When we read about immodesty, most of us probably think about women and the kind of dress that they wear. Indeed, the Bible (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:9-10) specifically writes to address modesty in a woman’s dress. But I’ve realized that at the core of the sin of immodesty is an attitude which both men and women can be guilty of – that is the desire to lift ourselves up in the eyes of others and in the eyes of ourselves.
As a man I’ve seen that more than how I look in style and looks, the sin of ‘immodesty’ is manifested in how I speak – in what I say, in how I say it, and even in how much I say. Much of what I say can be said in such a way that in one way or another I can try to lift myself up in the eyes of others, much in the same way people change their appearance in order to stand out and have others notice them. We can be quick to look down at younger people in the church or those in the world who are eager to dress immodestly, and we can complain about the low moral standards today. But I think a lot fewer of us have seen the ugliness of immodesty in our speech and how we seek to draw attention to ourselves. When we see the ugliness of this same sin within ourselves, we will be quick to judge ourselves.
For example, seeking to gain credit for my work at the expense of putting down others is really just a temptation to lift myself up too (by pushing others down). There’s rarely a temptation to bluntly boast in plain words, but the temptation is to do it much more subtly so nobody else notices (and maybe I won’t even notice) that I’m trying to lift myself up. We want to subtly give the idea that we see things clearly at 30,000 feet when everyone else sees things at sea level!
Also, sometimes it’s not so much about specifically saying great things about myself as in the amount that I say. By dominating conversations with things that I have to say without being genuinely interested in what others have to say, I can be seeking to express to others that “I am interesting, and knowledgeable, you’ll want to hear what I have to say.” This can also be true in the church and in our holy activities, where we want to be thought of as knowledgeable about the Bible. We think that knowledge of the Bible is the highest calling of the Christian, and lets everyone know that we are spiritual. But the Bible says “While knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.” (1 Corinthians 8:1 - NLT)
The drive of immodesty (in both men and women) is exactly the opposite of what John the Baptist meant when he said ‘I must decrease.’ The driving motivation behind immodesty is “I must increase, I must have people think about me, I must be noticed, I must have people think I am gifted and valuable.” I believe that if we see these things in our hearts and take them to the Lord for help, we will be able to walk in victory over this sinful attitude of immodesty. Why is there such a temptation to exalt ourselves in the eyes of others? As far as I can tell it’s because we have not clearly seen a few things:
1. We have not seen the Lord’s true value, we have not seen Him “High and lifted up” (Isa 6:1).
Just as a homeless man would never boast to a king how successful he is, the more I see the Lord ‘high and lifted up’, the less fit I will feel to declare myself high and lifted up. After Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up (Isa 6), the first thing he did was declare “Woe is me!” (v5). When we see God in the true light, we will not declare how high we are but how low we are and how high God is.
2. We want to feel that we have value, but we have not seen the value we have in Christ
The Lord gives us many great and precious promises telling us how much He cares for us and how much we mean to Him (for example, Isa 49:16 and Psalm 139:17-18). I believe as I grab ahold of those promises I will not feel the need to try to seek to make myself valuable outside of Christ.
3. We have not seen how worthless the opinions of others are
In the Bible we read verses like “What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:6), and “Don’t fear the one who can kill your body” (Matt 10:28), and again Jesus said to Pilate “You have no power over me except for that which has been given to you from above” (John 19:11). As long as our Father is happy with us, we don’t need to fear if everyone else is upset with us or looks down on us. They may be able to hurt our flesh but they can never steal our joy in the Lord and our eternal treasure we have in Jesus.
What a peaceful and joyous life that is to see our value in Christ and not in men! Let us pay close attention to how we speak, and repent quickly every time we find ourselves subtly lifting ourselves up in the eyes of others by our words. God will open our eyes to these things as we hate our sin and repent of it, and draw near to Him for help to be delivered from it.