I believe that there is an important topic that many in the body of Christ have neglected to address. It has to do with the whole issue of women eating chocolate. Now I know that our society seems to believe that we can eat whatever we want and flaunt it. The thing is, though, that we as believers are called to a different standard, and while it may seem to be a matter of personal freedom to you, you are causing others to stumble.
What you may not understand is that it is just a part of the way that God designed us. When we see chocolate, we are provoked to gluttony. That may or may not be your intent, but the truth is that when we see our sisters in Christ with chocolate, we are just wired to respond to it. We want it. So I am asking, as a godly woman, that you refrain from tempting us by eating chocolate. Will you, as a humble and sincere sister in the Lord, make a commitment to give up the chocolate that is causing us to stumble?
Can I get an “amen”? No?
I suspect that some of you would respond, gently and with love, that the issue really is not about condemning those who eat chocolate, but perhaps more about dealing with my own self-control. Some might even go as far as to point out that simply liking chocolate and wanting to eat it is not necessarily gluttony unless I refuse to control myself. Others would remind me that as a Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit, I can resist the temptation. And a few might be slightly confused why I am only addressing my sisters in Christ and wonder about whether men should be held to the same standards. These are good points.
What About Modesty?
I have read many appeals to Christian women on the issue of modesty and swimwear, particularly if you get into the debate on one-piece versus two-piece, that sound just like the condemnation against chocolate.
We talk a lot about modesty and causing our brothers to stumble, but are we in danger of actually trying to add to what the Bible teaches? Scripture verses about modesty are about humility and trying to flaunt wealth or draw attention to our appearance. In many places, wearing a bikini would attract far less attention than some of the “modest” ensembles I’ve seen suggested.
Causing our brothers to stumble? Well, that argument has been twisted by many to imply that it is the women’s responsibility to prevent men from lust. That is both ludicrous and unbiblical. I know many Christian men. They are not slavering beasts who are provoked to ungovernable lust by any glimpse of a woman’s shape or skin. They are capable of controlling themselves and turning away if necessary.
Is the Holy Spirit that weak? Is Christ’s work in their lives so puny and fragile that it will be destroyed by the mere sight of a woman? Is their spiritual state between them and God, or is it dependent on the dress code of nearby women? This is the kind of thinking that excuses rape because a woman was wearing a miniskirt, and is a grievous insult to both men and God.
Part of the modesty debate stems from a misunderstanding of lust.
Many consider it to be any sexual attraction. That is like saying gluttony is any desire for food. In looking at several dictionary definitions, I saw an important distinction. Lust was uncontrolled, unrestrained, or overwhelming sexual desire. Just like gluttony would be uncontrolled, unrestrained, or overwhelming desire for food. So having a sexual thought or desire is not wrong unless it is uncontrolled, unrestrained, or overwhelming–something that we purpose to fulfill even when it is morally wrong (or would if circumstances/consequences could be altered).
This, to me, fits in perfectly with Jesus’ warning against adultery in Matthew 5. It isn’t the same as temptation. It is when you have already given in to that temptation in your heart.
Heart Attitude vs. Legalism
I do believe that Christian women are called to modesty. God does not want us to try to provoke attention and admiration. We are not to try to stir up sexual attraction in anyone other than our husbands. But that is about a heart attitude, not about a legalistic regulation of attire. If a woman sins in this area, it is between her and God, just as it is if a man sins in lust. Some women are more comfortable in bikinis, whether it is simply appreciating the feel of the water or ease of function (ever try to use the bathroom in a one piece suit? Or help a potty-learning little one to do so? If so, you will likely appreciate the argument for a two piece!). Only God is qualified to judge their hearts and motives.
Often we forget how much our ideas are influenced by our culture. In Spain, topless beaches are common. You will see plenty of flabby grannies in their seventies and eighties going topless. Are they causing their brothers to stumble? No. They are immodest by USA standards, perhaps, but not by their own. Nor are they immodest, according to my understanding, by the Bible (when God clothed Eve, He gave her a loin cloth, not a bra). There are also cultures where a flash of ankle or even neck is considered seductive. We can be sensitive to our own cultures, but also recognize that modesty cannot be about clothing–it must be about the heart.
Regarding the men vs. women angle, the truth is that both men and women are attracted to each other’s appearance. Attraction does not equal lust. (As a side note, many of my female friends have commented on how particularly attractive they find a man in a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up a little, or without a shirt, or in a T-shirt and jeans, or several other possibilities. I never hear Christian leaders warn men about causing women to stumble if they are in a long sleeved shirt that has been cuffed once or twice.)
I want to teach my daughters and my son to be modest–to have a heart that is focused on God and that doesn’t seek status or admiration based on their appearance. I will teach my son and daughters that if they are tempted to lust, that the power of God within them is stronger. I will also remind them that if they are tempted to lust, that the responsibility to look away is their own. Just as I will teach them that spiritual food is more important than physical food. If they are tempted to overeat, I will encourage them to find healing and the power of God to control their appetites–not to blame a good cook.
So should a Christian woman wear a bikini? If it is appropriate to the occasion, if she enjoys it, then sure. Personally, everyone in my family finds rash guards and board shorts more comfortable and more functional. But to try to impose legalistic standards on others’ definition of modesty would be to degrade our brothers in Christ, show contempt to the power of God, and to place a burden on our sisters that Jesus never did.
And if you want to eat chocolate, I won’t condemn that either. In fact, I will likely join you.