The Outward Appearance of Godâ€™s People: Does it Matter?
“For man looketh on the outward appearance, but Yahweh looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” (Matt. 23:25)
Is God concerned about the outward appearance of His people? Do our decisions about clothing, hair styles, jewelry, and other such things matter to Him? Some Christians answer “No!” and as proof quote verses such as those above (divorced from their context, of course). Furthermore, anyone who dares to disagree and say “Yes, God does care about outward appearance” is considered a legalistic hypocrite who strains at gnats and swallows camels. Regardless of such accusations, I say Yes, God most definitely cares about our outward appearance.
Merely changing one’s hair style and clothing does not impart spirituality, of course. Nor does getting a Gl haircut and putting on a uniform magically transform a man into a trained soldier. Yet the soldier-in-training is expected to conform to the military standards of dress and appearance from the first day he enters training. The Lord of Hosts has established certain standards of dress and appearance for the people of His army, and these standards are neglected by a great number of Christians today.
Outward appearance is not the real issue, of course. Outward appearance which violates Scriptural guidelines is merely a very obvious symptom of a much deeper spiritual problem. The real problem underlying the abandonment of God’s standards of dress and appearance is a problem that has its roots in compromise, rebellion, and a desire for more independence than God is willing to give.
Let me explain. Most normal people do not want to be outwardly and noticeably different from those around them. Normal people do not like being stared at by strangers and viewed as an oddity. So when the world pressures God’s people to abandon God’s standards and conform to the world’s standards, it is very tempting for God’s people to give in and compromise.
This compromise and world-conformity pleases the world and relieves the Christian of the stigma of being peculiar. But “friendship of the world is enmity with God” and “whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Therefore the Christian who ignores God’s instructions about outward appearance is actually rebelling against God and claiming his independence from the standards God has set forth in His Word. If people do not recognize this as the real root of the problem, it will do no good to try to force them to “get into uniform.”
“Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter,” Yeshua said, “that the outside of them may be clean also” (Matt. 23:26). The Lord clearly wants our outward appearance to conform to God’s standards of holiness, but we must first recognize that our abandonment of God’s standards is merely a symptom of our own internal rebellion against God. We resent God telling us how to dress or wear our hair. We want to decide for ourselves what is acceptable.
Once we have identified and acknowledged our rebellion as the real issue, we can let God take our rebellious nature to the cross and crucify it. We then come to the Father with a surrendered heart, willing to learn His ways and to walk in them. This will certainly change much more than our outward appearance. It will change our nature and our character, and this in turn will produce any necessary changes in our outward appearance. We will want to please our Heavenly Father. It will not matter to us whether or not our outward appearance pleases the world.
How we dress and wear our hair should never be the most important aspect of our faith. Â It should, however, be one of the things which identify us as one of God’s children. There are several passages in the Bible which clearly show that God is concerned about these things. Here are some of them, with brief comments:
“…and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons… Unto Adam also and to his wife did Yahweh God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:7, 21).
Man’s very first attempt at proper dress was a failure. God corrected Adam and Eve’s misconceptions about proper clothing, and He has had to continue correcting His people ever since.
“…neither shall a garment mingled of linen and wool come upon thee” (Ex. 19:19).
God clearly prohibits the wearing of a linen-wool blend. He gives no explanation or reason for this prohibition; He simply commands it and expects His people to obey.
“You shall not round the comers of your heads, neither shall thou mar the corners of thy beard” (Lev. 19:27).
“…if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him… But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory for her (1 Cor. 11:14f).
If any hair style were acceptable to God, He would not give instructions concerning hair styles.
“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am Yahweh” (Lev. 19:28).
God forbids the mutilation of our body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The recent popularity of tattoos and bizarre body piercings is one more sign of our nation’s disregard for God’s commandments.
“And the priest shall set the woman [suspected of adultery] before Yahweh, and uncover her head…” (Num. 5:18).
We can conclude from this verse (and history confirms it) that a woman’s normal clothing in Biblical times included a head covering. The absence of a head covering marked a woman as someone suspected of adultery. This is probably what Paul had in mind when he wrote that “every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head [i.e., her husband]” (1 Cor. 11:5).
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make themselves fringes in the borders of their garments through out their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue. And it shall be unto you a fringe, that ye may took upon it and remember all the commandments of Yahweh, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye used to go a whoring” (Num. 15:38f).
“Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself (Deut. 22:12).
These verses are the basis for the tallit (“prayer shawl”) and tsitsit (fringes).
The woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto Yahweh thy God” (Deut. 22:5).
People may disagree about cultural differences and whether or not certain garments (usually pants) “pertain to a man,” but one thing is clear: God expects gender-specific clothing, and those who violate this are described as “abomination unto Yahweh,” a phrase which carries with it the strongest condemnation possible. Even if the Bible said nothing else about clothing, this verse alone would be proof that God cares what His people wear.
“When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment… I coveted them, and took them” (Josh. 7:21).
Achan’s desire to dress like a Babylonian cost him his life and the life of his entire family.
“Jezebel… she painted her face” (2 Kings 9:30).
One of the very few places where make up is specifically mentioned in the Bible. (The other references are in a negative context as well – Jer. 4:30 & Ezk. 23:40.) Do women of God really want to follow the example of Jezebel?
“…there met him a woman with the attire of a harlot (Prov. 7:10).
The clothing of God’s people should be easily distinguishable from “the attire of a harlot.” Among some Christian women this is not the case.
“As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion” (Prov. 11:22)
God expects women (and men) to be discreet in choosing modest clothing.
“I [God] will punish… all such as are clothed with strange apparel” (Zeph. 1:8).
Clothing which the world calls acceptable is often viewed as “strange apparel” by God; clothing which God calls acceptable is often viewed as “strange apparel” by the world.
“Who can find a virtuous woman?…Strength and honor are her clothing” (Prov. 31:10, 25).
“Whose adorning let it not be [merely] 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…” (1 Pet 3:3-5).
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works” (1 Tim. 23f).
“Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and seductive eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet …In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of their anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans, and veils” (Isa. 3:16, 18-23).
The Bible does not condemn the wearing of every single item of clothing and jewelry listed in the verses above. However, when the daughters of Zion concern themselves with their outward adornment and physical beauty, and neglect the inward adornment and spiritual beauty, then these items become offensive to God.
It is obvious from the above Scriptures that outward appearance is important to God. God’s remark to Samuel (“man looks on the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks on the heart”) must be read in context. Samuel thought that one of David’s older brothers must be “the Lord’s anointed” because they were all tall and handsome. God was simply telling Samuel that when Yahweh chooses to anoint someone for a task, He does not base His choice on how tall or handsome the person is, but on the condition of his heart. This does not mean that God is not concerned about the outward appearance of His people. He is concerned, as the above verses show. If this were not so, Satan would not be so busy inspiring people to violate the Biblical standards.
We are dealing with something much deeper and much more serious than clothes and hair; we are dealing with the authority of God. Those who knowingly defy God’s instructions are defying God and questioning His right to command His people.
Satan’s goal is to blur the distinction of the sexes, because the distinction of the sexes is a testimony to the authority God has established on earth. God created the human race male and female. There are gender-specific roles in the family and there are gender-specific roles in the Body of Messiah. Satan is doing all he can to blur those distinctions, and his efforts extend even to clothing and hair styles. Working through the feminists, the sodomites, and the fashion designers, Satan changes the world’s definition of what is modest, what is appropriate for men, and what is appropriate for women. A short time after the world has accepted these changes, the Church embraces them, and anyone who questions the wisdom of this is called a legalist.
Bible-believing Christians know that Satan is attacking marriages and the family. Few realize, though, that one important strategy of Satan’s attack is to blur the distinction of male and female roles by persuading people that gender-specific clothing and hair styles are not important. The very fact that Satan is hard at work in this area should tell us that it must be important. This should give God’s people all the more reason to take a strong stand against the unisex trend.
The Enemy’s attempt to blur the distinction of the sexes should cause God’s people to go on the offensive and make it a special point to wear clothing and hair styles which clearly distinguish males from females. My beard and my pants distinguish me from my wife; my wife’s long hair, dress, and head covering distinguish her from me. This serves as a silent testimony to Satan, to the angels, to the world, and to the Church that God has authority in the earth. Proper clothing and hair do not produce holiness, but true holiness will result in proper clothing and hair.
This subject always brings up dozens of questions. Usually the questions are raised by people like the lawyer in the New Testament who, “willing to justify himself,” asked, “And who is my neighbor?” (“And who decides what is ‘modest’? And who decides what is ‘costly array’? And who decides what ‘pertains to a man’?”)
There are legitimate questions, of course. Should all these things be left up to the individual? Or should a community of believers use the Bible to establish guidelines for a community standard? Most Christians balk at such a suggestion. “A dress code!?’ they shriek. “Are you kidding!?” While I do not particularly care for the words “dress code,” it should be pointed out that establishing a community standard of dress and appearance, and sticking to it, is one thing that has helped certain groups (Orthodox Jews, Amish, Mennonite, and other Christian “plain people”) survive as distinct groups.
The purpose of this article is not to deal with all the specific details. The purpose of this article is simply to awaken God’s people to the fact that these things really do matter.
Some people will no doubt think I am majoring in minors by even writing about this subject. Anyone who feels this way should consider the fact that the Apostles and Prophets were inspired by the Holy Spirit to rebuke, correct, and give instructions to God’s people about proper dress and appearance. From what I have seen in some churches, I believe our generation needs to hear and heed these words of the Apostles and Prophets.
For further reading, I recommend Why Do They Dress That Way? by Stephen Scott (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1986).