Outward Appearance – Part 3

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Side Two of the Coin (cont’d.)

“God is concerned about what I look like. He is interested in every detail of my life.”

OUR TESTIMONY BEFORE THE WORLD

I Samuel 16:7 informs us that man DOES LOOK at our outward appearance. As they look, our outward appearance sends a message to them. Clothing makes a statement. And you don’t need to have words written on the front of your shirt… clothing speaks without a written message. This is a good reason why we SHOULD be concerned about the outside of the cup. We are commanded to “walk in wisdom toward them that are without” (Col. 4:6a).

Like it or not, our outward appearance, including the way we dress – projects an image, especially in our American culture. In 21st century America we are especially image driven. Of course this is extremely shallow, superficial, and often phony. Movie stars, politicians, and companies hire people to create or re-create their image… an image that often has nothing to do with reality. Sometimes after a moral fall or failure, they hire someone to restore their image. They hire a public relations firm to capture just the right “image” of them (kissing babies etc.) to send out to the media. And it’s not just America… it is becoming more and more commonplace worldwide.

Modern technology and the media have made “image” bigger than life to us today… and clothing and hair styles are part of that image. Like it or not, this is the atmosphere or climate in which we live. It is a reality of modern life we all have to deal with, and from which there is no escape apart from becoming a hermit. Selling the right image is a multibillion dollar industry. People are willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money to buy a pair of dungarees for just the “right look.” Others go into debt to buy a Mercedes Benz to project an image of success. Others dress to look like a business professional; some try to look “cool”; others like an Amish farmer.

Dressing for the purpose of projecting an image CAN be vain, hypocritical, self centered, or worldly. Those are clearly wrong motives. BUT dressing to project an image CAN also be done with good motives. The military makes their soldiers dress to project an image of discipline and care for every detail. Restaurants and hospitals want their employees to look scrubbed and clean; etc. There is a good PURPOSE behind those images.

Our outward appearance (the way we talk, the things we DO, right down to the clothing that we chose to wear) projects an image and sends a message whether we intend to do so or not; whether we are conscious of it, or oblivious to it. Consider Paul’s words in II Cor. 3:2-3: “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” Men do observe our outward appearance. Our image is known and read of men. The believer’s life is like an open letter. Men in the world observe us… they READ us. Of course this includes primarily our behavior, our words, and our works. But they are also observing and reading our outward appearance. Like it or not, our image, our outward appearance sends a message to men which is read by them. Christians are called here epistles of Christ. What men can SEE from our lives is like an open letter. This letter is “manifestly declared” (publicly displayed). The content of this letter was ministered to the Corinthians by Paul and the apostles. (They brought the life transforming gospel to them). The content of this open letter was not written with ink (not a T-shirt with a Bible verse). The content was written by the Holy Spirit who wrote not on tablets of stone (law) but in their hearts. The gospel CHANGED these men and they were now saved. And though regeneration cannot be SEEN (the wind bloweth where it listeth but you cannot tell wither it goeth…), you CAN SEE the effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in a life. The work God does on the INSIDE of the cup will be visibly manifested on the outside of the cup. It will make changes that others can SEE… that men will observe and READ… for men do look on the outward appearance.

The outward appearance of a formerly vain, flashy person (who dressed to draw attention to self) will be gradually MUTED and subdued by the work of the Holy Spirit. The outward appearance of a formerly lewd and immodest person will also be changed by the inward work of regeneration… from immodest to modest. When the inside of the cup is transformed, it will always be SEEN and READ by men on the outside. That change will always include a change of behavior, motives, and attitudes of the heart. The change may or may not include a change of apparel. But where it’s needed, the change will occur if that believer is yielded to the Spirit of God…

The change occurs for TWO reasons: (1) The person himself changes, from the inside out. (2) The believer realizes that men are observing him and associating his life with Christ. Remember that Paul says that the Christian is an epistle OF CHRIST. We become ambassadors for Christ. We bear His name. (Christian – Christ one) We are sons of God; men associate us with God and with Christ. We carry the family name. Men may never read a Bible, but they ARE reading us… and forming opinions about Christ by what they see in our OUTWARD appearances… the changes they see.

Clothing DOES send a message.

“And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart” (Prov. 7:10). Solomon reveals here that there is such a thing as the attire of a harlot.  We mentioned earlier of a recent radio program which described the new style of clothing of high school girls were wearing as the “hooker look.”  Clothing with a message is mentioned in Genesis 38:14-15. Tamar was wearing widow’sgarments which obviously identified her as a widow. She took off her widow’s garments and dressed in the attire of a harlot so that when Judah SAW her outward appearance, he assumed she was an harlot. Various specific types of clothing are mentioned in the Bible. Josh.7:21 speaks of a Babylonian garment. When worn it identified as a person as a Babylonian. II Kings 25:29 speaks of prison garments which would identify a person as a prisoner. Other passages speak of garments of mourning (Ps. 69:11) or a wedding garment (Matt. 22:12). Often we read of priestly garments. Clothing can IDENTIFY a person, almost like a label on a can.  It says, “I’m one of them.”

As a Christian we should therefore be CONCERNED about the message our outward appearance (including clothing) sends. As an ambassador for Christ, we should be extra careful about the image we project and the message we send to others.  That’s why missionaries need to be in tune with the particular culture where they are ministering in order to project the PROPER image and send the CORRECT message. Our concern should be more about the message sent than the actual article of clothing. For example, the same piece of clothing may send a very different message in a different culture or time period. The white dress speaks to us of a wedding, but in other cultures it might speak of a funeral.

Great CARE needs to be shown in the way people INTERPRET what they see.  In I Cor. 9:20 Paul wrote, “Unto the Jew I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews.”  He followed that principle wherever he went. He knew that men were watching and were reading him wherever he went. Hence, Paul was careful about the way people in various places interpreted his words, his behavior, and his outward appearance. Since men do look at our outward appearance, it behooves us to be careful and sacrificial for the gospel’s sake. We want to GAIN men for Christ, not turn them away.

Consider some of the MESSAGES clothing can send.

If I projected a picture of a fireman he would instantly be identified as such – by his clothing. The same would be true of a nurse, a soldier, a surfer, a skier, an Eskimo, a Muslim, Catholic priest, a Hindu, a king, a gang member, a businessman, a prisoner, etc. The instant you saw the picture, you would make the connection. It’s automatic. We have assigned meaning to all of those different outfits. The clothing of a harlot instantly identifies a woman as a harlot. That is to be avoided at all cost. What an awful message to send!

While we have liberty to choose from an almost infinite variety of clothing – there are some pictures and images that we should AVOID if we belong to Christ. The message of our outward appearance should NOT say sexy, slob, radical, flashy, or rebel. It SHOULD say clean-cut, neat and orderly, wholesome, modest, respectable. It is up to us to choose clothing that sends out a message that is consistent with the gospel message we proclaim.  Men are reading us like an open book. They are making mental notes and are associating us with Christ. Therefore, it is our responsibility to represent Him properly… and that includes the way we look.

I Pet. 1:16 says, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” We should dress in a manner that is consistent with our position in Christ: a saint, a holy one, separated from the world UNTO Christ, as His representative. Our lives should accurately reflect our Savior.  We are not talking about cookie cutter Christian uniforms. There is no such thing as Christian clothing. We are to dress in accordance with the culture in which we live BUT we are not to be conformed to the world. That means that we are to choose those articles of clothing that send out the right message in our culture.

Body language and deportment speak louder than apparel. For example, in Afghanistan, men hold hands. Men also greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. The American soldiers had to be warned not to assume that it means the same thing in Afghanistan that it means in Provincetown or San Francisco. That which is acceptable in one culture may send a very wrong message in another culture. The Christian ought to be concerned about the message sent rather than the particular practice or article of clothing. For the same reason, a young Christian woman needs to be careful not only about the clothing she wears, but also how she carries herself, how she walks or wiggles. All that can send a message she may NOT want to send.

Isaiah spoke (Isa. 3:16-20) of the high society women of Jerusalem who walked in a proud and flirty manner. The way they walked and the things they wore indicated a “haughtiness” that God hated. The problem was NOT the jewelry (which would probably seem quite gaudy from our perspective), but the MESSAGE they were sending. We don’t even know what some of the articles listed were, but they had a MEANING then and there. It was an expression of inner pride and a flirtatious spirit. That’s what God hated.

We should be concerned about what men READ when they observe us. They are observing and taking mental notes… but what are they writing down in those mental notes? Slob? Sexy? Rebel? Or neat, clean cut, modest? Clothing with writing on it is popular nowadays. But our clothing doesn’t need anything written on it to send forth a message.

In Matthew 5:16 the Lord told His disciples to let their light so SHINE BEFORE MEN so that God would be glorified through what they SEE.  It is primarily our WORKS that they are observing, but note that men ARE observing. And they are judging us on what they SEE… our works – and the whole package. God is either glorified or disgraced in their thinking by what they see. We should behave and even DRESS in such a way as to never detract from the glory of God in the minds of men.  Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do ALL for the glory of God. Our TESTIMONY before men (before the world) is connected to what men SEE in our lives. Men LOOK at our outward appearance. Men are reading us like an open letter. We are ambassadors for Christ. We bear His name and represent Him before the world. Knowing all this, we should be concerned about the message our outward appearance sends forth.

If the Holy Spirit is transforming the inside of the cup, and the indwelling presence of Christ has gripped our hearts, then we should be willing to make any changes on the outside of the cup that HINDER us from shining forth for the glory of God. Those changes might include almost anything from a haircut, to letting down a hem, to throwing away some clothes and replacing them with some new ones.

In fact a change of apparel is the illustration God uses to describe the needed change in our new lives as believers. There are some articles of clothing that were fitting for the old man, that are not fitting for the new man (Col. 3:7-14). Of course Paul is using the literal, physical change of clothing to as a figure of speech to teach a more important truth – a change of behavior. But that outward change MAY require a literal change of apparel.

To be genuine, the change ought to come from within… from God working in us. It ought to arise from a desire to manifest Christ and His resurrection life in our mortal bodies. If our outward appearance sends forth a message that is inconsistent with our inward new life in Christ, then some outward changes need to be made. The Bible doesn’t tell us WHAT to wear, but it does tell us to be led of the Spirit. If something in your wardrobe is inappropriate, then the Holy Spirit is quite able to make that known to us… if we are willing, sensitive, and yielded. When the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts, THEN we are responsible to respond in faith and obedience. That is transformation into the image of Christ. Are we WILLING to change in order to bring glory to God?

ASSOCIATION

Now let’s consider the problem of association with evil. Men read us like a book. Men look on our outward appearance and they make judgments about us on that basis. And since we are ambassadors for Christ, they are going to make a connection between our outward appearance and the Lord we represent. They associate a Christian with Christ. They will also connect us with whatever our outward appearance associates us with. For example, if they know John is a Christian and they see John in a policeman’s uniform, men will assume he is a Christian policeman. If they know that Mary is a Christian and a member of a Christian Church, and see Mary in the apparel of a harlot, they are receiving a very mixed message… a confusing message. In doing so, Mary is associating Christianity with immorality.

I Cor. 6:18-20 – “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Our bodies belong to Christ. We are responsible to glorify Him in our body and in our spirits. Paul makes it clear in this passage that Christians do NOT have the freedom to do with their bodies as they please. Our body is the Temple of God; it is a sacred temple, a holy Temple and Christ LIVES in us. The Holy Spirit has made our body His dwelling place too. Hence, while the heart is MOST important, our bodies are important too. We don’t have the liberty to do whatever we want to our bodies because they don’t belong to us and because Christ lives in our bodies.

Hence, our bodies are to be kept PURE and separate from ANYTHING that would dishonor God. Whatever we do in our body, we are automatically linking that activity to Christ, for we are a member of His Body. Wearing the clothes of an harlot or a gang member links that image to Christ in the minds of observers. Please do not discount this principle as unimportant. People DO make associations like that.

Let’s think it through. Would you wear a T-shirt with a picture of Osama Bib Laden? Charles Manson? How about a T-shirt that said KKK on the front? How about a black leather jacket that said Hell’s Angels? Why not? Because that would associate you, and thus the Christ you represent, with the image portrayed on your shirt. Our body is the Temple of God. Would you put a picture of Charles Manson on God’s Temple? Or would you hang a picture of Buddha in the church foyer? We wouldn’t want those images hanging as clothing on the temples of our bodies either. Of course there is nothing wrong with T-shirts or leather jackets or even the letter K. But there IS something wrong with what the images & messages they represent; and a believer has no right associating those things with the name of Christ.

Those images are obviously associated with evil and are easy to identify as something a believer ought to avoid. But there are other images that are more subtle, and might require a little more thought. Clothing today comes with all kinds of signs and symbols, most of which is just decorative and innocuous. But some of those signs and symbols have meanings that a Christian ought to avoid. We should avoid symbols of Eastern religions. Even some brand names leave labels visible to sight that a Christian might not want to have emblazoned on the front of his or her shirt, like the label: Coed Naked. There is clearly a message in those words. Some clothing styles are associated with a lifestyle, such as urban gangs or the gangster style. If your son’s clothing makes him look like he belongs to one of the criminal, rebel gangs, then maybe you should think about some adjustments to his wardrobe.

Are you familiar with the gay pride stripes? The homosexual community has adopted the colors of the rainbow to represent their lifestyle. Of course there is nothing wrong with the colors of the rainbow. God made the rainbow and the colors are beautiful. However, our culture has given a “meaning” to the rainbow stripes that you may not want to avoid on your clothing. Of course you can go overboard on this. But our point is that one should use caution.

A believer should be sensitive to the subtleties of one’s culture… and to the meanings that are associated with symbols and styles. Even something as innocuous as a particular color can associate a person with that which is not desirable. For example, the gangs in Los Angeles have gang colors, and so do their rival gangs. On occasion young people have been killed simply because they had the wrong color shirt on. Those kids weren’t necessarily part of either gang. They innocently wore a shirt whose color associated them with a gang – and the rival gangs beat them to death! The clothing they wore in that borough of LA had meaning to the gang members. I’m sure there are born again Christians who live in some of those sections of town. And yes they have perfect liberty in Christ to wear whatever color they chose.  However, they would be wise to exercise discernment, self restraint, and caution in the clothing they wear… being cognizant of the message their clothing sends out, and how it is interpreted.

The point is that certain colors, styles, and ornaments associate you with a group with which you may not want to be associated. Those colors would be perfectly acceptable in Cleveland, but not in LA… because in LA they have a special meaning and they associate you with a gang – which might not be the case in Cleveland. We could very innocently be associated with something we DON’T want to be associated with  (a rock band; a racist group; a radical political group; a gay lifestyle; etc.) by the things we wear.

People make these associations whether we like it or not. We might think, “I’m going to wear what I want and I don’t care what others think.” Well, we SHOULD care what others think. The Bible warns us that men DO judge us by outward appearance.

I Cor. 10:32 – “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” The clothing we wear CAN project a meaning which is offensive to others. We need to be alert to the way our outward appearance is INTERPRETED by those around us. If God calls you to serve Him as a missionary in China, you are required by Scripture to dress like the Chinese and exert great care NOT to wear anything, say anything, or do anything that might offend them. Of course if a Christian lady wants to dress like the Chinese, she shouldn’t go to a brothel and imitate the way Chinese women dress there! You find out which styles convey a wholesome look to the Chinese mind and dress accordingly!

God expects us to live up to the light and knowledge that we have. If we KNOW that our outward appearance (the way we talk, our mannerisms, the expressions we use, or the clothing we wear) is offensive to others, or conveys a meaning or an image that is NOT consistent with purity, then we ought to be willing to change, even if it is a style we really like. We don’t want to associate Christ with anything evil, immoral, or offensive. We are His ambassadors. Ambassadors must be sensitive to the protocol, etiquette, customs, and sensibilities of their guest nation.

If you are born again, you are an Ambassador. You are a stranger and a pilgrim in a foreign land: earth! This world is not our home… our citizenship is in heaven. Therefore, we need to be alert to the cultural sensibilities of folks in 21st century North America and New Englandin particular. As Christians, the message of the cross is offensive to sinners, but the messenger shouldn’t be. As Christians we should AVOID any kind of association with that which might offend the cultural sensibilities of folks where we are living, lest we send a wrong message. We should also avoid anything that will link us (in their thinking) to anything that is inconsistent with our position as a saint. If it is unbecoming to a saint, we shouldn’t wear it. Why would a young Christian lady who represents Christ want to dress like a harlot? Why would a young Christian man want to dress like a gang member or street thug (what Luke calls “lewd fellows of the baser sort”)? Maybe you like rainbows, but why would you wear something if it associates you with the gay lifestyle? Why would we want to associate Christ with any of that?

In a sense, the clothing we wear is like art. Clothes come in all colors, fabrics, and styles… and the way we put it all together paints a picture.  All we are saying is that as Christians we should be CAREFUL about WHAT picture we paint, for a picture is worth 1000 words. Men are reading those words, and making connections – like it or not! This is just a plea to be discerning, thoughtful, and selfless. Some pictures people paint by their outward appearance convey messages that are inappropriate for an Ambassador of Christ. The outward appearance of a Christian ought to say: pure… wholesome… neat… clean… orderly… upright. A wholesome picture can be painted with almost infinite variations through numberless styles. We are not talking about a cookie cutter image. We have perfect liberty to shop for clothes that we like and clothes that are stylish.  Just be careful about the image you project and the message it sends. I know that wearing the “in” styles means a lot, especially to ladies. But this can become a test of our love and loyalty to Christ. What means more? Wearing a popular outfit, or presenting a clear, unambiguous testimony for Christ?

The Bible tells us that men look at our outward appearance. They read us like an open letter. We are like a Bible to them. They associateChrist with what they read in us. A mature believer will take heed to these things, will meditate upon them, and give serious consideration to even this seemingly insignificant part of the Christian life: the outside of the cup. No detail of life is unimportant to God. God pays attention to detail, and so should we if we want to please Him.

NEXT: Outward Appearance – Part 4: Vanity and Gender

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