Clothed in Christ
By Benjamin Szumskyj
Keeping the Heart, we should also keep the body that expresses it
Benjamin Szumskyj, Western Australia
In this article, a young man seeks to tackle a subject that is seldom looked at these days. We must bring every matter to the bar of God’s word and not be governed by other principles instead. While not all believers think alike on some of the aspects covered here, we are grateful for this endeavour to think biblically while others use only worldly wisdom. “Doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:10) not only glorifies Him but also brings us life and peace – Ed.
On becoming a Christian, when Jesus Christ is declared Lord and Saviour, one’s character and identity begins to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit from the inside out. Transformation and the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2) take place from within, where only God can see. To use one well-known example, the solemn “eight woes” of Jesus Christ to the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23) reveal the Lord’s disdain of so-called believers who on the outside appear to submit to godly authority, but on the inside are an ungodly antithesis of He whose name they profess. Many verses in Scripture not only reveal the sinful nature of the human heart (Jeremiah 13:23, 17:9), but the Lord’s hatred of those who allegedly represent Him, but in private are worse than the sinners they were before their (false) conversion.
The often-quoted 1 Samuel 16:7 (“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart”) is a true statement that is applicable to all generations of believers. However, this verse has become a wall for any further debate on “appearance.” Who you are, not what you wear is preached from the pulpit. This is true in the sense that the primary focus of the Christian should be the heart, but any discussion on the body that contains that heart is all but absent. It has, in many ways, become a non-issue, and when raised in church or amongst Christians, terms such as “legalism” or “that’s not what Jesus died for” are used. The truth is, what we look like as believers on the outside today can be no different from our unbelieving counterparts.
I would like to propose reconsideration of this position, motivated not because of romanticism or a desire to revive the ways of yesteryear, nor to cause disunity within the Christian Church. Rather, to solely align ourselves with New Testament teaching that declares once the believer’s heart is addressed, so too should our appearance. What we look like, is in fact, important and commanded. What follows, then, will explore key verses in the New Testament that speak of how the Christian should appear beyond the heart, ranging from clothing and head covering to jewellery and physical appearance. Additionally, a case study on head covering (1 Corinthians 11:3-16) which supports its revival will be included, despite the consensus of many modern churches who see the command as being culturally and locally bound to the first century.
Today, particularly in the West, the attire worn by men and women is not much different in principle from that of the ancient world. In the first century AD, the Roman Empire that swept across the known world hosted a plethora of different ethnic cultures and religions. Such diversity exists in our multicultural societies today. Christians living in that ancient century – and what should be the same for Christians today – faced one of three enemies to God’s Kingdom; the world (Matthew 18:7; John 15:19; 1 John 4:5), Satan and his kingdom (Colossians 1:13), and sin (John. 8:34). The world of two thousand years ago and today is ruled by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4), under the sovereignty of God. The Christian Church operates within it, but is not meant to be one with it (Romans 12:1). Salt should not look like pepper, light like darkness and the city on a hill like the city in the valley. The point here is that we are not to look like the world. In fact, we are to be remarkably different. It is true that this is primarily by what we believe, how we conduct ourselves and by the changes within our heart, but on a secondary level, is this not to be visually evident as well?
I am not suggesting we must all wear the same styles, like our Anabaptist brothers and sisters in Christ, but I am suggesting that we should not be mistaken for an unbeliever by the clothes we wear (or do not wear). To their credit, when one sees an Amish, Brethren, Hutterite or Mennonite, one visually identifies them as a Christian. That is commendable as far as it goes. 1 John 2:15-16 states clearly, “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”. These verses speak of both a spiritual and physical assault, especially upon the “eyes”. One falls into lust, because of what one sees. These verses echo the well-known confrontation Jesus Christ had with the so-called believers of His day, when He remarked that if one lusts, they have committed adultery (Matthew 5:27-29). Lust is often stimulated by how one wears clothes, which can tempt the heart. Many verses in Scripture highlight the danger of inappropriate clothing. For example, in ancient Israel young men were warned, “behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart” (Proverbs 7:10).
So the question is, how should we clothe ourselves? Paul wrote to his young fellow-servant Timothy that “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” (1 Timothy 2:9,10). It is clear: proper clothing that is modest and discreet is what God commands women to wear. Yet, Christian women today (or men for that matter) are not practising this. The Apostle Peter also speaks of this. When he does so, he rightly notes that it should not be the primary focus of the believer, however, he clearly does not dismiss it; he uses the phrase “not be that outward adorning” (1 Peter 3:3-5). As such, it is the command to clothe oneself as determined by Scripture principle. While discussion on clothing is often directed at women, both genders can be the source and victim of lust, therefore, men must also adorn themselves with proper clothing, modest and discreet.
Head Covering as a Case Study
Amongst the ancient Hebrews (Genesis 24:65; 38:14-19; Isaiah 3:18-23; cf. Proverbs 31:22) and at the time of Jesus’ ministry, veiled women were a common sight and practice. In the New Testament writings, in particular 1 Corinthians 11:3-16, God through the Apostle Paul established a commandment for women to wear head coverings. The purpose for this is manifold. It testifies to the relationship between the Father and Son (11:3). It testifies to the divine design of male and female (11:7). It testifies to the order of creation (11:8). It testifies of the purpose of woman in regards to the man (11:9). It is a testimony before the angels (11:10). It aligns with the natural order (11:13-14). It was church practice (11:16). Finally, it embodies the teachings of other New Testament epistles (cf 1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-5).
1 Corinthians is a remarkable epistle, and it is difficult to see why verses 11:3-16 are the only ones that have been relegated to the past and declared a custom specific to Corinth. This appears to be an exceptionally weak argument. As is the statement that due to its single appearance in the entire New Testament, it was clearly not a universal command. Additionally, one must interpret Scripture historically, grammatically and contextually. The flow of what is taught in the verses before and after 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 highlights serious church matters, not just to the Corinthians, but all who would read the epistle. If we follow the progression of Paul’s discussion, in chapter 10:14-22, the tenet of idolatry is discussed; this is not said to be cultural and local. Then in 10:23-33 the tenet of glorifying God is discussed; this is not cultural and local either. In 11:17-34 the Lord’s Supper is discussed; this is not only a cultural and local matter. In 12:1-30 spiritual gifts are discussed which are not cultural and local at the time. Also 1 Corinthians 13 and “charity.” All of these are important and universal tenets, yet, contemporary commentators tell us that the topic of head covering was a stand-alone and cultural one, as if its inclusion in the epistle was a tangent in Paul’s discourse. In short, this position is not only a weak one, but appears to be dismissed because of contemporary sensitivities (that is to say, it is not fashionable) and is eisegesis over exegesis (reading into the text rather than accepting the meaning of the text).
There is nothing inherently evil about wearing jewellery. The Apostle Peter states that the “wearing of gold” and other attire must not be the primary external adornment(s) of a woman, for that should be heart (1 Peter 3:3-5). As mentioned above, this priority does not exclude a woman from possessing or wearing jewellery (or a man, if one was referring to a wedding ring). However, it is not enthusiastically embraced or desired by God, as the Apostle Paul remarks that is not to be favoured over proper clothing and good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10). It appears this is because of its ability easily to become a source of vanity, covetousness or idolatrousness.
Physical appearance and health
This is more difficult to address, especially since we live in a fallen world of sin which has resulted in a wide range of issues and problems for men and women who inhabit the world (and the Christian Church). However, there is a strong case that one must take care of one’s body, not merely to prolong good health, but to help the physical aspect of your faith (that is to say, one’s ability to conduct good works, evangelism, and so on).
In Romans 12:1-2, the Apostle Paul calls for our lives to be a “living sacrifice”. In the Old Testament and during Jesus’ ministry, sacrifices were often the best available (Leviticus 22:24; Deuteronomy 17:1). Sacrifices were without blemish. This is not to say these animals were free from the effects of sin, or were perfect. And neither are we, for we are in the process of sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30; cf. John 17:16; Romans 8:28-29) which will be completed in Heaven when we are glorified (1 Corinthians 15:53; 2 Corinthians 3:18). The point being made here is that a sacrifice denotes the best we have to offer. Not “near enough” is good enough, but the belief that only what is sacrificially worthy is pleasing to God.
Scripture declares that the body of a Christian is “a temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 3:16) and as such, implies that it should be cared for, and not be abused by what we put into it (or how it is used, for example sexually, as is the context of this verse). Few would disagree that excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco and narcotics harm the body, and in some instances can be idolatrous due to addiction and enslavement. This even includes too much food (Philippians 3:19). In 1 Timothy 4:8, the Apostle Paul teaches that “bodily exercise profiteth little”, but rightly prioritises godliness above it. As such, he does not discard the notion of exercise, especially being one that walked as much as he did (cf Acts 13-14, 15:36-18:22, 18:23-20:38; 20:13).
Equally important, the issue of tattoos and piercings, especially due to their pagan origins and associations (Leviticus 19:28). While we as Christians may not be under the Levitical laws, we have been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20) and are to glorify God “in your body, and in your spirit” (italics mine). Tattoos have always been associated with other cultures and religions, and never associated with Christians until the latter twentieth century. “Christian tattoos” are not more “Christian” than so-called “Christian psychics” and “Christian yoga”; all are an attempt of syncretising the pagan world with the Christian. As for piercings, no part of a Christian’s body should be willing bloodied for metallic objects; Jesus has been “pierced” for us (John 19:37). Clip-on earrings may be another matter.
In closing, once we look after the heart, we should look after the body and what we wear. This statement is not to ignore Scripture, but rather to heed it. We pray for a revival of right thinking and practice in these matters. May we all read the verses from Scripture cited above and prayerfully consider who’s will is being done – God’s or our own.