Modesty is Good

Modesty is Good July 9, 2023


Is modesty a good thing?

For some, the word “modesty” can conjure up images of burqas and systems of oppression. For others, it conjures up memories of their upbringing in strict fundamentalist churches. Women are told to “adorn themselves in respectable apparel with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire…”. In these contemporary contexts, “modesty” simply refers to how women should dress. The current cultural conversation is usually a reaction to these ways of talking about modesty. As such, any conversation having to do with “modesty” is seen as an antiquated conversation of a bygone era.

What is Modesty?

However, the above ways of framing conversations about modesty are uncalled for. Modesty is neither indicative of a system of oppression nor is it antiquated. Beyond that, we have a word for talking about how men and women should dress so as to not incite lust. That word is “chastity”. Contrary to popular opinion, modesty is not primarily about what you wear.

Modesty is a form of temperance and is fundamentally about humility, self-restraint, and concern for others.

The modest man does not:

  1. Brag about how much money he makes, especially in front of those who are poor.
  2. Name-drop famous people he has met in order to make himself look more important.
  3. Force people into conversation topics in which he is knowledgeable and others are not to make him look smarter than everyone.

Modesty as a Form of Temperance

Modesty as a form of temperance is a kind of self-restraint. The modest man recognizes that talking about his wealth in front of poor children could incite them to feel much worse about their own situation. It could produce in them a kind of jealousy that didn’t exist in them before. The modest man can recognize how his actions could potentially incite vice in himself or others and avoids actions that might lead to that.

The man who refrains from name-dropping shows modesty by refusing to leverage the prestige of others to increase his own prestige. He does not feel the need to compensate for some inadequacy in himself by borrowing from the fame of others. This is admirable because borrowed prestige is superficial and it does not rightly belong to him. The modest man does not want superficial borrowed prestige.

Modesty avoids self-promotion, self-indulgence, and self-aggrandizement. To be sure, we all want to be liked, admired, and desired. Modesty is a virtue that steps in and says “Hey wait a minute – that is not the right way to be liked, admired, or desired.” The modest man takes a step back to see if his self-focused impulse might incite harm or vice in him or others. He then avoids actions that would incite harm or vice in him or others.

Modesty and Humility

There are three forms of temperance: abstinence, chastity, and modesty

  • Abstinence is restraint when it comes to food and drink. This virtue helps us avoid gluttony.
  • Chastity is restraint when it comes to sexually related activities. This virtue helps us avoid lust.

Modesty refrains from boasting or flaunting what you have, who you are, who your famous friends are, etc.

The extremely wealthy man is modest when he does not flaunt his riches. The modest individual is concerned about substantial goods. He is either less interested or wholly uninterested in superficiality. He pursues what is good without “making a show of it.”


Chastity, the sister virtue of modesty, is what people think of when they think of modesty. This is the virtue that deals with wearing clothes that are too revealing and or provocative. More broadly speaking, chastity is that virtue which excludes or moderates sexual behavior and desire. As such, it includes more than just avoiding provocative clothing. Dwelling on lustful thoughts, flirting with a married person, or having sex outside of marriage are all examples of unchaste activities.

It is like modesty in that it avoids the flaunting of the goods you possess. In the case of chastity, it involves the avoidance of flaunting your body and or other sexually enticing aspects of your person. Like modesty, it is a kind of self-restraint grounded in considering how your behavior affects others. The woman who dresses in such a way as to entice a man sexually is not chaste. Like the rich man who flaunts his wealth, the unchaste man or woman flaunts his or her sexuality.

1 Timothy 2:9

The Bible verse I cited in the first paragraph of this article is likely dealing primarily with temperance in general.

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”

To the men, he warns against anger and quarreling. To the women, he warns against immodesty. Paul may be addressing both modesty and chastity here. But in any case, he is admonishing his audience to exhibit self-restraint. To be sure, Paul does expect members of the church to restrain their own desire to draw attention to themselves. While this might seem odd to a modern audience, we are familiar with the attractiveness of the man or woman who is “put together” and not a braggart.


Temperance, in all its forms, produces a kind of character that is mastered by reason. Most people that you meet in your day-to-day life are mastered by something else. They are slaves of their own desires. Slaves to their own passions. Temperance is the virtue that fights against this all too common human trajectory. God doesn’t want you to be modest and chaste to take away your fun. He wants you to exemplify these virtues because you are a rational animal and as such you are perfected by a life that is in accordance with reason. He wants your self-evaluation to correspond to reality. Temperance helps you do this.

In addition to those benefits, temperance helps you to not be manipulated by the passions of others. It produces in you the kind of psychological stability that you know you want, but aren’t sure how to produce. Self-denial is how runners become excellent. Self-restraint is how unhealthy people change their diet to become more healthy. Self-restraint in the sexual arena produces benefits that are more difficult to see. But sometimes the benefits that are hardest to see are the most important.

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