Bags of Bran

Obfuscation Texts: Part One
March 16, 2014, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Biography, Destined to get me in trouble

So Samuel did what the Lord said, and came to Bethlehem. And the elders of the city came trembling to meet him and said, “Do you come in peace?” He said, “In peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” He also consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they entered, he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:4-7

In my years of association with Christianity I have run into many people who have made the argument that you can’t make judgments about people by the clothes that they wear, as justified by the last couplet in the above passage. For example, when I was a charismatic youth group member, one of my fellow inmates objected to his father (who was the pastor of the church) that he should not have to wear a button-down shirt and tie to play in the worship band because “God looks at the heart.” I’ve heard this particular angle in the justification of Christian motorcycle gangs as well. “Quit judgin’ me, man, God looks at the heart.” I haven’t heard it in justification of Christian nudist camps, but then again I haven’t gone looking very ferociously for that particular justification either. Perhaps someone will stumble across Bags of Bran one day and notice that I mentioned Christian nudist camps, steal the idea, and become fabulously influential, complete with ghost-written books and a tin ear to criticism.

A close reading would quickly reveal that the “outward appearance” in 1 Samuel 16 refers to David’s stature, not his clothing, hair, or presence/lack of tattoos/earrings/sunglasses. He and his brothers were shepherds: they probably dressed rather blandly by modern fashion standards, more according to the function of their calling than the dictates of peer pressure or reality TV shows. What the Lord was telling Samuel was that, although David was not as tall or filled-out as his brothers, he was still fit to be king: likely he was not a fully-grown man when Samuel came to Bethlehem. Recall that Saul, the previous king that Samuel had anointed, was a full head taller than the average Israelite. Samuel thought of kings as imposing figures like Saul, and like Eliab, not like little boys from the fields.

Again, one could gather this simply by reading the passage closely.

Even if “heart” can be understood as “inner man” (which is a good translation of לַלֵּבָב), this really does not concede anything. God looks at the inner man, namely his character; not the part of man that is characterized by stature.

I cheated and looked at the Hebrew text, but one could have gathered this as well just from reading the passage closely.

So what do clothes mean? Anything? Ideally, believers exercise some sort of judgment when they select clothes to wear. Modesty is not merely the obscuring of certain areas of the body. It is that, but it is also the deliberate act of not drawing attention to oneself with clothes. It is dressing appropriately for the occasion, and every occasion is an occasion in which God judges one’s motives. So then, foppishness is just as wrong as seductiveness; slovenliness is just as wrong as garishness. Clothes are an expression of the heart: you bought them, right? You picked them out this morning. You knew who was going to be looking at you. So when other people see your clothes, they see an aggregate of your choices–an expression of your heart. In this culture, your clothes say things to people because they represent a chain of decisions and values.

Perhaps you don’t really think about it when you get dressed: this is to your credit, in this world of fashion pressure and covetousness. But I would invite you to consider the idea that such choices are significant: Jesus has told everybody else that “you will know a tree by its fruit,” which includes your fruit.

So then, if you’re going to cite 1 Samuel 16:7, it should be in conjunction with 2 Corinthians, where Paul defends his ministry in light of the Super Apostles’ mesmerizing personae. In fact, go ahead and do so: physical impediments such as shortness, ugliness, or non-impressive speech ought not be a barrier to effective ministry. It is no credit to our age that these matters take such precedence in ministerial credibility.

But more importantly, exercise good judgment. If you see a fop, note his foppishness for the character flaw that it is. If you see someone dressed in ghetto apparel, suspect ghetto values. If you see someone emulating a motorcycle bandit, understand where that person’s sympathies lie. If you see someone in clothes that are designed to advertise certain body parts to members of the opposite gender (sorry, no links for conscience sake), know that those are the body parts that are important to that person.


2 Comments so far
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Sorry for this inane question…but, does Paul Tripp moonlight as a model of fop fashions? I’d say the resemblance is uncanny, but I think it might really be him.


Comment by Jenny Bergren

It is, in fact, Paul Tripp. A friend sent me the picture with a quip about how all remaining respect for him just evaporated. I don’t know if being a mannequin is a moonlighting gig for him, but he certainly does not deflect the attention.


Comment by christopheram

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