Beautify the inside

I attended First Baptist Church of Elkhart from the time I was in kindergarten until I graduated from high school.

At the time, the church was located on the corner of Prairie and Hively right across the street from a mall. It was a big, prominent church in the community, and while “times they were a changing,” it was, for the most part, a traditional Baptist church. I don’t know that it ever really felt traditional to me growing up.

For me, it was a safe place to come play fun games and learn about this Jesus guy. I enjoyed being there. As a child and even into my teenage years, belonging was very important to me. I didn’t want to be on the outside looking in.

As I approached my preteen years, I began to notice how people dressed, particularly those who I believed to be the people of influence and authority. I noticed that the men who mattered always wore suits and ties, and so one of the greatest desires of my heart at around 10 years old was a suit. Not just any suit, though. I wanted a double-breasted suit.

In my mind, it was the pinnacle of fashion and success. I mean, seriously, nothing says “I’m successful and I matter” more than splurging on extra buttons that serve no functional purpose whatsoever.

I have heard all of the arguments about why people dressed up to come to church. It mostly centered around offering your best to God, which is truly a noble and honorable motivation.

I’m sure that was part of my motivation, but I can say without a doubt that part of my motivation was selfish. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to matter. I wanted to belong.

The Bible provides several warnings about becoming fixated on the external appearance, whether it be our own or that of others.

Focus on beautifying the inside. Both Peter and Paul offer words of caution to their readers about dressing in fine clothing to draw attention and adulation. They instead encourage their readers to focus on beautifying their souls and putting effort into beautiful acts of love and grace, “which is of greater worth in God’s sight.” Jesus himself warned against parading around in fine clothing in efforts to be recognized and respected. He instead calls us to humble ourselves, taking the posture and position of a servant.

What’s inside will drive what comes out. Jesus pointed out an indisputable truth of nature: The type of seed that was planted will determine the fruit that is produced. It is the fruit that proves the truth of the thing. There are many vines and trees that look like fruit-bearing plants, but when harvest comes, they show themselves to simply be pretty weeds. When our focus is on beautifying the outside, what you see is the only fruit you get. When we focus on beautifying the inside, fruit will continue to produce in a multitude of ways.

What we see should never determine how we treat others. When we become fixated on our own external appearance, we often place the same expectations upon others. This regularly leads to a spirit of legalism. When we believe we matter because of how we’re dressed, we run the risk of evaluating the worth of others based upon how they are dressed. The Bible says showing favor to someone based upon how they are dressed is nothing short of evil. Loving neighbor as self requires us to love neighbor as they come.

These warnings have less to do with the clothing we wear. There is nothing inherently bad about wearing your Sunday best to worship when done with the right spirit. There is nothing inherently bad about wearing jeans and a T-shirt to worship when done with the right spirit.

The truth is that God is utterly unconcerned with the clothes we wear to church. God is concerned with what’s in our hearts. In the end, the purpose of the church isn’t to help people look good but to become holy.

The Rev. Dr. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].