Is it OK for a man to be in public with his shirt off for any reason? If yes, what is the difference between a man doing it and a woman doing it?
This question is a question regarding modesty. Modesty deals with the question of the presentation of the physical body in public situations. The Bible speaks about this subject and so we should give heed to understanding what the Bible has to say about the subject and then conform our lives to that standard. There are basically two principles involved within the discussion of modesty which we must consider. The first is the principle of giving glory to God. The Bible teaches that one should glorify God in the body. In 1 Corinthians 6:20 we read, "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are Godís." The principle is to bring glory to God through the use of one's body and not to bring glory to self. There is a way to dress so as to glorify one's self instead of giving glory to God. Christians, both male and female, should not dress in such a fashion. This aspect of modest dress can and does involve the culture in which one is living. It could be a sin for me to dress in a three-piece suit and oxford shoes in a culture where everyone wears robes and sandals. It would be a sin for a Christian woman to not veil her face in public in some areas of the world today because that is what the culture dictates and God does not want us bringing glory to ourselves in the presence of cultures who need the gospel more than anything.
Second, there is also the principle of sexual attraction. In consideration of this principle, there are no cultural considerations. Neither men nor women should dress in such a provocative way so as to entice the opposite sex into immoral sexual thoughts or behavior. We are children of our God and God tempts no man with evil and neither should we (James 1:13).
So let me answer the question in a qualified way. If a man can be in public with his shirt off without bringing attention to self and if a man can be in public with one's shirt off without causing sexual attraction then a man can be in public with his shirt off. The question now becomes, can a man be in public with his shirt off and meet these qualifications? I just don't see how that could be possible.
Now let's ask the question, "What is the difference between a man going bare chested in public versus a woman going bare chested in public?" Is there a difference? First, let me state that there is a difference in the chemical make up of the male gender of the species and the female gender of the species. God made us different. Males have a different physical build than females. Males have different sexual organs than females. Males have a different hormonal content than females have and thereby a different chemical balance. Males have different emotional makeup than do females. Males and females ARE different. Now the question we need to ask is this, "Do any of these differences affect the ability of either of the genders to dress modestly?" And the answer is "Yes!" While both the chemicals testosterone and estrogen are in both genders, there is a different distribution in the gender. In the male gender there is more testosterone than there is estrogen. In the female gender there is more estrogen than testosterone. One of the purposes of testosterone is to sexually motivate the genders. Since there is more of it in the male gender, males are more sexually motivated. Additionally, according to medical professionals, there is also a direct relationship between the visual cortex in the brain of the male and the production of testosterone. While testosterone causes one to be sexually stimulated, visual sexual stimulus increases the production of testosterone especially in the male gender where a higher amount is already present. This increases sexual stimulation and desire. Removing the visual stimulus will thus decrease the amount of testosterone produced and decrease the sexual desire. This is why we find specific issues of modesty addressed to women in the New Testament such as in 1 Timothy 2.
Now, in case you haven't noticed, there is a difference between the bare chest of a male and the bare chest of a female. Female breasts contain mammary glands whereas males do not. The Bible recognizes that the female breast can be a sexual stimulant. In Proverbs 5:19 we read instructions from a father to his son regarding the sexual relationship he should have with his wife. The Father instructs, "Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love." The Bible here indicates that female breasts are at least in part for the sexual satisfaction of the male. And we also know that men do receive visual sexual stimulation from looking at the female breast. It is incumbent upon the Christian woman, therefore, to ensure that her breasts are properly covered so that this will not produce a stumbling block for Christian men.
Now in regard to the chest of a male, there can be sexual stimulation derived from that as well from the female, but it is not as strong and does not produce the kind of chemical response within the body of the female as it does in the male. Moreover the consistency of the response in the female is considerably different. Men respond consistently to bare breasted females. However, women respond inconsistently to bare breasted men. But since there is a chance that a bare male breast would sexually stimulate a female, then the male should ensure that he cover his breast appropriately as well. There is also an additional problem for which males should be concerned, and that is the problem of homosexuality. This is when the male confuses his sexual desires and directs them toward other males. It is a sin and God condemns it (Romans 1:26-32). This is something Christian men should give no occasion for others to stumble at as well.
So there is a difference between a bare breasted male and a bare breasted female. However, so far as the Christian is concerned, if it provides occasion for anyone to stumble, the Christian male should not go bare breasted.
Now I would like to conclude with a few more words on modesty. Dressing modestly primarily reflects one's attitude toward one's self. "Will I dress in such a way so as to bring glory to God, or will I dress in a way that will be pleasant to me?" This is the ultimate question that we must ask in regard to our dress. I would hope that each of us as Christians would be willing to sacrifice our own personal desires and comfort in our personal dress in order to bring glory to God. There is always someone, however, who asks, "How will I know that I am dressed modestly?" I would like to suggest two avenues of thought for you. First, if you are a female, ask one of the older Christian ladies in the congregation. The Bible says that the elder are supposed to teach the younger and part of that instruction is how to be chaste (Titus 2:5). Second, there is the principle of no doubt. If you are unsure about your clothing, then don't wear it. Wear something that you KNOW would be suitable. Don't give yourself or anyone else reason to doubt that you are dressing in a modest manner and things will go well for you.