Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Close this search box.

The Problem with Modesty and the Problem of Lust

A Woman’s Responsibility?

The online debate on the subject of Christian modesty may have died down a little, but the issue is still with us. Most of the blog posts and continuing discussions on modesty have been aimed at women. Christian women have been urged to cover up for the sake of our brothers because, we are told, men can’t help themselves, they invariably lust after women.

This is the message C.J. Mahaney gives in this video from 2011. (Mahaney is the senior pastor of a well-known church in America: Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Kentucky.) Mahaney’s message is terrible (as is the sappy background music.) He doesn’t use scripture to support his statements but speaks of his own experience and observations, as well as the experiences of others. (Click on the fullscreen button in the bottom right corner.)

Culture or Counter-Culture?

My own observations are that our society is being trained to see people as sexual beings in a heightened way. The Bible, however, teaches that we should not see others, particularly fellow believers, in a sexual way (cf. 2 Cor. 5:16–17; Gal 3:26–28). We, the church, need to be counter-cultural and retrain ourselves in how we see and treat each other, rather than make women feel self-conscious, or even ashamed and guilty of their appearance.

What kind of message do we give women when we tell them that their body is a stumbling block that leads men to sin? And what kind of message, or excuse, is this for men?

I admit that I feel uncomfortable when a person is showing too much of his or her skin or shape. Yet the things that determine what is “too much,” or what is inappropriate, depend almost entirely on culture and setting. For example, what I wear when I go to the shops in Australia is different from what people wear when they go to the shops in Pakistan. What I wear on the beach is different from what I wear to a job interview. Cultural norms play a big role in whether we find someone’s attire or appearance inappropriate or arousing … or perfectly fine.

Instead of trying to cover up women as a response to the problem of male lust, we need to acknowledge how our views of sexuality are being influenced by our culture. As Christians, we also need to look at what the Bible says, especially the New Testament, about modesty and lust.

Paul on Purity

So what does the New Testament say about women covering up and dressing modestly? Practically nothing. No woman is described by her appearance in the New Testament. However, it is evident that some women in the Ephesian church were wearing expensive clothes. Paul’s instructions about modesty in 1 Timothy 2:9 were written in response to these problematic rich women who were wearing luxurious clothing, had fancy hairstyles, and were flaunting their wealth. This verse has nothing to do with covering up cleavage or thighs. (I have more on the context of 1 Timothy 2:9 here.)

A few chapters later, Paul tells Timothy he should encourage or appeal to “older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). Paul places the onus on Timothy on how he relates to women and maintains moral purity. There is no caveat here that passes some of the responsibility of Timothy’s purity onto the women in the Christian community at Ephesus.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul advises single Christians who were avoiding marriage but unable to control their lust to get married. Paul seems to think that sex in marriage will solve the lust problem, or at least alleviate it: “it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:2, 9). There is no mention in First Corinthians that women covering up is the solution. (I have more on the context of 1 Corinthians 7 here.)

Jesus on Lust

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus acknowledged the age-old problem of lust. In his teaching, Jesus puts the responsibility of lust squarely on the lust-er, and not the lust-ee.

“. . . I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:28–29 NIV).

Jesus advises lusting men to metaphorically pluck out their eye. For many today this means STOP LOOKING AT PORN. And if you can’t stop, get help.

Brothers, Mothers and Sisters

Men must also stop looking at the real women around them as sexual objects but as mothers and sisters. Men don’t usually have a problem with lusting after their mother or sister even though they are female. If men can see their female family members without feeling lust, then, ideally, they should also be able to see their Christian sisters without having a constant battle with lust.

Changes in thinking and focus involve making a deliberate decision to undo unhealthy thought habits. It means focusing on the worthwhile things women say and do, rather than focusing on what women look like! Christian men should see women as fellow humans worthy of honour and respect—as people with minds, personalities, spirituality, and not just a body.

I don’t want to minimise the difficulties and I don’t want to minimise the distress that long struggles with lust can cause. I doubt it is easy for some of our brothers to always regard Christian women as they would their mother or sister, but this is what we must aim for because the cure for sinful lust is not women wearing more clothes, it is a renewed mind (Rom. 12:2).

Mahaney and I are in agreement on only one point: there is forgiveness in Jesus. There is forgiveness and there is hope for men, and for women, who struggle with lust.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!

Explore more

Paul’s Instructions for Modest Dress
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
Gender Equality in Second Clement
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
A List of the Beautiful People in the Bible

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

51 thoughts on “The Problem with Modesty and the Problem of Lust

  1. One of the ideas extrapolated from this type of thinking is that men and women cannot be friends. Women are just too tempting and men are just too weak to be trusted to be alone for 5 min without wanting to rip each other’s clothing off and have their evil way with each other. As a woman who has had many very good male friends, I find this whole concept so insulting. Yes, there are women that use provocative clothing and take advantage, just as there are men that will. However, playing up this idea only puts more boundaries between us as brothers and sisters and makes it harder to see each other and work together as equal partners.

    1. You make excellent points, Cassandra.

      If men see women as threats to their moral purity, and women think that all men are lusting after them, then how the heck are we going to work together as equal partners?

      Worries about modesty are hindering the advancement of the kingdom.

  2. The concept of holding women responsible for male lust also leads, in the church, to male ministers being unable to properly minister to female parishioners. The ministers, and the male church members, are trying so hard to stay away from those temptress women (this is called “avoiding the appearance of evil”) that women find themselves kept at a distance from the pastor and male church members, who can minister freely to one another, but who can’t really minister to the women of the church.

    There’s a place for women ministering to women. But unless all of these churches are willing to start ordaining women on an equal basis, that does not take the place of the minister and male elders providing the same caring and ministry to women members as to men.

    How are women to feel when they walk up to brothers in the Lord week by week and are greeted nicely and then the men leave? Or when they join their husbands after church and the male conversing with their spouse speaks mostly or only to the husband? This has happened to me countless times for years, and my experience is not at all unusual.

    This preoccupation with making male lust so central to all our church experiences and life experiences I believe elevates it in importance, and it shouldn’t be. I understand that many men are just trying to take it seriously, and that’s good. But don’t make that negatively affect the people around you for the rest of your life; don’t expect *them* to treat it as sacrosanct. It’s sin.

    Hope this has all made sense.

    1. While I admire honesty, I wondered how Mahaney and others can acknowledge what seems to be a massive and pervasive problem with lust. Surely if the problem is as big as they say it is, they need to step down from their ministry role. Who wants to be in a church where the senior leaders are easily distracted and led astray by someone’s stomach or other piece of skin showing? I know this sounds crass, but who wants a horny pastor?

      1. LOL that’s hilarious, but also disturbing!

        But the part that bothers me the most: we need ordained women to minister to us, if men are not capable. I don’t understand why they miss something so obvious.

        1. Yes, Judy has also commented that if the problem of male lust is as bad as some claim it is we must have women pastors so that people have someone they can safely turn to when they need pastoral care.

  3. Thank you. Without disagreeing on anything you’ve written here, I wonder if one additional issue should or rather could be explored. Is it always wrong to find ourselves with sexual feelings? In my own life, I fairly often (confession) feel a momentary sexual interest when aorund someone who is attractive. Earlier in my life, I used to be sent into full battle mode internally, caught between my twin Christian and feminist sensibilities. A little later on, in one of those rare moments where I felt whispered to by God, I sensed I had it largely wrong. I *accepted* my sexual feelings, but turned them into praise. Thank you, Lord, that you made me a sexual and sensual being. Thank you that you give me sexuality to be used in praise to you and in my relationship with my best friend and wife. Help me now to guide my sexuality, without being guilty but with firm intent, where it does need to stay. And again, thank you for it. Thank you for beauty and intelligence and spirituality in my sisters in Christ. Now, help me treat them as I’d want my own sister, my own wife, treated by other males. In all purity.

    One other thought. If we are honest with ourselves, we might occasionally run into someone who “flips the switch” sexually in our own heart. This isn’t the other person’s “fault”! But in such cases, I personally will avoid close friendship, not because of them but rather because my own brokenness is revealed. The male blameshift onto women re sexual lust can be given no quarter. I, and only I, am responsible for my own sexuality. Let it be an offering to Christ, along with all other aspects of my person. A woman’s tummy showing has nothing to do with it.

    1. Jon, Thank you for making this important contribution to the conversation. I couldn’t agree with you more. It is important to know the difference between a normal reaction and a sinful response. I imagine it will be hard to know the difference sometimes. Perhaps length of time is be an arbiter of normal vs sinful.

    2. Also what about the fact that when Jesus was addressing the issue of looking at someone and lusting was at a time when people were very covered up not much skin or shape showing. So it really is not about how much is covered or not but it really is about the heart and our problem with seeing each other as sexual objects not people. I agree the importance is in relating to each other as family members until there is true connection and desire to pursue another beyond friendship.
      Thank you for writing about this.

      1. Yes, exactly.

        Judy, in a comment below, points out that rates of sexual violence against women are high in countries like Pakistan where women are well-covered.

  4. The attitude I hear in Mahaney’s instruction about this issue of lust is what I heard my Muslims friends say. Poor men, they can’t help themselves so women should cover up to avoid any misconduct. All the responsibility for moral conduct is on the women.
    Thank you, Marg, for pointing out what God expects us all to be equally responsible for moral behavior.

    1. Thanks Janet.

      I actually felt sorry for the college student who Mahaney quoted. This young man obviously has (had?) a serious lust problem. But rather that looking for causes and therapies for the problem, Mahaney seems to suggest that the lust will just go away if female college students dress more modestly. Covering up will solve nothing, and neither will “staring at the pavement.” This young man needs help.

    2. I’ve never understood this “men are uncontrollable sexual beasts that aren’t responsible for themselves” mentality in religious circles that is almost always paired with the “men must be the leaders” idea. How can anyone that unstable and untrustworthy hope to ever lead anything?

    3. I noticed in Mahaney’s argument something I’ve heard in many female modesty arguments. He talks a lot about men’s feelings, men’s comfort, and how men just want to be able to relax in church without seeing any skin or being “made” to lust. And to accommodate all of these delicate sensibilities, women must go out of their way to cover up. None of these arguments take the women’s comfort into account. While presenting men’s desire to relax in church as good and normal, women wanting to do the same is preached as sinful and selfish.

  5. As I have been saying over and over lately, the difference between the Taliban and Southern Baptists is just a matter of degrees, isn’t it.

    As the guy said “an attractive woman”…(he doesn’t even mention her dress in this case) gives him problems…WELL then she must put a bag over her head for his convenience…I guess…is that better?

    No, actually, it is not. Tarek Fatah a Canadian Muslim stated categorically that rape of fully covered females in burkhas in Pakistan is normal and frequent, and ironically, often by family members, as well. He put it as 80% of young women. So you see the modesty increases the problem and makes the men crazy-obsessed with a desire to see just a little flesh…better they get used to a little skin and become desensitized again, I am beginning to think.

    Perhaps the real problem in churches is that women DO dress so excessively modestly, almost in sack-like clothes and hats (Yes we did that in a former congregation) that a tiny bit of skin sends the poor guys over the top…But in a public beach where everyone is in bathing suits the secular world seems better able to handle the problem. Perhaps we have come to the place where we are creating rather than taming lust?

    1. The levels of sexual violence against fully-clothed well-covered women in Pakistan and in India is horrendous.

      Apparently there were men who lusted after women in first century Galilee too. (Otherwise Jesus would not have brought up male lust in his sermon on the mount.) The Galilean women were probably well-covered in long loose clothing.

  6. Yes, this is a great proof article for female pastors as well as male pastors…like the Salvation Army. Everyone has someone to go to without fear.

  7. I actually wrote a post on my blog about modesty in the purity movement, you are free to check it out if you like. I agree that it’s not fair to put the responsibility on women for male lust and culture does play a role in what we determine as modest. However, I do feel that society sexualizes young women and girls, in the pop culture, fashion and the media and this isn’t good. I support more females today to be encouraged to dress less revealing realizing they don’t have to dress provocatively to get attention or be attractive. I don’t think they should do this for men’s sake but for their own as their bodies are God’s temples they have a duty not to sexualize their bodies but honor them in order to a glory to God. However, you make a lot of good points as how the “modesty police” in the Christian community can take this message to far. God Bless.

    1. CT, I do think that we need to take some care in what we wear, because what we wear can make a “statement” to those around us. All our statements and actions should be godly and considerate.

      “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:1-2 ESV).

  8. Well its all a bit sad isn’t Marg? What happens when people don’t make enough effort to understand instructions in the NT in their cultural context or even to bother reading them in the context of the letters themselves! In Greco-Roman culture the main thought was that women were the one’s who couldn’t control themselves and were driven by their passions. Men were believed to have the capacity to be self-controlled and were able to refrain from lust(well free ones that is). This is why it was considered necessary to keep women controlled by their fathers and husbands. So it’s a bit disappointing that a pastor thinks that Christian men can’t be as controlled as pagan men! It’s perfectly clear that the NT writers believed that men and women could be self-controlled. There is no difference all are empowered alike. Who teaches these people theology – this is basic Christian teaching.
    Quite rightly you point out that the impetus behind the instructions in chapter 2 of 1 Timothy is about dressing without extravagance. If one were to read two chapters ahead in 1 Timothy one would find instructions to the wealthy on how to spend their wealth. This includes not spending extravagantly on clothes or any other luxury goods. So the principle is that if one is wealthy one should be mindful about how much money is spent on the wardrobe. So Marg I wonder how much Pastor Mahaney’s suit cost?

    1. I’ve wondered about the Greek attitude that women were prone to wantonness, and it was mostly men who possessed self restraint or self-mastery (ἐγκράτεια). Where did this idea come from? Was it based on reality? Or is this a false idea that sprang from fearful male minds?

      If Ben Sirach’s Wisdom (which in a few places confirms the Greek view of women having a high libido and low self control) was part of our Bible (as it is for the Greek Orthodox Church) I wonder if we would be having this same discussion on female modesty and male lust.

      Sadly, in both ancient Greek culture and in the modern evangelical purity sub-culture, it is the women who are being told to “hide”.

      1. Hi Marg, sorry to be so slow in responding. I don’t think we could really say where the Greek idea that women were wanton sprang from. I don’t think it was a just in Greek culture but an idea that was common to the Mediterranean. In the reading I’ve done women weren’t only just considered wanton, but also unscrupulous. The fear was that women could seduce men into giving them what they wanted. An example is Hera seducing Zeus at a critical time in the Trojan war to give her favoured side an advanatage. It was believed that men were at their weakness and most vulnerable in the company of their wives. An example of this was Clytemnestra murdering her husband in the bathtub in Sophocles’ ‘Agamemnon’. It seems to be related to the idea that women were in closer contact with the supernatural and able to use magic to increase the potency of their seductive powers. This idea was current all the way through the medieval period up until the modern age. Just consider the Salem witch trials. It also influenced the development of the theology of Eve’s role in the fall. Most of what we consider orthodox Christian teaching on the fall has been percolated through this framework. The ‘Life of Adam and Eve’ is a text that demonstrates a fusion with Greek thought and developing Chistian thought, just like Sirach’s ‘Wisdom’ is a Jewish writer influenced by Greek thought. (Charlesworth thought that the ‘Life of Adam and Eve’ dated from the 1st C AD and was Jewish, but modern scholarship dates it from the 2nd C AD and that it is Christian being an obsession with Adam and Eve that lasted for centuries).

        Getting back to the 1st Century AD, while the idea that women weren’t able to control their passions and ready to use the supernatural was prevalent, the magic papyri tell another story. The magic papyri are spells written on either papyrus or sometimes lead folded up and secreted away (only for the eyes of the supernatural forces). I have read a number of these and they give a very interesting insight into the inner world of the ancients. It has been noted that there are quite a number of spells written by men in order to seduce other men’s wives. The number of these is disproportionately in favour of the men. Further those written by men are often explicitly sexual (involving a good deal of lust). Whereas the one’s written by women are more focused on securing a man in matrimony. I mention this to highlight the need to remember that ideology (women are wanton) is distinct from the actuality (necessity dictated that women were more concerned about family stability and securing the right kind of status). The NT must be read with sensitivity to these underlying currents. One must be alive to how the writers are adapting, rejecting or accepting the ideologies of their culture.

        1. That’s all so interesting, Lyn.

          By the way, you might be interested in my latest blog on the meaning of didaktikos, since your PhD is on First Timothy

  9. Here is a quote from a book I saw that has a lot of truth in it…

    “When you think someone outside you controls your _____________( in this case pleasure…etc.)you feel out of control”.

    Well in most cultures someone outside you DOES control many aspects of your life…and it is in these very areas we feel out of control. For instance the bulimic is one who grows up with parents (or social stigma) controlling food intake so much (only 2 cookies allowed) that the person becomes obsessed with food. Same with dieting. The lust for food takes over and the person becomes enslaved to the desired object..chocolate cake…etc.

    In what way do you suggest this relates to the subject in a religious context(Christian, Jewish and Muslim!)that sets the stage for an unsolvable problem? Perhaps we need to examine the teachings (and culture) more carefully to help find a solution so people can regain control over themselves without the many attendant problems that result…including rape. When does one taboo take precedence over another? And what does the Bible really say?

  10. Thanks for this post. I think it really sums up how I think about this issue as well.

    I do have some questions though. Do you think there is a point at which skin exposure becomes wrong? Is there anything inherently wrong with social nudity for example?

    Some of the people I know who do advocate for the “modesty” position believe that Scripture teaches an absolute standard of what body parts should be covered. They say that God provided tunics for Adam and Eve because the loincloths were insufficient for modesty. They also point to passages like Exodus 28:42 and Ezekiel 16:7-8 to say that certain body parts are to be covered in order to qualify as not being naked.

    What are thoughts on these questions?

    1. This isn’t something I have thought about a lot. But they’re good questions, so I’ll give it a go.

      The Bible indicates that Adam and Eve were completely naked before the Fall and that this was not a problem: “no shame”.

      After the Fall, God substituted the temporary garment (loin-cloth: chagor) Adam and Eve had made with leaves (Gen. 3:9) with a more permanent, more substantial garment (tunic: ketonet) made with animal skin (Gen 3:21). I don’t know if this extra degree of covering is significant.

      The instruction in Exodus 28:42 is given for a very specific situation, so I don’t know if we can say that those who did/do not wear the long garment mentioned in this verse were/are technically naked. Interestingly the word ketonet is used a couple of verses earlier: “Make tunics, sashes and caps for Aaron’s sons to give them dignity and honor” (Exod 28:40 NIV) or ““For Aaron’s sons you shall make coats and sashes and caps. You shall make them for glory and beauty (Exod. 28:40 ESV). So perhaps there is a connotation of dignity and/or beauty in the clothes God made for the first couple. I have heard it suggested that the garments God made for Adam and Eve were priestly clothes.

      Ezekiel 16:7-8 and surrounding verses are an allegory, but they do indicate that a woman’s pudenda (front groin area) should be covered and concealed from public view. Since it is allegory, God uses language and customs that his hearers can identify with in order to hear his real message. So this verse may say more about Israelite culture than what God thinks about nakedness. Having said that, I’m all for men and women covering their groin area when in public. 😉

      I do see a direct correlation between the social construct called honour-shame with women being covered in patriarchal societies. The more patriarchal the culture, the more women are covered and hidden from public sight. I mention this here.

      1. Does a women need to be immodestly dressed in order for a man to look at her in the wrong way? no and a man doesn’t need to be dressed immodestly for woman to look at him in wrong way. However we are not to entice one another in the way we either behave or dress as both men and women.

  11. Very good blog. Thanks for writing it.

    IMO, many people equate attraction with lust. That’s all of the input that I have. Lol.

  12. I know that saying that men should view women as “mothers and sisters” is to try to help them control their lust, but honestly…that seems to say that the only way they can show women any respect is to view females as belonging to another man, which I don’t think is right. I feel like men should be taught to see women as equals and to respect them as such, as we are in God’s eyes since we were created in God’s image and in Jesus there is “No Jew or Greek, salve or free, male or female.”
    Everyone, men and women, want to be seen as more than just sexualized objects. We all want to be seen and loved and respected for who we are.

    1. Hi Kari,

      I’m not talking about “belonging” at all. My sister and I didn’t belong to any man. We were raised by a single mother. I am married now and “belong” to my husband, but my husband “belongs” to me just as much.

      “Belonging to a man” has nothing to do with what I’m saying in the article. And the patriarchal dynamic of male ownership has no place in my life and relationships, or in broader society where I live.

      I know some men who say it’s impossible not to lust after women, and then I ask “Do you lust after a female relative such as a mother or sister?”, and they mostly say “no”. They say “no” because they haven’t learnt to see their female relatives as sexual objects.

      Christian men should be taught to see women as people rather than sexual objects. And they should see Christian women as family.

      Brothers and sisters are equal, or should be equal. If we saw each other as relatives, which in fact we are, instead of highlighting a person’s sexuality, there will be less lust.

      I completely agree with you on other points. We are equal before God and we should be equal in the church, and family, and society.

      “We all want to be seen and loved and respected for who we are.” Exactly! 🙂

  13. Thank you for addressing this topic that haunts me as I try to grow in ” love for our neighbor as ourselves ” with male fellow believers. I am stymied by a constant drumbeat of male lust from both Christian and worldly males. My pastor recently ” shared” how he and most the men he knows struggle with continual lust.. I would like to believe a shift to viewing females as family members would stop lust but as a survivor of incest, I can attest, that is too often not true. Tragically, incest is more prevalent than one would like to believe. The widening porn addiction, ever increasing sex slave trade are more examples that male lust is rampant. From the Bible, it appears this is hardly a new phenomenon. Did not lust primarily drive the polygamy, and prohibitions against adultery and fornication we witness in the Bible? Jesus clearly condemns male lust . Yet David, already a polygamist, was told God would have given him even more women/wives (Strongs 802),, (2 Samuel 12:8). This was to fulfill his lust that he instead satisfied with Bathsheba. So, I am confused by the seemingly voracious male sex drive apparently shared by both believers and non-believers, and the damage it produces throughout the world. And why male believers, with a mind supposedly being renewed, cannot exercise better control over their thoughts and attitudes about women and girls. If you do more workin this area, please post it. Thanks, and Gods blessings.

    1. Hi Debra, You make some excellent, and painfully difficult, points.

      I’m not sure that lust was always a motivator in the practice of polygamy. Sometimes it was to have a very large family for the sake of preservation and survival. A large family could also a sign of prestige. Sometimes a man married a second or third wife to help a woman who was “alone” in a patriarchal society.

      Anyway you look at it, lust is still a problem, and with easily accessible porn, it seems to becoming more of a problem– a serious problem. 🙁

  14. I would like to respond with 2 thoughts to this commentary (not about responsibility for lust, which you have demonstrated we’ll.) Friends have been debating about this, using this article, and “something” has left me uneasy about how this concept of defending a woman’s right to dress in whatever way they want, using many cultural examples. 1) What about when a woman’s great riches ARE her body? Does it meet Timothys,definition of “modest” to dress to expose, highlight, enjoy, rejoice in, sometimes flaunt, that body? Is that body God gave her to be used for her own enjoyment only? If others feel awkward because the clothing, or lack,rosses cultural norms, even in the faith or middle-class community,where is the love in wearing clothes that surpass those,boundaries just to please yourself. I will give some allowance to,youth and being full of puss and vinegar and pushing boundaries, but don’t be surprised,when the pushback,comes. That is how culture develops over time. If that is the great God given message of a young man or woman’s life, to,fight the “what is modest clothing?” fight, then so be it. Go with blessing, but I’m not,resonating with it…yet. Keep talking and living out your vision!!!

    1. Hi Cheryl,

      I can’t see that flaunting is a Christlike attitude or behaviour. Surely flaunting is the opposite of humility and true modesty. Nowhere do I advocate the flaunting of anything!

      And I certainly do not state that a woman, or man, may dress in whatever way they want. All I say is that covering up does not solve the problem of lust when there is the very real problem that film, television, advertising, etc, is training both men and women to see each other as sexual beings in a heightened way.

      I’ve given cultural examples to show that many of our ideas of modesty are culturally determined. It seems that you say as much by mentioning the “middle-class community”. Do people in this community dress differently to people in other communities?

      I’m actually not sure why you mention the middle-class community, especially as Paul’s comments about modesty in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 were given to wealthy women of the upper classes. Paul wanted the rich women to stop wearing expensive clothes and jewels and fancy hairstyles. (More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-instructions-for-modest-dress/)

      I think you may be reading more into this article than what is stated. This article is primarily a critique of the kind of ideas expressed by C.J. Mahaney in the video.

  15. Hello, and very nice article (and blog in general, for that matter), but one thing about it bothers me. Something that I’ve been increasingly aware of over the last couple of years is that folks are very, very quick to condemn “lust”, but do not do both of the following: 1) define the term; 2) show where the Bible condemns that which they define as lust. You attempt to do the second without doing the first, leaving the meaning of some of your statements up in the air. This point is significant, since the way that many people use the word doesn’t actually match the Greek word used in Matthew 5 (the passage usually used to condemn lust). See this article for more information:
    What are your thoughts?

    1. Hi Matthew,

      I really enjoyed the article. It’s a good read. But when it comes down to it, “to covet, desire, or lust” (epithumeô) for someone who is not rightfully yours is sin.

      I don’t regard lust as a feeling of attraction, but as an actual desire for sex. Where the line is between attraction and lust can be hard to draw, though.

  16. Why is the weight and burden for so many things always put on women?

    1. So many ideas are unnecessarily skewed along gender lines so that men get more freedoms and noble responsibilities and women get more limitations and mundane responsibilities or burdens. This is a long way from the teachings of Jesus and New Creation theology/

  17. Matthew, The article you linked to doesn’t explain what lust is. It primarily explains that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her” is an inadequate translation of πᾶς ὁ βλέπων γυναῖκα πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι αὐτὴν (Matt. 5:28).

    πρὸς τὸ + infinitive denotes purpose. With this in mind, a better translation may be “everyone who looks at a woman in order to desire/ covet/ long for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” There may well be a sense of purpose and intention here, not accidental looking and lusting. And I don’t think “lust” is a far-fetched translation of ἐπιθυμῆσαι in this context.

    As it says in the article, it is significant that the verb ἐπιθυμήσεις (“desire, covet, long for”) is used (twice) in Exodus 20:17. The general sense of this verb, which occurs as an infinitive in Matthew 5:27, is “to set one’s heart upon.”

    This verb also occurs in Galatians 5:17 and the cognate noun occurs in Galatians 5:16 and 24:
    “I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire (ἐπιθυμίαν) of the flesh. The flesh desires (ἐπιθυμεῖ) what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want” (Gal. 5:16-17)

    I disagree with the author when he says that “Jesus is in no way intensifying the Law here, nor is he really saying anything new.”

    I’ve written about Matthew 5:28, with a footnote about πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμῆσαι here: https://margmowczko.com/hyperbole-divorce-sermon-on-the-mount-matthew-5/

    1. So where do we draw the line between admiration, sexual desire and lust? The desire in itself isn’t wrong, right (Gen 29:21)? How else do people get married? It’s basically impossible to be in any kind of relationship without having sexual thoughts.

      1. You may have answered your own question, Joel. There is a difference between admiration, on one hand, and sexual desire and lust on the other. And having a sexual desire for your own spouse, or your intended spouse, is not only acceptable but desirable (no pun intended).

        It’s interesting that you mention Genesis 29:21. Jacob waited 7 years to marry and have sex with Rachel: “So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her” (Genesis 29:20).

        I completely disagree that it’s impossible to be in any kind of relationship without having sexual thoughts. Most people manage to not have sexual thoughts about their parents, siblings, and other close relatives. We are to treat people primarily as human beings, not as sexual beings. And in the in the church, we should treat men and women as our siblings in Christ.

  18. Jesus just talked about lusting after someone’s wife. It’s not about men desiring more women, because men are never condemned for wanting and practicing that.

    if having sexual intentions about people you’re not married to is adulterous lust, how were Israelite men supposed to be polygamous? Men like Abhimelech saw beautiful women and took them, and God said he did it in the purity of his heart.

    To overcome this you’d have to admit there’s nothing wrong in deriving sexual pleasure from other people’s beauty (enjoying Song of Songs involves this) because lust is only an intention to commit adultery and sin. This freedom *might* only apply to men because women weren’t allowed multiple husbands, so they cannot desire other men

    1. Ben, I understand your first point, but I don’t understand your point about polygamy. Israelite men were not supposed to be polygamous. The Bible indicates in Genesis 2:24 that one man and one woman is God’s ideal in marriage. This is reiterated by Jesus and expanded on by Paul.

      Abimelech, the Philistine ruler of Gerar, is hardly the poster boy for sexual morality. And he wasn’t an Israelite. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2020&version=CSB

      You’ve overinterpreted or misunderstood God’s words in Genesis 20:6-7 which indicate that Abimelech truly believed Sarah was single and available even though she was actually married. It doesn’t mean there is anything pure about seeing beautiful women and taking them.

      The Bible speaks about deriving sexual pleasure from one’s spouse, not from “other people’s beauty.”

      Drink from your own cistern, Ben. See Proverbs 5: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs%205&version=NIV

  19. I’m pretty sure Genesis doesn’t mean monogamy is the norm. After all, polygamous Moses wrote that book.

    Also, polygamy was never condemned. It was actually enforced upon Israel with levirate marriage. God is also portrayed as a polygamist in the prophets.

    I’m certain Genesis 20:6-7 means exactly what it means. If Sarah was single, God wouldn’t disapprove.

    Jesus doesn’t actually mention anything about monogamy in that passage. It’s only about coveting someone’s wife. The one flesh argument doesn’t work either, because a man can be one flesh with many women simultaneously (1 Cor 6:16) and this applies even if those Corinthian men were married. Paul also mentions “his father’s wife” in 1 Cor 5:1 which could be a reference to a second wife. Paul also says a wife is bound to her husband, but men are not, and he doesn’t imply it works both ways. You can’t covet an unmarried person, anyway.

    Yes, proverbs 5 says ‘drink from your own cistern”, but that’s a warning against adultery. There is a difference between sexual attraction and covetousness.

    Surely you’re not saying we can’t appreciate beauty. There’s nothing wrong if the appreciation is sexual, since sexuality is normal and nothing to fear. I feel evangelical teachings on sexuality is mostly influenced by the prudery and misinterpretations of lust.

    1. I disagree with pretty much everything you’ve said in this comment, Ben. And I strongly doubt that most average Israelites had more than one wife at a time. Polygamy was usually only for the wealthy–for kings and patriarchs. And what God made allowances for and what the ideal is are not necessarily the same thing.

      I agree Genesis 20:6-7 means exactly what it means. It’s the way you worded your interpretation of verse 6 that I disagree with. For example, the Hebrew text does not mention “purity.”

      The biblical record mentions Moses marrying twice, but there’s no indication that Zipporah was still around when he married the Kushite woman.

      But you’re right, I’m not saying we can’t appreciate beauty. And it could be that we agree on the distinction between appreciation and lust. Bringing polygamy into the discussion has confused the issue.

      1. Okay, I’ll leave it there, but I will say polygamy wasn’t just for rich people and kings – Jacob and Esau had multiple wives before they were rich. Also, people say polygamy was allowed because war caused shortages of men, which means common people had to be polygamous. Why was a polygamous culture enforced through the levirate marriage, adultery laws, and Exodus 22:16-17, if only some people practiced it? Polygamy wasn’t sin, so neither can sexual attraction to others be a sin, and this is true even if polygamy is wrong.

        I feel like traditional teachings on lust/self-pleasure are unhelpful, especially for teens whose hormones are naturally high – it’s just a normal part of life. Also, teachings about clothing based on this idea of lust aren’t logical, because there is no biblical standard of modesty. Nudity is non-sexual and okay, but most evangelicals have a lot of prudish fear about it because they think it leads to actual lust. Are we supposed to tell children to look away from women in bikinis and other clothing because we fear they might get aroused? These teachings feel like a slippery slope, leading to the current evangelical confusion and unnecessary purity culture.

        Ciao, Marg

        1. Many teachings on sexual purity and dress codes in American evangelicalism are awful and unhelpful. There is no argument from me on this.

          However, bringing in the topic of polygamy, and even levirate marriage, which was practised by some ancient Israelites (and Philistines) is also unhelpful. These topics are irrelevant to western societies today. Both polygamy and levirate marriage are illegal even in modern Israel. Most people recognise that these two things are not ideal.

          And have you read the Book of Ruth and the story of Tamar and Judah where levirate marriage is a major element of the story? Who is doing the “enforcing”? Though, “enforcing” is hardly the right word!

          I disagree with your understanding of every Bible passage you’ve alluded to. However, it could be that we agree on the distinction between sexual attraction and lust.

          Nevertheless, I sure hope you don’t want to have sex with the beautiful women you see. It would be nice if we could see each other as people first, and not just as sexual beings.

          As Christians, we should regard each other as siblings. And few people want to have sex with their siblings.

          I do not want any man lusting after me just because of my looks. It’s disrespectful, not to mention, creepy. I am more than my looks.

          1. Yes that’s probably creepy, and that’s not something i do. I’m talking about *if* a person is attracted to someone, not an “i want any person i see” mindset. Emphasis on an aspect of a person (sexual, skillset) need not be objectification and denial of their humanity – that’d mean spouses obejctify each other. This while theory does have problems, but the traditional belief doesn’t work either. I don’t know.

            Also, the sibling argument doesn’t work because you’re not supposed to have any attraction to family. It would also make us incestuous cause we only marry christians.

            touché, Marg. I understand what you’re saying.

  20. How do men deal with lust when the women around them try to dress to help them … So a young boy is always used to women around him dressed skirts to ankles everything covered do you think that stops his lust full heart and so now he does it by hides it instead of learning to deal with it now he sees women not dressed completely covered up as women he can disrespect…. We need to teach young boys to deal with their lusts to bring them to Christ and to turn from their sin not put the blame on the women. This kind of mentality leads to abusive men who cannot control their lusts


  22. […] The Problem with Modesty and the Problem of Lust […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?