Modesty Series Part 3: The Heart of the Matter

Welcome to part 3 of Re-Thinking Biblical Modesty. Here are the links to parts 1-2 if you need them:

Part 1: In the Beginning (There Was No Shame)

Part 2: Knowledge of Evil and Human Sexuality

In part 1, we saw how:

  • GOD created humans to be nude.
  • Adam and Eve didn’t know they were nude.
  • Because Adam and Eve didn’t know they were naked, they had no shame.
  • Sin created three knowledge types within humans:
    • Knowledge of evil
    • Knowledge of nakedness
    • Knowledge of shame
  • Ashamed at their nakedness, Adam and Eve used leaves to hide their public nakedness and then they hid from GOD.
  • Adam and Eve did not hide their nakedness from each other (marriage).
  • Shame is the natural human reaction to public nakedness.
  • This awareness of the need to hide our nakedness is the biblical concept of modesty.

In part 2, we observed that:

  • Human flesh has been weak from the beginning.
  • Even before sin, humans have struggled with desiring things that are harmful.
  • Due to human awareness of evil, nakedness, and shame, nudity was compartmentalized to the marriage relationship only.
  • Sexual desire is GOD-given and good.
  • These sexual desires, combined with the new awareness of nakedness and knowledge of evil, produced a new human desire to see others’ nakedness.
  • Bodily beauty triggers these thoughts and amplifies our desire for sexual relationships.

Now, as we conclude the series, we consider the heart of the matter.

The Temptations of Sexual Desire

The bottom line is that sexual desire tempts us to have sex with someone to whom we aren’t married.

And while all sin is egregious and punishable by death, sexual sin seems to come in two levels of putridity to GOD.

Sexual Temptation #1: Unmarried Sex

If for no other reason than the probability of conceiving a child, GOD desires sexual relations to be reserved for marriage. That way, children grow up in a home with mom and dad, increasing their probability of success as they grow. 

Ultimately we don’t have to understand why, we just need to obey.

Scripture refers to sex between unmarried people as fornication or sexual immorality.

9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NKJV)

Some people are able to resist or deny themselves the fulfillment of sexual desires. As Jesus put it, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (See Matthew 19:11.)

However, many, if not most people, either lack the self-control for resisting sexual urges or simply desire to enjoy GOD’s gift of sex. Furthermore, sex is the strongest and most intimate way of expressing the romantic love a person has for another. Couples who love one another romantically want to express their love in this way.

Regardless of motive, GOD knows people need an outlet for fulfilling sexual desire and He provided that through marriage.

Regarding this, the apostle Paul wrote:

2 … because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
(1 Corinthians 7:2b-5 NKJV)

Sexual Temptation #2: Sex With Someone Not Your Spouse

It might sound odd, but when you get married, your biological desire for sex does not naturally lock in to only your spouse. In other words, your body does not change its operation and natural desire for sexual fulfillment simply because you got married.

In GOD’s design, your spouse serves your sexual needs so that you do not feel a strong urge to seek fulfillment elsewhere. Sadly, most marriages are disappointments (to both spouses). And a spouse with a stronger sex drive or unmet sexual needs is likely to wish they had a “better” sexual relationship.

Adultery is the biblical term for sex involving a married person that is not your spouse.

A person who feels their sexual needs are being met by their spouse is less likely to commit adultery.

4 Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
(Hebrews 13:4 NKJV)

Let’s Talk About Lust

Jesus taught us not to lust, that’s correct.

But what was Jesus really teaching, precisely? Let’s take a fresh look.

During the sermon on the mount, Jesus taught the Jews, saying:

27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
(Matthew 5:27-30 NKJV)

The ancient Greek language had no specific word for “wife” or “husband.” The word “woman” or “man” was used and the translators inferred from the context whether the statement was specific to a married person(s). Let me show you.

Continuing with the next verses in Matthew 5, we read:

31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
(Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV)

The word translated “wife” in Matthew 5:31 is γυναῖκα, which comes from the root word γυνή, meaning “woman.” The context mentions divorce, clearly indicating the precondition of the woman was married. Therefore, the word is translated “wife” in English.

When we look at Matthew 5:28, the same Greek word (γυναῖκα) is used. In every English translation I have seen, the word in Matthew 5:28 is translated “woman.” Yet, Jesus used the word “adultery” rather than “fornication” or “sexual immorality” in the immediate context. For reasons I don’t understand, English translators render the word “woman” rather than “wife” in Matthew 5:28.

Jesus was saying, “Whoever looks at another man’s wife to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Jesus was not teaching the Jews some new, higher standard of morality. Rather, Jesus was clarifying what the Law of Moses really said. Remember: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

Look back at the Ten Commandments. It says directly:

13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his house, and neither shall you covet his field, nor his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, any of his cattle, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.”

(Exodus 20:13-17 OSB)

The word translated “lust” in Matthew 5:28 is even translated as “covet” in certain passages.

While Jesus was speaking to fellow Jews living under the Law of Moses there in Matthew 5, the command not to covet is repeated numerous times to Christians.

This means there is a distinction between:

  • An unmarried male feeling strong sexual desire towards another unmarried female, and …
  • A male strongly desiring a sexual relationship with someone else’s wife.

Bodily Beauty and Biology

In part 2, I discussed how bodily beauty gets our attention. Beautiful people make us look. GOD designed humans to notice the beauty of the opposite sex.

Our attraction to bodily beauty amplifies our sexual desires.

This natural human reaction occurs with no consideration to our marital status. It happens to single people and married people.

As sexual desire increases, so does the temptation for sexual sin (seeking fulfillment apart from one’s own spouse).

Because humans are weak at resisting our desire, even when it is harmful, as sexual desire increases, so does the probability of sin.

Therefore, we can say that, if we exclude the marriage relationship, the more bodily beauty a person sees, the greater the probability they’ll commit sexual sin.

Is Sin Really That Significant? (Psst… I’m already “saved.”)

Statistically speaking, do modern “Christians” care that much about sin?

I think that a general lack of concern towards sin is close to the root cause of the immodesty crisis in Western culture. Many Christians rarely think about sin. Many churches seemingly rarely emphasize the impact of sin.

Jesus believed sin was a big enough deal that He left heaven, surrendered being in the form of GOD, and came to earth in the form of a baby, for the specific purpose of being tortured and killed on a cross, just so that GOD could offer humans a way to escape the eternal punishment for our sin.

“Oh yeah, man! Sin is huge! We gotta preach Jesus to lost people so they can be saved from their sins.”

Exactly! Sin is critical to “lost” people.

Aside: Did you know the Bible only speaks of “lost” people when referring to first century Jews who weren’t faithfully seeking GOD? Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. I think this is a powerful observation worth its own study.

While many, if not most Christians strongly believe sin is critical before one becomes a Christian, it’s like we quit caring about sin once we are “in Christ.” At least the “little sins.” I mean, murder, adultery, and homosexuality (for some) we still care about.

Paul addressed this nonchalant attitude towards sin in Romans, writing:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Far from it! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? … 12 Therefore sin is not to reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the parts of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead, and your body’s parts as instruments of righteousness for God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace.
(Romans 6:1-2, 12-14 NASB)

Sin hurts GOD. And sin hurts us.

Jesus taught His followers to avoid sin at all costs. Returning to the previously-cited passage from Matthew 5:

27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
(Matthew 5:27-30 NKJV)

On another occasion, Jesus taught that it was better to drown than to cause a child to sin:

1 Now [Jesus] said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to one through whom they come! 2 It is better for him if a millstone is hung around his neck and he is thrown into the sea, than that he may cause one of these little ones to sin.
(Luke 17:1-2 NASB)

If I claim to be a follower of Christ, then I am to have the mind of Christ, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5.

Since Jesus taught it better to drown than cause someone to sin, we Christians ought to live like we believe it is better for us to drown than to cause sin.

Ponder the severity of this.

The Heart of Modesty

With all of this context, let’s return to the topic of modesty and put the pieces together.

If I fully believe it is true that:

  1. Human awareness of nakedness creates a condition of shame or embarrassment, 
  2. This attitude of shame is biblical definition of modesty,
  3. This shame creates the need to hide our nakedness from the public,
  4. Clothing is the most basic means of concealing nakedness,
  5. Bodily beauty amplifies our sexual desire,
  6. The stronger we feel a desire, the more likely we are to give in to temptation,
  7. Apart from marriage, the more bodily beauty a person sees, the greater the probability they will commit sexual sin,
  8. Jesus taught we should avoid sin, and causing others to sin, at all costs, and …
  9. As a follower of Jesus, I am expected to adopt the mind (attitude) of Jesus, …

… then I will make every reasonable effort to avoid creating temptation for another person.

Modest dress means you conscientiously try not to draw attention to your bodily beauty because you are that concerned about not causing another person to sin.

But Every Person is Responsible for Their Own Actions

“But Tim, I can’t control what someone thinks and does? Every person is responsible for their own choices.”

It is true that every person is accountable to GOD for our thoughts and actions.

Let’s return to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:

31 “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.
(Matthew 5:31-32 NKJV)

Here, Jesus plainly stated that a man divorcing his wife, apart from sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery. How can a man cause his ex-wife to commit adultery?

I understand Jesus to be teaching there that:

  • GOD does not dissolve a marriage just because a couple divorces (splits) on earth.
  • In GOD’s view, marriage is a contract made between a husband, a wife, and GOD.
  • The contract is only completed when one spouse dies. Until then, the contract is enforce (to GOD).
  • However, if the husband or wife has sex with someone else while their spouse is alive, this violates the terms of the contract (sexual faithfulness) and the one who was infringed upon then has the choice to terminate the deal (in GOD’s eyes).
  • Therefore, if a husband sent his wife away by divorce, because GOD saw her as still married to him, most likely she would find someone and remarry. Consummation of her second marriage—or sex before remarrying—would be adultery in GOD’s view (which is all that ultimately matters).

Regardless, it is clear that Jesus considered the divorcing husband responsible for causing his ex-wife to sin.

Just because we are accountable for our own choices does not absolve us of guilt when our actions lead to another person sinning.

Besides, if Jesus had this attitude, He would have never become a human because, after all, we are accountable for our own choices, right?

Anyone who thinks this way does not possess the mind of Christ.

Well, What Needs Covering, Exactly?

Oh come on! You intuitively know.

But let’s get Paul to spell it out for us:

18 But now God has arranged the parts, each one of them in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many parts, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again, the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those parts of the body which we consider less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor, and our less presentable parts become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable parts have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same care for one another.
(1 Corinthians 12:18-25 NASB)

If you need further help, what body parts does a person desire to see and experience sexually? This isn’t complicated.

But yet again, one who seriously asks this question probably doesn’t possess the mind of Christ? Why? Because the question is typically asked from a mindset of “How much must I cover up?” rather than “How can I help prevent sin?”

How to Have the Mind of Christ Regarding Modesty

During the first century, as the gospel spread to Gentile territories, Christians faced the question of whether they could—or should—eat meat that had been offered by a pagan to an idol.

The Christians at Corinth wrote Paul and asked him whether they should avoid eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul responded:

1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes one conceited, but love edifies people. 2 If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

4 Therefore, concerning the eating of food sacrificed to idols, we know that an idol is nothing at all in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is only one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

7 However, not all people have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Now food will not bring us close to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this freedom of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will his conscience, if he is weak, not be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge the one who is weak is ruined, the brother or sister for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brothers and sisters and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to sin.
(1 Corinthians 8:1-13 NASB)

In short, Paul’s advice was that a Christian should not eat meat sacrificed to an idol if that might influence a fellow Christian who was less mature in their faith and felt that, by eating the idol-offered meat, somehow they were showing support for that worthless idol as a god.

Paul went so far as to say that doing so would ruin their brother or sister in Jesus. Why? Because action taken while doubting (action not taken in faith) is sinful because the person did something without conviction that GOD approved of their behavior. This is not honoring GOD in our heart.

Addressing similar matters in Romans, Paul wrote:

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
(Romans 14:19-23 NIV)

How does this apply to modesty?

Let’s remix 1 Corinthians 8 and adapt it for modesty.

1 Now concerning [modesty], we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes one conceited, but love edifies people. 2 If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

4 Therefore, concerning [our outward appearance], we know that [we cannot control another person’s thoughts], and that [clothing] is nothing in the world. 5 For even if [we cover our body head to toe], 6 yet for us [each person is accountable for their own behavior to the] one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

7 However, not all people have [self-control]; but some, being accustomed to [lust and sexual immorality, look at another’s body and are tempted to covet or fornicate]; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Now [the clothing we wear, by itself,] will not bring us close to God; we are neither the worse if we [are naked before Him], nor the better if [covered head to toe]. 9 But take care that [how you dress] does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

10 For if someone sees you, the one who has knowledge, [dressed immodestly], will his conscience, if he is weak, not be [tempted to sin]? 11 For through your knowledge the one who is weak is ruined, the brother or sister for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brothers and sisters and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if [how I dress] causes my brother to sin, I will never [dress that way] again, so that I will not cause my brother to sin.
(1 Corinthians 8:1-13 Tim’s Modesty Remix)

The one who has the mind of Christ asks not what must I wear to be modest, but rather how can I avoid causing someone to sin because of how I dress.

We should be able to wear virtually anything we want because each person is responsible for their own thoughts and actions. But we can’t. Because if we aren’t intentionally cautious, our bodily beauty might amplify sexual desire in someone else.

Now I know some of you reading this are thinking, “What bodily beauty?! I don’t have any bodily beauty!”

I hear you. If we’re honest, probably most people would belong to the category of people who, the more of their body they exposed, the less sexual desire others would feel. This probability seems to increase with age.

For those of us who fall into that category, it’s about setting a godly example.

As Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

Conclusion

Paul wrote:

20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 NKJV)

When we become a Christian, we die to ourselves. The old man ruled by sin is buried in the water. The body lifted out of the water is a new creation—the new man. The new man is ruled not by desires of the flesh but by the will of Jesus.

Are you a Christian?

Do you make decisions based on what you want or what Jesus wants?

If you have the mind of Christ then your attitude towards modesty is how you can avoid creating sexual desire because of how you (un-)cover your body.

You cannot be a Christian and dress in a way that encourages people to desire you sexually.

Need help changing your attitude? Pray for the mind of Christ. Find an accountability partner to ask how you’re doing. Message me if you like.

Want more teaching on biblical modesty? Check out my video lesson entitled Re-Thinking (Biblical) Modesty.


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