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Clothes Make the Man

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Click here to read Matthew 3 on BibleGateway.com

 “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.” – Matthew 3:4

suitThere’s nothing like a good pair of jeans.  They’re tough, they fit just about any fashion sense, and over time they seem to contour themselves right to your country hams.  It’s like nature’s perfect material.

Fun fact: one of the unique aspects of jeans is the way they wear out. Back in the 1800s, jeans were dyed with indigo, which doesn’t actually penetrate into the denim. It sits on the surface, and therefore wears off over time. But the way it faded was an indication of the type of work the wearer performed. A miner might wear out in the knees; a cowboy might wear off faster in the…umm…saddle. The clothes demonstrated not just practical use, but wear patterns came to be displayed prominently to represent particular vocations.


So what does this have to do with John the Baptist? Why are we told he wore camel skins and a belt? Just for background? Just so we can picture what ole johnny looked like?  Nopers. Back in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings, we read about Elijah – “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”

When Matthew wrote his gospel, he was particularly interested in tying Jesus into the prophecies in the Old Testament, hence all the repeated references to “as it written.” In this case, it seems he is specifically drawing attention to the fact that John the Baptist is remarkably similar to Elijah – a “crazed” prophet wandering around the desert wearing hair clothes and a leather belt. The clothes he wore demonstrated a particular calling.

Additionally, this was a marked difference from the religious “leaders” of the day, for Elijah and John. In Elijah’s time, it was the prophets of Baal that wore ornamental robes, to “separate” themselves from the common people. In John’s time, it was the religious leaders like Sadducees that wore costly garments, because they “needed to be holy” to work in the temple.

But who did God choose to speak and work through? Crazy, shabbily dressed prophets.  Go figure.


One of the oldest struggles in American Christianity is judging people on how they dress. How long should a dress be? How much makeup is appropriate? How tight can pants be in church before the ushers get involved? How many piercings/tattoos are allowed? Generally, we like to have to pretend to have the stance that “it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside.”

There is some truth to that, but if it doesn’t matter, why does the Bible mention it? (sidenote: In jesus’ case, the Bible mentions that he had a one-piece tunic.) For the moment, let’s consider it from the other side. Why is it important what John wore? Because it called attention to his calling as a prophet. (however, note that he wore something not acceptable to the society; so it’s not always about dressing up in the Sunday best).

In our culture, what does it mean when companies like ragetees.co.uk are making the big bucks printing custom t-shirts, what are we saying on them? What do tattoos mean about a person’s inside? What about wearing a short skirt? What about a tight t-shirt instead of a sweatshirt if you happen to be a muscular man? Does it really mean nothing? Aren’t you actually saying “I want you to notice I have the commitment and self-control to take care of my body”? Or, why do you wear a suit? Why do your hair before going to church?  Is it just to “bring your best to God”? Or maybe so that everyone notices?  Or even because “that’s what we do.”

In many ways, how we look on the outside does reflect what’s on the inside.  Often, you’ll see people that hang out a lot together will dress very similarly.  Why is that?   Are they copying each other? Or do their similar clothing choices reflect their similar interests?

Rather than just say it doesn’t matter how we dress, maybe we should be carefully considering what we are saying by our clothing.  Is it to appear wealthier than we are?  Why?  Is it to show off our bodies? Why?  Is it to show that “no one can tell me what to wear”? Is that freedom or rebellion? When you choose your clothes, do you consider how they honor God? Only you can answer those questions for you.

How does your outside reflect your inside today?

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