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The Theology of Fashion – TableTalk @ Ballymacashon

20/10/2021

Does the Bible have anything to say about how a Christian presents himself or herself to the world?

Is there a THEOLOGY OF FASHION?

In our last TableTalk, we talked aboutAPPEARANCE – and particularly the outward appearance of the Christian.  Does it matter what I look like, what I wear, what way I do my hair etc?  What does my appearance say about me?  Here’s a Scripture text, to start the discussion:-

1 John 2:15-17 “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”  

That statement of Johns, that we are not to love the world, and the things that the world values, – sexual attraction, material possessions and self-esteem, – should help us to lay a foundation for our understanding of our appearance – what our outward appearance says about us to others.   Your clothes speak for you.  When people look at us, do they see people who are conforming to the values of the world, or who have turned away from those lusts and passions? 

Our outward appearance says a lot about us! So, our topic is APPEARANCE – the Theology of Fashion. 

We begin with worship, singing Psalm 51:5-7, which reminds us that God is interested primarily, in the appearance of our inner person, the part of us that only he sees and knows:

5 Behold, I in iniquity
was formed the womb within;
My mother also me conceived
in guiltiness and sin.

6 Behold, thou in the inward parts
with truth delighted art;
And wisdom thou shalt make me know
within the hidden part.

7 Do thou with hyssop sprinkle me,
I shall be cleansed so;
Yea, wash thou me, and then I shall
be whiter than the snow.

Let’s get started then.  I opened the discussion with a monologue setting out some general principles…

Some General Principles About Appearance! Let’s learn some general principles first, then we can look at a couple of case studies – practical examples…

  1. God sees right into our hearts! Let’s remember a familiar story from the OT in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel was given directions by God to go down to the home of Jesse the Bethlehemite and anoint a new King for Israel.  Despite fear of what Saul would do if he found out that Samuel was going to anoint a new king, he set off, intending to offer a sacrifice, and invite Jesse to come and worship, along with his family, of course.  1 Samuel 16:4-5  Samuel looked for a future king among the boys, and at first sight, concluded that it must be Eliab, the first born.  It wasn’t!  V6-7 …for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.  When Samuel had looked at all of Jesse’s sons at the feast, he still had no assurance that one of them was the Lord’s man.  v11-13  It was a lesson for Samuel and for us.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
  2. We see the outward appearance only.   But we only see the outward appearance, and often that is a real challenge. So when we see someone, we don’t know what’s going on inside their minds or in their hearts.  Matthew 7:16-17.  “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. …Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”  – Be careful – false teachers may look outwardly attractive.  That restriction on our view of others must be borne in mind when others tell us that they are Christians.  Matthew 23:27-28, NKJV. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Sometimes people give an outward impression of being Christians, but at heart they are anything but!  This is called hypocrisy.

So, how DO we please God in our appearance? 

We’ve learned that God looks on the heart, – at the inward person – but does that then mean that he is not at all interested in how we dress, how we present ourselves to the ungodly world?  Not so! God is very much interested in our outward appearance. In fact the Apostle, Paul wrote, 1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV. “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  Dressing up as a Christian, outwardly doesn’t make you a Christian, but having new life in Christ will mean you have a new attitude to how you appear to others.  You will want to bring glory, and  honour and praise to God and deflect any admiration away from yourself. So, how do we obey the scriptures and  abstain from the appearance of evil?  Fred put it well, when he advised that when we dress we should dress from the inside out!  Our inward man should be reflected on the outside too! 1 Peter 3:3-4, NKJV. “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  

We know that the people of the world like to dress to impress, to demonstrate their own self confidence and importance, to power-dress perhaps.  While we are not required to dress in rags, or shabbily, or in dowdy grey colours, Peter instructs us that our priority in dressing should be to mirror the inner beauty of Christ within us.

And we should not be overly concerned about impressing others with our appearance either.  You don’t need that expensive wardrobe. Jesus taught his disciples, in Matthew 6:25-29 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? …28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:  29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  There’s much more important things in life than whatever you’re wearing!  We are to be like Christ, and there was nothing to impress the world in his physical appearance.  In fact Isaiah the prophet wrote  Isaiah 53:2, ..he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”  Likewise us!  We do not dress to look attractive and alluring and desirable in the eyes of the world.

And certainly we should never be slaves to the fashion industry. Every year, on catwalks across the major cities of the world, the fashion houses show off their latest creations; male and female models, perfect specimens of humanity, they think, strutting provocatively along a platform to the adoring eyes of the press and the media.  It’s done for one reason, and one reason alone – to sell product and to to enrich the designers and manufacturers, – and the product that appears in the fashion shops in the High Streets are too often mass produced in the sweat shops of the far east, by people on a pitiful wage in deplorable conditions.  Why? As Christians we don’t need to be dedicated followers of fashion. Paul tells us “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2).  

Christians are to reflect Christ into the world!

-oOOo-

We looked at some Practical Examples and Applications…

We talked around the subject of tattoos, or ‘body art’ as they are now more respectably labelled.  Years ago this would not have been an issue.  Tattoos were not so common in society, except on the arms of seamen, or builders, or shipyard workers.  We would know Christians who had them, but they would have been done before conversion, and no Christian would dream of getting one afterwards. But nowadays, tattoos are far more common, – a few years ago a woman with tattoos was a freak – the Tattooed Lady of the Circus!  But now lots of people have them women and girls too, and tattoo parlours are springing up everywhere.  

One charismatic televangelist boasted of how many tattoos he had got, after he’d entered his /ministry.’  Should a Christian get a tattoo?  We read, Leviticus 19:28 ESV You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.  That’s part of the civic law of Israel, the divine instructions for the administration of the ancient nation, and that law was fulfilled in Christ and unlike the moral law, is no longer binding on believers, – we are not under law, but under grace – We obey the moral law out of love and gratitude for Christ’s saving work in our lives. Legally Christian can get a tattoo if he or even she wants to but remember what Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 6:12, AMP Everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything [and brought under its power, allowing it to control me].  Of course a Christian can have a tattoo – but what good will it do me? And here’s a far more powerful reason for avoiding them: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV  Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  Is a mark on your skin glorifying to God, or just imitating the world?

We talked about the allure of fashion for women!  A contentious area indeed!  I said I didnt know many men who would spend as much money on hairdressing as a woman would!  But apparently there are some who do!  On the substantive issue, Paul wrote, 1 Timothy 2:9-10 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Paul is teaching us about prayer.  Men are to pray, he tells us in the previous verse, lifting up to God hands that are pure, coming to God repentantly, and women to have the same attitude, to be humble, not preoccupied with their personal appearance, or chasing the latest fashions, but making themselves attractive by what they do for Christ – their good works, rather than what they look like.   

Then we talked about another modern issue – men who want to dress as women and women who want to dress as men.  We used to call such people ‘transvestites.’  You don’t hear that terms nowadays.  We speak of people dressing to identify with their perceived gender.  The Bible has a term for it too. It calls it an abomination. “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). 

This command calls for a clear male-female distinction in dress. The Bible teaches us that men should look like men, and women should look like women.  Now, do I think that means that women should never wear trousers, or that men should never wear a kilt?  Not for a moment!  These things are largely cultural.  

Again in contrast to the fashions and transient fads of this world, Christians must wear clothing that leaves no doubt whether they are a man or a woman!  

Our last topic was the ‘Me, me, me’ ideology of this world.  The ‘Selfie’ Generation.  

Have you seen those ads on TV where a woman struts about and demonstrates some perfume and concludes, “It’s because I’m worth it?”  This is the age of the selfie, the modern obsession with ME. You can hear them, ‘Like, I’m so much the most important person in the whole world.’  Totally self obsessed, totally narcissistic.  That thinking influences people’s attitude to their outward appearance.  After all, if I’m the most important person ever, I’ll need to dress to reflect that…. But what does the Bible say?  Christians are not to think of themselves in those terms.  We are to put God first, others second and ourselves last.  Jesus said, “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26). “If a person wills to come after Jesus, let him deny himself, that is, disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself— and take up his cross daily, and follow Me [that is, cleave steadfastly to me, conform wholly to my example, in living and if need be in dying also]” (Luke 14:27, Amplified).

So, to be a disciple of Jesus is to take up your cross, and DENY YOURSELF and follow Him!  We must die to self, to our ego, our self glory and even our self satisfaction.  And that means obedience to God, even if others mock.   

Think of our attire and appearance as the frame on a painting or image. A gaudy frame on a beautiful painting can distract from the beauty of the image.  The Bible instructs the Christian to be dressed with MODESTY, HUMILITY and MEEKNESS – attitudes that fitly FRAME the inner beauty of Christ within, beauty that God sees on the inside and others witness from the outward appearance.

Bob McEvoy October 2021

Psalm content courtesy of and with thanks to http://www.ThePsalmsSung.org

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