Here are two pieces of clothing that have managed to puzzle Christians for years. These two bits of fabric have become an iconic representation of the great faith-debate about modesty.
I'm not convinced that bikini debates are really about modesty, though. In fact, I think we use these pieces of fabric to cover up a whole lot more in our hearts than we do to expose ourselves to truth. Consider the main arguments "for" and "against" wearing bikinis as Christian women.
ANTI BIKINI ARGUMENTS PRO BIKINI ARGUMENTS
-Don’t tempt others. -Don’t take responsibility for others’ sins.
-Don’t condone sexualized styles. -Don’t let stereotypes define what you do.
-Don’t treat the body as an object. -Don’t treat the body as shameful.
-Don’t use the body for attention, etc. -Don’t hide God-given feminine beauty.
Both sides of the debate lean back on Scripture for support. The bikini-bearers tend to cite verses about being made in God's image and delighting in beauty. Anti-bikini folks often refer to Timothy's command of modesty, and perhaps cite that our bodies are temples. Likewise, the Bible is used simultaneously to claim that wearing a bikini makes you a stumbling block to men (making bikini wearing a sin) and to point out that men are to have self control and we all have to give account for ourselves (liberating women from responsibility for mens' sins).
History often gets dragged in behind the Bible, and feminism is a frequent addendum as well. Factor in "logic", like psychological statistics, case studies, and a few peoples' testimonies about how bikinis make them feel, and you've got the general picture of the modern modesty debate.
Here's what I notice in these arguments.
-We don't give any context.
-We don't search Scripture, we use it.
-We don't actually seek what pleases God.
-We don't even ask what modesty is!
Rather than actually seeking to obey God, we oversimplify the command of modesty until it is a convoluted and complex brawl over a two-piece bathing suit. Every answer we draw out of the debate comes back to "me". The question is no longer, "what glorifies God?" Instead, we ask "how will wearing a bikini make me look?" And by "look," I mean appear socially, morally, physically, or culturally.
That is the definition of vanity. Not modesty.
Bear in mind that the oft-quoted verses of 1 Timothy 2:9-10, in their entirety, say:
"I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God."
Spending $100+ on a stylish one piece might fall under the "expensive clothes" ban. Selecting a stylish suit might easily fall under the "elaborate, gold, pearls" clauses.
Sporting a suit that fits well enough to not expose anything might cross the line of "decency and propriety" because the curves of the body are likely closely hugged.
There's no way out. There is no fulfilling the law, in all its detail. Jesus fulfilled the law so we could drop legalism and seek Him. His Spirit is in us to guide us in these very issues -big and small. The Lord cares about what's behind all these actions and choices. He looks at our hearts and intentions.
How vain, that we spend so much time debating about and selecting swim wear and other clothing! What is the goal in that? Looking good? Looking moral? Looking plain?
We are to adorn ourselves with good deeds, which are appropriate for women who profess to worship God. We are to take into consideration in each and every context what our behaviors prove about our hearts. We are to seek, in all that we do, to glorify God. This is all about our hearts and intentions before God, flowing out into actions.
Can I glorify God in a $6 Walmart bikini, stretched out in the sun praising Him for the wonderful sensation of its rays against my skin? Yes.
Can I glorify God by throwing a t-shirt and shorts on before swimming with a youth group filled with awkward preteen boys just figuring out what lust is? Yes.
The Lord of the universe made our unique, individual bodies. He made beauty, He made physical, natural sensations pleasurable, and He made us for His glory. He gave each of us a will, and offers each of us grace. God also gives us relationships and the ability to influence each other.
Modesty comes from "moderation". Being modest, Biblically, is a virtue of choosing things that are reasonable in regards to glorifying God. Choosing to be modest requires using our brains to seek wisdom concerning context and intentions. You can be modest in personality, in how you tell a story, and in a plethora of other things besides just choosing how much skin you cover up. You can be modest by not putting yourself before God's glorification.
Check your heart before you put on a bikini. Check your heart before you put on a one-piece. Are you doing what you do to glorify God or to glorify yourself and whatever it happens to be that you stand for at the moment?
---And please, examine your heart in the sight of God before you humiliate and tear down His followers -whether the embarrassing comments tell women that their bodies are stumbling blocks or to flaunt themselves or anything else.