For Lutherans (and for Jesus and Paul) the Law of God is summarized very easily: Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself. There can be no discussion about how Christians should act towards one another without taking into consideration love for our neighbors.
We should, at this point, make a distinction between the biblical use of the word "modesty" and the way it is commonly used in Christian circles today. Scripture uses "modesty" to mean "not showing off". It is not about how much skin a person is showing, but about whether or not they should display their wealth and status with their clothing in the congregation.
What "modesty" has come to mean in common useage today is that we should cover our skin, not showing it off to the world. So, for a Lutheran, the real question is, "How do my clothes serve my neighbor, specifically my neighbor of the opposite sex?"
How should a man dress in order to love and serve his female neighbors? That probably depends upon the context. When going on a date it would be unloving for a young man to show up wearing a ratty t-shirt and cut-offs when he is pretty sure his date bought a new dress for the occasion. He should show he loveand respect by making an effort to dress nice for her.
Let's say that this young man shows up in a sharp new suit. He looks handsome, in fact so handsome that the young woman is smitten with attraction to him. His shoulders are broadened. The color of the tie makes his eyes shine. Might this clothing lead her to lust after him? Might she be led to have impure thoughts about this physically attractive young man?
That is entirely possible. And it probably cannot be avoided. Sin is unavoidable in this life. We are sinners through and through until Christ returns.
Let's flip the coin and say that the young woman is wearing a dress that makes her look radiant. The young man cannot help but to think of how beautiful she is. Might he not begin to lust after her, finding her sexually attractive?
Sure. And again, that can't be avoided, at least not all the time. Sin is a constant stain on all that we do in this life.
So what are men and women who simply want to love their neighbors as themselves supposed to do about the clothing that they wear?
Hard and fast rules are not the way of the New Testament. Neither are silver bullets. Love requires, not a strict set of rules, but a heart that looks at induviduals with needs and tires to meet them.
So rather than say that it is always wrong for women to wear bikinis at the beach, or that men should wear shirts in the water, or that all people should walk abound in full snow gear 24/7, I simply offer a few observations and comments:
- When Jesus gave the command equating lust and adultery He did so in a context where women never showed their skin. There were no short skirts of sports bras. So lust will not be cured in men even if women never left the house. It is a struggle that men will have until He returns.
- Men are not diseased idiots who can never learn to control their sexual thoughts. This is the way men are usually portrayed in these modesty conversations and it simply is not true. Do men have lustful thoughts? Yes. But can they grow and learn to control their minds even in the midst of abundant temptation? Yes.
- What is culturally appropriate must be taken into consideration. What we wear tells others something about ourselves. This is a simple fact of life. So wearing a bathing suit on the beach is appropriate, but not in the board room.
- A person's conscience must also guide them. There is no dress code in the Bible. Therefore each person must look to their own heart and test their own motivations. Are you dressing to be sexually provocative? If the answer is yes then maybe you need to reconsider your attire, male or female. You may not be able to avoid putting others into temptation at times, but you should not do so on purpose.
- Lean to confess and receive forgiveness. You will fail. You will sin. Tell God. Tell your pastor. Receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers in His blood. And don't lose sight of that.