All of the New Testament passages referencing “causing your brother to stumble” are in the context of Christians who weren’t sure if they could celebrate certain feast days or buy food from a post-idol-sacrifice butcher shop. They do not directly apply to modesty and lust, and to say they do is to rip them from their original context.
That said, there’s a general principle that Paul hammered home in those passages, which is this: if you are asking whether it’s okay do something and you are thinking first about yourself, your desires, and your rights… you are doing it completely wrong. Instead, Christians should be radically devoted to making choices based on the good of others, seeking their good and restricting their own freedom for the sake of their weaker brothers. (See especially Romans 14:10-15.)
Yes, a good place to start when talking about modesty is self-respect—dressing appropriately for a context and not letting a hyper-sexualized culture objectify you. But it’s also about respect for others.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I hate how the church has sometimes handled discussions of modesty, placing the blame for lust (and sometimes even abuse) where it doesn’t belong. But I don’t want to throw out the essential biblical concept of considering others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:1-4), even in areas as seemingly trivial as eating, drinking, and dressing.
We keep asking all the wrong questions—where to put blame or how much is too much or how can I please absolutely everyone with my outward appearance. But the real issue is at once simpler and more complicated, because it involves not just our hemlines, but our hearts.
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