The Godly Motive behind Modesty
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)
Ever read Proverbs 31? If not, take a minute to read it. It’s an example of the kind of woman that God wants you to be! King Lemuel must have listened well when his wise mother taught him about feminine beauty. These are gifts of God to be used and enjoyed in ways that delight Him! So, be thankful for the charm and beauty that God has given to you! Nevertheless, Lemuel’s mother describes so much more than just outward beauty.
This written portrait of an amazing woman concludes with the passage above and reveals a lie of our culture. This lie tells you that being beautiful is the key to a life of utter happiness and complete satisfaction. But if charm and beauty were the keys to satisfaction, our culture’s constant pursuit of these traits would have long ago brought about utopia, utter perfection! And we know that hasn’t happened.
The key to understanding this helpful verse is to see what is being contrasted with charm and beauty. Ancient Hebrew poetry was not based upon rhyming words as our poetry is today. For example, we probably would have written Proverbs 31:30 this way:
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman will be praised when by the Lord she is trained.
The most important element in interpreting ancient Hebrew poetry correctly, though, is to understand how parallelism was used. The significance of parallelism in poetry is that the correct interpretation of a passage is found by studying the relationship between two or more lines that belong together. So what is the intent of Proverbs 31:30?
This verse teaches the contrast between the false appearance of satisfaction (charm and beauty) and that which truly satisfies (fearing God). Charm is deceitful in that it promises satisfaction but never truly delivers. Beauty is vain, or meaningless, when it comes to gratifying the desires of the soul. The beautiful charmer might get temporary applause, but what happens when the beauty fades or someone more beautiful wanders by? Any attention she draws is temporary and will fade as her external beauty and charm diminish.
Instead, true satisfaction comes from having a right relationship with God in which you draw close to Him in the fear of God. This fear certainly includes respect and reverence, but it means more than this. It means that you are afraid of displeasing Him, which causes you to grow in your relationship with Him. It isn’t the kind of fear that makes you want to run and hide from Him. This fear of God brings us closer to Him. Our relationship with God will then bring profound and significant praise that lasts for eternity!
If your primary motive in life is to be charming and beautiful, then you are deceiving yourself with a vain, empty, or useless life purpose that will ultimately let you down because it leads you away from God. If your motive is to please God, you will find joy that is utterly satisfying as you depend upon Him for His grace and do what He says. The contrast is simple. Is the primary motive behind your appearance to please God or to please yourself? Do you want to be charming and beautiful for God’s glory in order to draw attention to Him, or for your own glory in order to draw attention to yourself?
Modesty shows that you are someone under the authority of God, someone who fears Him. Rather than showing that you disbelieve God by focusing on charm and beauty, you choose to demonstrate your belief in God by being modest. We, as Chris- tians, are to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, and that includes beauty and charm. It is God-glorifying to pursue beauty and charm as long as your motive is right and the result is to point others to God. For example, it can take a long time to find modest clothing in today’s stores. But taking the time to find modest clothing, and sometimes spending more money for it, is a godly way of pursuing beauty for His glory.
The alternative is to make an idol out of beauty and charm. Imagine that, while walking to join your friends in the school cafeteria, you trip and manage to splash spaghetti sauce all over your new white shirt on the very day that school pictures are being taken. Does it crush your sense of beauty and destroy your mood? Responding in sinful ways (by complaining, getting angry, having a sour mood, or skipping class because you are hiding out in the girls’ bathroom crying your heart out) shows that you have made an idol out of beauty and charm.
When you are focused upon yourself, you are not fearing God, at least at that moment. Sure, it’s embarrassing as your pride takes a hit, but that’s not all bad. It is good for our pride to be humbled. If you can laugh at yourself and your spaghetti-splattered outfit, this shows that you aren’t taking yourself too seriously—which is good, because you are “not to think more highly of . . . [yourself] than . . . [you] ought to think” (Romans 12:3). If you respond to these kinds of challenges without sin, then you are living in the fear of God. Your fear of God will honor Him, as well as cause others to marvel at your response. Some might even ask you how you respond so well in difficult times. This is a way that people praise you for your fear of God, and it gives you an opportunity to tell them about His grace!
The ways that immodesty reveals its idolatrous heart are virtually endless. Any attempt to use your body to draw inap- propriate attention to yourself rather than to God is immodest and worships the idol of self. You don’t have to hide, but you do have to cover those God-given gifts that are meant to be revealed only to your husband. Exposing these gifts outside the context of marriage cries out for the lustful attention of guys.
Point people to God by your modest behavior and dress. King Lemuel listened to his mom. How about you? Do you trust God’s Word or do you reject it? There is no middle ground!
*Excerpt taken from pages 42-45 of Modesty: More than a Change of Clothes by Martha Peace & Kent Keller, copyright 2015, P&R Publishing, Phillipsburg, NJ.