Clothes Make The Man
By bro Alvin Lin
The title of this article is inspired by a quote from Mark Twain, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” This thought originated earlier from William Shakespeare though, in his work, Hamlet, with the saying, “The apparel oft proclaims the man.” We know from experience that dressing is deemed as a sign of respect to others (none of us would dress in T-shirt and berms for a wedding), and those who dress well are accorded more attention and respect (none of us would dress in spaghetti top and miniskirt for a formal client meeting). In fact, clothing is so essential to us that the global fashion industry is valued at $1.7 trillion as of 2022. While we are concerned about our dressing for work, for leisure, and for some maybe even sleep, shouldn’t we be concerned about our dressing for worship too? In this article, let us consider some reasons offered for dressing down for worship, and examine some Biblical principles that pertain to our dressing in coming before God.
Does our dressing matter to God?
If the answer to this question is no, then that is the end of the discussion because if God does not care about dressing, why then should we care? This would also mean that elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, servers, and members alike can dress in whatever way they like because God is no respecter of persons (Rom 2:11), and neither should we be (Jas 2:9). Those who do not think that dressing matters to God would argue that God looks at the heart and not at the appearance (1Sa 16:7).
While it is true that the inward is more important than the outward to God (Mat 15:8-9), it does not mean that the external is not important to Him (Mat 23:23), because a person’s heart is known by his actions (Mat 7:20). The same David that God chose based on his inward heart and not his outward appearance certainly did not think that the external is not important. When his son that was born out of adultery with Bathsheba died, he went to the house of the Lord to worship, but not before washing and anointing himself and changing his apparel (2Sa 12:20). When he was preparing the materials for the building of the temple by his son Solomon, he prepared the best (1Ch 29:2), so that the temple would be exceedingly magnificent (1Ch 22:5). He did not give the excuse that the heart is all that matters, so he could worship God in an unkempt state, or that a simple temple would do since the external is not important. Instead, he demonstrated why he is a man after God’s own heart in giving of his best.
Returning to the discussion on attire, we do see that dressing matters to God. Under the Old Law, the priests had to be attired in holy garments that are made “for glory and for beauty” when serving God in the tabernacle (Exo 28:2), otherwise they would sin and die (Exo 28:43). Under the New Law, Christians are priests (1Pe 2:5,9) serving God in His tabernacle, His church (Rev 21:3). Surely our dressing ought to befit our status as God’s priests coming to worship and serve the Almighty on the Lord’s Day!
Does God have any expectations of our dressing?
Hopefully, by now you would recognize that our dressing matters to God. The next logical question then is, has God set any standards for our dressing? Again, if God has not set any standards, then neither should we. This would also mean that we could come for worship in sleepwear (so convenient!), beachwear (so comfortable!), or formal wear (so troublesome!). Those who do not think that God has expectations of our dressing would argue that there is no verse in the Bible that states explicitly how we ought to be dressed, so we should not bind where God has not bound (1Co 4:6).
While it is true that there is no verse that states, “thou shalt not wear tight tops and short skirts in worship”, or “thou shalt wear shirt, pants, and tie in serving”, it does not mean that anything goes. The Bible also does not specify the exact amount we ought to give in our offering to God, so does that mean that one can give as little as possible, which would probably make some very cheerful givers (2Co 9:7)? Of course not, since our giving is a proof of the sincerity of our love (2Co 8:8), and it ought to be proportional to how much God has prospered us (1Co 16:2). God expects us to exercise our judgment on what is acceptable giving (for those who like to have benchmark figures, I would suggest not less than 10% based on the Jewish tithe, since we are living under a better covenant, but that’s a discussion for another article).
Similarly, when it comes to our attire for worship, God expects us to exercise our judgment of what acceptable dressing is based on the guidelines He has given us. Appropriate dressing is not just a problem that is peculiar to our times, but even in the time of the first century church, the only difference being that while Christians today tend to be underdressed, the first century saints tend to be overdressed (1Pe 3:3). In writing to Timothy, Paul admonished the women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (1Ti 2:9). Let us consider the 3 terms in this verse that pertain to dressing. According to Thayer, “modest” (from the Greek word kosmios) means “well arranged, seemly, modest”; “shamefacedness” (from the Greek word aidōs) means “a sense of shame or honour, modesty, bashfulness, reverence, regard for others, respect”; “sobriety” (from the Greek word sōphrosune) means “soundness of mind”. Simply put, “modest” implies that we should not be overdressed such that it draws attention to ourselves, “shamefacedness” implies that we should not be underdressed such that it brings shame to ourselves, and “sobriety” implies that we should be appropriately dressed such that it is fitting for the occasion. Surely our dressing ought to reflect the dignity of worship and not cause distraction to others!
Does our dressing glorify God?
Even if dressing does not matter to God (though it does) and He has not set any standards for our dressing (but He has), another key consideration that we ought to keep in mind when coming before God to worship Him is whether what we do bring glory to Him, including our dressing (1Co 10:31). Those who dress down for worship are in fact placing their own comfort and preferences above the honour and glory of our awe-inspiring God, the object of our worship (much as they hate to admit it).
Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against being comfortable or exercising personal liberty. My wife would attest that my choice attire is polo-Tee and berms, and I would wear them when going out with friends, for fellowship activities, and for dates (although she will sometimes convince me to dress better after much nagging).
However, when it comes to worship, I have always been wearing a shirt and a pair of pants since I became a Christian. My parents taught me that dressing well for worship is a form of respect for myself, for others, and for God. Dressing well conditions me to be on my best behaviour in worship (especially during my younger naughtier days), it signals to others that worship is a serious affair (won’t it be embarrassing if visitors are better dressed than Christians?), and it shows my reverence for God in giving of my best (isn’t it insulting if we are better dressed when meeting clients than when worshipping God?). In fact, our dressing must befit women (and by extension men) [“professing godliness” (1Ti 2:10)]. Surely, we would not want our neighbours to mistake us going to the market or the beach when in fact we are going for worship!
Brethren, we often speak of the need to give of our best to God (Col 3:23), so shouldn’t this extend to our dressing too, especially since it matters to Him, and He has given us His standard, and it is an opportunity for us to glorify Him? While we condemn denominations for putting their desires and inclinations above God’s in corrupting His truth (Rev 22:18-19), have we been guilty of putting our comfort and preferences over His in being half-hearted in spirit (Mal 1:12-13)? Let us seek “the things which are Jesus Christ's” (Php 2:21), and “approve things that are excellent” (Php 1:10).