What Is the Bible’s View?
Does It Matter What You Wear?
IN THE Holy Scriptures a person’s approved standing before Jehovah God is represented under the figure of clothing. A “great crowd” of tribulation survivors are depicted as “dressed in white robes,” indicative of their dignified, clean appearance before the Most High by reason of their faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. (Rev. 7:9, 13, 14) In connection with the coming of “the war of the great day of God the Almighty,” this encouragement is given: “Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments, that he may not walk naked and people look upon his shamefulness.”—Rev. 16:14, 15.
Spiritual wakefulness, then, is required if God’s great day is to find us arrayed with a genuine Christian personality, unspotted by the world’s actions, attitudes and ways. Furthermore, being so dressed, the Christian would be active in the service of Jehovah God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Luke 12:35-40; 21:36; 2 Pet. 3:14) How tragic it would be for the Christian to be found in the state of Levite temple watchmen who fell asleep at their posts! According to Jewish tradition, they were exposed to shame by being beaten and having their garments burned.
Since the Scriptures refer to clothing as representing the very important matter of an approved standing before Jehovah God, does it not logically follow that his servants should also give attention to what they wear in the way of literal clothing? We should not lose sight of the fact that Jehovah God provided clothing made from animal skins for sinful Adam and Eve. The Hebrew word used to describe that clothing is understood to mean “long garments.” Hence, these garments provided ample covering for the naked bodies of the first humans.—Gen. 3:21.
Centuries later the Most High took specific interest in the clothing of his servants. The regulations given to the Israelites required that they “make for themselves fringed edges upon the skirts of their garments” and that “they must put a blue string above the fringed edge of the skirt.” (Num. 15:38) Also, “no garb of an able-bodied man should be put upon a woman, neither should an able-bodied man wear the mantle of a woman; for anybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah.”—Deut. 22:5.
The distinctive fringed edge and blue string on the skirts of garments set the Israelites apart from other peoples and served as a continual reminder that they should obey Jehovah’s commands. (Num. 15:40) As to the prohibition about a person’s wearing clothing specifically designed for the opposite sex, this preserved the natural distinction between the sexes. The customary thing is for men to want to look like men, and for women to want to look like women. A violation of this internal sense as respects attire could have led to homosexuality. So God’s law served as a safeguard against deception and possible immorality.
The Israelites could not ignore this matter of dress and treat it lightly. Centuries after the Law was given, Jehovah’s prophet Zephaniah declared that calamity would befall all those “wearing foreign attire,” possibly dress of the Egyptians and Babylonians that did not conform to the requirements of God’s law. (Zeph. 1:8) As long as that law remained in effect, the Israelites had to obey its regulations. Jesus Christ, for example, pointed out that a deliberate rebellion against any of the commands would prevent one from inheriting God’s kingdom. He said: “Whoever . . . breaks one of these least commandments and teaches mankind to that effect, he will be called ‘least’ in relation to the kingdom of the heavens.” (Matt. 5:19) Had an Israelite, for instance, insisted on wearing garments without a fringed edge because the style did not suit his taste, he would have revealed a spirit of defiant independence. Such haughtiness would definitely have stood in the way of his becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Christians, of course, are not under the Mosaic law with its precise rules about dress. Rather than specific regulations, a sense of what is fitting, as well as love for others, should move them to dress in a way that appeals to the good conscience of fellow humans. (Compare 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24; 2 Corinthians 4:1, 2.) Yes, their balanced thinking and love will prevent genuine Christians from allowing personal choice to take precedence despite the unpleasant or undesirable effects their attire may have on others. At no time should their clothing call into question their claim to be servants of Jehovah God.
Especially should consideration be given to what is worn when attending Christian meetings or when publicly witnessing to others about God’s Word. The apostle Paul gave this counsel: “I desire the women to adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind . . . in the way that befits women professing to reverence God, namely, through good works.” (1 Tim. 2:9, 10) The same guiding principle could also be applied to Christian men. Clothing should not be unduly showy, calling too much attention to the individual. Nor should it be sloppy. Others should be able to see that the Christian is modest and dresses in a manner that befits the occasion. There should be evidence of soundness of mind, that is, reasonable, good thinking as to the choice of clothing. When it comes to matters of worship, the Christian’s dress should harmonize with the dignity of sacred service.
Of course, if interested persons begin coming to Christian meetings, they should not be made to feel uncomfortable because of their appearance, but should be received in a spirit of love. To judge whether they are deserving to hear the truth or not on the basis of what they wear would be wrong. The disciple James told fellow Christians: “If a man with gold rings on his fingers and in splendid clothing enters into a gathering of you, but a poor man in filthy clothing also enters, yet you look with favor upon the one wearing the splendid clothing and say: ‘You take this seat here in a fine place,’ and you say to the poor one: ‘You keep standing,’ or: ‘Take that seat there under my footstool,’ you have class distinctions among yourselves and you have become judges rendering wicked decisions, is that not so?”—Jas. 2:2-4.
However, it would not be expected that the poor man would continue to come to meetings in “filthy clothing” after becoming a baptized Christian. If he could not afford to get modest, well-arranged attire, his brothers would come to his aid. (Compare James 2:14-16.) Therefore, his humble circumstances would not have prevented his wearing clothes that reflected favorably upon his God.
So, then, dress is something that does matter to Christians. They should strive never to give anyone valid reason for questioning their modesty and sound thinking.