By Keri Folmar
(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a few articles we will be running this summer on the topic of modesty)
Modesty is a big issue where I live in Dubai. People from a wide variety of religious and cultural backgrounds come together here in this diverse city. Dress for women ranges from extremely revealing to complete coverage in black robe (abaya), veil (shayla), socks, and gloves. Our first weekend in Dubai, my husband and I were enjoying a coffee in a Starbuck’s. (We have three at our local mall.) Two women stood at the coffee counter: one in spaghetti straps, shorts with a belt wrapped several times around her bare midriff and high heals; the other was completely covered in the traditional abaya and shayla. Neither woman seemed to take any notice of the other, but they were the perfect picture of the diversity of dress, or undress, in Dubai.
On the surface, modesty is a cultural issue, but the modesty advocated in the Bible is not just a cultural issue. It is an issue of the heart and needs to be considered in the context of our purpose for living. In truth, a woman fully covered may be no more modest than the woman showing cleavage and midriff.
As Christian women, we live lives of great purpose. We see that purpose in Ephesians 1:
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (4b-14 emphasis mine).
If you are in Christ—if you have repented of your sins and put your trust in him—you were redeemed, bought by his blood poured out on the cross, for a purpose. You were saved and given an inheritance, not for yourself—although there is great benefit for you—but for the praise of his glory. You have been adopted for a purpose. That purpose is to glorify God every day and in everything.
Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, knowing that we are already worthy in Christ and will be counted as such upon his return, prays that we would even now resolve to do good. This does not earn us favor, God is already pleased with us. But because we love God he prays we’d desire to do good. He writes, “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (emphasis mine). Paul states it clearly and simply in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
This is a high calling and a glorious one! We have the privilege of living for something much bigger than ourselves. We have the privilege of not seeking to call attention to ourselves, but seeking to call attention to our faithful God of steadfast love—our gracious Father and his glorious Son, Jesus. What higher privilege could there be?
It’s this calling to reflect God’s glory that we should keep in mind when we think about what it means to dress modestly.
One day we won’t need to check our hearts when we shop and when we dress. God will clothe us in his glory. He won’t be covering our bodies in black robes, like some women wear in Dubai. He will give us new glorious bodies without sin and bright white robes that display the good works we have done in Christ. We with unveiled faces will behold the glory of God, and it will be reflected by us undiminished as we live with our Savior in joy forever. What a privilege it is to start reflecting him now in our dress and everything else we do!
Keri Folmar is the wife of John Folmar, pastor of the United Christian Church of Dubai, an evangelical church in the Middle East, and the mother of three children. Keri disciples and teaches women in addition to leading and writing Bible studies. Her Bible study, Joy! A Bible Study on Philippians for Women, is available from Cruciform Press. Before marrying John, Keri was a lawyer and served as the chief counsel for the House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution where she was the staff writer of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.
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