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Does It Really Matter? (5)

Does it really matter how we dress? The writer of Psalm 104 said, "0 LORD my God, Thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment" (Psa. 104:1,2). Is One who is so great in honour, majesty and purity really interested in how His creatures on earth dress? Is not the attitude of the divine Being emphasized in the words of the Lord to His servant Samuel, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7)? It is conceded without hesitation that what a man is in his inner being is vastly more important than what a man has. The state of the inward man is of greater significance than the quality and character of the clothes which a man puts on his body. May we, therefore, dress whatever way we choose, according to our whims and fancies or in agreement with current fashions however extreme these may be? Is God indifferent in this matter?

To this last question Scripture supplies a definite No! The law which God gave to His people Israel contained many clauses covering human rights. It contained also many regulations to secure among His people conduct and behaviour which would be in agreement with His character. Some of these regulations had to do with how people dressed. We find the prohibition, "A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment" (Deut. 22:5). It would seem from this veto that the Lord was insisting on the maintenance of the distinction which, by divine ordainment, existed between man and woman. In divine purpose man had his place and function and woman had her place and function. The distinction was to be apparent in how males and females dressed. There was to be no deception, and, in particular, no deception that might lead to irregular practices.

In teaching which the Lord gave to His disciples He mentioned that the Gentiles took a special interest in what they put into and put on their bodies. Food and clothing meant much to them. For the instruction of His disciples the Lord indicated true priorities, and He pointed out that the body was more important than its raiment. The body may be used as an instrument in the service of God and used to His glory. The clothing on the body does not add anything to the value of that service. Writing to the Corinthians Paul said, "Know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19,20). By right of both creation and redemption the Lord owns our bodies. How foolish it is for a child of God to say, or so to act as to claim that his body is his own and he can do what he likes with it.

When addressing part of his epistle to wives, and with a special reference to wives of unbelieving husbands, the apostle Peter was moved by the Spirit of God to write concerning the women, "Beholding your chaste behaviour coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in the incorruptible apparel of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet. 3:24). In similar strain Paul was led to write, "In like manner, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefastness and sobriety; not with braided hair, and gold or pearls or costly raiment; but (which becometh women professing godliness) through good works" (1 Tim. 2:9). So it does matter how we dress. It is acknowledged that the exhortations about clothing are given to sisters and the reasons for this are self-evident. We observe the desirable qualities indicated - chastity, meekness, modesty, shamefastness, sobriety. Such graces characterize the true woman of God and they impart an attractiveness which is far superior to that which is attempted by gaudy, ostentatious external adornment.

In 1 Cor. 11 Paul draws attention to an important specific matter related to how we should dress. He is dealing with the public gathering together of brethren and sisters in church capacity for collective activity, and he teaches very clearly that on such occasions the women should wear a head covering additional to the natural covering supplied by their hair. Here again we see a visible indication of the significance of the distinction between the man and the woman. God ordained that the man was to be the head of the woman, just as Christ is the Head of the man. The woman's recognition of subordination was symbolized by her putting on her head a material covering. Subjection is a part of the meaning of meekness, and the person of a meek and quiet spirit will readily be subject to what God has ordained. We may add that subjection does not imply inferiority of character and ability.

The basic principles of dress decorum which, for obvious reasons, have a special application to sisters should be recognized also by brethren. It does really matter how they dress and particularly, of course, in public meetings of the churches of God. There is today a deterioration in standards generally in the world and this is evident in the matter of dress. Scruffiness, glaring untidiness and shabbiness seem to be both the desirable and the acceptable. In some areas of human activity there is still insistence on appropriate dress standards. But difficulty in maintaining these is being encountered. Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to show discipline of mind and attitude in relation to current trends lest they are caught in the general slump and bring reproach to the Testimony of the Lord.

We revert to what we said at the commencement of this article. Clothes are, after all, but the external coverings. A person may dress in sackcloth but have a heart which is rotten with pride, envy and every corrupting sin. There is no virtue in a disciple being drab and unkempt in appearance, and indeed shabbiness in dress that is but an attempt to parade hypocritical humility and modesty can bring great reproach to Christian testimony. A wise teacher once said that disciples of the Lord should not try to be the first into a new fashion nor should they be the last out of an old fashion. It is reasonable to contend that today children of God like all other people are largely governed in their purchases by what is offered by suppliers, and suppliers are not greatly influenced by the scruples that affect disciples of the Lord. But it does really matter how we dress, especially in public assemblings of God's people, and wisdom is profitable to direct.