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The New Roman Woman may not be around today, but she has been replaced by a narcissistic individualism in both men and women.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.