Esther and Modesty

Time for a really controversial topic in this ongoing series on issues relating to the book of Esther. Not sure if I’ll dare bring it up in my forthcoming seminar series on Esther, but here’s a few brief thoughts and as usual I welcome any feedback in the comments.

So Esther was really beautiful and ended up getting selected for Xerxes’ harem. It might raise the question, should she have hidden or suppressed her beauty in some way? I don’t think so. The beauty of a woman, just like the beauty of anything else in creation, is another demonstration of the glory of our creator God.

Having said that, there does seem have been a mainstreaming of increasingly risqué clothing in recent decades. MTV for example is more or less a soft porn channel. Whilst the clothes sold in the high street don’t quite have the shock factor of Lady Gaga or Katie Price’s wardrobe, the trend does seem to be in the “less is more” direction.

Now unlike Muslims or the Amish, modern evangelicals generally have no problem with wearing the same sorts of clothes as everyone else. There isn’t some kind of special Christian uniform (except perhaps checked shirts for elders of newfrontiers churches). But let me be provocative for a moment and briefly describe four trends in female attire that I have “noticed” (or, more to the point, tried hard not to notice).

1. Bare flesh – rather ironically, the cloth is being cut so economically at the moment that women are resorting to buying additional panels to preserve their own modesty. The current trend seems to be tops that have already fallen off one shoulder and look precariously like they are about to cause a “wardrobe malfunction” at any moment.
2. See through – another trend seems to be clothing made out of such thin material that it is essentially see-through leaving little (or nothing) to the imagination. My wife frequently has to buy a second garment to wear underneath another (is this a cunning marketing ploy to make women buy double the amount of clothes?)
3. Tight fitting – again, the imagination has little to do when the clothing offers little more modesty than a layer of paint would.
4. Look at me – the final trend is to have a message emblazoned on your breasts, drawing the eye and inviting attention.

There is of course a sliding scale from the deliberately frumpish at one end to the provocatively raunchy at the other end. Neither end is helpful, and so it is a matter of conscience and wisdom for each person to decide the appropriate place. It would be foolish to claim that the issue of modest dress is an exclusively modern one. Paul takes it up in 1 Timothy (perhaps with the focus a little more on not flaunting your wealth rather than flaunting your other “assets”, although the principle remains the same):

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 1 Tim 2:9-10

But why does this matter? Some say that Christian women should dress modestly as a courtesy to their brothers in Christ, to prevent them unnecessary temptation. This would certainly be one good reason to rethink your dress habits. But to be honest, Christian men need to stop blame-shifting and take responsibility for the purity of their thought life.

I think there is a deeper question to be addressed. And it goes back to yesterday’s post on beauty. There is a real danger that Christian women buy into a cultural idol that promises happiness if only you can look “hot”, or be complimented on your appearance by women, or get lots of attention from men, or “feel good about yourself”, or “look good naked”. This idol is the reason why so many women, Christians included, seem to look to fashion or dieting or designer labels or “makeovers” as their functional saviour.

Why do I bring this subject up? Simply because it is one that is rarely addressed since it is embarrassing and controversial to talk about. Having said that, I think modesty is probably best dealt with in the context of a discipleship relation such as described in Titus 2:4-5.

As Tim Keller has shown in his outstanding book Counterfeit Gods, identifying idols is an important first step in order to be set free from their destructive power in our lives. Once we have done so we are in a position to stop believing their lies and instead turning our affections to God himself, the only one who offers genuine peace and joy.

3 thoughts on “Esther and Modesty

  1. You should most definately include this in your forthcoming seminar series, Mark. This is your best post in the series so far. Don’t be a wimp and shy away from it just because it’s controversial. People like controversy anyhow 😉

  2. Agree with Chris.

    Also think it refreshing coming from a man and not a female attempting to educate other women whilst also reconciling the pitfalls in her own life.
    If it’s Biblical, which it is – teach it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.