The subject of modesty has to do with much more than just a discussion of the appropriateness of one’s attire. Although this is one of its primary concerns, modesty has to do with many other significant biblical matters. In fact, an attentive study of God’s word helps us to identify and disclose some of the finer issues associated with modesty. More importantly, however, is the question of its “driving force.” Simply put, what are the attitudes that accompany modesty?
The word “modest” appears only twice in the Bible (1 Tim. 2:9 and 3:2 [ASV]). It translates the Greek term kosmios and means, “Orderly, that is, decorous: of good behavior, modest” (Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study Bible). According to the ancient Greeks, the connotation of the word referred to the idea of
a sensible and self-controlled person who voluntarily places limitations on his or her freedom. The virtue of the modest person is not only in the propriety of his or her dress and demeanor, but of their inner life, unerring and expressing itself in one’s outward behavior. [Ibid.]
Based on this definition, we know that the concept of modesty entails a system of morality. Without becoming too involved in a discussion of morality, we learn from the Bible that the essence, nature and substance of God is the basis of the moral system that He created us to acknowledge naturally as human beings (cf. Ps. 25:8; 92:15; 119:68; Matt. 19:17b; Rom. 2:14-15). It is for this reason that the apostle Peter would depict our heavenly Father as the standard for the morality of the human race, “But like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15-16). Thus, the very action of becoming modest would entail some manner of the development (through the education, the meditation and the application of God’s word to our lives) of becoming increasingly like our heavenly Father in all that we think, feel, say and do (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1 John 3:3; et. al.).
When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, giving him instructions concerning the proper management of church affairs, among the many things Paul discussed was the attire of women (and, in principle, of men too)—“In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment” (1 Tim. 2:9). Having already considered the concept of modesty, we note in this text the progression of thought and the development of a particular mindset that produces righteousness. The apostle Paul (inspired of the Holy Spirit) desires women to dress modestly “with shamefastness and sobriety.” In this text, we establish the connection between women dressing modestly and the attitude she is to adopt in carrying out this truth. The word “shamefastness” translates the Greek term aidos that means, “An innate moral repugnance to a dishonorable act” (Zodhiates’ Complete Word Study Bible). The word “sobriety” translates the Greek term sophrosune that means, “soundness of mind, that is, sanity or self-control” (Ibid.). Thus, when the apostle Paul enjoined upon the women of the church of Christ at Ephesus to dress modestly, he also communicated to them the manner (or the attitude) in which they were to carry out this commandment. Women (as well as men for that matter) are to comply with the moral system of God in fulfilling their duty, and they ought to do this as they possess an innate dislike for dishonorable actions and the self-control necessary for a consistent life of righteousness. The “driving force” of modesty, then, is the cultivation of a specific attitude that can only come as the result of one giving him or herself over to a complete study of God’s word, coupled by a powerful practice of the same. God is true!