in his brother’s way or an occasion of falling.”

That is what we are to judge. Am I in any way in the manner of my dress putting an occasion of stumbling before one of my brothers in Christ.?

Here, ladies, get hold of this principle. Purity of motive does not cancel the effects of your appearance. You may have a heart as pure as untouched new fallen snow this morning, and have no desire whatsoever to provoke a man to lust, to seduce a man. But the purity of your motive does not cancel the affect of your appearance.

Even if you have a heart as pure as snow, a bared thigh with a long slit up to here will provoke the lustful thoughts of a man. And God says to you, “Judge this rather, that no woman, no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.”

Mrs. Al Mohler (the wife of a man to whom God has given literally national prominence with his syndicated radio broadcast and his blogs) said this: “Don’t blame the men around you who happen to be unfortunate enough to be within sight and say, ‘They need to get their minds out of the gutter.’ Proverbs 30:20 says, ‘This is the way of an adulterous woman. She eats and wipes her mouth and says, “I have done no wrong.’ Ladies must remember what battles men face to stay pure as they are stimulated visually by women. They should never have it flaunted in their faces. And to have it done at church is an abomination.”

That is a woman speaking to her sisters in Christ.

Then the third introductory concern is this. You may go to other churches and you may find expressions of dress that are contrary to the things that I am going to articulate this morning and my response to that is the words of Jesus in John 21. “What is that to you? Follow thou me.” We leave to other pastors to answer to God what they do in the sphere of their responsibility. We are concerned with what we do in this sphere of our responsibility. And if you find that some of the things you hear this morning are not going down smoothly, we plead with you. Don’t seek out others who share your reservations and form a little grousing club. Come to us with an open Bible and show us where we have gone beyond the Scripture and we will stand in this pulpit and make alterations or retractions whichever are necessary.

Now I come, first of all, to an appeal for decided modesty of dress.

If you were to look up the word “decided” you would find that it is defined as, “Definite and unmistakable and clear cut.” I am making a pastoral appeal for dress that is marked by decided modesty. In other words, every rational man or woman should be able to say, “That woman is dressed modestly.”

Let us look, first of all, at the biblical basis for our concern. We will go to 1 Timothy 2:9 and 10. But we will start with 3:14-15. Paul tells Timothy : “Timothy, I am writing specific directives concerning behavior in God’s house, the church which is the pillar and ground of the truth.”

The Church must confess the pure gospel of the grace of God and the Church must validate and illustrate that gospel in its life and in its conduct. Only then is the Church the pillar and the ground of the truth.

And nestled down in the midst of this behavior which Paul says ought to be the mark of the people of God is verse 9, “in like manner, I desire that women adorn themselves in modest apparel.”

Let me read four translations of that verse.

The NIV. “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety.”

ESV. “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.”

New King James Version. “Like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.”

New American Standard Bible, “I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly.”

Then in the following verse where he gets specific about hairdos, et cetera, Paul emphasizes that they should be neither seductive nor suggestive, nor ostentatious. They should not dress in such a way that as soon as they walk in, every head turns and looks at the hair piled up on their head in a certain way or their garments adorned in a showy way, so that people instead of being occupied with God in the service, become occupied with her.

John Stott says, “What Paul is emphasizing is that Christian women should adorn themselves with clothing, hairstyles and jewelry which in their culture are inexpensive and not extravagant; modest and not vain; chaste and not suggestive.”

So, for us as your pastors to be upfront and graciously confrontational and proactive concerning the matter of modestly, is part of our duty. What would you think of us if we gave up the centrality of prayer shaped by the gospel in our life together as a church? When the text says, “I will first of all that prayer, supplication, intercession, giving of thanks be made for all men.” What would you think of us if we no longer insisted on the biblical standard for elders from Chapter 3? What would you think of us if we gave up what Paul says about the teaching, ruling ministry in the Church and that women are not to teach the mixed assembly, women are not to govern and we began to entertain the thought of women elders? I ask you. In Christ’s name, what would you think of us if we permitted this? In the same way, nestled in these same directives is the apostolic mandate that women must dress modestly in the house of God. And we are not going to avoid the insistence that that will be true in this house of God.

That is the biblical basis for our appeal. We have no alternative.

I want to identify the 10 things that most frequently tempt men to think unclean thoughts. This is not an exhaustive list, but I believe I am accurate in saying these are 10 triggers to lustful thoughts. These are like magnets in a women’s dress, magnets that draw men’s eyes to parts of their bodies that if they are to maintain purity of mind they don’t want their minds drawn to these parts of a woman’s body. Here are the 10 magnets to men’s eyes.

Number one. Dresses or skirts with lengthy slits. When a man’s eye sees a slit that comes up to the knee or above, he thinks, “Oh, a few more inches and what would I see?” That is the way a man’s mind works. If your fathers have not told you this, daughters, it is true. If you husbands have not told your wives this, shame on you. This is a magnet to men’s eyes, dresses or skirts with lengthy slits.

Secondly. Dresses or skirts which hug the buttocks. I don’t know a better word to use. What do I mean? My shirt is not hugging any part of my body except, perhaps, my wrist. A skirt that hugs the buttocks is a skirt that not only comes down over the buttocks, but back in to the back of the thighs.

When you see pictures of prostitutes one of the marks of a prostitute is this: She always has her buttocks hugged, whether it is a mini skirt, whether it is jeans, whether it is tight slacks, her butt is always hugged because that is what she is selling. And that is what she wants you to buy. It is a magnet to men’s eyes.

Thirdly. Any upper garment that hugs the breast. And I don’t know a better way to describe it. It is one thing for your garment to come down over and hang loosely upon the breast, but to hug the breast, to shape and isolate your breasts becomes a magnet to men’s eyes. People should not receive an anatomy lesson in mammary glands when they look at you women. It is a magnet to men’s eyes.

Fourthly. Unbuttoned blouses, low neck lines or cleavage on any upper body garment. You know what I mean by the buttons. You have got a blouse that buttons up to the top. But you unbutton it down to one button away from bearing your bra. And when a man sees only one button to go his mind goes, I wonder what is under that one more button.

John Piper, is burdened about this issue and he has posted an article on the internet, “Is Modesty an Issue in the Church Today?” Listen to Mr. Piper.

“Necklines are an issue these days. Everywhere I turn, at the airport, at the church the necklines are plunging. Some fashion designers in the world are communicating to women today that the thing to do is to have your neckline split extend too low. Unbuttoned blouses, low neck lines on the shirts that may be under your jacket, cleavage of any kind on any upper body garment. And also, women, remember. In the church setting you are found at times bending over, picking up a child. Bend over and look at yourself in the mirror before you leave your home. What may seem to cover you well standing, bending over does not cover you sufficiently to be dressed modestly.”

Number five. Sleeveless blouses or dresses with large arm holes. You look down on your sleeveless dress and you see nothing but your shoulder. But if it is a large arm hole, a man sitting behind you looks up at the pulpit, sees through to your bra. And his mind goes where he doesn’t want it to go. It is immodest to wear sleeveless blouses and dresses with large arm holes. If the arm holes are tight enough that no one can see in, then that is your liberty before God.

Number six. Low-rise skirts or pants. This is the style made popular by Brittany Spears and Jennifer Lopez - these sex pots, who flaunt their bodies in their gyrations with their music. They have made this style popular - skirts that barely hang on the hip bones and with the jeans that barely come up and cover the crack of the buttocks. I have been in situations with Christian women where I have seen the crack of their buttocks because of the low rise jeans, skirts or pants.

Number seven. See-through clothing of any kind, clothing that does not cover your under garments to the point where no one can see them. Some of you need to know the function of a camisole.

Number eight. Skirts and dresses that are just plain too short. Difficult when you are seated to adequately cover yourself. And when you get engrossed in something in a public setting, you are not keeping your knees locked together and before long the legs are spread a bit and anyone just happening to glance can see clean up to your underwear. That is immodest. It becomes a magnet to men’s eyes.

Listen to Mrs. Mohler again. She says, “If you arrive at church dressed in such a way that by the end of the service the people around you by no fault of their own know the color of your underwear and they have watched you do a shimmy dance as you try to get your too short, too tight skirt to go down, there is a big problem.”

Number nine. Slacks or pants or jeans that hug the buttocks, the thighs and the crotch. And by the way, “crotch” is not a coarse word. The dictionary defines it as “the place where the legs fork from the human body, the seam or place where the legs of a pair of pants meet”.

And here I speak from a deeply burdened heart. This is one of the areas, dear women, where the immodesty has taken over in our church. Some of you are showing up with slacks that either have spandex in them or are made from some stretch material that hugs the buttocks, comes around and hugs the thigh and presses up on your crotch and the crack of your buttocks. You have no idea what that does to many a man when he sees it. You draw his eye to the most erotic part of your body. That whole area becomes a magnet for men’s eyes.

Number 10. A bared midriff and back. This whole present style where tops come down and just barely, if at all, meet the low rise jeans. You may look in the mirror and say, “Well, I am fully covered.” But all you need to do is to reach out – and a couple of inches of your belly are showing. When you bend down, people can see your back and usually the top of your underwear as well. And this has happened right in this assembly.

One man said to one of the elders, “I saw a woman bend over. I could see the top of her panties and I wondered what it would be like to put my hand down her back.” This was a godly young man, passionate to be holy, who was caused to stumble in this church.

And I am going to do something right now. I am going to ask the men seated here this morning and the boys: If you find any one or more of these things that I have called magnets for your eyes an occasion of struggling with purity of your mind, I want you to raise your hand.

Now, sisters, look around. Get a good look at how many men there are. Many dear brothers are struggling with these issues.

I am not a dirty minded old man trying to rob you sisters of your Christian liberty. I am a pastor determined that in this place, women shall appear modestly to the glory of God and to the good of their precious brothers.

So, having laid out the biblical basis of our concern, and having identified the 10 magnets to men’s eyes, what are you to do as a woman? Here is my counsel.

Number One. Repent. Repent of the ways in which you have unknowingly and carelessly allowed yourself to be sucked in by the world’s standards and have caused occasion of stumbling to your brothers. Ask God’s forgiveness. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ and say, “Lord Jesus, wash me in your precious blood. I had no idea that those tight slacks that are so comfortable caused my brothers to sin. Oh, Lord Jesus, forgive me.”

I trust that many of you will have dealings with God today in the way of repentance.

“Lord Jesus, I had no idea that that shirt that hugged my breasts and shaped them was an occasion of stumbling. Lord Jesus, forgive me. Cleanse me. Wash me in your precious blood.”

Repent. Go to Christ in faith. Find the purging of His precious blood. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And then “bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance.” Go to your dresser drawers, go to your closet and remove anything and everything that has one of these 10 magnets embedded in them.  

But you may say, “Pastor, then I will have to show up in the same outfit for the next five weeks.”

Hallelujah! We will rejoice – for it will be modest.

And if anybody comes up and says, “Hey, don’t you have another dress?” - you come and tell us and we will deal with them.

Secondly. Pray for and labor to cultivate a sensitive and well instructed conscience before God on this issue.

I am 99.44 % certain, that a number of you women, as I have gone down these 10 things, you have been saying, “I never realized. I never realized. I never realized.”

But now you have gotten instruction. “To him that knows to do good and does it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). You can’t claim ignorance after this morning.

You pray and ask God to help you to cultivate a sensitive, well instructed conscience before him concerning this issue. Pray in the Luke 17 passage. Pray in the Romans 14:13 passage. Listen to the words of John Piper:“I plead with the Christian women of the world that they take into consideration the things they are saying by what they are wearing. Dress to please the Lord. And you can still dress beautifully. You don’t have to look stupid or out of style to be modest. I know this is the case because there are hundreds of very attractive women at our church who dress modestly and don’t cause men to stumble. And they don’t look out of style.”

That is my plea to you. Repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance. Pray for and labor to cultivate a sensitive, well instructed conscience before God concerning this issue.

Thirdly. Welcome the quality control upon your modesty that should come from your husband, from your father, from your mother, from the people of God and from your pastors. You may judge something to be modest because you look at yourself through your own eyes. Someone else is looking at you through a different set of eyes.

Now, if there are some men who believe that you are modest only if you show up like a Muslim woman, we will take those men aside and deal with them. We are not advocating that you go out and get a black gunny sack, cut two holes in it and stick it on your head, not at all. But we need quality control.

You men know what are the magnets to your eyes. Monitor what your wife wears. It hurts me at times, when my wife comes into my study and says “Well, Al, what do you think about this dress?”

“No, dear,” I say, “it looks nice on you, but it looks too nice on you.”

You be the quality controller for your wife. She is not a man. She doesn’t think like a man. You can’t expect her to think like a man. But you are a man. Then, begin to act like one. Act like a man and say it sweetly. “Dear, the slit goes up to high.”

“Oh, but honey...”

“Dear, the slit goes up too high.”

“Oh, but honey.”

“The slit is too high.”

In other words, you start out nice and sweet. If she resists you, you meet her head on and say, “You will not leave this house with that skirt as long as I am your husband. End of discussion.”

Now, let me ask you men if you have got that kind of holy testosterone. If not, go to God and ask him to give you a good shot of it. Be sweet. Be gentle. Be kind. Be sensitive. But if she starts whining and begins to wear you down, stand your ground. Quality control of husband and father for the daughters and mother. You have every right while your children are under your roof. Not only do you have the right, you have the responsibility that they dress modestly. It is your responsibility.

Now I want you to listen to another one of your sisters in Christ, Mrs. Mohler. I have never met her, but she has got spirit and courage. She says: “Mothers of sons have often asked me, ‘What can we do? We don’t have daughters we can influence, but we have sons that are looking at how your daughters dress.’ It is our job then, as mothers of daughters to make sure our daughters’ appearance does not cause men to stumble or cause women to point to them as examples in order to make their case.”

Richard Baxter, the great Puritan preacher said to women, “And you must not lay a stumbling block in the way of men nor blow up the fire of their lust, nor make your ornaments snares. But you must walk among sinful persons as you would do with a candle among straw or gunpowder or else you may see a fire that you do not foresee, when it is too late to quench it.”

And what do you do with respect to your daughter that pushes you and pushes you with regard to a certain standard? Well, Mrs.Mohler has some very helpful counsel again. She says, “You are the mother. You are the father. You stand the ground and you tell your daughter, ‘In this house, this is off base. This is off base. No discussion. End of the issue.”

Perhaps you need the quality control of one another, since some of you don’t have a husband or a father. The Scripture says in Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort one another while it is called today lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

Sin is deceitful. You may think, “Oh, I am dressed perfectly modestly.” But sin has deceived you. You are not dressed modestly. You need the quality control of God’s people to draw you aside lovingly and say to you, “My dear sister, I know you do not want to cause any man to think unclean thoughts because of you. Isn’t that true?”

“Well, of course,” she says.

“Then I think, maybe you ought to reconsider this or that dress that you are wearing.”

This is how we can graciously exhort one another.

And if there is a pattern of immodestly (notice what I said — a pattern of immodestly) that does not yield to husband or to mother or to father or to the people of God, then we elders have to deal with it. And we will confront you and say, “Our Bibles say that behavior in the house of God mandates modestly of dress among the women. You have a pattern of immodesty. It must stop.”

That is our responsibility.

And one text that keeps thundering in my ear, is what the prophet Isaiah spoke of the false prophets: “They are dumb dogs that cannot bark” (Isa.56:10).

Dumb dogs, a watch dog that when the thief comes, sits there and licks his hand and doesn’t bark.

I pray, “Oh, God, don’t let us be charged with being dumb dogs that cannot bark, that cannot stand against the tremendous pressure that the world is bringing upon women to get them to compromise and be insensitive to the biblical standard of modesty. “

I have just dealt with modesty. I haven’t given my appeal for distinctive femininity of dress. That will have to wait.

So what have we done? I gave you three disclaimers. We are not saying that if God brings raw sinners among us dressed like sinners we will reject them until they change their clothing. No. That has never been our position; and it will not be as long as Christ rules in this Church.

I don’t believe that the women in membership in this church are trying to be cutesy seductive; or that, if one of the men of this church propositioned you, you would like that. No. But you still like being cutesy seductive - you know what your tight skirt does to the eyes of men and you like it.

I gave you the biblical basis for our concern, 1 Timothy.

I gave you the 10 magnets for men’s eyes.

And then I sought to lay before you what you ought to do in the light of what you have heard. Repent, pray for a sensitized conscience and then plead with God to be sensitive to the quality control of husband, father, mother, the people of God and your pastors.

God grant that it will not be long before any one coming into Trinity Church or coming for the first time will see the gospel validated in the decided modesty of the women of this church. The gospel is at stake, my dear sisters. Let’s preserve it in its substance, in its doctrinal purity and in its powerful application to take women out of the society where immodesty is the order of the day and make them attractive, tasteful, modest, Christian women to the glory and to the praise of our God.