Of Books and Covers

We aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover — but how should we judge our own appearance?

Pastor Kent Brandenburg had an interesting post a couple of weeks ago about pearls, referring to I Timothy 2:9, which reads:

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.

Kent’s point is that the problem isn’t pearls, the problem is what a certain appearance indicated in a particular cultural context.

No. no. no. No pearls. No stringed. No cultured. No fresh water. Of course, the problem is not with pearls. The passage isn’t telling women not to wear any of that stuff. There isn’t anything wrong in and of themselves with broided hair, gold, costly array, or….pearls.

He goes on to discuss the cultural phenomenon of the New Roman Woman, and that a certain way of dressing that came into vogue in the first century conveyed a certain mindset.  In I Timothy 2, Paul was dealing with that mindset, and verse nine says, in effect, ‘Not only should you not behave this way, you shouldn’t dress like the people who do this, either.’

God has always had a lot to say about the appearance of His people.  Many times, believers will say, ‘Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.’  They are absolutely correct — that is right out of Scripture.  

But that does NOT mean that God doesn’t care about our appearance.  In context, God was telling Samuel that just because someone looks good doesn’t mean everything is ok.  God was not saying that He doesn’t care about how we look.  If we’re going to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, that will affect everything, including our appearance.

The New Roman Woman may not be around today, but she has been replaced by a narcissistic individualism in both men and women.  The most commonly worshipped God today is the Great Me.  I don’t care what anyone thinks, and I’m going to dress in a way that shows it.  I’m sending a message by my appearance, and that message is that people should notice me.  I’m a ‘non-conformist,’ and I’m making a statement to that effect.

Others send out the message with their dress that they have no respect for God-ordained morality and purity.  Sadly, even some Christians who do have moral standards have never been taught the importance of dressing in a way that tells the truth about who they are.  Still others, by neglecting basic standards of cleanliness, send the message that they have no respect for those with whom they come in contact.

We cannot judge a book by its cover.  The person whose appearance is not consistent with Biblical principles, who sends unscriptural or selfish messages by the way they dress, may simply be untaught.  We can never assume that the cover, the outward appearance, tells us anything reliable about a person.

But we should always judge our cover by the Book.  God cares about our appearance.  He did not want women in Roman times to look like the New Roman Woman.  He does not want us to look like those who are self-worshippers, inconsiderate, or immoral today.  He cares about men being men and women being women, and having both behaviour and appearance that reflects those roles.  It’s not really about the actual pearls or the actual clothing, it is about the message those things send.

Man does look on the outward appearance.  People will receive a message from your appearance, and that message will either help or hinder your role as an ambassador for Christ.  It will show that you love God and love your neighbour, or that you love yourself.  It will show humility or pride, modesty or immorality, selfish arrogance or inconsideration.  It is not just what you mean by what you wear that matters.  What others see and hear is important to our Lord, too.

(scheduled auto-post)

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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8 Responses to Of Books and Covers

  1. Xander Duffy says:

    “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but you can judge our cover by the book.”

    Beautifully expressed Pastor Gleason. I agree completely. I have been considering our image lately and have a great deal to say about it in my book.
    There was on old Pepsi advertisement out years ago that said “image is everything” and as much as it was sending out the entirely wrong message, in that slogan they were correct.
    We are created in the IMAGE of the Lord and as such we should always consider that in the attire we cover our bodies in. Yet it is a wonderful thing that even though we were all created in His image, he also made us all completely different and individual – on purpose. Which allows us a huge scope into what is not only permissible, but which is also individual and unique.

    It saddens me that so many have lost the art and skill of clothe making in favour of the “New Roman” paradigm that perverts the fashion industry today.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Thanks, Xander. I don’t think I’d say “image is everything” because it suggests to most people externals, but it is certainly important.

      God loves variety AND uniformity. We’re an amazing blend of both. I was just thinking about that today — I’ll probably write about it soon.

  2. Amen!

    One aspect about modesty, which we discussed Sunday, is Christian women could wear burqas, but it really doesn’t help if hearts are not right. It doesn’t cure immorality. I feel as a woman I’d be a stumbling block to my Christian brethren if I chose to wear something not quite modest. (Though someone pointed out, jokingly, that I am immodest since I don’t wear a burqa.) I never even gave modesty a second thought when I was first a Christian until God worked on me. And He was a gentle God… He slowly worked on my convictions rather than a drastic change overnight.
    (Great idea of making note this is a scheduled post. I tend to write a bunch as I have time scheduling them out and make note when they are “live”. I should consider this)

    • Jon Gleason says:

      I forgot to mention the others this week were scheduled, too. Oh, well.

      Modesty. You know, anything that draws attention to ourselves can be immodest. Even a burqa. There’s nothing immodest about it in a society where it is common, but if it is rare, it is going out of your way to draw attention to yourself, and can be very immodest at heart.

      And yes, many Christian women never think about the fact that they can tempt their brothers by what they wear. That’s actually true even if the body is fully covered but the fabric draws attention in some ways. Husbands and wives would do well to talk about these things.

  3. I don’t know what it is like in England, but for me women who dress modestly tend to stick out especially if the clothing is simple in color and style, and not really fashionable. No, you cannot always say they are a Christian- as they may just like comfortable modest clothing, but it gives me reason to wonder

    I suppose there could be a long discussion about what is modesty… : ) Even though I tend to disagree with those who say, “It’s all a matter of the heart”, I do know our attitude in why we dress as we do plays a big part in it, because we could either rebel against God or become as a Pharisee.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Scotland, not England. Five million Scots are now deeply offended at you, but since they’ve experienced it thousands of times before, they’ll get over it in about 30 seconds. 🙂 I have to admit I studiously avoid noticing what women are wearing, so I can’t comment on that part of it.

      Maybe someday I’ll blog about modesty. It truly is all a matter of the heart — but anyone who thinks there is a major dichotomy between heart modesty and external modesty doesn’t really understand what the Bible means by “heart.” It isn’t merely motives, it is also submission of the will, of the decisions we make and the things we do, to the Master. Right hearts always drive right externals. Philippians 3 tells us if we are seeking to follow Him and don’t have everything right, He will teach us. A very comforting passage.

      • Oh.. I hope I am forgiven… It’s been awhile since I had read your About page and I see have have visitors from UK… Will it help if they knew one of my sons has a Scottish name, meaning “Battle chief”? He doesn’t live up to his name often as he finds such joy in making others laugh. Ah, but his sinful nature will really live up to his name…

        My husband is like you in he works at avoiding seeing what women wear. He really struggles the few rare times we go to the mall.

        You explained it much better than I- submission to the Lord’s will is a heart issue.

      • Jon Gleason says:

        I’ll tell all the Scots to be nice to you. Everyone always listens to me, so you should be ok. 🙂

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