My father used to tell of a conversation he had with a man outside of MSMBC one day. The man had overheard the services as he passed by and he said that he would have come in, but he didn’t have any nice church clothes to wear, like the other people he saw. This conversation deeply impacted my father. And it resulted in him designating the month of June as “Old Clothes Month” at Mt. Sinai. When I was a boy, it was actually “old clothes” month. For instance, the men would wear overalls (or, are they called “coveralls”?). It may seem silly. But the church took it rather seriously. My father would retell the story of his conversation and challenge the church to be the kind of congregation that makes people feel welcomed, no matter what they had on.
By the time I became the pastor of MSMBC in 1990, June was still designated as “Old Clothes Month.” But things had changed. Actually, it was just casual month, where there would be no ties and hats, for the most part. There were no more overalls, thank God. And it really wasn’t a big deal anymore. During the early 90’s, the congregation had become a lot more relaxed in its attire and there was a lot less emphasis on “church clothes,” in general. So for many people, June was the month when we officially dressed the way we unofficially dressed the rest of the year. And, frankly, I think that was a good thing. In fact, I think it’s kind of cool that on most Sundays I preach to some worshipers who are dressed in suits and dresses; others in jeans and sneakers.
Now, this is not to say that I am happy with everything I see on Sunday mornings. To the contrary, we still struggle with what’s appropriate to wear to church. So I thought it would be appropriate for me to remind us of the Christian dress code. It can be succinctly stated in one word: modesty. In other words, your apparel should demonstrate your respect for the Lord, for the corporate worship service, for weaker brothers and sisters in Christ, and for yourself. This applies both to those who would wear tight, revealing clothes and to those who would overdress in gaudy, ostentatious “church clothes.” And while I’m here, let me say that the principle of modesty does not just apply to the Lord’s Day. Modesty is to govern how you dress everyday and everywhere you go. Remember, you are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16). So we should always strive to dress in a way that reflects reverence for God, self-control, and good judgment.
First Timothy 2:9-10 describes what it means to dress modestly: “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works” (ESV). Of course, Paul is directly addressing women in this verse. However, this instruction to Christian women teaches both men and women the godly standards for modesty in dress. Paul is not trying to enslave women with these pastoral instructions. And he is not simply lashing out against matters of style that he didn’t like. Instead, through the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul confronts three common expressions of immodesty: (1) worldliness, (2) materialism, and (3) sensuality.
Peter co-signs Paul’s injunctions in 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Again, don’t miss the point by focusing too closely on the details. The issue is not about how you wear your hair, if you wear jewelry, or the style of your clothes. It’s about your focus, attitude, and motivations. As Warren Wiersbe has said, “God is concerned about values, not prices.” So we should be more concerned about our spiritual attractiveness than our physical appearance. Or as Proverbs 31:30 teaches: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” And this instruction applies to men, as well.
Lest I am misunderstood, let me be clear that I am not saying that we should be so unconcerned that we do not bother to care for ourselves. Hygiene, neatness, and grooming have their importance. And there is nothing inherently wrong with looking nice. Yes, you can wear jewelry and honor God at the same time. But we must not be preoccupied with externals. True beauty begins inside. Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” So let’s strive to dress like Christians, spiritually and physically. Here are some tips that may help you guard your witness by dressing with modesty:
1. Remember that you represent Christ and ask him to exercise lordship over your physical appearance.
2. Examine your motives by asking yourself why you are wearing a particular outfit.
3. Remember that corporate worship is not a fashion show or time to attract a date or mate.
4. Strive to make sure that the corporate worship meeting is not distracted by what you do (or don’t) have on.
5. Live to the glory of God (1 Co. 6:19-20; 10:31; Col. 3:17).