I’ve been thinking about clothing lately.
In my bible studies and in my preaching, I seem to come across this idea frequently. It bears some meditation.
“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isa. 58:7)
`I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matt. 25:36)
These are the practical outworking of love, according to the Bible. A person who is born again by the spirit has been given new eyes and a new heart, and this new heart sees their neighbor differently than before. It is what is means to be united to Christ – to be more and more conformed to his image.
So when we say, “To be like Christ is to clothe the naked”, what do we mean? Of course, there are many other things mentioned – feeding the hungry, providing for your own relatives, comforting the lonely and downhearted, and so on, as well as other duties summarized in God’s law. But this is a blog, and I would just like to leave you with a couple of thoughts on just one word picture: What does it mean to clothe the naked?
The obvious is to provide clothing to those who are too poor to afford any. But I think it goes deeper.
Nakedness is always viewed as shameful in the scripture. It is exposure to the contempt and ridicule of others. To be naked is to be shamed, helpless, exposed.
In fact, in the Hebrew language, to be stripped naked is the same word used for being “exiled”. One who was captured and sent away was first stripped naked.
When one is stripped naked, they are no longer clothed with dignity and honor. They are no longer men or women to be respected, but slaves to be mocked.
Slaves were sold naked on the auction block. The clothed people who were the “masters” wanted to see their potential “property”.
In other words, to be naked is to no longer be viewed as an image-bearer of God, with dignity and honor. It is rather to be exposed to the leers and contempt of those who are clothed.
The first thing that we need to see is this – Jesus was stripped naked before he was nailed to the cross. He was stripped naked so that we might be clothed with his righteousness.
He was the fulfillment of the sign of the skins in the Garden of Eden. Right after the fall, God clothed Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal, pointing to the day when their shame and nakedness would be covered by the Sacrifice that God would provide.
Jesus was that sacrifice. He bore our shame. He bore the ridicule of the “clothed ones” so that I might be His forever, without shame, without sin, without nakedness. And he did this because of the “great love with which he loved us.”
We are now one step closer to seeing what it means to be like Christ in clothing the naked.
As far as we know, Jesus never donated coats to goodwill. He was poor his entire life and only had one garment. But he clothed all of his people with righteousness, holiness, wisdom, acceptance, belonging – the richest clothes imaginable.
To walk in his footsteps is to do as he did: View each person you meet as an image-bearer of God, worthy of dignity and honor. It will only come as the outflowing of a heart that is born again.
If God has provided richly in material things, then certainly give coats and clothing to the poor. Be generous with your charity. This is most certainly commanded in many places in the Scripture. But Christian love goes deeper, and “clothing the naked” applies whether you have money or not.
It means to be consciously aware of those around you – each one is worthy of dignity, whether they know it or not. Treat everyone you meet as worthy of your respect and dignity.
I will use one example that I heard from someone years ago, that I have not been able to forget.
First, from the perspective of the “church lady”.
A young woman, perhaps 18 or 19, enters the church and sits in the back row. Everyone sees her walk in. She is wearing an extremely short skirt and high heels. Her midriff is bare. Her cleavage is showing. She isn’t wearing makeup. She sneaks in the back and sits down.
The men leer at her. The church lady, out of the goodness of her heart, draws her to the side and explains to her that her outfit is making the men lust, and they can’t worship with her dressed like that.
She leaves the service and never returns. What happened?
What happened was that the congregation did not “clothe the naked” as Jesus clothed us.
Let’s look at the same scenario from the point of view of the young woman.
A young woman is sexually assaulted over and over again by her mother’s boyfriend. No one has ever been kind to her. No one has ever viewed her as anything other than an object to be used and discarded.
She runs away from home at age 13. While on the streets, hungry and cold, a young man comes to her rescue. He brings her home and begins to groom her. It is the only life she knows. By the time she is 14, she is turning tricks to keep her new “boyfriend” from throwing her out or hurting her badly.
When she turns 18, she hears a preacher on the radio speak about Jesus and how he forgives sin, how he came to rescue those who were lost, and how he seeks and saves…she works up every bit of courage she can muster, puts on her very best outfit, and braves the church…
And she is told that the men, who profess to follow Jesus, are lusting after her and she needs to put on more clothes.
Where can she be safe, if not the church of Jesus Christ? Her worst nightmare has come true, that even God views her as an object to be used and discarded.
We can do better. Of course this young woman is a sinner. She would be hard around the edges. She has learned how to survive in ways that would cause us the flinch.
But Jesus clothes the naked.
“When you found me naked, you clothed me”, Jesus said. You didn’t mock me. You didn’t condescend to me. You didn’t lust after me. You didn’t clothe me with shame.
You didn’t tell me that I was not acceptable, not wanted, not worth dignity and love.
What you did was you clothed me. You treated me with kindness and honor. You heard me. You saw me. You treated me as if I were valuable, worth saving. You treated me as if I were a lost coin, rejoicing that I was found.
Of course, if you view the body of an 18 or 19 year old as an object to be lusted after, no matter how they are dressed, you have far deeper problems and I would suggest you fly to your redeemer yourself before YOUR nakedness is exposed, but that is another blog for another day.
As the body of Christ, should we not learn to view people as HE viewed people while he walked on this earth?