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By Rev Colin Wong

Preached at / Published Life BPC Weekly, 2006-04-02

Text: Romans 12:2

Nowadays, there is much talk about dressing. Although this is a controversial topic and I know that some may not fully agree with what is written in this article, I decided to write it anyway, and let the reader decide on his or her response to it. 

How much clothing can I take off? This is a difficult question. There is no easy answer to it. Some people say, "That much," but others disagree. Some say low cut is not a problem at all, but others say it is too revealing. Whatever answer you give as a Christian ought to give due consideration to what God's Word has to say concerning this much-debated subject. Is there a dress code for Christians? What and how should Christians dress? 

In Africa, 35 years ago, the Tanzanian government ordered 100,000 Maasai tribes people to put on shorts and trousers. One Maasai leader responded by saying, "If God made Adam and Eve nude, why do we have to go against what God originally intended?" It sounds pretty biblical but it is not. It was okay for Adam and Eve to be naked before the fall because they were sinless and pure (Genesis 2:25). However, when they yielded to temptation and sinned against God, their eyes were opened and they felt terribly shameful. So they took fig leaves to cover themselves (Genesis 3:7). Men and women should feel ashamed for overly exposing themselves in public places.

Some years ago, in a Star Awards Presentation, one top star actress appeared in a silver dress that left much of her body exposed. It was her jaw-dropping, slinky outfit that stole the show. She got the public wondering why she needed to bare so much skin? Is this not indecent exposure?

In our day and age, we see young and old wearing all kinds of creative clothing. Some prefer tight-fitting or figure-hugging clothes, like the Spice Girls! Our teenagers like to wear hip-hop style of clothing. Our little children are showing their bellies too! Fashions change from time to time. In days gone by, a person's everyday dress reflected not only his profession but it also reflected his morals. Today, fashion is everybody's game, and the game has no rules. In yesteryears, clothes were soft and lovely, elegant and feminine, but today, they are aggressive, irreverent, wild, and eye-popping. 

The Fashion Industry has put much pressure upon our young people. The cult of nudity has influenced much of our society. While the nude form isn't yet generally accepted by the public in Singapore, semi-nudity seems to have widespread acceptance, especially in fashion. As a result, it generates a lot of controversies as far as the church is concerned. Some say fashion is taboo; others say it is man's creativity. Humans love to decorate their bodies. They find the styles of clothing a means of expressing their personality. Clothing can give status and add to sexual attractiveness. This is especially true for the female - young and old.

Reaching the Youths of the 21st Century

We are living in the 21st century. When the older folks begin to talk about modesty to the present generation, they only draw blank stares. The Generation Xers don't know what they are talking about. These Xers cannot fathom how they can attach any spiritual significance to whether a hemline is three or four inches above the knee. Somehow they do not attach a moral implication to the shortness of a skirt or the tightness of slacks just below the hip line. "It isn't the length of a skirt that makes one spiritual," they loudly proclaim. It isn't what we wear that makes us spiritual. It's our relationship with God that matters. Don't judge us on our outward appearance! (1 Samuel 16:7) 

My concern is, do they know what damage they can bring to the name of Christ by what they wear? Imagine what would happen if a person claims to be a Christian and wears a silver dress that leaves much of her body exposed in church. Imagine each time you stand up to sing a hymn or the "Gloria Patri," and you are distracted by her slinky outfit. What consequences do you think that would bring to the congregation on a Sunday morning worship? The words are distraction and temptation. Such dressing not only distracts and tempts worshippers, but it also does not bring glory to God.

How much clothing can I take off? How does the Christian establish a code of modesty when fashions are constantly changing? Do we have any scriptural guidelines to use in the matter of selecting clothing? Is it wrong in one culture to wear little or no clothing and right in another culture? Why? If the matter of clothing is simply a cultural thing, how can the Christian establish any absolutes concerning rules that govern what he or she shall wear? What can the church do to help its people establish a code of modesty and still keep up with the latest fashions? 

As far as I am concerned, I believe the best guideline is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31 - "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do (like what you wear), do all to the glory of God." It doesn't matter what fashions you are into, if they do not reflect God's glory, then you must not put them on. So the next time you go shopping for new dresses, bear this in mind - If I were to put this on, will it glorify God? If it does not, then I will not buy it. 

The Teaching of Paul

Paul said, "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" (1 Timothy 2:9). Dress is to reflect modesty and is to identify the Christian with Christ, not with the world (Romans 12:2; 2 Timothy 2:4). Therefore, what we wear does matter, for it either identifies us with Christ or with the world.

In this verse, Paul was speaking to the females in the congregation. He was not trying to regulate women's dress. If you read it that way, then you have misunderstood him. When he said that women should not have "braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire," he was not attacking the way women dress, except when it is a display of their heart attitude. 

God looks at the heart. He does not pay any attention to the outward man. But oftentimes the way we dress and the way we conduct ourselves is a vivid revelation to others around of what our hearts are like. For example, if a woman comes with her hair done up in the latest fashion, wearing the latest low-cut dress and flashy jewelry, she is obviously not trying to get God's attention; she wants men's attention. Her choice of clothing and the other things reveals her heart. This is what the apostle was talking about. 

So, how should women dress? For their adornment, Paul said that they should not emphasize the external, but the internal. They should dress modestly, with decency and propriety. These terms stress not so much the absence of sexual suggestiveness, though it is included, but rather an appearance that is simple, moderate, judicious, and free from ostentation (i.e. pretentious display meant to impress others; boastful showiness). Don't wear anything to impress others. Don't wear anything to show off what you have. The specifics Paul mentioned (i.e. braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes) are not wrong in themselves, but become inappropriate when they indicate misplaced values (1 Peter 3:3). In the New Testament church, fashions like these might have been associated with the local temple prostitutes. Therefore, Christians must be careful about letting a pagan culture or today's culture set their fashions.

Taking a Stand for the Lord - Do not Compromise

Taking a stand for the Lord is costly and unpopular. In this regard, it concerns dress code. What to wear and what not to wear can be a burden to some Christians. Because of the pressure the fashion industry continually exerts on them, many have compromised and have gone the way of the world. Betty Nohl rightly states that "responsibility is the key word in relation to modern fashions." If that is true, then Christians should not and must not wear anything that is not honoring to God. Christians must react to changing fashions with courage and keen judgment. They must resist the lure of soft words urging them to buy this or that when they don't need it. Their focus must stay clear. They may be interested in fashion, but they must not be obsessed by it. They know that wearing the latest fashion cannot guarantee them happiness, popularity or love. Their affection is set on things above and not on things below (Colossians 3:2). Therefore, they are able to take fashion or leave it. They will not be overwhelmed by the need to conform. They will realize that they can still be "in" with God when they choose to be "out" so far as certain fashions are concerned.

Dear Lifer, what you wear does matter. It reflects you - your personality, values of life and morality. Your choice of clothing does reveal your heart. Fashions come and go. Be fashionable but do not be overwhelmed by the need to conform. "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 12:2).

Let me sign off with these words: Indecent exposure arouses embarrassment and shame or exhibitionism and sexual self-consciousness. That is why it is so important to have a proper "Christian" dress code. We all should dress in a way that is glorifying to God. Indecent exposure can be too much of a temptation, especially for our brothers in the Lord. Therefore, let us be mindful of what we put on as Christians lest we cause others to stumble. Amen.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11