What Does the Bible Say About Modesty?
The Bible teaches that modesty, a form of humility and respect, is a valuable quality in everyone—men, women and children. It has to do with how we present ourselves, which should exemplify our inner relationship with God.
Seventh-day Adventists and Christians in general try to ensure their outward presentation and lifestyle glorify God. This often involves daily habits like the ways we hold conversations, the ways we dress and accessorize, and the ways we regard other people when we’re out and about.
We recognize that when it all comes down to it, this outward presentation is just an overflow of something deeper—our inner attitudes and motives that reflect our preferences, our priorities, our mental states, and ultimately our relationship with God.
This whole discussion is usually referred to with the umbrella term of modesty.
But do we really know what that means? Or what the Bible specifically says about why and how to be modest?
And do Adventists have a different view of modesty than other Christian faith groups might?
Let’s get to the heart of the matter by answering each of the following questions:
- What is modesty?
- What does the Bible say about modesty?
- Does God care about modesty?
- Why is modesty important?
- How do Adventists as Christians practice modesty to honor God?
We’ll start by making sure we’re all clear on the definition.
What is modesty?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines modesty as “the quality of not being too proud or confident about yourself or your abilities.” Or “propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.”1
Yet often, when you hear talks about modesty in Christian circles, it’s usually focused on clothing, makeup, jewelry, etc. And about women “covering up.”
But as you can see from the definitions, modesty is mostly about our attitudes. It’s about nurturing the idea that we are all equal in value, and we should be careful that our words, presentation, and actions aren’t attempting to exalt ourselves over others.
The first definition has to do with having an attitude of humility. We can certainly appreciate the gifts God has given us and be confident in our abilities. But modesty involves balance.
We balance our qualities with those of others, and we make sure to act with mutual respect and inclusiveness. That would be in contrast to seeking attention or trying to position ourselves above others.
And in the second definition, we find the word “propriety.”
Propriety is moral and social behavior that is considered to be correct and acceptable.2
So, modesty means dressing, speaking, and behaving in a way that is appropriate for the situation we’re in.
This may vary in different cultures, religious belief systems, and in different places around the world.
And while Christians live within specific cultural contexts that influence their perceptions of modesty, they believe that the Bible contains their sole set of beliefs, even in this.
So, what does the Bible say about modesty?
Modesty in the Bible
There are several Bible verses about modesty, both in the Old and New Testaments.
Bible dictionaries define modesty as proper restraint by a sense of propriety, causing one not to be too forward, too bold, or to be boastful. And also, embracing moderation—taking care to avoid being excessive, extreme, or extravagant.
It is translated from the Latin word modestia, which refers to mannerisms that come from a moderate estimate of one’s own worth and importance.
Paul sums this up well in Romans 12:3 “not to think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought to” (NKJV).
This principle has at its core the grace of humility. And we find the perfect example of humility in Jesus Christ Himself (Philippians 2).
Modesty in the New Testament
The specific word “modest” is used in the New Testament in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, when Paul writes to Timothy saying:
“Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to worship God” (CSB).
In these Bible verses, some practical advice is offered to women about effective ways to demonstrate the quality of modesty. And yes, a lot of it is focused on how they dress.
Why the extra focus on women here?
When it comes to this verse, these things were significant because in the Greco-Roman culture, rich women would showcase their social status and wealth by wearing expensive clothes, showy jewelry, and elaborate hairstyles.3 And as you can imagine, that kind of expression leads more to divisiveness than to love and community.
But of course, this could easily apply to any person of any age or gender. It’s important to dress respectably and to have self-control, making sure our behavior is appropriate for the situations we’re in, and the impression we’re wanting to give.
Otherwise, getting caught up in status and wealth can open the doors to pride, gluttony, or envy.
Instead of attracting attention to what’s on the outside, we are urged to invest in a godly character that will be manifested in selflessness and good conduct.
The same point is emphasized by Peter in His epistle:
“Do not let your beauty consist of outward things, like elaborate hairstyles and wearing gold jewelry or fine clothes, but rather what is inside the heart—the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4, CSB).
So, the emphasis here is to encourage a focus on the inner spiritual life, rather than physical beauty. Just as the wisest man put it:
“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30, NKJV).
We can also look at the story of Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:20-29. Noah had a bit too much to drink and fell asleep “uncovered.”
One of his sons saw this, and went and told his brothers that their father was lying around naked in his tent. But they reacted with more respect. They took a cloak, held it between them, and walked backward into Noah’s tent, so they could put the cloak over him “and they did not see their father naked” (CSB).
We see from everyone’s actions here that the following things were considered immodest, or even shameful:
- Nakedness, or exposing oneself
- Intentionally looking at the exposed
- Telling other people about someone else’s embarrassing situation
In fact, the Greek word for modesty used in 1 Timothy 2:9 for women is kosmios. And it’s the same word that Paul uses in 1 Timothy 3:2 for “good behavior” which is one of the desirable qualities that men must have to be church leaders.4
Modesty in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, we see the quality of modesty in a number of people:
1. Saul—When called to become the first king of Israel, he wondered why he’d been chosen out of all the people. He asked:
“Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?” (1 Samuel 9:21, NKJV).
Even though his later actions strayed from this sentiment, this does show that he originally had a moderate estimate of his importance or worth.
2. Queen Vashti—When the King asked her to parade her beauty in front of his friends and dignitaries at a party, she refused (Esther 1:11-12).
And though she made the King furious, and her refusal did cost her the position as queen, Vashti stood by her convictions and left us an example of feminine modesty, and the strength to stand up for herself in an extreme situation.
3. Elihu—He was one of Job’s friends who came to console him after his tragedy. And of the four of them, he was the youngest.
The Bible says that due to his age, he waited until everyone was done speaking before he started talking (Job 32:4-7).
This can be an example for us as well. While it doesn’t always have to be about age, it shows that even in conversation, modesty is called for. Not being too eager to be heard, but truly listening to others and giving them their due respect and opportunity to voice their opinions as well.
Does God care about modesty?
The fact that modesty is mentioned in Scripture shows that God cares about it.
We can see that many of the people who God hand-picked to do great work for Him were modest.
The Bible has many stories of when God passed by those who were inflated in self-importance. He often chose to work with the humble and modest. Or sometimes even those that were considered to be despised by society.
Peter calls us to be humble, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” So if we humble ourselves before God, He’ll exalt us in due time (1 Peter 5:5-6, ESV).
Typically, God chose those who believed they had a lot to learn and were open to being instructed. They were often quick to acknowledge that any of their achievements ultimately had everything to do with God, and not them.
Good examples include:
- Gideon (Judges 6:14-16)
- Daniel (Daniel 2:26-28)
- Joseph (Genesis 41:15-16)
- Paul (1 Corinthians 15:9)
In Isaiah 47:3, God says that we were created for the sole purpose of bringing glory to Him.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we were created for good works.
Even our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and we should do everything we can to glorify Him and bless others (1 Corinthians 10:31; 6:19-20).
At the end of it all, giving God glory is our only purpose and reason for existence.
So for a Christian, a modest attitude has to do with channeling all we are and all we have to glorify God, rather than focusing attention or praise toward ourselves.
It helps to count our blessings, and to realize that all that we are or have is a result of far more than we could ever achieve on our own.
We can know that, though we are gifted, the gift comes from God’s Holy Spirit. And the process of nurturing that gift to the point of recognition and praise takes God’s providence, and usually some help from others.
So, while we acknowledge the fact that we are gifted, and even enjoy the privileges that come with it, we always remember that there’s more to it.
Let’s say you’re a great athlete.
A modest attitude toward your great success would be to realize that though you have put in a lot of effort to succeed, there’s more to it than your own abilities.
It’s God who gave you the strength and agility for the sport. And He watched over you to provide health and avoidance of injury. And through His providence, He’s given you the people and opportunities to help you excel.
Speaking of other people, you have much to acknowledge there, too. You had other athletes who inspired you, a coach who supported you, and friends to cheer you on.
When we realize these things, it doesn’t make us sad that we didn’t do it all ourselves. It actually can be encouraging to know that God cares for us in these ways, and allowed people and opportunities in our lives that brought us to where we are.
And that makes us all the more willing to divert the attention to where it really belongs—to God.
Then, instead of being preoccupied with basking in the glory it brings, we’ll want to channel our blessings toward others. Like coaching other upcoming athletes. Or extending opportunities to kids who may have the same gifts but no resources to cultivate them.
By choosing such a path, we become humble instead of proud and attention-seeking. We can experience more love in our lives, and we’ll glorify God through our good deeds.
So yes, God cares about modesty.
Because it’s one of the qualities that serves as a clear indicator of our relationship with God and our faith in Him.
What’s the relationship between faith and modesty?
When we have a moderate estimate of ourselves, God is more able to work through us. An attitude of modesty leaves room for us to trust God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves.
And that takes faith.
The good news is that God loves to do great things through those who acknowledge Him and give Him the glory.
And when He does it once, it builds our faith in Him. We keep trusting Him for even greater things. And that places us on a path of endless growth.
Imagine if you’re confident in yourself and your abilities to do anything. Chances are you’ll face whatever comes your way without looking to God and asking for His help.
Take the example of David.
While he was almost “invisible” and didn’t display much externally, he enjoyed a great faith-building experience with God.
When Samuel came to his home to anoint a king, not even his father thought he was any good. He was not even called for the event. Instead, his father presented his older brothers.
Samuel originally thought that David’s brothers, who were already warriors in Saul’s army, would be God’s pick. They were strong and exuded confidence.
But God was looking for someone with a humble heart. So David had to be called from the fields where he was taking care of sheep (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
And later, when faced with Goliath, David did not fear like the rest of Israel. He counted on God’s help to take down the giant, just as He had done with the wild animals that threatened his father’s sheep.
Through his time as a lowly shepherd, God cultivated his faith, away from the limelight, so he could do a great work later on and glorify God (1 Samuel 17:34-57).
Why is modesty important?
Modesty is important because it helps us to focus on what really matters for us and before God.
By shifting attention from ourselves and remaining humble and teachable, we leave room for improvement. And instead of obsessing over ourselves and our achievements, we can be a blessing to others.
And ultimately, it’s much more fulfilling. Genuine relationships and mutual respect is actually much more conducive to feelings of contentment, rather than simply being regarded as rich, powerful, funny, smart, etc.
And when it comes to dress, modesty makes it possible for our inner selves to shine forth rather than just the externals.
Then we stand out because of our integrity and godliness, and the focus isn’t all about our looks—which are fleeting.
Also, the time, money, and energy that is often used to call undue attention to ourselves can be directed to helping others in good works.
But most importantly, an attitude of modesty allows us to cultivate our relationship with God.
Spending time in the Word of God has a way of weeding out any tendencies of extravagance and pride.
And on the other hand, whenever we lose our grip on God, immodesty almost always tends to follow.
This is why humility and modesty are common things the Holy Spirit impresses upon us in our spiritual journeys.
How do Adventists practice modesty to honor God as Christians?
Adventists strive to live for the glory of God in every aspect of our lives. That’s why we take the issue of modesty seriously.
There is no prescription for exactly how anyone should behave or dress, since we are all different and we’re free to express our God-given personalities. But in our creative expressions of ourselves, we each remember to present ourselves as a child of God.
And as children of God, we are careful to ensure the way we live our lives isn’t distracting. That our immodesty doesn’t become a stumbling block to anyone.5
And to guide us are various principles of modesty that we’ve arrived at through Bible study.
Let’s have a look at these principles that help Adventists in their pursuit of a modest lifestyle.
Principles for dressing modestly
When it comes to dress, Adventists prioritize neatness and good taste, which can still express beauty. We also try to avoid anything that attracts too much attention to ourselves, or that makes it appear like we’re trying to show off.
Some aspects to consider when picking a modest dress include:
- Colors that blend well together and with your skin—rather than “shouting” colors
- Dressing relevant for the occasion, but upholding decency
- Not going for the most expensive brands, but insisting on good quality and durability
- Wearing clothes that fit your body type
- Wearing clothes meant for your gender (Deuteronomy 22:5)
If modesty is balance, then immodesty is found in the extremes.
And one of the most common forms of extremes is in being overdressed or underdressed.
For example, a company director on an official business event might be underdressed if he attends in jeans rather than a suit and a tie. Or when someone shows up to a casual get-together wearing a formal dress or suit, he or she would certainly stand out.
We can also be careful in how we fix ourselves up, even apart from the clothes we wear. There’s no need for gaudy jewelry or overly-dramatic makeup. But that doesn’t mean we don’t fix ourselves up to look clean and presentable.
Also, when it comes to fashion, it’s good to maintain a modest balance.
While there’s no reason to insist on dressing in old-fashioned clothes that will make you stick out, it’s also important that we don’t become preoccupied with chasing the latest fashion trends. Instead, give yourself time to carefully and prayerfully “test all things; [and] hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21, NKJV).
Dress for health
Since the way we dress has everything to do with our bodies, it’s important that our clothes help us maintain good health. And it’s not difficult to achieve this. You can simply:
- Dress down in hot weather and bulk up in cold weather
- Avoid unhealthy hair and beauty products or procedures
- Keep it as close to natural as possible
- Wear sturdy and comfortable shoes
- Avoid clothes that restrict movement, or that constrict vital body organs
Dress for decency and virtue
The world today promotes freedom of expression, including how one chooses to dress. But Christians should make a deliberate choice to dress in a way that upholds their dignity. We don’t want to draw too much attention to our bodies, especially if the primary motivation is sexual attention.
It can be easy for our minds to go straight to mini skirts and low necklines, or to unbuttoned shirts and sagging jeans with boxers showing, but the idea here is that our bodies are beautiful and they are sacred. No matter what type of clothing we’re wearing, we want to dress in a way that doesn’t draw undue attention to us, so our character can be what leads in our relationship-building.
Principles for modesty in behavior, conduct, and lifestyle
As mentioned earlier, modesty is a quality that permeates every aspect of life.
It has to do with what affects our self-importance. It matters how we relate to the acceptable norms, based on Bible principles. And our general lifestyle, including our minor habits, can communicate what we truly value.
Here’s how we can strive for modesty in the following areas:
This is how we act toward others, regardless of the situation.
Modest behavior portrays humility. It lets our influence be felt through a life of selfless love and service to those around us, rather than our own boastful words and acts.
We don’t want to be elbowing our way to the limelight, seeking prominence over meaning, and parading what we think to be the best of us.
It also values the contribution of others in our lives and in the world, making us ready to appreciate others, seek out advice, and accept constructive criticism.
This has to do with how we relate to set norms in a given setting.
We don’t have to always be in opposition to the world. That’s an extreme. Instead, we weigh each situation in the framework of God’s principles before we decide how to act.
For instance, unless a situation is pressuring us to disobey God’s law or violate our conscience, we don’t have to make a fuss or let everyone around us know that there are things we don’t like about our current circumstances. Just like Daniel and Joseph in the Bible, even while working for their own people’s oppressors, they still followed the rules and didn’t complain. And in the case of Daniel, he only spoke up when his religious practices were being specifically targeted.
But even in everyday situations, we must pay attention to the surrounding culture you find yourself in. Just as you’d want someone to respect the way you do things, you can show the same respect to others.
Our lifestyle is how we live, including our tastes and habits.
It involves pursuing a decent and comfortable life, going for things that we need for health and happiness. But also avoiding the pull to being materialistic, extravagant, or flashy.
It’s also about being approachable and accommodating, avoiding the expression of exclusivity.
Modesty is all about humility and glorifying God in our lives
As you’ve seen, modesty is a broad subject that reaches into all areas of our lives. It’s about cultivating humility in our hearts, out of a desire to glorify God rather than ourselves.
And the good news is that we don’t have to learn it on our own. God knows we struggle with sin, which throws our egos off balance. He will help us develop the loving quality of modesty as we walk with Him (Galatians 5:16-26).
He’ll help us represent Him in a way that’s unique to our God-given personalities. We can learn to talk, act, dress, and live in a way that exudes authentic beauty and also represents the Christian quality of humility and grace. Just the way He helped the priest be clothed in beauty and glory (Exodus 28:2).
As Paul likens Christians to letters that are read by everybody (2 Corinthians 3:2), we can strive to be letters that, when people read us, they’ll see God’s principles in our lives. Even in our attitudes and outward appearance.
Jesus said that as Christians and God’s representatives on earth, we need to “let [our] light so shine before men, that they may see [our] good works and glorify [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NKJV).
This is how we can live in response to God’s limitless love.
We don’t do it in order to be saved, but because we love God and are forever grateful that Jesus is our Savior. And rather than judge others, we strive to be “an example…in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4: 12, ESV).
To learn more about Christian lifestyle, you might enjoy this page on what the Bible teaches about tattoos.
- https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modesty [↵]
- https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/propriety [↵]
- https://womeninantiquity.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/imperial-roman-womens-fashion/ [↵]
- Strong’s # G2887[↵]
- Romans 14:13; 2 Corinthians 6:3; 1 Corinthians 8:9 [↵]
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