"Clothes Make the Man"

Jady W. Copeland
Sepulveda, California

The time-worn expression which serves as a caption for this article contains a good thought, but all would probably agree that it may be a bit extreme. However our subject is important for a number of reasons: first, because it is a Bible subject, and second because it is so relevant to our times. When I pick up my daughter at the school building, I can see most every kind of clothing (and lack of it) one can imagine. It seems that among the youth of our land, the "sloppier" one can dress the more in style he is.

Peter says, "Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of braiding 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 Peter 3:3-4) Note that this lies in context of subjection of wives to their husbands. Then he says, "Whose adorning let it not be . . . ... "Adorn" means to put in order, to arrange properly. It is not to be outward adorning, but it is to be the putting on of a meek and quiet spirit. A Hebrewism is used here, telling us that emphasis is placed on the meek and quiet spirit. He is not absolutely forbidding wearing of any gold or braiding the hair. He is saying the Christian woman should adorn and beautify herself with godliness, meekness, quietness and obedience to her husband and to God.

But do you notice a connection between clothing and the entire person? The woman was forbidden to put on, or adorn herself in gaudy, extreme outward clothing. A Christian should be "seen," not for his outward appearance but for his life, attitude, character and service to God and man. Hence the Godly life is emphasized by Peter, but outward appearance reflects this life, and definitely relates to it. One of the best men I ever knew said that he dressed so that no one would be attracted to his clothes, but he wanted his hearers to be impressed by what he preached, not the way he was dressed. Hence he neither dressed in overalls nor did he wear diamonds and gaudy suits and clothing. I believe he was right. Christians should not be shabby, but neither should they put too much emphasis on the outward man with expensive clothes or other material possessions that detract from their pure, godly life. Among other things, this is an over-emphasis on the material rather than the spiritual.

Leighton said, "Great is he who enjoys his earthenware as if it were plate, and not less great is the man to whom all his plate is no more than earthenware." While some are fortunate enough to have more than others, their attitude should be that it is a blessing from God and used accordingly. All our possessions must be used to His glory and the building of His kingdom.

In our time three points need to be made relative to the clothing of a Christian.

Clothing Must Not Contribute To Lust in Others

Some maintain that there is a place for every type of clothing. Bathing suits are appropriate for the beach; work clothes are best for work, and dress clothes are right for other occasions. So is the reasoning. Again there is some logic to such reasoning, but that too can be carried to an extreme. Would this permit nudity in a nudist camp? Would this prove nudist camps proper and Christ-like? No Christian would agree. Yet that is the logical conclusion to that argument. Jesus said, ". . . that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:29). David looked on Bathsheba and later committed adultery with her. I would not maintain it was her fault that David looked, but I would ask the question: Is it right for a woman to deliberately or carelessly place herself before men in a way that might cause them to lust? Do you think a woman who is a Christian would do such? Would it not be the part of wisdom to dress appropriately in public so that the man would not lust but rather that he would be impressed by the fact that she looks like a Christian? This is not to excuse the filthy minded male, but it is to plead with the woman to dress in such a way as to always be on the safe side.

Occasions Dictate Proper Clothes

Police, astronauts, coal miners, nurses and firemen serve as good examples of proper clothes for the occasion. I believe that our text and 1 Tim. 2:9-10 demand that Christians dress "for the occasion" and that occasion is not a specific event, but a life of godliness and service. Paul says, "which becometh women professing godliness." Christians have no business coming to worship in "play" clothes. Pantsuits, extreme styles, sports-wear and the like, I believe, are out of place in the public worship service. Do we want to attract people to our outward man? Should we not dress for the occasion? Surely the Lord deserves our best, and our dress should reflect the inner beauty of the life, which we profess.

Clothing May Be Symbolic

Sometimes Christians make mistakes by wearing clothes that say something. Symbols say something. They tell something in signs just as words relate ideas. What do you think of when you see a swastika? Just so, when you see boys in very long hair, or certain types of clothing it is a sign or symbol of rebellion against society, authority and the establishment. Yet Christians are commanded to respect all three (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). If any had a right to protest the government, Paul would have had the right. He did not do it. Christians cannot dress so as to advocate rebellion against what God has ordained.

Yes, custom plays a part in our dress, but custom can dictate too much. It can dictate unscriptural principles.

September 20, 1973