The Appearance of Reverence
As Christians, we are called to be different; different from the world around us (Jn. 17:16; 2 Cor. 6:15-7:1; 1 Ptr. 4:3-5); strangers and aliens (1 Ptr. 2:9-12); not loving nor conforming to the things of this world, but being transformed and turned into something totally different by the renewing of our minds (1 Jn. 2:15-17; Rom. 12:1-2). Christians therefore, obey the law – including the speed limit; they work as diligent and devoted employees, dutifully submitting to their bosses in the workplace; and not returning evil for evil to anyone (1 Ptr. 2:13-3:17).
Now, as you read the above paragraph you might have thought, “Ummm, I know Christians who have a ‘lead foot,’ who complain about their jobs and rebel against their bosses every chance they get, and who routinely seek to get even with those whom they believe have wronged them.” And sadly, you’re probably right. All too many of us have lost the uniqueness that identifies us as New Testament Christians (Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:9-21). Oh, we still go to church most Sundays, but for some reason – call it peer pressure or whatever you will – we seem to be either too afraid, or too ashamed, to be the truly different people that the Lord both cleansed and calls us to be. We neither love, live, look, nor forgive like the children of God should, but instead, we look, sound, react, and respond so much like the lost world all around us, that those folks no longer see us as being any different than they are. Is it any wonder our evangelistic efforts have been crippled?
How does this suicide slide back into being more like the world around us than the Lord within us actually begin? Very, very, slowly… Unnoticeably. Incrementally. It begins with the littlest, slightest, seemingly most insignificant of conciliatory gestures of conformity, and then grows so slowly we don’t even notice its presence. Perhaps this is why Jesus said what He did in Lk. 16:10; because having Him consider us faithful and hence being trusted with Him in much, begins with our not compromising with the world even on the littlest of things. Instead, we must stand up, stand out, and dare to be different for Jesus, and never allow ourselves to be found marching in lemming-like lockstep to the beat of the lost world all around us.
One area in which this incrementalistic march towards irreverence and irrelevance becomes obvious today, is when it comes to the casual. Today’s society is consumed with the casual – the decadent, degrading, dumbing down and disrespect of all things, including, especially, the most sacred thereof. Pagan society today is all about casual marriages, casual sex, and a casual disregard for the sanctity of human life amongst many other precious and sacred entities, practices, and institutions. Casual Christianity, and a casual, “take it or leave it,” “it’s not that important anyway” attitude and approach to God, church attendance, and personal involvement in the ministries thereof – even by many members of His Son’s church – seem to be becoming more and more the norm, as epidemic compromise with the world’s all-consuming desire to treat all things ever more casually continues.
Jesus indicated that what a person was on the inside, would be reflected by what was seen on the outside (Matt. 7:15-20; 12:33-35). This is so true – and certainly when it comes to our subject of the casual. One need only go as far as their local department store to see this truth (and often, far, far too much more) totally revealed. There they will quite often find others out in public, shopping in their slippers and pajamas, or in some cases, what amounts to not much more than their underwear. There they will also often find women wearing jeans with so many holes in them, that although they may feel like it makes them look sexy and stylish, it actually makes them look nothing more than cheap, cold, and disgracefully disrespectful.
But before all of us preachers, elders, and church leaders bemoan the casual Christianity, casual attitudes towards God and His service, and/or any of the other casual states of affairs that seem to be the norm in both the world and the church today, let us ask ourselves how much of it we may be responsible for helping to promote – even incrementally and/or unconsciously. A few quick questions if I might…
Do you remember how painstakingly prepared – right down to the last and most minute of details – they had to be when it came to the attire that had to be put on before the priests could present themselves into the presence of God in the Old Testament (Exod. 28, 29, 39)? According to the Book of Hebrews, we have a far better, higher, and holier everything than they did. Therefore, we must be clothed with something far better; we must be spiritually clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ before we can enter into His presence (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:36-27).
However, at the same time, the same truth Jesus related about what’s on the inside being reflected by what’s on the outside is also still true. A preacher who gets in the Lord’s pulpit on a Sunday, dressed casually in an open-necked golf shirt (or worse yet, a tee-shirt), khakis and tennis shoes (assuming he could afford better if he chose to), is generally going to have a lot less reverent, less respectful, and markedly more casual and uncommitted attitude towards God and His holy word, than the man who gets in the pulpit, reverently and respectfully presenting Himself before God, in and with the absolute best he’s got (See Mal. 1:6-14). If you don’t think so, then go on the internet and compare Sunday sermons by men dressed as described above, side by side.
Finally brothers, with all the love and respect in my heart, might I ask a related question just for your consideration? What’s with the whole bottom button on the suitcoat being unbuttoned when we stand before the saints? Yes, I know that it seems as if the entire world of newscasters, sportscasters, businessmen and others do it that way, but why do you? Is it REALLY that important to look like everyone else in the world? I can honestly think of no other viable reason why anyone would even consider it, except that “everyone else is doing it.” (Remember your mother saying when you were a child, “If they jumped off a bridge, would you?”) Are we, who are constantly trying to teach the teenagers in our congregations that they must not surrender to peer pressure, hypocritically surrendering to worldly peer pressure ourselves (See Rom. 2:17-24), because we have neither the faith, nor the courage, to be even a little bit different from those in the world around us on the tiniest of things? If you would not come to deliver your Sunday sermon with one shoe untied, your belt unbuckled, your shirt half-buttoned, your tie half-tied, or your hair uncombed, then why on earth would you want to look just as lazy, casual, uncaring, irreverent, and/or unprepared, as to have to have your suitcoat only halfway buttoned?
What kind of an example are we setting? What is our apparel truly saying, regarding who and what we really are on the inside as far as our personal level of reverence for being in the very presence and pulpit of God is concerned? I for one, neither care to look like, nor accompany in the end, those who do not know God. If our casual culture someday decides that blue hair and bare feet are somehow “cool,” I will still show up to preach with my natural hair color and dress boots on. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I neither need, seek, have to have, nor want to win, the approval of men (Lk. 6:26; Gal. 1:10); only of the God who deserves my least casual and most undivided best at all times – and especially when I stand before His people, to deliver His message, in His house, on His day.
My dearly beloved preaching and church leadership brethren; please consider these things. Then, let us all lovingly determine to set the highest godly standard for those we have the privilege of presenting the word of God to in all we do – including the attire we present ourselves before God and them in. For our God deserves no less, than our absolute best – and then some! God bless!