Whenever the issue of modesty and lust pops up on my newsfeed, it reminds me of the first summer I went to the waterpark with my boyfriend, now husband, Joseph.
I chose to wear a modest halter neck tankini because it was a slightly more attractive option than my sporty one-piece. Slightly. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a bit frumpy, surrounded by a sea of bikini-clad women.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, all day I closely watched his eyes to see if he was checking out any of the other women. His gaze never faltered.
It’s MEN’S responsibility to respect women
In the back of my mind I was thinking about how difficult it would be for a man to go to a waterpark without lusting. Popular authors at the time of The Purity Movement even encouraged men to avoid beaches altogether because of the overwhelming temptation. That may sound extreme and unnecessary, but their reasoning? Fleeing from sin sometimes takes great measures (Matthew 5:29). I agree with that.
However, at the same time, it seemed possible, that a man could go to the waterpark and live out his conviction to respect the women around him, regardless of what they are wearing.
Exhibit A: my boyfriend. He tried his best to respect women with his eyes and his thoughts.
So who’s to blame? And what’s the big deal about bikinis?
It’s WOMEN’s responsibility to be respectable
Whenever the issue of lust comes up, we wonder who’s fault it is. What was she wearing? Was it too short? Shouldn’t he be able to control his thoughts? We are quick to point fingers and place blame. But sin is rarely that straight-forward.
Since the beginning of time, humanity has pointed fingers and blamed others. Adam did not take personal responsibility for his actions. He blamed Eve. The reality is that our own actions have consequences.
What we do affects other people. Surprise! What we wear affects other people too.
It’s my responsibility to be respectable regardless of the level of respect I receive. It’s my responsibility to wear clothing that communicates who I am and the God that I represent. It’s my responsibility to wear clothing that’s worthy of my calling.
Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”
It’s my body, but I don’t always wear what I want
We are told to follow our dreams and do whatever we want to do: It’s your body. It’s your choice. Wear what you want. But here’s the reality: too often that’s just an excuse for selfishness.
A woman of God doesn’t live for herself. She considers the other: how will this affect the men and women I call friends. If I’m wearing a tight dress to show off my figure and make all my friends jealous, am I causing division? If I’m wearing a low cut shirt and trying to draw attention to myself, am I being conceited? If I’m wearing a bikini to make guys drool, am I tempting them to lust?
Of course, it’s possible that we aren’t trying to make anyone jealous, to get attention or be sexy. It is possible that we simply think the outfit is cute, and we are dressing for ourselves. But that’s exactly the problem. Dressing for yourself isn’t always loving.
1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
A woman of God does not say: it’s my body, and I can wear what I want. A woman of God says: how can I love my brother (Philippians 2:3)? How can my body honor God (Romans 12:1)?
We do not live for ourselves
Proverbs 9 tells us that “Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing… but little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.”
A foolish woman doesn’t care about how her actions affect others. She is selfish. Her “guests” are spiritually dead, but she does not notice or care. She doesn’t actually want what’s best for her friends. She continues to do what she wants, regardless.
Cain was the first person to display the kind of selfish human autonomy that puts self above everyone else, not only in killing his brother but asking “Am I my brother’s keeper”
Genesis 4:9, “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’”
Yes. He was. His actions affected his brother. He could kill him or he could give him life. In selfish ambition, he chose to kill. But, as women of God, we have the choice to give life to our community, to consider the other in how we speak, how we act, and how we dress.
Dressing modestly isn’t a battle of life and death, but it is a spiritual battle. Ask yourself… am I killing my brothers spiritually??
Do I have to wear a potato sack?
No. You don’t have to wear a potato sack. You could wear a potato sack and people with filthy minds could still lust after you. Regardless of what we wear, we are not responsible for another’s sin, but we are responsible to be respectable.
If someone confronts me that I’m wearing something too tight or too short, I should consider their appeal in respect. It doesn’t mean I blindly follow their standard of dress. But I should respect my fellow human enough to ask… am I the problem? Or are they? Are they being controlling? Are they binding me to a legalistic standard? Or am I truly hurting my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ by drawing so much attention to my body. I have chosen to step outside myself long enough to consider how my wardrobe affects other people.
Then listen. Listen to the Holy Spirit, who guides and convicts. Invite him into your wardrobe. Ask him about each article of clothing that you own.
And always remember.
While I am not responsible for other people’s sin, I am responsible to love them. That is what it means to dress modestly. That is what it means to live in community.
Sisters, we should carry ourselves in a manner worthy of respect and others should respect us regardless. Respect and responsibility are mutual, not conditional, when you live in community. And that’s exactly how God intended it to be.