Question:

Hi,

I’ve been reading your articles about modesty, and recently I got myself into some heated arguments with a few sisters about owning luxury handbags. Some felt that these are considered as things of the world, and we shouldn’t pursue it, while some felt that owning them will likely invite jealousy. However, the irony is that they attack me only when I openly discussed it, yet I’ve seen some sisters carrying luxury handbags to worship.

Where do we draw the line? Or is it really a sin to even own one luxury handbag?

Many thanks in advance.

Answer:

Are we discussing items purchased because they last longer, work better, or because they make a statement?

Peter stated, "Your adornment must not be merely external -- braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4). It isn't that you can't dress up, but what you wear is far less important than who you are. In other words, Christians should be noticed for how they behave and not for what they wear. "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed" (I Timothy 6:17-19).

This isn't something to be fought over. It is something each person should look at personally and examine his motivation.

Question:

Hi Jeffrey,

Thanks for replying.

What about I Timothy 2:9 where it talks about costly clothing? It seems to me that anything that's expensive is forbidden during worship, and I won't be surprised that some will use this verse to justify against owning luxury products.

Please allow me to add as I'm trying to reconcile between what I observed within my congregation and what the Bible has to say about owning luxury items. While I cannot simply take a few sisters' oppressive reactions to justify an entire congregation's position toward such issues, it's already making me think otherwise. Yet, the emphasis toward Christian character and morality is much more forgiving to a certain extent and I find it rather ironic. For example, a brethren who refused to reconcile with his estranged wife is allowed to preach from the pulpit, but a sister bringing a $10,000 designer handbag to worship is deem as unacceptable. There seems to be many levels of inconsistency and hypocrisy going on.

It's not exactly about functionality, longevity or creating a statement in owning luxury bags we are discussing. The point of discussion between the sisters actually began with an underlying focus on the various bad influences from owning things of the world, which I believe is far more than just owning several luxury bags. Because the possession of such luxury materials has a very close association with the very rich, many sisters who have grown up in the church were taught to see these as things of the world that will create a negative impact in the way how they should be conducting themselves as Christians. I get their point, but it was never my intention to incite any form of jealousy nor encourage them to covet such items. The topic about luxury bags and why people would go all the way to covet them was an intentional topic I decided to raise to observe how sisters will react after one of the sisters shared with me that she felt the church is somewhat against this and will tend to judge. The controversy came when I also openly acknowledged that I might inevitably cause some women (especially younger ones and those not so well-to-do) around me to stumble even that's not my very intention. That probably triggered one of them to attack me directly insisting that I'm doing this with the intention of breeding jealously. Some sisters (whom I don't really know in person) actually got offended by the controversy I created, and the feedback to one of the sisters about this. This sister ended up having a personal talk with me, wanting to share with me the other's various points of view and why they were offended by what I said. Though I was all open about it, I replied that I would appreciate it if they came to me directly if they really feel offended. I preferred not to go through this kind of discussion via another sister. I do understand where the sister's intention came from. After that talk with her. I felt somewhat reproved. It didn't take me too long to develop a sense of guilt that I shouldn't even own these bags in view that I've already caused quite a number of them to stumble' thus, giving me an idea that this might be a sin.

I do agree with you that it's not something to be fought over. Those luxury bags are merely material possessions that I've no intention to own for long. Because of the high appreciation value behind those bags, it's also one reason I own them, as part of my tangible assets. Unfortunately, despite my reasons why I want to own them, despite their covetous nature when confronted, I still feel judged and started to wonder: why do I need to give such an extensive account to explain to them about my possessions? I felt overly scrutinized and seems like what I wear and what I own becomes a matter with which the church would want to interfere. It also gives me a hint that some brethren have a stigma toward the rich as well.

With warmest regards,

Answer:

When you are dealing with an issue, you must resist the temptation to point out other people's flaws or mistakes in other areas. They are independent issues. Because someone is doing something wrong does make your issue right. It doesn't matter if you think the entire church is a bunch of hypocrites. The question is simply whether owning and wearing luxury items is appropriate for a Christian.

We already noted that I Peter 3:3-4 states that Christians are to be noticed for their character traits and not because of their expensive taste in clothing. I Timothy 6:17-19 pointed out that wealth is uncertain, so putting emphasis on it is to lose proper focus on what Christians ought to be doing.

"Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness" (I Timothy 2:9-10).

The Greek language uses "not ... but" differently from English. We use the combination to say "not A but B instead." The Greeks used it to mean "not just A but far more importantly B." Like Peter's statement, Paul is not saying that having braided hair, jewelry or costly garments are wrong but that they are unimportant and should not be the focus of a woman's presentation of herself. It is her good works that should cause people to notice her. Therefore, a woman should select clothing with these guidelines:

  • The Greek word for "proper clothing" is kosmious, which means orderly, well-arranged, seemly, or modest. In other words, "modest" refers to clothing that is neat and appropriate for the occasion.
  • The Greek word that is translated "modestly" is aidos, which means having a sense of shame, modesty, and reverence. A shamefaced person can blush when faced with things that are irreverent or immodest.
  • The Greek word for "discreetly" is sophrosuna. This is a person of sound mind, with self-control, of good judgment, and moderate in all that he does.

In other words, modest clothing doesn't call attention to the wearer. $10,000 handbags do not match what Paul and Peter were trying to communicate.

You noted that your choice of accessories is causing others to become envious. A Christian's concern should be in helping others overcome sin. Paul once stated, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble" (I Corinthians 8:13). It doesn't matter if your intention is to make others jealous or not. If you see that what you are doing is causing problems for others, then the simple answer is to stop doing it.

Nor are we allowed to sit back and say that if someone else has a problem with me, then they need to come and see me. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering" (Matthew 5:23-24). Harmony between brethren is so important that issues need to be resolved whether you know someone else is doing wrong or you know someone thinks you are doing wrong.

 

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