We live in days when the tide of worldliness is rapidly rising amongst professing Christians. One evidence of this is how we dress––both in our every–day lives, and when assembled with God’s people. It is not that there is any desire to see the saints adopting a certain costume or livery to distinguish them from the world––but our dress ought to be in keeping with our high calling! When the Lord Jesus set on the principles of the kingdom, He exhorted His listeners to “Be not therefore careful, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we put on? for all these things the nations seek after; for your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6: 31–33). Sadly, many of God’s people are clearly very “careful” as to many of these things. ‘What shall we eat?’ they say. And so we find some who are more occupied with their calorific intake than their spiritual food, others who are fanatical zealots in the cause of minerals and additives, and even some who strive to marry Christianity with vegetarianism (despite 1 Tim. 4: 3–4). Many sincere Christians appear to be more missionary–minded in regard to these distractions than even to the cause of Christ itself. The question of ‘What shall we drink?’ is little different––some have a wider range of drinks available in their cabinets than they have Christian authors on their bookshelves! Of course we need to eat and we need to drink––but excessive care about these things is wrong. The same applies to our clothing. Many otherwise earnest believers are very careful about what they “put on”, and this care needs to be exposed for what it really is––an unbridled and worldly desire to be ‘fashionable’. It may be said that Matt. 6: 31–33 is not referring to the Church, and that is true, but the moral principles that underlie the kingdom underlie the Church as well. As someone once said, ‘A good kingdom–man makes a good Church–man’. Thus we feel entitled to press this Scripture upon our readers.
Now the Jewish nation to whom the Lord was speaking in Matthew 6 were to be separate and different from “the nations” (v 32) around. In a similar way, we are to be separate and different from the world around (James 1: 27; 2 Pet. 1: 4; 1 John 2: 15)––to follow different interests and to be seeking different things––and this will be manifested in our attitude to our clothing. Worldly persons, provided they have the opportunity, dress according to the message they wish to convey to others. It may be a logo on a sweater, it might be top hat and tails, or it could be a revealing dress. The Christian, dresses according to different principles––he seeks to please his Master.
Take the simple matter of a sister’s head–covering. Now the Bible is quite explicit about the need for sisters in Christ to wear upon the heads a covering (1 Cor. 11: 10), for which something plain and simple is amply sufficient. Certainly, it was never intended to be an ornament. Sadly, the fancy head–gear of some only demonstrates that following Scripture is not at the forefront of their thoughts, but following fashion. A head–covering it may be, but first and foremost it is a fashion item! By what is this fashion governed? The very world which crucified Christ! It may be said, ‘If people have Christ in their hearts, it does not matter what they have on their heads’. I reply, ‘ If people really have Christ in their hearts, it will regulate what they put on their heads, and will exert a hallowed, separating and subduing influence over their whole person, deportment and character’.
A lesson of Scripture may help us here. John the Baptist was the herald of The Messiah, and was eulogised by the Lord Himself with these words: “there is not arisen among [the] born of women a greater than John the baptist” (Matt. 11: 11). Having such an important position and mission, it might have been felt that he should have gone forth in fine and important raiment. Instead, what do we read? “And John himself had his garment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his nourishment was locusts and wild honey” (Matt. 3: 4). His eye was not on the mere political or material, but on the moral and spiritual, and this governed his food, his clothes and where he lived. And so with us. We are not to be mere reflections of the world in which we live, but marked out as those who have knowledge of the things that are eternal.
So Peter writes thus in relation to the wives: “whose adorning let it not be that outward one of tressing of hair, and wearing gold, or putting on apparel; but the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible [ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price” (1 Pet. 3: 3, 4). If this Scripture were properly observed, we would not have to mourn over the painful exhibition of dress amongst professing Christians of the present day. Plainly many spend a great deal of money, time and thought on their appearance––but we wonder whether they spend anywhere near as much on the “hidden man of the heart”. Of course we should not like to see them slovenly in their appearance––far from it––but the Bible does exhort the women to “in decent deportment and dress adorn themselves with modesty and discretion” (1 Tim. 2: 9). Decent and discrete––not shameless or showy. We are often deeply grieved by the style of dress, and the light, airy fashionable appearance of those gathered for the purpose of showing forth the Lord’s death––so unlike one would expect to find on persons who profess to be dead to the world. Is it right to be seeking to draw attention to ourselves, where He should be the one and only focus? Modesty should be the over–riding concern in such a hallowed sphere. Christian men might think this is of little application to them but clearly the way their wives and daughters dress can only reflect the condition of the household and its head. The father who goes in for “youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2: 22)––less obvious perhaps, but still of the world––may very well have daughters dressing in a way that the Holy Spirit would not describe as “modest” or “discrete”.
Again, those who make a profession of the fear of God are not marked by “plaited [hair] and gold, or pearls, or costly clothing” (1 Tim. 2: 9). What of this “costly clothing”? Does the conscience smart when this verse comes before the eye? Sadly some affluent assemblies, in all other ways professing to follow Scripture to the letter, overlook this passage. An expensive hat, for example, sends out a very contradictory message––conforming to one Scripture while defying another. Again, is it really right for the gatherings of God’s people to resemble some kind of high society event, with brothers and sisters in expensive outfits arriving in expensive cars? Would poorer brethren ––or unbelievers––feel comfortable in such surroundings? The Lord’s first missionaries had, it seems, rather limited wardrobes (Matt. 10: 10). We also read of those who “went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, evil treated, (of whom the world was not worthy)” (Heb. 11: 37, 38). Again, Paul knew what it was to be “in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11: 27), and to feel the need of asking Timothy to bring his cloak (he probably had only the one) which he had left behind at Troas (2 Tim. 4: 13). We might not wear gold and pearls these days so much, but it is undeniable that many a Christian knows something about “costly clothing”––both men and women. Brethren, these are searching words, and many of us are tested by them––but they were penned by the Holy Spirit for our instruction!