YOUR personal appearance says much about you. While Jehovah sees what the heart is, humans generally draw conclusions from “what appears to the eyes.” (1 Sam. 16:7) When you are clean and well-groomed, others will likely conclude that you have self-respect, and they will be more inclined to listen to you. Your being appropriately dressed will also reflect well on the organization that you represent and on your listeners’ view of the God you worship.
Guidelines to Apply. The Bible does not set out many rules about personal appearance. But it does provide balanced principles that can help us make sound decisions. Fundamental to all of these is the fact that we “do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) What principles come into play relative to our personal appearance?
First, the Bible encourages us to be clean, both in our body and in our clothing. In his Law to ancient Israel, Jehovah set out requirements regarding cleanliness. For example, when the priests were on duty, they were to bathe and wash their garments at designated times. (Lev. 16:4, 24, 26, 28) Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, but principles embodied in it are still valid. (John 13:10; Rev. 19:8) Especially when we are going to a place of worship or sharing in the field ministry, our body, our breath, and our clothing should be clean so that others do not find us offensive. Those who give talks or share in demonstrations in front of the congregation should set a fine example in this regard. Giving attention to our personal appearance shows respect for Jehovah and for his organization.
Second, the Bible exhorts us to cultivate modesty and soundness of mind. The apostle Paul urged Christian women to “adorn themselves . . . with modesty and soundness of mind, not with styles of hair braiding and gold or pearls or very expensive garb, but in the way that befits women professing to reverence God.” (1 Tim. 2:9, 10) Modesty and soundness of mind are also important in the dress and grooming of men.
A person who is modest is concerned about not needlessly offending others and not drawing undue attention to himself. Soundness of mind results in discretion, or good judgment. The person who displays these qualities has balance that results from respect for godly standards. Manifesting these qualities does not rule out dressing in an attractive manner but helps us to be sensible in our appearance and to avoid extravagant styles of dress and grooming. (1 John 2:16) We want to apply these principles whether we are at a place of worship, sharing in the field ministry, or engaging in other activities. Even our casual dress should reflect modesty and soundness of mind. At school or on our secular job, there will be opportunities to do informal witnessing. While we may not be dressed in the same manner as when attending meetings, conventions, and assemblies, our dress should still be neat, clean, and modest.
Of course, we do not all dress alike. We are not expected to. People have different tastes, and this is quite proper. But Bible guidelines should always be applied.
The apostle Peter showed that even more important than hairstyles and outer garments is apparel associated with “the secret person of the heart.” (1 Pet. 3:3, 4) When our hearts are filled with love, joy, peace, kindness, and faith that is solidly based, these will become to us spiritual garments that truly honor God.
Third, the Bible urges us to consider whether our appearance is well arranged. At 1 Timothy 2:9, mention is made of “well-arranged dress.” While the apostle Paul was referring to the attire of women, the same principle applies to men. Something that is well arranged is neat and orderly. Whether we have much materially or not, we can have a neat appearance.
One of the first aspects of personal appearance that is noticed by others is our hair. It ought to be neat, or well arranged. Both local custom and hereditary factors have a bearing on how people wear their hair. At 1 Corinthians 11:14, 15, we find counsel from the apostle Paul on hairstyles, which evidently took into consideration both of these factors. However, when a person’s hairstyle conveys the impression that he or she is trying to look like a person of the opposite sex, this is in conflict with Bible principles.—Deut. 22:5.
For men, a neat personal appearance may include being clean-shaven. In areas where mustaches are widely viewed as dignified, any who wear these should keep them neatly trimmed.
Fourth, our appearance should not reflect love of the world and its ways. The apostle John cautioned: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world.” (1 John 2:15-17) Many sinful desires characterize this world. Among these John mentions the desire of the sinful flesh and the showy display of one’s possessions. The Scriptures also draw attention to the spirit of rebellion, or disobedience to authority. (Prov. 17:11; Eph. 2:2) These desires and attitudes are often manifest in the way that people dress and groom themselves. As a result, their appearance may be immodest, sensual, gaudy, unkempt, careless, or sloppy. As Jehovah’s servants, we avoid styles that reflect such unchristian ways.
Rather than imitate the world, how much better to allow the fine example of spiritually mature men and women in the Christian congregation to influence your dress and grooming! Young men who hope to be public speakers someday can observe the attire of those who already qualify to give public talks. All can learn from the example set by individuals who have loyally shared for many years in the public ministry.—1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
Fifth, in deciding what is appropriate, we ought to keep in mind that “even the Christ did not please himself.” (Rom. 15:3) Jesus’ foremost concern was the doing of God’s will. Jesus also put helping others ahead of personal convenience. When it comes to certain styles of dress and grooming, if anything would raise a barrier between us and the people where we are now serving, what should we do? Imitating the humble spirit shown by Christ can help us to decide wisely. The apostle Paul set out the principle: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling.” (2 Cor. 6:3) For that reason we may forgo hairstyles or items of attire that would tend to close the minds of people to whom we want to witness.
Posture. Good personal appearance also involves proper posture. Of course, we do not all carry ourselves in the same way, and we do not endeavor to conform to a certain pattern. However, it is noteworthy that according to Bible usage, standing erect conveys a sense of personal dignity and optimism. (Lev. 26:13; Luke 21:28) Nevertheless, because of working for years in a stooped position or because of advancing years or physical weakness, a brother or a sister may not be able to stand straight or may need to lean against something for support. But for those who are able to do so, standing reasonably erect when speaking to others is recommended so as not to convey an indifferent or apologetic attitude. Likewise, while it is not wrong for a speaker occasionally to rest his hands on the speaker’s stand, a more positive impression is generally conveyed to the audience if he does not lean on the stand.
Neat Equipment. Not only should our personal appearance be clean and well arranged but our equipment for use in the ministry should also be clean and neat.
Consider your Bible. It is not possible for all of us to obtain a new Bible when ours has become worn. Nevertheless, no matter how long we have had our Bible, it should give evidence that it has been handled with care.
There are, of course, many ways to pack a witnessing case, but it should be neat. Have you ever seen papers fall out of a Bible when a publisher was preparing to read a scripture to the householder or perhaps when a brother was giving a talk to the congregation? You were distracted, were you not? If papers kept in a Bible are a source of distraction, it may be that your keeping them in another place would be consistent with having your equipment well arranged. Realize, too, that placing the Bible or other religious publications on the floor is viewed as very disrespectful in some cultures.
Good personal appearance should be important to us. It also influences how others view us. But above all, we give it careful attention because we desire to “adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.”—Titus 2:10.