Christian Dress - Identifying Yourself

How you dress tells a lot about you. Indeed, your dress can identify what kind of person you are. How you dress can send messages, either good or bad. For example, in the Proverbs of Solomon he speaks of the “dress of a prostitute.”

Dress and the New Person in Christ

Paul writes about this new clothing - this new way of dressing - in Colossians 3:12-14:

“As the Elect of God - holy and beloved - clothe yourselves with empathy and compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, tolerance. Be patient and tolerant of one another even if someone has a complaint against another. Forgive one another, just as the Lord graciously forgave all of you, you must also be forgiving. And above everything else show loving concern, for this results in perfect unity.” [NCMM]

So, just as literal clothing may identify a person’s trade, military service, school, family, the New Person in Christ is identified by certain layers of spiritual clothing. He or she wear these like layers so that they may be quickly characterized by these several attributes. People will have no difficulty in reading or identifying this person.

God’s Elect Put On Holy Garments

Paul urges Christians as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” to clothe themselves in these new and holy garments. Like brand new clothing put on the same old person, the New Person in Christ must be characterized by completely new attitudes and qualities. Paul lists some of these in the following phrases.

Dress In Empathy and Compassion

The first layer is that of “compassion.” Other versions render this as tenderness of heart, heart of pity, tender affections of compassion, merciful in action. The New Person is compassionate - humane, gracious, forgiving, sympathetic, empathic.

Paul makes a similar appeal to compassion and related characteristics at Philippians 2:1-4,

“So if there is any encouragement incorporate within Christ, if any consolation of love, if any sharing of Pneuma, if any inner feelings and compassions, you Philippians fill me with joy so that you may be minding the very same thing, having the same love, joined together in soul, minding the one thing -do nothing out of contentiousness nor from vainglory, but rather with lowly-mindedness be considerate of one another, not just looking after your own selfish things, but also those things of others.” [NCMM]

A compassionate person is known as someone who thinks of others in an empathetic way. Such a Christian is known by others to show concern for others, someone whose heart goes out to anyone in need. [Matthew 15:32; 20:34] This is truly a “feeling” person who is not blind - nor turns a deaf ear - to the circumstances of others less fortunate. James 5:11 describes Yehowah as tenderly compassionate to Job. Jesus wore such spiritual clothing:

“Feeling compassion for them, he healed their sick.” [Matthew 14:14 NCMM; Mark 6:34]

Peter urges compassion and other related attributes:

“All of you be like-minded - sympathetic, along with brotherly affection, well-disposed to compassion, humble in disposition, not paying back harm for harm, or slander for slander, but rather, bestow blessings [on others]. So that you inherit a blessing, for unto a blessing you were invited.” [1 Peter 3:8, 9 NCMM]

The parable of the good Samaritan illustrates this marvelous quality:

“He was filled with compassion, so he drew near and bandaged his wounds, pouring wine and oil over them. Then he put him on his animal and brought him to an inn and there cared for him some more.” [Luke 10:33, 34 NCMM]

Paul counsels the Ephesian congregation:

“Become graciously charitable to each other, with a tendency to sympathetic compassion full of forgiveness to all, exactly as God by Christ graciously forgave you.” [NCMM]

Dress in Kindness

Compassion is an inner feeling of sympathy and empathy for others, but the second layer of spiritual clothing calls for positive action - kindness. The New Person in Christ is known to be kind toward others and this is manifest in empathy and charity. Kindness is also marked by good manners and courtesy. This kindness is not limited to just other Christians, for God is “kind toward the unthankful and wicked.” [Luke 6:35]

Kindness is part of the fruitage of the holy spirit. [See Nazarene Commentary 2000© notes on Galatians 5:21, 22.] The Christian who has dressed in this layer of clothing is well known by others. They know that if anyone is going to help out it will be this kind Christian. If neighbors and friends were asked what kind of person this is, they would add, “kind.”

The Lord is describes as kind. [1 Peter 2:3] Jesus described the yoke of discipleship:

“For my yoke is kind and my load is light.” [Matthew 11:30 NCMM]

Christ describes his Father as kind even to those who are not thankful and even wicked. Such kindness is associated with charity.

“He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Continue to be charitable just as your Father is charitable.” [Luke 6:35, 36 NCMM]

Dress in Lowliness

The third layer of spiritual clothing is “lowliness.” Or, self-humiliation, humble in mind, lowly-minded. One knows they are meeting a New Person in Christ when humility is manifest, and arrogance and egotism completely lacking.

At Romans 12:16 Paul urges, “Do not think lofty thoughts.” [NCMM] The Nazarene is the premier example of humility and lowliness. In what amounts to a hymn Paul sings:

“(The pre-existent Christ) stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as a mortal man. And, having become a man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying.” [Philippians 2:6, 7 PME]

By way of illustration, imagine you are living as royalty in high standards and have never known want, but lived in luxury all your life. Now, you are asked to leave all of this and travel to Haiti to become a medical missionary in the red light districts where AIDS is thought to have been brewed. What characteristic would that require?

Nothing is more disharmonious than the individual who takes himself or herself too seriously. It is interesting that Peter’s mention of haughtiness follows right on the heels of his discussion of shepherds and elders. Ambition is not only self-destructive, it destroys the harmony and unity of God’s people. Satan is the originator of ambition. Ambitious men have existed throughout the history of Jehovah’s people. It was a problem among the Christian disciples and Paul alludes to it in his letters.

Each Christian can ask themselves: As a disciple of the Nazarene how can I become more like him in his example of humility? Do others view me as arrogant or prideful? How can I manifest humility in my life today?

Paul writes about this subject to other congregations:

“Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity, but in humility think more of one another than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but each should learn to see thing from other people’s point of view. ... Accept life with humility and patience, making allowances for one another.” [Philippians 2:3, 4; Ephesians 4:2 PME]

The lowly and humble will never be disharmonious. Pride is the disrupter. Humility the healer. All of your current pains, indeed all of your pains in life, may be traceable to that original act of pride on the part of Satan.

Dress in Meekness

The next layer to this spiritual garment is “meekness.” [Or, gentleness, mildness.] The adversarial, confrontational, aggressive person has not become a New Person in Christ. Nor have the opinionated or self-righteous. The New Person in Christ is known by his or her willingness to yield on matters of no great import, to be reasonable in sharing convictions with others. Most of all, the meek New Person in Christ is willing to learn, and indeed, receive rebuke and reproof when that is necessary. Meekness or mildness is one of the fruitage of the spirit. [Galatians 5:22, 23]

Meekness does not mean a person is without authority, for both Moses and Jesus are described as meek, and yet they had great authority among God’s people. [Numbers 12:3; Matthew 11:29] Nor is meekness a weakness of character. Rather it takes great strength and self-control to remain meek and mild. Jesus taught that the meek were blessed. [Matthew 5:5]

Paul counsels:

“Do this in all lowliness and meekness, persevering in tolerance for one another in loving concern.” [Ephesians 4:2 NCMM]

We note that the quality of meekness is associated with tolerance and loving concern for others. And again he says to a Christian official:

“Do not be quarrelsome but rather display gentleness and meekness to everyone.” [Titus 3:2 NCMM]

Accepting God’s word in meekness is necessary for salvation: “In meekness accept the implanted Word which is able to save your souls.” [James 1:21 NCMM] Meekness is associated with wisdom:

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him prove it by his good conduct with works in wisdom’s meekness.” [James 3:13 NCMM]

The person dressed in meekness is not easily irritated, is not confrontational or adversarial, is not opinionated and treating the views of others as nothing. People know meekness in others when they see it, but not always in themselves.

Dress in Patience

The next layer of Christian dress is “patience.” That is, forbearance, longsuffering, tolerance. The New Person in Christ is known as a patient Christian who is not easily upset, but is willing to suffer long with the weak and immature. Patience is a part of the fruitage of the spirit. [Galatians 5:22, 23]

Patience requires doing what Paul says at Ephesians 4:2,

“Putting up with one another in love.” [Or, KJV: with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; RHM: bearing one with another in love; TCN: patient, bearing lovingly with one another; KNX: patient, too, in bearing with one another’s faults, as charity bids; PME: making allowances for one another because you love one another.]

God has exercised patience. [Acts 14:16; 17:30; Romans 3:24; 15:5] Patience is necessary to inherit God’s promises:

“Be imitators of those who through conviction and patience inherit the promises.” [Hebrews 6:12, 15 NCMM]

Patience cannot be separated from endurance in faith: “Brothers, take as an example of suffering hardship the patience of the prophets who spoke in the YHWH Name. Behold, we call blessed those who have endured.” [James 5:10, 11 NCMM]

It is easy to show patience and tolerant long-suffering to those we love and who also like us. However, Jude encourages patience with even the difficult:

“Show merciful patience with the indecisive. Save them by snatching them out of the fire. However, while showing mercy in fear continue to hate the inner garment stained by the flesh.” [Jude 22, 23 NCMM]

So the real test of patience comes with those who are difficult to like and love, those who do not respond easily and quickly to godly counsel, those who are self-willed and resist being submissive or yielding to those with Church authority.

Dress in Tolerance And Forgiveness

The Christian must also be dressed in tolerance and forgiveness. This should be so “even if someone has a legitimate complaint against another.” Paul provides a specific example of this patience as it is displayed in a forgiving disposition even when there is a legitimate “complaint” against another. His words are a virtual commentary on the Lord’s Prayer at Matthew 6:12 and the Lord’s own commentary at Matthew 6:14. There is simply no tolerant forgiveness from God if we do not also forgive those who have sinned against us. Christ’s ransom will not save the unforgiving and intolerant person. For they will be judged just as they judge others. [Matthew 7:1, 2]

A Christian can see what is involved in this layer of clothing by considered also Ephesians 4:32,

“Rather become benevolent to one another, well inclined to sympathy, compassionately forgiving to others, just as The God in the Christened One graciously forgave you.” [C2001]

Other versions indicate this includes benevolence, kindness, and generosity. Such sympathy includes being tenderhearted [KJV] and understanding [PME]. This “compassionate forgiveness” means to be ready to forgive. [TCN] Such free and almost automatic forgiveness can lead no where but into compassionate fields of kindness.

Dress in Love

The last layer of clothing, what we might consider the outer wear - the wind proof and rain proof later - becomes the most important. The quality that ties all the others together and without which none of the others will work completely. James Moffatt put it most beautifully, “love is the link of the perfect life.” The final piece of clothing is that of love - that real [divine] love manifest in positive action for a neighbor’s or enemy’s highest good. The very least that love performs is “to never work harm toward another.” [Romans 13:10] See Nazarene Commentary 2000© for details on the Greek and verbal descriptions on love see 1 Corinthians 13:5-7.

The word “love” in English has a multitude of uses and meanings. In Greek the word most often used for “love” is AGAPE. Biblically AGAPE may be positive or negative. The Bible speaks of “hypocritical love.” That is because AGAPE begins with interest and concern based on certain principles and motivations. For example, a mother may think she is loving her child by withholding some degree of discipline and direction. This is a love based on wrong principles and a mistaken motive.

Divine, Biblical love is interest and concern rightly motivated and highly principled. These are the engines that move the interest and concern into positive action that seeks the highest good and welfare of another. Love cannot exist without selflessness. Love is useless without self-sacrifice. For the self-centered and egotistical person will always be motivated by a wrong principle in dealing with others - “what can I get out of this?”

With all the criticisms brought against the Bible, it remains a Book about love. The word group occurs at least 1,000 times and in part because the two main characters of the Scriptures are God and Christ. These are both the premier examples of love. The beloved apostle John simply describes the Almighty, “God is love.” [1 John 4:8] Christ’s example of self-sacrifice was based on love. [John 13:34; 1 John 3:16]

So, as the last layer of a Christian’s dress, love combines and works with all of the previous qualities. It is the glue that holds together empathy, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, tolerance and forgiveness. With love moving the others, none will ever fail.

Dress That Creates Unity

What kind of person do we have here, this man or woman dressed in these “clothes”? We have a person who has discovered inner harmony, and plumbed the depths of spiritual tranquility. We find a person we want to be around. We find someone to copy as a role model in our own lives. We find a person who is no longer angry at the world, has left cynicism behind, has ceased being judgmental. A person knows that in the end all will be right with God and the world.

We also see a person who is able to “bind everything together into perfect harmony.” Not just inside in the warm residence of this person - that room where Christ also dwells - but also outside, in dealings and relationships with others. Scholar Phillips describes it, “love is the golden chair of all the virtues.” All of the previous virtues or moral attributes are bound together to produce “perfect harmony” within the Church.

No one person is automatically blessed with all of these gifts in perfect measure. But there is one thing for sure - the person who strives to wear this clothing will be a better person for it. And, so will all those who come in contact with him or her.

Friends of the Nazarene Publishing

Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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