Is it Biblically possible for a man to dress immodestly? Is it righteous for a man to be shirtless in public, let alone pose shirtless for photos? Is it godly for a man to wear a speedo bathing suit? Is it shameful for a man to walk down the road in his undergarments (or some equivalent amount of clothing)? Would we think a man immodest if he is publicly naked? As strange as these questions might seem, rarely are they addressed with as much concern and enthusiasm as a woman’s modesty and attire.
It is true that the apostle Paul directs his teaching regarding modesty at women when he specifically says, “that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel…” (1 Tim. 2:9a). Yet, does this preclude men from dressing just as immodestly as women? Are there any passages in the scriptures that speak to men when it comes to nakedness, propriety, shamefacedness and modesty or are the scriptures only directed at women?
It might surprise you to learn that the same Greek word translated “modesty” (kosmios) with regard to a woman’s apparel is also applied to the character of a man who would be an elder in the church (1 Tim. 3:2 — translated as “of good behavior” in the NKJV). If our choices of attire speak to our character, then inside-out modesty certainly applies to both genders.
The nature of the events in the garden, when Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, are also significant. Prior to partaking, both Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed (Gen. 2:25). Immediately after partaking, the first bit of knowledge gained by both of them was understanding their nakedness. They both attempted to sew fig leaves together and cover themselves (Gen. 3:7). Even with this makeshift covering, they both still hid themselves from the presence of God who was walking in the garden because, as Adam put it, “I was afraid because I was naked” (Gen. 3:10). In case the point was missed, Adam was just as ashamed, afraid, and aware of his nakedness as Eve. The account further relates that God made tunics of skin (Hebrew — kuttoneth — a long shirt-like garment) and clothed them. He did not just clothe Eve, but He also clothed Adam.
In a later account, we read of the great length Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, went to avoid seeing their father’s nakedness when he became inebriated. Ham, Noah’s third son, made no such effort and was cursed for seeing his father’s nakedness (Gen. 9:20-25). Did Noah’s lack of clothing matter? Do we take as much care to protect one another’s modesty as Noah’s two sons did?
Regarding the Levitical priesthood, God took great care to protect the modesty of these men. Among his many instructions for building an altar, He said, “Nor shall you go up on steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it” (Ex. 20:26). Along the same lines, God commanded that linen trousers (Hebrew—miknak) be made for these men, “to cover their nakedness….” These undergarments were to “reach from the waste to the thighs” (Ex. 28:42). Interestingly, these priests’ outer garments also consisted of a tunic (Hebrew—kuttoneth)—the same article of clothing God made for Adam and Eve. Why was such care taken if a man’s modesty, in regards to attire, matters so little?
There are other examples under the law of Moses, regarding a man’s nakedness not being uncovered, that we might consider. Suffice it to say, it was, and still is, just as inappropriate for a man to walk naked as it is a woman? Nakedness did not just suggest one’s birthday suit, but also suggested the idea of insufficient clothing, undergarments only, and the act of removing the clothing of one to shame them. Clearly, modesty and nakedness were not just women’s issues. God was equally concerned with a man’s modesty of attire, as He was a woman’s.
Much to our shame, men in our culture have lost the ability to blush, or show shame on their face (shamefacedness, translated “propriety” in the NKJV of 1 Tim. 2:9). As Jeremiah questioned, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush” (Jer. 6:15; 8:12). Whether in photos or videos, at sporting events, at the beach, in their neighborhood, at the park, in the gym, etc., men boldly go about shirtless or in the equivalent of undergarments only, without any shame. Are we any better than those Jeremiah condemned?
As if this were not sufficient, two New Testament occasions should give men sufficient pause as they choose their attire, or choose whether to remove their attire for certain occasions. Prior to casting Legion out of the man possessed by many demons, we are told that among other things, the possessed man “wore no clothes” (Luke 8:27). After Jesus cast Legion out, this man is later found “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind” (Luke 8:35). Possessed by demons, this man ran about naked. Healed by Jesus, this man put on some clothes! Therein lies a significant contrast worthy of consideration.
On another occasion, we read of the apostle Peter, who had gone fishing after Jesus’ death (not yet knowing Jesus had arisen). As Jesus appeared to the disciples on the seashore, we are told that when Peter heard it was the Lord, “he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea” (John 20:7). The KJV says Peter was “naked” (clad in undergarments only) before he put on his outer-garment. Isn’t it ironic that when men go for a swim today, whether at the beach or from a boat or in a pool, they tend to take their outer-garments off, and jump in comparably more naked than perhaps what Peter was before he put on his outer-garment and jumped in the water?
One final observation lies in a truth frequently missed by men, or at least brushed aside as not as serious of a concern for women. Of the many modesty concerns for women, women are often chastised by others, particularly men, for dressing in such a way that causes men to lust after them (cf. Matt. 5:28-30; Job 31:1). While our greatest concern should be to please God, and what pleases God should please men, having a concern for the spiritual welfare of one another is essential in pleasing God (cf. Luke 17:1; 1 John 4:20-21). Still, is it not possible for a man to dress (or undress) in such a way as to cause a woman to lust after him? As a man with a wife and four daughters, in a home where we speak frankly of such matters, I can guarantee that a woman can lust after an immodestly attired man. Ask your wife and daughters for an honest answer to this question. Advertisers know it. Hollywood knows it. Satan knows it. Why is it that Christian men seem to be oblivious to a struggle many Christian women share? Just as we want our sisters to look out for our hearts, we must look out for their hearts! My daughters should never know what a Christian man’s bare chest looks like, unless that man is their husband!
Christian men, let us not be conformed to this world, but let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds, particularly regarding the topic of modesty in our apparel (cf. Rom. 12:1-2). It is easy to get caught up in the double-standards of this world when it comes to the attire of men and women. Let it not be said among us, as disciples of Jesus Christ.