In his bestseller 1975 book, Dress for Success, John T. Malloy popularized the concept of “power dressing,” the idea that how we dress affects our level of power, influence and success in the workplace. He cited scientific research in recommending that job applicants dress as though they already have the job, because employers tend to subconsciously view them according to the way they are dressed.
There is no denying the fact that the way we dress makes a difference in the way we are viewed by others. But it also says something about the way we view ourselves and our world. Consider, for example, how you dress for going to a formal wedding. Or, maybe a funeral. Courtesy would dictate to the thoughtful person that the feelings of those hosting the event ought to be considered. We recognize that if we were in their position, we would appreciate attendees taking the event seriously – in a word, showing respect.
When Solomon admonished people to “keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God” (Eccl. 5:1), he was not talking about taking precautions against slipping and falling at the church building. He was talking about showing respect. Entering into the presence of God is surely an important occasion, at least as important as any funeral or wedding. When we do that, we should consider carefully the implications of what we are doing.
Our choice of clothing is one of the ways by which we indicate a level of thought and respect for others. Casual occasions call for more casual dress, just as formal occasions dictate more formal wear. Despite a loosening of cultural norms in recent years, our civilization still generally recognizes that any one selection of clothing is not appropriate in every situation.
For the reader who finds himself/herself resisting the drift of this article, I want to challenge you to consider something. If you are thinking that “dressing up” is a form of showing superiority or pride, may I suggest an alternative explanation? May I suggest we think about respect?
I have known of farmers and certain other manual laborers who owned only one “formal” suit of clothing. It was sometimes called their “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes. In their humility and simple country life, they would put on the best that they had when it came time to worship God with the church. They saw in that suit of clothing something special, something “sanctified” (different/set apart) from their other clothing. They saw it as better, more appropriate for coming into the presence of God.
I’m sure there have been those who “dressed up for church” in order to impress others, or act better than everyone else. But when a person dons their best outfit to worship God, is it really appropriate for me to judge their motives (Mt. 7:1)? In our effort to be “non-judgmental” in our clothing styles, have we sometimes become “judgmental” in the worst sense?
God does not tell us, specifically, what kind of clothing to wear to the assembly. He does not say whether ladies must wear dresses, and men must wear suits and ties. But he gives us an important principle: Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God. Consider carefully what you are doing, where you were going. Ponder the implications of appearing before God. Think seriously about the occasion, and keep it sanctified from your daily routines.
When Moses found himself standing before God at the burning bush, an interesting command issued from its midst: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” (Ex. 3:5). Why is that detail included for us in the text? Could it be an important reminder of the seriousness of approaching God? That statement impresses us with the importance of sanctifying (keeping separate) God from mundane, human matters.
The farmer, stressed because of an equipment breakdown, rolled out from under the hay bailer and glanced at the watch on his greasy arm. It was almost time to leave for church. He trotted to the house, thinking, “I sure hope it doesn’t rain before I get that fixed.” His wife was ready to go when he dashed into the bathroom and quickly bathed. She had his clean shirt and pants ready for him, and he changed. And something interesting happened: The God who controls the rain noticed that he took the time to change.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.