I hope to challenge the popular paradigm on modesty. I invite interaction, as I’m sure my thesis can be tightened up. This is generally how I hear it stated. Bad boys lust, and bad girls want to be lusted after. Some women get angry when they hear that they should dress with modesty. After all, shouldn’t men learn how to control themselves? Ungodly men put all the responsibility on them, and blame them for rape culture. Godly men put the responsibility on themselves, and still gently challenge women to dress with modesty. I agree that men should learn how to control themselves, and I also agree that women should dress with modesty. I recently found an excellent article on modesty from Ben Zornes, here.
But I also want to challenge what seems to be a misconception. What I see as a common misconception is that men lust and women want to be lusted after. It is true, but it leaves out the fact that often women lust and men want to be lusted after. This does not deny differences between men and women. This does not deny male headship in marriage. It is primarily an argument that asserts that while lust is a male problem, it is also a human problem. Thus, I also want to assert that modesty is not only a female problem, but also a human problem.
My argument begins in Genesis 39. This is the story of Potiphar’s wife and Joseph. In the ESV, in chapter 39:7, Potiphar’s wife lusts after Joseph: “And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me.’” This immediately follows the line where the text describes Joseph as “handsome in form and appearance.” My argument is not that Joseph was being immodest. My argument is that in the Bible we see an example of how men have bodies, and women sometimes lust after those bodies. Thankfully, we see an example of how a man did not give into his own lust, and fled her lust. The next step in my argument is that those men who do not flee this lust, often seek after the lust of women through variations of immodesty.
Many men know that they have strength and form, and sometimes they flaunt this in the same way as women seek to flaunt their beauty. Think about the man on the beach who is flaunting his rippling pectoral muscles as he swaggers around shirtless, or the dude on the basketball court who has cut back the sleeves on his shirt as much as possible so that all the chicks in the bleachers can see his shoulder muscles bulging out. Or even all the dudes on the movies who are showing off their abs and biceps. There are men out there who are looking for attention. Sometimes it expresses itself in their desire for women to see their muscly chests or butts.
Of course, this is just an expression of the central sin that cuts through the heart of every man and woman: pride. But for males, this sin has a very particular expression: bragging. Men can brag through their words, but also through the clothes they wear, or lack of clothing they wear. Clothing, or lack thereof, can draw attention to the strength that they want to show off for the world too see, particularly for all the girls who will ‘oooo’ and ‘awww’ over their six-pack and bulging biceps.
This argument does not justify feminine immodesty, or vanity, or pride. This is only intended to say that there is a male problem out there, and it is largely not talked about. This does not mean that the church should stop challenging feminine immodesty in our culture.
Of course, my aim is not to make every athletic and/or muscular male out there feel ashamed of himself. Joseph was a man who sought to serve the Lord and he was ‘handsome in form and appearance’. In 2 Samuel 23, David’s mighty men are described as powerful and strong. This passage in Samuel is one of the most B.A. descriptions of the fighting men of the Lord in the Bible. David himself was ruddy and good looking.
But David also confesses to the Lord in Psalm 18:35, among a record of his feats of strength, that “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” In fact, the entire Psalm is a confession of reliance on God. Of course, a man can be immodest in his confession of reliance on God: “Look how great God has made me!!!!!!” But a man can also be modest and humble in his confession of reliance on God. In vs. 31, King David says in humility: “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?” God gets the glory.
What I have sought to prove here, is that in love for our Christian sisters, Christian men should also seek to cultivate a Christian modesty. This applies to both words and clothing. This does not mean that they should give up on helping out their wives and daughters to cultivate modesty. Christian women must repent of their lust, but we can’t do that for them. Instead, we can repent of our own lust and our own pride. We can humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, and begin to cultivate a life of modesty and humility that really seeps down into the very fiber of our being. That doesn’t give us an excuse for being pansies. It just gives us a reason to glorify God as we do battle for His glory. And to seek humility and grace as we do it. As C.S. Lewis once said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
Cheers, and have a good day!