Spring has arrived. The flowers are blooming. Birds are singing. Pollen is spreading. People are wearing fewer clothes. That can be a problem.
I certainly can’t provide a line based on a Bible verse that says your shorts need to be a certain length or your shirt needs to cover a certain amount of flesh. As much as I wish I could, I can’t find a verse that delineates exactly how loose certain clothes should be. However, as we work on having our hearts right with God, I’d like to remind us of a few passages. If we can get our hearts right, then our dress will follow.
First, while the two passages speak directly to women, I think the principles apply to all and we need to remember them. I Timothy 2:9-10 says, “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” Also I Peter 3:3-4 says, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” What people need to see most about us is our good works, our gentle and quiet spirit. Are we hiding our spirit by displaying our flesh?
Second, can we look at Romans 13:14 in a new light? Paul wrote: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the lust of the flesh.” On the one hand, it is true that no matter how you dress, I need to work on my own lust so that I stay pure. However, based on this verse, if you dress in a way that triggers me, I need to learn to simply stay away from you. I need to learn that coming around you is going to be a problem for the lust of my flesh in the same way that watching a television show that has people dressed like you might do the same thing. Do you really want to do that to our relationship?
There is another aspect of this that we all need to consider. I once heard a person claim he had a problem with lusting and wanting to be lusted after. I had never thought about that second half. However, if I want to be lusted after and am dressing to promote that, I am providing for the desires of my flesh. I get a fleshly payoff from knowing others are lusting after me. Let’s make sure we are honest. When we are wearing skintight clothes, cleavage-revealing blouses, muscle-defining shirts, thigh-displaying skirts, what is our goal? Is there part of us that wants to be lusted after? If so, we need to reconsider our dress.
Third, Galatians 5:19 says sensuality (licentiousness, lasciviousness) is a work of the flesh. If we pursue a course of sensuality, the text says we will not inherit the kingdom of God. Sensuality refers to activity that promotes, indicates, arouses sexual desire. What does our dress say about sexual desire? Is our dress intended to promote sexual desire? We need to take care. Certainly, some are so given to their lusts that no matter what we wear, they will be provoked to sin. We are not charged with making sure everyone else keeps their lust under control. However, we must make sure we are being completely honest about the way we dress. Are we appealing to the senses? Perhaps a better question is not are we intending to arouse sexual desire, but are we intending not to arouse sexual desire.
Fourth, many think talking about this is simply prudish, Victorian, simple-minded. However, the Bible demonstrates that the body can be used to stimulate sexual arousal. God made us to be sexual beings. However, He also designed sex to be kept in the confines of marriage. We need to be careful not to present our bodies in ways that will promote sexual desire and arousal in anyone but our spouses. Consider passages in the Song of Solomon. In Song of Solomon 5:10-16 we see the woman expressing her physical desire based on the man’s hair, his eyes, his cheeks, his lips, his arms, his legs, his appearance. In Song of Solomon 4:1-11; 6:5-7:9 we see the man expressing his physical desire based on the woman’s breasts, eyes, hair, teeth, lips, mouth, cheeks, jewelry, perfume, navel, neck, thighs, perfume, and stature. I don’t think these passages mean we need to be covered from head to toe. However, I do think they stress how important it is that we arrange and cover our bodies properly and reserve the sexuality for marriage.
Finally, Mark 7:21-23 says what comes from within a person is what defiles them. Jesus included sensuality on that list. We need to get our heart right with God and then we need to dress from the heart. Perhaps some dress in a sexually suggestive way out of ignorance. Others may simply not realize how harmful what they are doing really is. Whatever the case, we need to be careful. We need to get sensuality, lust and the desire to be lusted after out of our hearts. Then we need to dress from a heart that is intent on glorifying God.
If we get our heart right, we’ll get our dress right.
There is no doubt that the Bible teaches we can fall from God’s grace. That is, having received the gift of God by His grace, we can so live as to abandon that gift. In fact, the Bible is so plain about this that I’m amazed anyone disagrees. Galatians 5:4 says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace.”
However, have you ever noticed what these folks were doing for which they had fallen from grace? They weren’t living in sinfulness. They weren’t giving themselves over to immorality and idolatry. They weren’t abandoning their faith in God. Now don’t get me wrong, these would all be reasons for which someone would fall from God’s grace. We can see that in other passages like II Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 6:4-6; et al. I’m simply pointing out that wasn’t the problem in Galatians 5:4.
What was the problem in Galatians 5:4? They were trying to be justified by law. They were trying to be justified by being righteous according to the Law. They were working hard to obey everything the Law said. Had they done well at that, they would have been pretty holy people. How can people who are working hard at living such holy lives fall from grace?
Is the issue here they were trying to be justified by the wrong law? Since Paul goes back and forth from talking about “the Law” and simply “law,” I believe he was using the Old Law to make a point about being justified by a system of law. The problem was that trying to be justified by the Law, or any law, meant trying to be justified by their own power and will. The Law was not intended to justify anyone according to Galatians 2:16. Why? Because people wouldn’t obey it. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Think about it. If our problem is we haven’t kept the Law, how would throwing more law at us help?
What concerns me is we might end up doing the exact same thing today and never even know it. Do we try sometimes to justify ourselves by law? Do we think if we “go to church” enough we’ll be justified? Do we think if we cut out enough sins we’ll be justified? Do we think if we do enough good works we’ll be justified? Do we think if we get enough things right we’ll be justified? Why do we think we are going to heaven? Is it because of how well we’ve kept God’s law? If so, aren’t we doing the exact same thing Paul condemned in Galatians 5:4? Can we fall from grace and all the while still be trying really hard to do God’s will? It appears that we can.
While we can fall from grace when we run headlong into sin (II Peter 2:20-22) and the sacrifice of Christ will do us no good if we simply go on sinning willfully (Hebrews 10:26-27), it appears we can also fall from grace by thinking we can justify ourselves through our strength and ability to keep God’s law. We need to remember that the entire purpose of the Old Law was to capture us under sin, to prove we are sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:22). If righteousness could come by law, then that Old Law would have been able to do it (Galatians 3:21).
Here’s the rub, of course. Hearing this, some of us might think, “Great, it doesn’t matter if I go on sinning. In fact, that might be good because of God’s grace.” That is exactly the flaw Paul anticipated Christians following. In Romans 6:1-4, Paul demonstrated that we have died to sin. Jesus didn’t set us free so that our faith in Him would allow us to disregard God’s will. Rather, Jesus died so we could die to sin and be free to live in His righteousness. He died to set us apart for good works (Titus 2:14). We pursue those good works.
However, if we pursue those good works from a motivation to be justified for our ability to keep God’s law, Galatians 5:4 says we fall from grace and are severed from Christ. Instead, we pursue those good works because of our love for God. We pursue those good works because God deserves to be glorified. We let Him worry about justifying us through His grace. We focus on glorifying Him because we know how much He has done for us. Isn’t that the story we see from the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. We love much because we have been forgiven much.
Obviously, if we disregard God’s will and follow our own path, we’ll end up outside of God’s grace (cf. Proverbs 14:12). But if we think we can justify ourselves by keeping God’s law, we’ll just as equally fall from God’s grace. The problem is we may not realize it because we are convinced we are doing so good that He has to give us His grace. But grace doesn’t work that way.
Let’s not fall from God’s grace either by turning our back on God or by trying to justify ourselves and earn God’s grace. Let us stand in God’s grace, surrendering to Him, living by faith in Jesus, and relying on His grace for our salvation.
If you were asked what is the greatest good deed anyone could do for another, you would likely say, “Share the Gospel.” Clearly, greater than any monetary gift, greater than any emotional support, greater than anything else is welcoming folks into the forgiveness and freedom in Jesus.
We certainly need to be busy getting that good message out at home. At the same time, we are surrounded by a world of lost sinners. They are everywhere, in every country, speaking every language, following every custom. We can’t physically be in two places at once. But we can be a part of good deeds in more than one place at a time.
In Philippians 1:3-5, Paul said, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (ESV). Then again in Philippians 4:15, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.”
Do you see what Paul calls the Philippians? They are partners. None of them were traveling with him. None of them were actually doing any teaching. However, the Phillipian congregation was in partnership with him. They were in fellowship by way of their gift to meet his needs as he did the good work of teaching the gospel. They had a share in his good deeds because they were sending a gift to him.
I recognize this is talking about a congregation. But the same could be said on an individual level. When we support a brother who is busy in the good deeds of spreading the gospel, we partner with him even though we are not physically there. Of course, while financial partnership is a very big help, if you can’t swing that, there are other things you can do.
With the web and e-mail, it is easier to make contact with our brethren the world over than ever before. Why not contact some evangelist and just ask what help he needs. Don’t go to the elders and let them know; just meet the need. Then you will be a partner in those good deeds.
You can contact those we support or have supported based on the reports we post. If you are interested in partnering with others, go to worldevangelist.blogspot.com. John Maddocks, a faithful evangelist in Canada, does a great job getting the word out about evangelists the world over. Sign up to read his blog feed or e-mail to get info. Either way, what a great day to start partnering in the good deeds someone is doing on the other side of the world.
Why are we doing good deeds? Is it so people may be helped? Is it so we may have meaningful lives? Is it so we can grow? No doubt, each of these happens when we are zealous for good deeds. These things, however, are byproducts of our good deeds; they are not the goal. The goal, as seen in John 15:8, is to bear fruit that glorifies God. This goes along with Matthew 5:16, which says we should let our lights shine so people may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
You see, the issue is that our Father is in heaven. Our neighbors cannot see Him. Our co-workers cannot witness His work ethic. Our friends cannot watch His care and concern. Strangers with whom we come in contact cannot look at God’s love. They can only see how God acts through us. They can only see how following Him impacts us.
I certainly recognize the general principle often expressed saying, “Folks don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.” The real point however is we are not trying to glorify ourselves. We aren’t trying to let others know what wonderfully caring people we are. We want them to know what a wonderfully caring God we serve. We do that by modeling for them the care of God.
Don’t misunderstand; this is not saying the local congregation’s work should suddenly become social welfare to let folks know how much God cares. Rather, each of us as individuals must live in ways that shows God’s concern, care and love. That doesn’t always equal material welfare or financial handouts. Most often, it equals words of concern and love. It sometimes means weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. It means showing patience as we work with someone in the gospel. It means demonstrating joy when others have good times in serving the Lord, but also mourning when others disregard serving the Lord.
I heard a story about a guy who runs a rock climbing gym. On Saturdays, he gives a half-off discount for the individual price, but rates for groups over 7 are regular price. One Saturday, 5 guys came in and asked if they could get the half-off price for a group of 15. He explained the rules. The guys then said they thought the others weren’t going to show up anyway, so he charged them half price. Then another group came in later. As the evening went on, he began to pick up that these multiple small groups who acted like they were separate, were actually there as a group. When he asked one of them about it, he was convinced they were separate. The gym owner dropped it. The next morning, however, the guy who had told him they were separate came back, confessed that he lied, apologized and then single-handedly covered the amount they had ripped the gym owner off plus more. The group was a Sunday School class.
I’m not suggesting we lie so we can repent and make up for it. But the penitence and amends said a great deal about this man’s God. May we always bear fruit that shows what a wonderful God we serve.
James 1:26-27 says:
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (ESV).
Though I believe James is written to Christians whether Jews or Gentiles, it certainly uses Jewish language to portray its point. Thus, as we consider “religion” from a Jewish standpoint, these verses are somewhat shocking. They are iconoclastic, breaking down the molds and mindsets that Jews would have had. The words for “religion” and “religious” do not emphasize spirituality in general but the outward forms and ceremonies of worshipping God. Thus, these two verses make a startling contrast to what the common Jew would have thought.
To a Jew, religion in the sense of ceremony and outward forms would have consisted of traveling to the temple, offering sacrifices, keeping the Sabbath and the feasts, etc. If Christians carried that mindset into their religion, they would picture gathering for their assemblies, taking the Lord’s Supper, singing and praying. Imagine how shocking it was to learn pure and undefiled religion is not really about these kinds of ceremonies at all.
Pure and undefiled religion does not mean making sure to say our prayers or sing hymns. It means letting those prayers and hymns be worthwhile because the rest of the time we speak properly, letting our speech be good for building up and not for tearing down (Ephesians 4:29).
Pure and undefiled religion does not mean merely “going to church” or going into our private prayer closets to worship and praise God. It means getting our hands dirty in service to those who are in need. James highlighted the two groups God had always used as examples of the ultimate of good deeds—orphans and widows (cf. Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 14:29; 24:17; 26:12; Isaiah 1:17).
Pure and undefiled religion does not mean offering sacrifices to atone for sin, but keeping oneself unspotted from the world. Pure and undefiled religion is not about moments in time where we really worship God, it is about a life of service to Him, doing His will, serving His people and glorifying Him through our every action.
Yes, I recognize James was not trying to write a definitive thesis of the term “religion.” He wasn’t saying there are no real outward forms or ceremonies for Christianity. However, we must not miss his point because he spoke accommodatively. He really is saying without good words, good deeds and purity, none of the actual outward forms or ceremonies accomplish anything good. We don’t get to live how we want and then have a few ceremonies that make everything okay. Constant Christian service with good words, good deeds and good lives is the ceremony and outward form of religion God wants.
Let’s face it, when we hear a lot about good deeds we know where it is going to hit us the hardest—the wallet. Obviously, not every good deed is a monetary good deed. But sooner or later, we can’t help but notice that in Scripture many of the good deeds affect us financially. Whether we are talking about hospitality, sending aid to Christians who are going through a famine, being a good Samaritan, feeding and clothing our brothers and sisters or helping the poor, eventually our good deeds are going to cost us money.
That’s what makes these good deeds so scary, especially when the news tells us the economic sky is falling. This is where II Corinthians 9:8 comes in. Paul wrote, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
Now this is not a promise from God to drop any amount of money or material goods in your lap that you claim you’ll give to others. However, it does point out that when we are a blessing to others, God will bring blessings to us. That is exactly why God blesses people. Not so they can hoard the blessings, but so they can share them. We are not alone in this work of good deeds. God is extending His grace so we can be sufficient for performing these good deeds.
If I clinch my fist around whatever blessings I have received, my hand will be closed to the blessings God may want to give me. However, when I open my hand to others, it becomes open to receive more of God’s blessings.
This is not the health and wealth gospel that makes good deeds a selfish investment, hoping I can give $10 to some preacher and receive $100 back for my trouble. That motivation isn’t about being zealous for good deeds at all. Rather, this is an extension of God’s promise in Matthew 6:33. If we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, He’ll take care of us.
If we have contentment with our blessings such that we can share them with others, God will continue to bless us. If we are so discontent that we cannot share, God will stop blessing us. It is that simple. Of course, if I have contentment and I don’t receive a greater blessing, I’m still okay with that. I simply use what God has given me knowing that “it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have” (II Corinthians 8:12, ESV).
Be content. Be a blessing. Then and only then will God truly bestow His richest material blessings upon us.