METAPHORS FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: CLOTHING

When most of us arise in the morning one of the first things we think about is, “What shall I wear today?” For some of us this is not a big deal, but with others it is, if not a major decision, certainly an important one. “Clothes make the man,” Mark Twain noted. “Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Those who are before the public have an image to project. They want to appear professional, respectable and confident. Others wear uniforms suitable to their job and their employers standards. In either case, clothes say something about the person.

It is a commentary on our times that great numbers of people appear to have little regard for standards of decency, dressing in slovenly attire when they go out in public. Some dress in the attire of prostitutes, emphasizing their sexuality, if not availability. Such attire makes a statement. It says, I have no respect for myself nor for anyone else.

Fads in fashion come and go, but all such emphasize the “herd mentality” of those who follow the trends. Polyester leisure suits had their day as did Nehru jackets. (Yeah, I wore leisure suits – made my own, by the way). We may laugh at these fads now, but there was a time when they were all the rage. Thoreau said, “Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

God has a better way for man. There was a day when fig leaves were the attire of choice, but God provided something better for Adam and Eve when he made them garments of animal skins. He has a better way for people today. Paul used the metaphor of clothing when he instructed Christians to “put off” certain things like one would put off soiled, worn, inappropriate clothing and “put on” other, better, more appropriate clothing.

How attractive, how becoming are the clothes God provides for his people today! Here is how Paul described the clothing of the Christian …

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14).

Notice first of all that Christians are God’s chosen ones. These whom God has chosen he has called. Paul speaks of those “… who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Romans 1:6). That calling is the profession of those who are chosen. In the next verse he addresses these same people … “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints…” (Romans 1:7). That these are “saints” simply means that they are “set apart.” These people are “holy” which, again, means that they are set apart as a different kind of people. They are different from the world. They are different from those who worship something other than God. They are special to God – his own people, loved by him.

This calling involves the putting on of a new self, made in the image of Christ. The things that are to be put on are characteristics of Jesus, the very Son of God. We take on ourselves the nature of children of God as we “put on” these qualities. That “putting on” of Christ begins at baptism and is a continuing process throughout our lives. We don’t accomplish the full end of this in a moment as a one-time, never to be repeated event, but gradually, as we learn him more and more, we are transformed into his image.

Paul then gives some of the qualities of these called, set-apart, different people. He does this by listing the things they needed to “put on” as qualities of Christlike character. These “new clothes” are as follow:

Compassionate hearts. The word literally means to “bear” or “suffer” with someone who is hurting or in distress. This is the attitude that characterized Jesus and motivated him to come into the world to rescue the lost. He demonstrated a compassionate heart while he was on earth which led him to feed hungry multitudes, heal the sick, and be a shepherd to lost, straying people. For us, it is to see someone in need and desire to do something about their need because it hurts you to see them suffering.

Kindness is compassion bringing aid to those in need. It is not just a pleasant smile or a friendly “Hello!” Kindness honors the person in need and looks out for their needs. Kindness is at the heart of showing mercy. It is done without bitterness or resentment. Kindness was at the heart of what Jesus did for us.

Humility has to do with our attitude toward ourselves. One does not approach a person in need of our help and understanding with a haughty, “holier than thou,” superior attitude. It is a Christlike attitude toward one’s self. Humility does not insist on one’s own “rights.” It lowers itself to do service to others. Jesus “… humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). So we put on Christ-likeness when we put on humility.

Gentleness is the opposite to harshness that seeks its own way above others. It is a strength that accommodates its self to the weaknesses of others. The now obsolete word “meek” is a synonym for gentle – the KJV, in fact, renders the word “meekness.” To many people meekness means weakness or spinelessness. In fact, just the opposite is true. It requires great strength of character to lower one’s self to lifting up the fallen and encouraging the downhearted. It requires strength to restore the erring while maintaining a spirit that does not berate or condemn. Again, gentleness is a characteristic of Jesus …

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—” (2 Corinthians 10:1).

Paul invoked the meekness and gentleness of Christ as the basis for his plea to them to bring them to complete repentance regarding the things he had already written to them about in the first letter. He was an apostle and could have simply commanded them and expected them to comply with his demand, but he did not want to put himself into the picture. He could have delivered a command which they would have been expected to obey – but he didn’t. He appealed to the character of Christ to sway them! Why did he not do that? Because he wanted them to develop the character of Christ in their own lives!

Patience is more than just counting to ten when you are provoked. It is endurance of wrongful and exasperating conduct of others. The patient person does not fly into a rage or seek revenge even though wronged. He doesn’t give up on trying to win a sinner or to restore an erring brother. He waits. He looks for another opportunity. He tries different approaches. He just doesn’t give up. He is patient. This is especially true if he has been wronged himself. He wants to reconcile with his brother or his friend more than he wants to get revenge. This leads into the next item …

Forgiveness, along with patience and forbearance are practical. They more than attitudes – they are things we do toward others. We have been forgiven. Now it is our turn to forgive as we have been forgiven. It ill becomes one who has received the blessing of forgiveness from God and then not be willing to forgive our brother who has wronged us. This is not the usual or “natural” reaction to provocation which is to retaliate, to get back, to get even. We can’t react that way because we have been called to a holy life which is to be like God’s life. Our new clothes prevent us from that kind of worldly mindedness. If Jesus could plead for the forgiveness of those who crucified him while he was still on the cross, surely we can forgive those who wrong us in, what is so often, trivial ways.

Forbearance means to put up with those who rub us the wrong way – or even hurt us. It is more than being nice to them. It means that we make ourselves vulnerable to being hurt again and again. But why should we suffer such from careless, callous people? We should do it because that is what Jesus did. He left us an example that we should walk in his footsteps. We should do it because we are not the ones to administer punishment to those who offend.

Love is the final item of the Christian’s clothing to be put on, but it is by no means the least important. Notice that he says, “…above all these [other things] put on love.” Paul says love it is that “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It is that which holds all the other things together. It is like the sash or “girdle” the ancients used to hold their clothing about their bodies that allowed them to walk or work without the garments getting in their way. The way love works in the Christian’s life is that it becomes the most obvious thing. Love – real, genuine caring about the well being of others should motivate us in the practice of all these other virtues. Indeed, without love, the others would only be forced, cold, dispassionate exercises. Love is what makes Christianity a real life and not a formal membership in a “holy club.”

So, how are you dressed? Is your clothing suitable to your profession? If not, then maybe it is time that you see the one who can provide you with the “white garments” of righteousness so that you not be embarrassed when he comes to judge you.

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