What Is the Meaning of Modesty in the Bible?
- Meg Bucher Writer and Author
- Updated May 25, 2023
Appearance and actions reflect the life we live. We present ourselves to the world based on our self-perception and aspirations. To be modest is to consider what our clothing and behavior represent. Modesty isn’t vain or boastful. It takes more than selfish desire into consideration and accepts responsibility for the influence our choices have on the lives of others. “Modesty is needed in every century and in every culture,” writes Nell Sunukjian.
Knowledge of who we are in Christ is crucial to a life of biblical modesty. Modesty is simplicity. Jesus sets the example of the life we are to lead in the pages of Scripture. Living a simple and modest life in a society constantly selling us a new version of ourselves and our stuff is difficult.
What Does It Matter What We Wear?
1 Samuel 16:7 - "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
It takes patience and fortitude to fit character and calling into our wardrobe and hobbies. Kevin DeYoung writes, “being pretty (or handsome) is not a sin, working to improve your appearance does not have to be vanity, the line between modest and immodest is not always black and white -we are still left with the undeniable biblical fact that God considers modesty a virtue and it’s opposite a vice.”
Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion.” Solomon uses discretion here to describe the capacity one has to use tasteful judgment. Modesty is closely connected to self-worth. Unaware of our value, we lack the proper judgment to attract the right attention. Jesus said above all, love. He is love establishes strength and wisdom to develop discretion, allowing us to become more like the person Solomon speaks of here:
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” -
As freeing as it is to walk through life knowing who we are in Him, we can still fall victim to charm. Proverbs 31:30 warns, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” When striving to become more like Christ, the very pinnacle of modesty, we’re less likely to fall victim to or display ourselves an outward display of charm.
What Is Modesty According to the Bible?
Modesty, according to the Bible, is less of self and more of Christ. Humility, purity, and generosity, but not to be noticed or practiced as a religious requirement. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, not to be ashamed of who we are in Christ. We exist to honor God, with our physical bodies and our behavior.
Jesus said, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has also made you an heir.” (
"Shame is a powerful category, in the Bible and in our own day. The key is knowing what things we should actually be ashamed of.”- Kevin DeYoung
Modesty is the outward expression of inner purity. Paul instructed the Philippians to fix their thoughts on things not of this world. In our everyday modern lives, this truth reminds us to filter everything through the truth of God’s Word (Philippians 4:7-9).
We get one life on earth to reflect Christ’s love. When the community of people surrounding us peers into our lives, what do they see? It’s fun to dress up the surface, but when our focus is deeper, it’s not necessary. We shine just by taking care of our relationships with the Lord and the blessings He’s given us. Modesty is the powerful reflection of a daily walk with Jesus. (1 Peter 3:1-4)
David prayed for God to search his heart, as we should, asking God to redefine our definition of beauty. Meggie Cotonethal points out the dual use of the Greek word kosmios (modest or respectable) in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Timothy 3:2. It means orderliness and propriety in women in 1 Timothy 2:9, and in 1 Timothy 3:2 implores respectable and good behavior in men. She smartly observes, “Modesty is not just a woman’s issue, and our Enemy delights in the fact that we think it is.”
Bible Verses about Modesty and How We Clothe Ourselves
Proverbs 31:30- “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
1 Samuel 16:7- “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Matthew 6:1- “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Luke 22:42- “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Romans 12:2- “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Ephesians 2:10- “We are all God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
1 Corinthians 10:31- “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
Philippians 2:5- “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
1 Timothy 4:8- “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
1 Peter 5:5- “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’”
What Doesn't the Bible Cover about Modesty?
The word modesty is not prevalent in the Bible. Though God clearly categorizes the lack thereof as a vice, Scripture focuses is more on powerful virtues to develop modesty. Jesus is the pinnacle of modesty. Present at the creation of the universe, Son of the One True God and Savior of the world, He humbled Himself to wear sandals and got His feet dirty right alongside us for a few decades before dying perhaps the most excruciating and unjust death in the history of mankind . . . voluntarily.
Our Preferences vs. Biblical Principles
The difference between preference and principle lies in our priorities. Strength and health are important priorities, but Christ comes first. Fashion is fun, but Christ comes first. It feels good to get compliments and feel accepted, but Christ comes first. When He doesn’t, the rest of our priorities stack up precariously like teetering Jenga blocks.
Modesty reflects the most current update of our hearts. Philippians 2:5 reminds us “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Do clothes, finances, relationships, speech, the passions we pursue, and the food we consume get in the way of others seeing Christ in us? 1 Corinthians 10:31 encourages, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I often tell my children, “if you have to ask if it’s OK, it’s probably not.”
What Should We Wear to Church?
“Our clothing tells people what is important to us.” -Kim Cash Tate
God wants to embrace us in worship. He promises to be present when two are more are gathered in His name. The church isn’t a place to impress others. Christians should dress for church to outwardly reflect the soul God designed in the most Christ-honoring way, different for everyone, in every culture. God smiles at a diverse church crowd, locking arms to worship the One True God.
John 8:54 - “Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.’”
What if someone shows up to church with their skin exposed (to a degree), tattoos, piercings, wild makeup, or maybe they're under or overdressed compared to the rest of the church? Jesus would take the seat right alongside and embrace them, as should we.
What Does Modest Clothing Look Like?
1 John 2:16 - “For everything in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life- comes not from the Father but from the world.”
Emily Maust Wood states, “self-control does not equal others-control.” The private parts God covered with leaves in Genesis are the places we’re to keep under cover. Anything that overexposes our intimacy should be kept under wraps. Purity holds onto some dignified places for marriage. But there’s no eternal damnation of shame if that ship has sailed for us. We can always start fresh to wear clothes reflecting what we believe and Who we follow.
Is There a Biblical Dress Code?
Matthew 6:1 - “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
Jesus clearly taught us not to do things in a self-self-righteous manner. What we wear should reflect who we are in Christ. “What a woman should wear or not wear is a matter of a woman’s conscience before the Lord,” -Dawn Wilson, “7 Things the Bible Says about Your Clothes.” Men are not off the hook, here either. She also notes, “Modesty is not anti-fashion; it’s pro-adornment in godly ways (
Why Should Christians Care about Modesty?
Christians should take great care to reflect modesty. We are not of this world and will stick out like sore thumbs at times because of our modest choices in clothes, spending, food, exercise, etc. Some of these choices are a proper reflection of the life we’re called to live. Many rich blessings add joy to our lives, but everything we do yields to the Father. A life consistently reflective of His love and light to those surrounding us as witnesses. The following verses help us focus on living a modest daily life:
- Luke 22:42 - “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
- Romans 12:2 - “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- Ephesians 2:10 - “We are all God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Modesty can be relative, or relevant, to our Christian walk. The choice is ours. The Bible holds enough truth to steer us in the right direction, but our enemy uses the concept of modesty deceptively to make us think following Christ is all about rigid religious rules. Purity, modesty, humility, and acceptance are keys to a life full of the Peace and Love of Christ. Modesty, and many other virtues and vices can be picked apart and redefined to fit different perspectives. But there is only one way to the Truth . . . Jesus. When our eyes are fixed on Christ, modesty will be reflected in our lives.
A Prayer for Clarity in Modesty
Praise You for the diversity in this world. Each culture, skin tone, language, and ethnicity is an expression of Your creative love. Help us to see each other as You do and express our inner hearts with our outward appliance. Give us the balance and modesty we need to walk in Your strength, Father. Help us to be open and accepting yet listening to and applying Your truth to our lives day by day. May we daily understand who we are in You a little more, and our hearts continue to grow in compassion and love for the people you purposefully place in our lives. Help us to love them well. Thank you for loving us perfectly. Clear the lines we blur, Lord Jesus. Let all we do honor You.
In Jesus’ Name,
“Megs” writes about everyday life within the love of Christ. She stepped out of her comfort zone, and her Marketing career, to obey God’s call to stay home and be “Mom” in 2011. From that step of obedience her blog, Sunny&80, was born, a way to retain the funny everyday moments of motherhood. (https://sunnyand80.org) Meg is also a freelance writer and author of “Friends with Everyone.” She loves leading her Monday morning Bible study, being a dance mom, distance running and photography. Meg resides in Northern Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and Golden-Doodle . . . all avid Cleveland Browns fans.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Milkos