Glorify God in
"For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1Corinthians 6:19).
"It was once the case that the only time 'love-handles' were exposed in public was when an overweight plumber was struggling to repair the faucet (no offense to plumbers intended). These days, every other teen-age girl at the mall is wearing her favorite pair of 'I wear a size 8, but the 6's fit so tight, I went ahead and got the 4's' low-rider jeans that let her wiggle around in pride, showing off her new tattoo just above the caboose. From early on, our society teaches the feminine child that body glitter and exposed cleavage are the rites of passage that will carry her to the status of 'cosmopolitan womanhood.' From the time they can fantasize with the Barbie doll that has become progressively more lumpy over the years, to the day she can pick up the latest "sophisticated" women's magazines, our daughters are slowly being pressed into a mold of destruction and ruin. The young men in our culture are no less targets of the allure of glamorous living. Almost every break in any given televised sports event is peppered with seductive women and carefree young men promoting one prevailing hedonistic message. The adolescent men walk around with their underwear hanging out all over the place, with perhaps something that might be called a shirt. And when mom or dad complain about their son's behavior, the boys reaffirm their independence and personal sovereignty – then ask for twenty bucks and the car keys" (Christian Courier Penpoints, June 28th, 2004, Jared Jackson). The writer does accurately describe the challenging cultural trends that surround not only Christian young people but Christian adults as well. We do live in a time of tattoos, all sorts of body piercings, exposed cleavage, and "love handles". Are there any Biblical principles that help the Christian teen or parent make wise decisions on such matters?
"This is my body"
I would like to examine a couple of attitudes that are at times behind such trends, such as, "it is my body", and "you need to accept me for whom I am". The statement "it is my body" is not accurate, your body actually belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:18-19).
Secondly, the purpose of your body is not for the glorification or popularity of self, as in
"I want people to think am I cool or hip", but rather the body exists to serve and glorify
God. Paul noted, "the body is for the Lord" (1 Corinthians 6:13; Romans 6:13). I cannot picture Jesus or Paul arguing, "it's my body". Rather, I find Paul saying, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Ask yourself this question: "If Christ is living in me", then what fashion statements would He choose and which would He reject?
"You need to accept me as I am"
I do not find any of the righteous men or women in the Bible ever saying such a thing.
In fact, I find a completely different attitude in Paul. Instead of insisting on setting a certain image or style, Paul was far more concerned about seeing that he did not offend anyone needlessly, "Just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved" (1 Corinthians 10:33).
Instead of demanding that everyone had to accept his fashion statement, he wrote,
"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew…to those who are without law, as without law…I do all things for the sake of the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). When I look at this verse I do not see Paul trying to make some personal statement through his dress, rather, I find that he tried to fit in for the stake of gaining an inroads in the hope of saving souls.
"What matters is what is on the inside"
Jesus reminds us that what is on the inside is also very important, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence" (Matthew 23:25). Yet it is a mistake to interpret Jesus here as saying that what is on the outside does not matter, because Jesus further noted, "First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also" (Matthew 23:26). Jesus further noted that what is on the inside inherently will break out and manifest itself (Mark 7:21). This means if I select fashions that only a harlot would wear ("dressed as a harlot" Proverbs 7:10), there is something wrong in my heart, it is either ignorance or something far worse. It is inaccurate to claim that clothing does not send any messages, actually what we wear sends many messages. It communicates a message about our values, our character, and our attitudes. From a person's clothing one can tell if being neat and clean is a priority for them. "Kim Alexis was a super-model in the eighties. Her picture was on over 500 magazine covers including Vogue and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. She's had a change of heart about many things, and today she realizes that she made a lot of mistakes. Now she's challenging women to think about the message they are sending when they dress sensually. As Christian women we need to ask one another, 'Is the message you're sending consistent with what you really believe, or are you sending a mixed message?'" (Eternal Perspectives, Spring 2004, p. 8). Karina Franklin observes "immodest dressing is in some ways a shortcut—trying to gain attention in a 'cheap' or quick way rather than disciplining ourselves for godliness. When others spend time with us, or even meet us for the first time, they should be struck by God's work in our lives (our character, our pure speech, our gentle and quiet spirits). Dressing in revealing or alluring way is really just a shortcut to making a good (or should we say bad?) impression. It's almost like refusing to shower, but putting on a lot of perfume instead". I like where Jesus places the emphasis, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). Is this the impression that I want to make, or is the impression I want to make more centered around me?
Concerns of the godly person
· I do not want to cause anyone to stumble (Matthew 18:6-7). Admittedly, revealing clothing is designed to catch the attention of the opposite sex. In addition, I do not want to sow an attitude in someone else that would move him or her away from God.
· I do not want to contribute towards a practice becoming mainstream or viewed as being acceptable because this only means that the next generation (in which my children and grandchildren will live), will push the boundaries that much farther. Each new generation does have an obligation to hold the line. No, having part of your underwear showing may not be the ultimate in evil, but we have to be perceptive enough to ask, "If this becomes acceptable, then what is next?" Every generation through its choices is building a society or culture in which that generation and their generation must live. "Those who condone and applaud the vicious actions of others are actually making a deliberate contribution to the setting up of a public opinion favorable to vice, and so to the corruption of an indefinite number of other people" (Cottrell p. 168).
"You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord" (Leviticus 19:28). "The immediate context of Leviticus
19:27-28 suggests that Moses was attempting to inoculate Israel against the emulation of certain heathen practices related to idolatry. For example, the prophet forbids 'cutting the flesh' in the passage under consideration; yet no one contends that medical surgery is being condemned. Rather, 'cuttings' in the flesh 'for the dead' are in view (cf. also 1 Kings. 18:28). This was an idolatrous practice. Too, ancient archaeological evidence indicates that some of the Canaanites would tattoo themselves with the names or symbols of their favorite 'gods.' This appears to be what the prophet is condemning" (Christian Courier, Wayne Jackson). When it comes to the practice of tattoos, a young person needs to consider the following:
· Would Jesus or the early Christians have wanted one?
· Remember, a tattoo is permanent, and your preferences and tastes will change over the years. You are not going to wear the same style of clothing for the next 50 years, so what a person has tattooed on themselves at age 21 will probably no longer be viewed as some wonderful thing at age 30 and so on. While getting a tattoo might be part of going though a "stage" the problem is that the tattoo remains, even after one moves on.
· Consider your motivation. Should a Christian really want to "look tough", "bad" or "mean"? If we feel that a tattoo enhances our appearance, (and I am not talking about makeup or having a permanent eyebrow or eyeliner), but rather having something written on our bodies where there was supposed to be nothing, that seems to be an accusation against the designer of our bodies.
· Will this tattoo fit when you are a parent or grandparent?
· How will this tattoo look when the body starts to age and the ink is no longer bright?
Some would argue that if pierced ears are acceptable then piercing any part of the body is acceptable, but I do not agree with this line of reasoning. Consider this verse,
"Respect what is right in the sight of all men" (Romans 12:17). This can also be translated, "Be careful to do what is right in the sight of everybody". The verse reminds us that "everyone" is watching us, and we should be sensitive to how our conduct is viewed by others, "so as not to cause anyone to stumble or reject the gospel, and so as not to be an occasion for anyone to mock the God we profess to serve" (Cottrell p.
347). The verse assumes that there is among men a common core of decency acknowledged by all. Even if the world does not live up to "common decency" it is still very aware of what is decent, and thus is quick to notice when Christians do not live up to such a standard. I might also call this standard, "good judgment" or "good taste".
Titus exhorts young men to be "sensible, dignified… so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us" (Titus 2:6-8). I know that at times professed Christians might even be tempted to say, "Well, if they have a problem with this--- it is their problem". I find the above verse actually teaching an attitude that is the exact opposite. If the world has a problem with something we are doing that is good that is one thing, but if the world is having a problem with something we are going that is either neutral or questionable, that is another thing. Paul would have been horrified if he had needlessly offended someone (1 Corinthians 10:32). The real bottom line in this lesson is that if Christ is truly living in me (Galatians 2:20), then none of the above things will become a "big deal" in my life. I know that some young people have different body parts pierced to "shock" others, but piercing is so common these days that the shock value is gone. In addition, if you really want to get someone's attention, tell him or her you are a Christian and explain to him or her what the Bible actually says. We need to be far more concerning with making a "statement" that draws attention to God rather than drawing attention to self.
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017