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Image by Milad Fakurian
  • Writer's pictureSteven Chapman

Sunday Morning Gift Wrap

I remember as a child having presents wrapped in finely decorated gift wrap and finished off with ribbon and bows. Other presents were wrapped in old newspaper “funny pages”. Did the wrapping make the gift valuable or was it what was inside that determined the enjoyment I would receive from the gift?

In the urban context, in which I minister, there is a very real “culture of image.” People go to great lengths to show that they are somebody by the name brands that they wear, the car that they drive, etc. They have rejected the axiom, “Clothes don’t make the man,” and redefined that clothes are the most important ingredient for stating who you are.

But I have been to the homes of some of these people so concerned about image. More than a few times, I have seen the absence of furniture in the home of a man possessing several pairs of $200 shoes. On the outside, these characters look like they have it together. However, I have seen, more often than not, that their image betrays a shallowness of soul that does not even reach skin deep because it stops with their apparel.

Church clothes

When Samuel was looking for God’s anointed king to replace the dishonored Saul, God had a message for him. As each son of Jesse was paraded past him, Samuel thought this one must be the one, only to have God say “Nah”. Finally, Samuel asked God, “What’s up?”, and God replied, “Man judges by outward appearance, but God judges the heart.” I’m not sure why Samuel needed to be reminded of this. Saul had all of the visible attributes of kingship. He was tall, well-built and handsome, but look at the outcome of his reign.

Jesus confronted the religious leaders, the scribes and the Pharisees, for taking such care to finely manicure the external appearance, but lacking the same care on the internal. He compared them to dishes that have been washed on the outside, but had crusty eggs and cheese stuck to the eating surface and a curdled milk ring around the base of the glass, or even more telling, “whitewashed tombs … filled with dead men’s bones.”

Perhaps another way of expressing his thoughts would be to say that painting the barn doesn’t get rid of the manure inside.

Interestingly the only time in Scripture where “church clothes” are mentioned is when James criticizes the church for giving preferred seating to the wealthy who would come to church decked out in the latest designer togas, while relegating the “thrift store” clientele to standing room only status. But if that wasn’t good enough, they could always sit at the feet of the snappy dresser.

Doesn’t that expose the “dressing up for church shows God more respect” myth?

If I recall, Peter said something similar and suggestive of what I am getting at to the wives of 1 Peter 3. “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Now, Peter is not telling women hang up the fashionable digs, and put away all the fashion accessories. His point is the inside matters much more than the outside. Truly dressing up is an internal matter, and not a manner of dress.

The wrapper does not always reflect what is on the inside. It only suggests what is in there. The packaging can be extremely misleading. We all have been surprised by what we got once we got past the outer packaging.

Just to make sure I am not misunderstood, I am not telling those who want to dress up for worship that they have to wear jeans and a t-shirt. I am not even telling them to put away the suits and dresses. If you want to dress up go right ahead. However, don’t take the value that you place on dress and ridicule those not inclined to dress up and judge they are disrespecting God.

church clothes 2

Let me ask a few more clarifying questions: Does someone by dressing up make their worship more acceptable to God? Does someone dressing casual make their worship less pleasing to God? Can a person who is dressing up for church honor God in that? Does a person who doesn’t disrespect God by their casual attire?

I would answer “No” to all of the above questions except the third. Yet, I know of many people who would answer “Yes” to all four. That is the point I am making.

Why all this talk about “church clothes”? Does it really matter? Yes, because it is really not about our dress. It is about taking the care to dress up the inside, not just the outside. We should never settle for looking good over being good. It doesn’t matter if you look nice, if you are not nice. It is just wrong to think that being righteous is not as important as to look right.

Some people go to worship dressed with Sunday snazz taking as much care to prepare their heart for worship as they do to dress up the outside, but some are nothing more than Jesus’ white-washed tombs, prettied up outwardly, but spiritually lifeless. The same can be said of those who dress casually, or even those deemed to be dressed like bums, in their jeans and t-shirts.

So let’s not be guilty of judging one another on the basis of what we wear to worship. If you believe dressing up is important to your worship and expresses your respect for God, go ahead and get decked out. But do not require that others embrace the value you place on “church clothes.” As long as they dress with modesty (or even if they don’t), let them feel the acceptance from you that God would give to a heart expressing worship. God is more concerned with what is inside of the packaging.

I am the Senior Minister in an urban congregation. We have members who dress very nicely from a retired VP from a multinational corporation in his suit and tie to a traditional “hat and dress” African-American woman. We, also, have members show up in jeans and t-shirts. Then we have the whole assortment in-between. Which of them respects God most? I haven’t given you enough information to answer that question because God is much more concerned with what is inside (the heart of the person) than how the gift is wrapped (their clothing).

God is not impressed by our wrapping. He is more concerned with what is on the inside.

— Pastor Steve

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