The Glorious Garment of Joseph” might have been emblazoned in large font atop the fashion section of the Shechem Times. In smaller print below, Reuben might have questioned the cost and excess displayed in such a coat. Judah might have gone so far as to suggest that there should be regulations against such glorious attire. None of the details imagined above are recorded for us in the biblical account, but rather the simple truth that there was a father (Jacob) who wished to honor his well-loved son (Joseph). Perhaps Jacob should have considered the feelings of his other sons and the unintended consequences that might result given their jealous hearts and questionable character. However, this glorious garment of Genesis, rather than giving us direction and understanding as to our personal attire, instead provides a patriarchal picture of the glory that the Father has given to the Son. The prayer of the Son in John 17 speaks clearly of His glory: “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (vv4-5). If this second garment of Genesis provides a picture of Christ, then it is the first garment of Genesis which pictures our spiritual attire. Adam and Eve discarded their feeble, hand-woven fig leaves as they left the garden wearing the garments God had provided. Similarly, you and I have been clothed with the garments of salvation, and, since we have been given such glorious spiritual attire, we might question what should characterize our earthly clothing. As Adam and Eve entered a post-Edenic world of fashion, so you and I must ask, as believers in a physical world, how ought we to dress ourselves?
We might naturally be inclined to answer such a question by providing a list of personal preferences, sprinkled with tradition and mingled with a measure of personal conviction. Yet, my personal preference is of no greater value than that of the believer sitting next to me. The shortcoming of relying on my personal, scripturally-derived convictions to answer this question is that their power is diminished and misdirected when I try to apply them to another. The weakness of following a tradition is that if tradition is not linked with truth, it fades away with passing generations. The only guidance that can adequately and consistently answer the questions of believers across the centuries and the globe is found in the principles provided to us in the Scriptures. So when it comes to our personal dress, let us consider the principles of modesty, identity, and liberty.
The gathering of the early church must have been something to behold. In Roman-dominated and Pharisaically-influenced Jerusalem, laborers and lords, servants and scribes, fishermen and tax collectors all came together on the first day of the week to remember the Lord Jesus Christ. Dr. Luke describes the attitude and atmosphere of that day in the Acts: “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:32-33).
My college professor brashly suggested that this is evidence of early communism, but the spiritual mind understands that what was at work was something far greater than the failing theories of mankind. True conversion was being lived out in vibrant Christianity that touched every aspect of human life. In those days, there was modesty that allowed the grace of the Great God to flow freely within the early church. Do we desire to know more of this great grace of God in our assemblies? We must begin with modesty. Paul states, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel” (2Tim 2:8-10).
Peter shares similar teaching when he notes, “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands” (1Peter 3:3-5). Plainly stated, our purpose in the assembly is never to draw attention to ourselves, but always to encourage others to behold the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we focus on each other, the flesh is tempted to judge, to envy, and to be proud. “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal 5:26). When we behold the Savior, the believer is provoked to spiritual service. “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25). In the assembly, there is no simpler way to display the meekness of self than in the modesty of our dress. Without saying a word, we proclaim that we are seeking the grace of God and not the glory of man when we wear modest clothing that is matched by meek hearts.
Have you ever stood outside a school, walked through a mall, or some other public place, and noted the irony of so many people trying to establish their unique identity? Indeed, the heavily tattooed individual with multiple piercings and questionable clothing may seem unique – until he is followed by 20 more individuals who have chosen the same identity. We live in a time when simply seeking to dress in modest simplicity and meekness stands apart as truly different. In Babylon, in 600BC, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel drew the same distinction. Though they were far away from the ruined temple and had been given new names, they declined to eat and drink what was provided by the worldly king. They did this, not out of a desire to declare proudly that they were different, nor in an attempt to outdo the competition, but rather because they understood that they served another King, even while in Babylon. Would you not agree that, while there were far more dramatic and impressive moments before them in the fiery furnace and in the lions’ den, it was these early experiences of identification with the God of Israel which prepared them for future service? Even in those early days, their obedience and identification with God in the simple and mundane things of life were rewarded with great blessing. “As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dan 1:17). Would not the development of deeper, spiritual knowledge, learning, wisdom, and understanding given by God be of great value in our assemblies? Is not identification with Christ in every aspect of our lives, including dress, a worthy pursuit in light of such spiritual blessing? And in a quickly changing Western society that may hasten the return of the fiery furnace and the lions’ den to challenge the true identity of the believer, can we expect to be prepared for such challenges if we have not surrendered our will to the obedience of Christ in the mundane and daily tasks of our lives, such as dress? So let us purpose in our hearts to identify with our Savior in every aspect of our lives, including our clothing choices.
Consider Paul’s impassioned plea to the Galatians that they should not lose the practical enjoyment of Christian liberty. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1). One might challenge, “But I thought my liberty meant that I am free to do and to dress as I like without adherence to any rule book?” If we assume that Christian liberty means we are wise to follow the choice of our own will, then we have missed the message of Galatians. Yes, Paul does teach that we have been liberated from the stern and implacable schoolmaster of the law, but he also clearly teaches that we have been liberated into a life lived under the unfailing guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul emphatically states, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another … This I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal 5:13, 16). So, would you not agree that, when we come to a gathering of the assembly, one of the great controlling principles of conduct is Christian liberty? And if the demands of faithful fellowship are that I examine my person for unconfessed sin and for fleshly attitudes, would it not also be right to evaluate my dress and its impact on fellow believers? We often joyfully sing together in worship, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart my life my all.” Truly the love of Christ constrains us to surrender our all to Him. That surrender begins in the assembly God has planted. There I have the opportunity to faithfully love the brethren, to exercise the gift He has given, and to honor Him in my interactions and even in my choice of apparel. We have been given guides to help us with this great challenge of faithful fellowship. There are elders with a desire to provide gentle guidance, and there are experienced believers whose understanding spans generations of service in God’s assembly. But the greatest Counselor is the Holy Spirit, Who is ready to direct the willing heart. Would it not be a correct attitude before coming to an assembly meeting to simply ask the Lord to preserve us from saying, doing, or wearing anything that might distract or deter another believer in his or her service to the Lord?
We have considered the principles that should inform and direct our dress in this life, and specifically in the assembly. However, there is wonderful truth to consider concerning our heavenly attire. We have already considered Jacob and the singular honor and glory he reserved for Joseph. The prophet Isaiah echoes this in the words of the Lord God; “I am the Lord: that is My name: and My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8). As believers, we bow our heads and hearts in agreement with the Father that the Son is worthy of such glory. The Lord Jesus affirms His equality with the Father as He prays in John 17, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). Yet, we wonder at the words of the Lord as His prayer continues: “And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one” (John 17:22). In heaven, we will be clothed in glory far excelling that which adorned Joseph. How wonderful that those glorious garments will not inspire jealousy or sin in others, but rather will serve to unite us in serving the Lord and furthering His eternal glory! With such glory before us we should be motivated in every area of this life, including our physical attire, to pursue that which honors the Savior, unites His people, and encourages fellow believers to remain focused on our Lord.