You Can’t Tell Me How to Dress!

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

He came to services sporting a mohawk haircut spiked tall with hair gel. Each ear was pierced several times: small nut-like objects filled the larger holes in each ear. One eyebrow was pierced. His lip was pierced and when idle the boy toyed with the ring occupying the hole. His tongue held a stud. A heavy metal necklace that looked like an oversized pull-chain was around his neck. Each arm had black leather bands with heavy metal studs protruding all around. His belt was constructed in a style similar to the armbands. He was in my office, angry that the Bible class teacher told him to leave because he found the attire distracting the class.

"I'm dressed decently!"

True, his baggy pants, tee-shirt, and unbuttoned, untucked dress shirt covered his body. I'll even credit him with clean and ironed clothing. However, I pointed out that he only followed part of Paul's command regarding modest dress. True, the passage in I Timothy 2:9-10 was directed towards females, but the principles set forth are ones all Christians ought to keep in mind. "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works." There are three words used to describe how women are to adorn themselves:

  • "Modest" (komios) refers to things that are orderly, showing good behavior, or respectable.
  • "Propriety" (aidos) refers to having a sense of shame, bashfulness, or reverence.
  • "Moderation" (sophrosune) refers to sobriety, having good sense, a soundness of mind, and a display of self-restraint.

Most of us use this passage to argue against clothing that reveals too much flesh and it is a good verse to use. The word aidos hits at the core of the problem of clothing designed to be sensual. Neither male nor female Christians should be dressed in provocative ways to arouse the passions of those seeing them. "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24).

However, Paul wasn't focused solely on lewd attire. He illustrated his point by mentioning braided hair, expensive jewelry, and costly clothing. A person putting his wealth on display is not showing self-restraint but an attitude that says,"Look at me! I'm rich!" Peter explained, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward -- arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel -- rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (I Peter 3:3-4). People ought to notice the Christian because of who she is and not because of what she is wearing. It explains how Sarah, a woman who between the ages of 60 and 90, was sought after by two different kings (I Peter 3:5-6). Such a display of pride is not proper for a Christian. "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."" (I Peter 5:5). This attitude of sober-mindedness is what each godly woman strives to instill in her children (I Timothy 2:15).

Yet, we still haven't touched on the concept of orderliness. Society has rules of conduct governing correct behavior; these informal rules include ideas as to what is respectable clothing. Christians are expected to operate within the bounds of society's expectations as our behavior influences how society perceives God. Paul told the Thessalonians to "warn those who are unruly" (I Thessalonians 5:14). "Unruly" comes from a Greek word typically used to describe an army is in disarray or soldiers who are insubordinate (that is, not following commands). Christians are not to be seen as rebels flaunting those in authority. Children are to be obedient to their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3; I Timothy 3:4). Wives are to be submissive to their husbands (Titus 2:5). Slaves are in subjection to their masters (Titus 2:9-10). Christians obey their government's laws (I Peter 2:13-16). Rebellion is a sin of pride and stubbornness.

When a person chooses to dress rebelliously, he leaves the impression that he will refuse to listen to rules. He will walk his own way and he doesn't care what anyone thinks. Is such a display of Christian meekness, submission, and humbleness?

"I'm still the same person inside!"

And such causes me concern. The old cliche is that you can't judge a book by its cover, but what a person chooses to wear does reflect his inward thoughts. Our thoughts govern our actions. "So Jesus said, "Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man"" (Matthew 15:16-20). External things do not influence the heart, but the heart does influence what is done externally. The boy told me, "I wouldn't be caught dead wearing what you are wearing." What is it about dress slacks and a dress shirt that makes it unbecoming to this young man? I don't think it is the material or the cut, but what it represents in his eyes. My attire does not express the rebellion that he feels inside.

There is a parable found in Matthew of which we should take note. A king called a wedding feast and had trouble getting people to come. Eventually, he invited the common and poor folk to attend. "But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:11-14). Why was the king upset? Is it not that the clothes the man chose to wear a reflection of his heart? This is why the man was speechless. He had no reason and his choice of clothing was speaking his thoughts loud and clear. He wasn't there to celebrate a wedding.

"You're just a bunch of hypocrites!"

But the argument that he is still the same person is a statement that his clothing doesn't reflect his inner thoughts. He was contradicting himself and those contradictions made his arguments difficult.

A hypocrite is a person putting on an act. His outward actions and statements do not reflect what he is truly thinking. Isn't it interesting that he claims people shouldn't judge him by his appearance because he is still the same person, but we are the hypocrites? Who is it that claims it is just an act?

Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing something else. "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me" (Mark 7:6). When a person lays claim to Christ but dresses rebelliously, is it not hypocrisy? Remember again Peter's words, "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."" (I Peter 5:5). If a person is submissive in his heart, it will be reflected in his choice of clothing and in other things that he does.

"You have no right to judge me!"

Is the statement itself not an act of judgment? I cannot judge his clothing to be inappropriate, but he can judge me. Paul warned the Jews to be careful in making judgments about the Gentiles. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things" (Romans 2:1). By passing judgment, a person has acknowledged that judgments can be made. If they can be made against another, they can be made against one's self. If we lay claim that certain things are right or wrong, then our own actions can be judged as right or wrong. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). Truly one should tread carefully before condemning because it will come back to haunt you.

Matters of clothing can be judged. When arguing about covering the head, Paul said, "Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?" (I Corinthians 11:13). Both Paul and Peter recorded commandments concerning the choice of clothing. Do we ignore those of us who chose not to obey those commands? Perhaps if this young man knew his Bible, he would have countered with, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). Judgments are serious matters. We cannot just skim the surface; we must examine in depth. If a person showed up to services in grubby attire, do you know the reason? In upstate New York, I knew several dairy farmers who faithfully made it to services, but there were times that they smelt of manure because cows can't tell time. Perhaps the fellow had stopped to aid a person with a broken down car on the way to services and there was no time to run home for a change of clothes. Or perhaps what they are wearing is the best that they can afford (James 2:1-13).

In this young man's case, it was not a surface judgment. He had been a member for several years. He was warned repeatedly that his clothing choices were not becoming of a Christian, and yet he continued to choose more and more outlandish attire until this day that the Bible class teacher said it was too much. The church does have the right to judge. It is required to be "the pillar and ground of the truth" (II Timothy 3:15). I, as a preacher, had the right to tell him he was in the wrong. "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15).

I pray that he will one day come to his senses (II Timothy 2:24-26). Please pray for him as well.

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