Lisa Barry: Does the Bible have anything to say about the clothes a woman wears? Should it? After all, didn't women wear robes when the Bible was written?
This week on Gateway To Joy Elisabeth Elliot shares a series called "An Older Woman's Mandate." Today the topic is on what older women should be telling younger women about modesty. Let's hear what she has to say.
Elisabeth Elliot: Jesus said, "Come to Me all of you who are weary and overburdened and I will give you rest. Put on My yoke and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, talking with you today about an older woman's mandate.
My talks this week are matters of great concern to me. We older women are given a very clear mandate, a commandment in Titus 2:3-5. The apostle Paul is training his protege Titus, a young pastor, in what to teach whom. Very wisely, he tells Titus that he is to teach the older women to teach the younger. You would think that a young man would be told that he should teach the younger women, but then who is going to teach the older? Of course, it could be very risky for Titus, who might have been single, to get involved with teaching younger women. There could be all sorts of distractions. So he is told to teach the older women to teach the younger women.
So this clear mandate is given in Titus 2:3-5. "Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good." Then, if the older women fulfill those commands, "then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind and to be subject to their husbands so that no one will malign the word of God."
Are we older women being obedient? I want to begin with a letter from a very distressed young man, who is asking my answer to a very prevalent matter which illustrates the scarcity of sound biblical teaching, which is the duty of older Christian women.
"Dear Mrs. Gren, I am a youth leader at a church. You came to speak at our church. Remember the dinner with the youth leaders at so-and-so's residence? I am writing today with a concern. Lately, I have been noticing how the girls in our group are dressed. There's no cleavage showing, but the skirts are short. Some of the blouses are sleeveless and a couple of the shirts are a little too tight.
"They're fashionably dressed, and if I may use the term, tastefully sexy. By now I hope you're getting the picture. Incidentally, the women who dress in this way include the ones, which I would consider spiritually maturing. Well, we guys are having problems dealing with lust. Our main youth leader, a single man, did address the issue once in a girls only meeting.
"To sum up the talk in one statement, he informed them that when women dress in any way which arouses the guys, they no longer appear as individuals but as objects. He encouraged them to be modest dressers. The talk was good, in that many of the girls were not aware of what goes on in guys' minds when a tastefully sexy woman walks by.
"I know it would have been more appropriate to have a woman speak on this subject; unfortunately, we have no strong, mature female leader. Perhaps the Lord will send one someday; one who will end up marrying the youth pastor. Two months have gone by since the talk and there has been no change in the dress code. One of the comments I've picked up by a girl was, 'Why should the weakness of the guys force us to change the way we dress? It seems to be a lack of self-control on the part of the men.'
"Elisabeth, what should the youth leadership do? Should we enforce a dress code? Should we send women home if they come to church with sleeveless blouses or skirts above the knee? How do we set a standard? Should we just pray and do nothing else? We're already praying about the situation. Is there a book you've written or a discussion on tape or a video on the subject, which you would recommend? What should the guys do in the meantime besides stop staring?
"Basically, I'm writing for advice because I trust your point of view. You and Lars are two of my mentors. Not all of your admirers are women, I'm sure you know. I'm a 24-year-old man who has read most of your books. My Redeemer saved me six years ago. My desire is to have the same attitude and zeal for Christ as Jim Elliot, Amy Carmichael and Betty Scott Stamm had. I will appreciate your comments."
Here's a letter from another man.
"Why do Christian women dress to expose themselves? I am very bothered by this. I believe that you are the one for me to tell. I hope I won't be crude, but I think that I will have to be frank to completely express myself. Why do the women dress to expose themselves? Even in church, I have seen them wearing dresses that have at least one slit that goes almost all the way up to the crotch, see-through blouses and no slip and low-cut blouses. They don't want to be treated like sex objects, but then they dress like prostitutes. I can understand why secular women dress that way, but I can't understand why Christian women do. I can't understand how anyone could. Do I have a problem? Would you please address this issue some time?"
Yes, I will. Thank you, Jim and the other man.
What does modesty mean? Well, it means placing a low estimate on one's own merits, not being forward or showing off. It means unpretentious. Modesty means to be free from undue familiarity, from indecency, from lewdness, pure in thought and conduct. Speaking of modest apparel, it means decent, seemly. The opposite of modesty is conceit, boldness, immodesty, brazenness, lewdness.
Let's think first what immodesty says about us women before we talk about what its effects may be upon others. What are your Christian standards? Do you seek to be noticed, to make a splash when you come into a room? Or do you seek to be simple, humble, gentle and quiet in spirit and not wearing the very latest fashions nor looking frumpy by wearing something that's way out of date. We do have to conform to a certain degree, but there're always classic clothes. Those are the ones that I try to stick with because they last for many years. I have a suit now that I think is 17 years old and I just wore it about a week ago. I wear things, which are tailored and simple and classic.
But we're talking about these low-cut dresses, sleeveless blouses, see-through blouses and the slit skirts. Does a man's thought life have a problem? Well, of course. As both of these men recognized, it is their job to stop looking. Don't look the women up and down. Don't fall for the types who are dressing like prostitutes. But is it right for us women to be thoughtless in these areas? Is there an earnestness about pleasing the Lord? Have we taken His yoke? Are we learning from Him? Are we gentle and humble in heart? Are we walking worthy of the Lord, looking and acting and speaking differently from the Lord?
The Bible says that we're supposed to shine as lights in the world. Christ lives in me. Does that make any visible differences? Will it correct my thinking? Do I pray that God will purify my desires? Prostitutes dress obviously, so as to draw attention. It's their business, isn't it? The last thing that a Christian woman is thinking of is being like a prostitute. But here is some very frank talk from two different men in two different places, and it's not by any means the only letters that I've had from them. It is a very difficult and a very delicate question.
What would the Lord have you do? Look like a frump or look like the vanguard of the fashion magazines? Flashy or sober? Are you pregnant? Are you overweight? Do you try to dress in such a way as to minimize those things? Are you too old for short skirts? I see a lot of women as I travel around who I would certainly say are too old to be wearing those short skirts. And if you're 16 years old, how short a skirt can you wear if you want to be responsible before God in the presence of young men?
Neat or messy? Wildly and deliberately messy? I see some hair-dos, which I think of as wildly and deliberately messy. Feminine? There are many ways of drawing attention to yourself without your once thinking about it. Think. Ask the Lord's guidance. We older women must be willing to take the risk of making someone angry and speaking to her about the way she is dressing. We have to take responsibility. It is our fault that we have not been teaching younger women modesty.
Lisa Barry: It's a good idea, isn't it? And as we close, let me make a recommendation for a book that is quickly becoming a staple in many collections. It's called Quest for Love, and it's full of stories of love that soared and love that crashed. You'll find application for your relationships and your spiritual life. The cost is $14.50, and to purchase a copy you can send that amount to:
Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska 68501. Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska 68501. Or, toll-free 1-800-759-4JOY. Today's program is also available on tape. Our phone number again is 1-800-759-4569. Our Web address gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy has been a listener-supported production of Back to the Bible.
Learn about what women do to men the next time we meet for Gateway To Joy.