God’s Standards Applied To The Twenty-first Century

AmishFamilyNiagaraFallsI have a friend, a godly Christian man, who’s written a series of articles on modesty. His basic premise is, modesty isn’t a static condition; it’s the intention of the heart.

I’m not sure I agree. But I’m not sure I disagree either.

Standards such as modesty do seem to fluctuate. What was modest in one generation will seem positively prehistoric in another. Take the Amish, for instance. By their dress, you’d expect the Bible to have mandated double-breasted, floor-length dresses that don’t use such modern things as buttons and zippers (If the hook and eye was good enough for granny, it’s good enough for me).

The point here is this: freezing clothing style at a certain point in history does not insure that it meets God’s standards. After all, there’s mention in the Bible of women covering their faces at certain times. So the Amish aren’t modest according to Biblical standards.

On the other hand, the swim wear of the 1920s would look positively risque in comparison to Amish dress. And yet today, someone at the beach in a ’20s suit would stand out like a sore thumb for the very fact that no one wears that much clothing at the beach these days.

In some senses, then, it seems as if God’s standards need to be applied to our lives today, but that may look different from the application of those same standards by people living a hundred years ago.

I understand this when it comes to clothing. A teenage girl may desire in her heart to be modest, but the shorts she buys which are longer than all her friends’ shorts, might still have her parents telling her she can’t be seen outside the house wearing such a revealing outfit.

According to my friend’s standard, the teen with the intent to be modest should be credited with mission accomplished, despite the fact that her parents think her shorts are too revealing. Is the issue how revealing her clothing is or whether or not she’s trying to be alluring by what she wears?

This modesty issue is reflective, I think, of a host of standards God set before His people, starting back with Adam and Eve, but moving from them to the people of Israel. When God gave Moses His law, He said the people were not to commit adultery, and if they did, they were to be put to death. Flash forward to King David who committed adultery and did not give himself up to the death penalty.

Or how about the Keep the Sabbath command. Shortly after the people of Israel agreed to keep the Law, a man slipped out of camp one Sabbath to gather wood. He was discovered, brought before Moses, who in turn went to God, and at God’s direction the man was stoned to death. Yet a few centuries later, God said one of Israel’s problems was that they weren’t keeping the Sabbath any more. Apparently they were breaking the Sabbath with impunity.

The cultural slide away from what God said and initially punished by death, was not OK. It was still God’s standard for His people to keep the Sabbath, but they no longer thought it was so important. And after they returned from exile and instituted Pharisaic Law to insure obedience to God’s standards, there were still people finding ways to skirt the point and purpose of the Law. Jesus, in fact, called out the Pharisees for holding up their tradition as a way to avoid doing what God said they were to do (in that particular case, to honor their parents).

Then there was God’s direction not to make any idols or offer any sacrifices on high places at any altar other than the one altar consecrated for His worship. In fact, when two of the twelve tribes departed for their homes after spending five years fighting to win the promised land, they built an altar on beside the Jordan as a witness that they too were worshipers of the LORD God Almighty.

The ten tribes, however, thought they were disobeying God and had built the altar for a place to offer sacrifices. They gathered their fighting men and headed off to do battle with their brothers because they thought they’d broken God’s standard.

Fast forward a couple generations, and everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, including building altars on high places and creating their own house gods to put in their shrines. Even God’s prophet, Elijah built an altar when he had the showdown with the prophets of Baal.

So when is a standard, a standard? And who is to define words like “modestly” or “keep the Sabbath” or “altar of the LORD”?

Or should we chuck all those discussions? I mean, we are New Testament believers, saved by grace, no longer under the law.

Except it was Paul who set the standard of modest wear for women in the Church. And it was Jesus who told the Pharisees they should be tithing even their spices, just not at the expense of justice and mercy and faithfulness (see Matt. 23:23).

Later, when believers were selling property to give to the needy, two Christians, Ananias and Sapphira, were struck down for lying about how much money they sold their home for. But we know there are professing Christians today who have not been struck down for lying on their income tax or juggling the books at work or even committing outright fraud.

God seems to start out so strict, but then He lets us go our own way. If we want to stretch the boundaries of modesty, He seems to let us do it. If we want to stretch the boundaries of what it means to worship before His altar, He seemed to let the people of Israel do it. If we want to stretch the boundary of integrity, He seems to let us do it.

Granted, He doesn’t relent in His judgment. Israel went into exile in part because of their Sabbath breaking and idol worshiping.

So do His standards apply to the twenty-first century? They do. Any fudging we do, any accommodation to the culture that nullifies what He’s said, will surely bring us grief. God says what He means and means what He says. But we aren’t always so quick to figure out how that looks in our society today. Especially since so many in our culture are going in the opposite direction.

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Published in: on September 15, 2015 at 6:28 pm  Comments (8)  
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8 Comments

  1. Modesty is a really interesting issue. Today we tend to think it as to do with how much skin is showing and yet in biblical times it had a whole lot more to do with displays of wealth, women adorned with braided hair and jewels. To be modest was to not display your wares. Kind of a sad commentary on modern society, but “our wares” are now perceived as being nearly exclusively sexual.

    I think God does adjust the rules sometimes to accommodate us, the times we’re living in, the conditions of our hearts. Christ spoke about this when addressing divorce, about how it was allowed because our hearts had been hardened, but about how in the beginning it was not this way. Sometimes I can catch a glimpse of what God intended for us versus how we have adapted to sin and gone our own way. It’s not that God changes, it’s that we do and that He in His mercy, allows it. He did place us in a perfect garden, in paradise, and than when we went our own way, He had a plan to redeem and reclaim us.

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    • Great illustration with Jesus’s comments about divorce, IB. Yes! That’s it precisely.

      Yes, the modesty issue is one that is more complex than it first appears. And yes, in the context of what Paul said to Timothy, it’s coupled with things pertaining to wealth. So you get the idea that we’re not to brag about what we have by what we wear.

      And yes, again. Today we women in particular are told what we have is our sex appeal above all else. Men to a lesser extent. That poor Princess girl you linked to in one of your recent posts is an example of one sadly misguided woman who thinks her appearance is what counts. (I shouldn’t get started!)

      Becky

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  2. This was a difficult topic to address so Kudos to you for tackling it. I know of women who cover their heads, wear modest clothes and those who don’t. One sort doesn’t make the other better. At the end of the day, it comes down to obedience to the Lord.

    Then too, I think the Lord lets us find out how bad it can get when we walk away and then we’re the one running to the Lord asking Him for help. I wasn’t sure what to do think as I read your post to be honest. I don’t follow a strict set of rules when I wear clothes but I wouldn’t say I’m letting it all hang out either.

    I remember one girl in our church choir wore leggings and a short shirt and they asked her to stand on the second row. It didn’t surprise me that she never came again to the choir. It’s a hard issue to really nail down. I thought she looked fine but what do I know?

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    • I think I have to write more on the subject of modesty, Parker. It can be a real stumbling block, as the incident you mentioned shows.

      We can all see that we don’t follow the fashion considered modest 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. But does that mean there is no such thing as modesty? And if there is, how do we find it? How do we teach it to the next generation (since they are often the ones trying to fit in and who don’t understand why modesty matters) It’s a big subject.

      Becky

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      • I agree. Being top heavy and a mover when the praise gets going on in church, I had a woman approach me letting me know I should probably calm it down (in a nice way of course) and I was covered.

        That’s a tangent issue though. But then, some people can wear paper bags over their heads and blankets and still be told some other such thing.

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  3. One time I was listening to an interview/conversation on youtube from Ted Dekker about his past, and he said the people his missionary family ministered to were of a tribe that wore far less clothes than us. If I recall correctly, the women only wore grass skirts or something. One of the most important things was for a woman to cover her thighs in that culture. So to them, wearing, say, jeans, would have probably been seen as rather sexual to them. When people say that modesty really depends on culture, it is partially true from the standpoint that people will have different stumbling blocks depending on where one goes. Should people of that tribe be taught to wear long pants rather than skirts even though it would be a stumbling block to them? That’s where it gets complicated, especially when people say that the standards for modesty in Israel was to deal with what their culture viewed as sexual. People also may point out that the parts of the human body that are seen as ‘private’ leads people to have more stumbling blocks than normal, since whatever is covered/forbidden is sexualized.

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    • Autumn, good points. I think we often forget that before sin came into the world, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. The fact of sin has complicated our lives! I think it’s important to commit to modesty in this sense: I don’t want to cause offense or temptation to those around me.

      The year I spent in Africa, therefore, I didn’t wear pants or shorts. But the year I lived in a conservative religious community in Kansas, I didn’t wear pants either. It wasn’t my value, but I fit my behavior to the culture in which I lived in order not to offend or tempt. But I’m not sure this principle comes from the admonition to be modest. I think there’s plenty of other Scripture that indicates this is how we as believers are to live.

      Becky

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      • Yeah. One dynamic of this I’ve thought about is how we as Christians would apply that principle if we had to live in a culture where someone who wears a reasonable amount of clothes would be a stumbling block to others. Not sure if there’s a culture like that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t think I’d be willing to go along with that culture’s ways, but it’s still interesting, since sometimes in culture there may be a point where we have to pick between who we are/what we think is right/what we can handle emotionally vs. something else that may be right or better for others.

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