Ladies first…Last week, I stated that the primary area of temptation at the beach for women revolves around the issue of modesty. Now, I realize that I am charting into some choppy waters when it comes to such a discussion because of the “grayness” of this issue. What many would have thought was the attire of harlots a few decades ago is now acceptable in many Christian circles. Let me just say that I will not be proposing a certain type of swimsuit for ladies in this blog post (not because I don’t have an opinion on it), but I will instead propose some questions on the basis of which each couple should make their decision concerning acceptable types of swimwear.
The reason this issue is so difficult to deal with is because the Bible does not give us a modesty checklist or specific guidelines on what is considered modest. For example, 1 Timothy 2:9–10 simply commands “modest apparel” and offers a few qualifications:
“…in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.”
The broad qualifications given in these verses are important: propriety, moderation, and good works. Indeed, these qualities should be sought after by all women in their attire (propriety and moderation) and lifestyle (good works). Yet, the question could still be asked: What does a swimsuit marked by propriety look like? What one woman thinks might meet this standard might not line up with what another woman thinks. Such subjectivity brings me to a very important question women should ask in their choice of attire: Does it cause a [Christian] man to lust? In my opinion, this should be one of the key principles in a Christian woman’s choice of swimwear.
In Romans 14, Paul, writing on the issue of Christian liberty, outlines some very helpful principles. For example, he states in Romans 14:13:
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
Then, again in v. 21:
“It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”
In v. 15, he anchors the issue of Christian liberty in love:
“Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love.”
Ladies, what is at stake in your choice of swimwear is far more important than a tan line (which quickly fades). What is at stake is your obedience to Christ’s love commandment in John 13:34:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
The question every woman should ask before putting on their swimsuit (or any attire) is: Am I showing love to my brothers in Christ by this choice of attire? If it causes them to lust, then the answer to this question is probably no.
Now, I know that there are enough perverts in this world to fill North America and that many men are so driven by lust that they will find a way to lust regardless, but this does not dismiss the fact that certain portions of a woman’s body when exposed present a greater temptation for men to lust, even men who are seeking to walk by the Spirit and to avoid lust. These are the portions that should be covered at all times, even at the beach or pool. A man’s sinful desires do not magically turn off at the beach/pool; in fact, they are usually more pronounced there than anywhere else. A very practical way to find out these “high risk” areas of a woman’s body is to ask (better: have your husband ask) several godly men what portions of a woman’s body, when exposed, make them struggle with lust. To be sure, not everyone will agree (thus highlighting the subjectivity of the issue), but it should give you a good idea.
One last thing…of equal importance in this matter is the issue of lost men and a Christian woman’s responsibility to be a light to them. To put it a little more bluntly: will you be a light (Matt 5:16) to the men of this world by pointing them to Christ with your modesty or will you simply be another link in Satan’s chain that drags these men into the pit of hell? As dangerous and unloving as it is to make a brother in Christ stumble, how much more to make a lost man, who is enslaved to sin, stumble?
Many people whom I have encountered treat this as a light issue because there are so many opinions. This is not an issue that we should treat lightly and it is worthy of much thought and biblical wisdom. Wherever you land on the modesty spectrum, make it your goal to err on the side of caution rather than on the side of error. In my next post, I will present a few more specific questions for couples to ask regarding this issue.