One of the biggest complaints I ever heard from my students was about the school’s dress code, and these complaints sometimes caused me to think about the relationship between female modesty and male thoughts. The students had been told that boys were easily distracted by female dress—hence, at least one of the reasons to have a dress code. While the students did not like to acknowledge that connection, the Bible also points out in 1 Timothy 2:9 that women should “adorn themselves in modest apparel” and focus more on “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:1-6). Young ladies in the Church are taught this principle and given instructions on how to put it into practice, and if you’re one of them, a great place to start is the companion to this post, Mrs. Jeanine Smith’s “Women and Modesty.”
But this post is for young men: When you think of modesty, do you think it only applies to the ladies? That can be a dangerous trap, for two reasons.
First, it is possible for men to be immodest, too. Some men can focus so much on working out that it seems they idolize their bodies. While exercise and activity have great benefits for our physical and mental health, some men clearly work out only to look good. This is usually revealed in how they act outside the gym. Have you ever known a guy who seems to be looking for every opportunity to take his shirt off, as if he’s Chris Hemsworth in a Thor movie? That guy is apparently not just after health benefits. He wants to display his body—a blatantly immodest act. Working out can certainly help men look better, but that does not give us an excuse to be immodest about it.
The second lesson about modesty, though, has to do with the connection I mentioned at the beginning: Do you let a woman’s dress determine your thoughts? Yes, young ladies have specific verses in the Bible to follow, but it goes without saying that only women who take the Bible seriously will take those verses seriously. What about all the women who do not? What is the likelihood that you will come across women dressed immodestly at the beach, the gym, or even Walmart? Pretty high. And if they are dressed immodestly, does that excuse your thoughts?
I hope the answer to that question is obvious to you.
Galatians 5:22-23 lists “self-control” as one of the fruits of God’s Spirit. Men must learn to control their thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5) regardless of their circumstances—and we should not think we can hide our own sins behind someone else’s. When Jesus told His followers to not even look at a woman to lust over her (Matthew 5:28), He did not give any kind of loophole based on how the woman was dressed. If you lust after a woman, you are committing adultery. Whatever she’s wearing, it does not excuse that.
Numbers 25 provides a strong warning. This chapter tells of how the women of Moab seduced Israelite men. The worldly women and the Israelite men both sinned by committing sexual immorality and idolatry—so, both groups were punished. The Israelite men suffered a devastating plague later in that chapter, while Israel later wiped out their seducers (Numbers 31). The Israelite men were not spared because the Moabite women were immodest—the Israelite men were expected to know better and avoid sin, regardless of how the world acted.
And for young men in God’s Church today, there are Moabite women aplenty. Pornography is a horrendous sin that can easily become addictive for those who choose to go after these modern Moabite women. Our society encourages young women to sexualize themselves and dress immodestly. Even in God’s Church, we often have to revisit the concept of modesty since there are so many pressures on our young women. But you, young men, are under just as many sinful pressures to think of young women as sexual objects rather than as sisters in Christ. From these pressures, the Bible exhorts you to flee (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Your sisters in Christ can serve you, young men, by dressing modestly—but you can serve them by controlling your thoughts, words, and actions toward them. Do you treat them like sisters in Christ or like Moabite women? Do you dare sin by asking them for sexual pictures? Who would ask their sister for such things? If you have committed this sin, you need to seek forgiveness from God and from the women you have wronged.
Instead, respect your sisters in Christ by being a brother to them. In fact, strive for that relationship with every woman you meet. While we hope that God will open the door for you to get married someday, that will only apply to one woman—every other woman in your life will be like a sister to you.Young men, do not think that modesty is only for the ladies to worry about. You, too, can be vain about your appearance. Worse, some men have shrugged off their need to grow in self-control by blaming women for their lack of modesty. Even if such an accusation is correct, it does not give anyone an excuse to develop a debased mindset. Look instead to the instructions and examples within Scripture that allow us the opportunity to have fulfilling relationships with all women—as their brothers in Christ.