Over a year ago, I tried to encourage a young Christian woman to dress modestly. You would have thought I’d counseled her to murder little children! All her friends wore their clothes that way, she reasoned, so who was I to tell her what to do? She was only following the fashion trends!
Fast-forward to Christian Twitter this past week, where a pastor bravely offered a man’s perspective on Christian women who dress provocatively. I’ve seen a lot of Christians vilified for standing on Biblical principles over the years, but never to this extent. According to his critics, he’s objectifying women while ignoring the responsibility men have to control their lustful thoughts. His critics ask what gives men the right to say when a hemline is too high, a neckline is too low or an outfit is too tight. They claim that, once again, men are oppressing women.
I have no problem agreeing that the Lord holds men responsible to control their thoughts. Jesus Christ certainly made that point abundantly clear:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. ~~Matthew 5:27-30 (NASB95)
That statement doesn’t sound to me like He winks at the sin of men who look too long and savor their fantasies. He has no trouble saying that such secret sin deserves damnation. So please don’t read this piece and decide that I’m beating up on women while saying “boys will be boys.”
Men definitely need to take control of their minds, but we women have a responsibility not to place stumbling blocks in their paths. We can look down our noses all we want, correctly calling out their sin, but we must understand that we can either shield them from temptation by dressing modestly or incite temptation by dressing provocatively. If we choose the latter, Jesus has some sobering words for us:
7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. ~~Matthew 18:7-9p (NASB95)
And don’t you dare manipulate verse 7 by emphasizing the word “man” to get yourself off the hook! God doesn’t judge women more leniently than He judges men. If we come to church, work or even the grocery store dressed in ways that might cause men to look at our bodies, we share in their sin.
Again, I know there are men that will lust after a woman even when she completely covers herself. In cases like that, women bear no guilt. It’s sad that I need to pepper this post with so many caveats just to fend off “what about” challenges that seek to discredit the truth that how we dress can (and often does) elicit improper reactions in our brothers.
Let’s accept the premise that dressing in certain ways does, in fact, encourage men to entertain sinful thoughts about us. Once we acknowledge our part as stumbling blocks, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether or not we love these brothers in Christ more than we love our cute clothes? Christian love sometimes requires us to sacrifice our personal freedom for the sake of our fellow believers. Instead of judging our brothers for their sin, shouldn’t we love them enough to do whatever we can to discourage them from sinning?
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. ~~Romans 14:13-14 (NASB95)