Sometime in 2000, I was jogging at the Singapore Botanical Gardens and I bumped into a group of people. They appeared quite normal except for the fact that many were attending to one person. Later, I learnt that that person was the then Prime Minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong. I did not pay much attention to him because he was not in his formal suit. He was simply dressed for the occasion in outdoor smart casuals.
As Christians, we are often encouraged or told to be in our Sunday best as we come to church. What is Sunday best? To some, it is the most expensive jersey. For another, it is the pair of jeans. While for some, since they are always in formals at work, they come to church in casuals to break the routine. For some, they come in T-shirts, shorts, sandals because after the service, they have fellowship with the young people. How do we then define what is Sunday best? Some say that God is everywhere and thus there is no need to dress up to meet Him in the church. We can go on and on to include all the reasons people give till the cows return to Singapore Dairy Farm.
A young man once came up to me and told me that he was very nervous and stressed out for an upcoming event at his college. He mentioned that he needed to get a pair of new pants, a new shirt and to be at his best. He added that it was because the Prime Minister would be attending the function and where he was to be one of the masters of ceremony.
We often ask ourselves how much preparation is needed for worship. Is it really necessary to be that prepared? Why do we prepare for worship?
The word ‘worship’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “woerthscipe” meaning to ascribe worth, to pay homage, to revere or venerate. The following Biblical words for worship reveal the meaning of worship:
Shachah – to bow down, prostrate
Abodah – to serve a superior
Proskuneo – to come forward to kiss the hand as an act of adoration
Leitourgia – to serve
Many people have this notion that we come to a place of worship to seek God, pray, sing songs, ask for blessings, confess and leave. While there is an element of truth in it, we fail to recognize that it was God who first initiated worship so as to have fellowship with us. God calls us to worship and when we realize that God is the audience whom we have come to bow down, to serve, to pay homage, and to revere for what he has done for us, our attitude, our preparation and expectation should change.
What would be our response if we knew that God would be present at our worship today? We would definitely be very nervous and stressed out like the young man who needed to overhaul his attire for the day. We worship God not because we feel like it or want to. We worship God because He has called us to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
You must have noticed that people who serve in the worship services (the worship leader, the speaker, the choir members in robes, the ushers, offertory stewards and the church leaders etc) are often dressed decently. As a church, we have guidelines for everyone who serves.
What about the rest of us who are attending the worship services? Is there a distinction between those who serve and those who just attend? When you attend a concert or a show, you are the audience and the person on the stage entertains you. Not so with worship. We are all gathered before God who is the sole audience. All the elements of worship: the songs we sing, the verses we read, the prayers we pray, and the sacraments we partake are all directed to God. We come to worship Him and God is the focus of our attention in worship.
“In worship we join our small voices with the celestial choirs in a grand chorus magnifying the Creator and declaring his excellencies: his purity, his power, his beauty, his grace, his mercy, his love. From the beginning, God has called his people to public worship. It’s everywhere in the Bible, and with good reason: our corporate worship pleases God. What’s more, we need it as well. As Martin Luther famously put it, “At home, in my own house, there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”
William Temple defines worship as “To worship God is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of the Good, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
“Inappropriate clothing may not be worn” is often pasted outside court rooms. If you were to attend a function where the President of Singapore would be present, how would you dress? Even at weddings, we don’t come in casuals out of respect for the couple. If this is so for a mere human institution, what might be suitable attire for God-honoring worship?
We have no dress code for Sunday Best. We could go both extremes and be completely covered up or wear as little as possible. The fashion pendulum will swing to both extremes. The only thing that can help us stay true to acceptable fashion is the word of God that does not go out of fashion. In the Old Testament days, people would bring their sacrifices to worship God. It was very detailed and not everyone had access to the Holy of Holies. They approached the place of worship in reverence and awe. In the New Testament, Christ became our sacrificial lamb that was slain for our sins. As believers, we are urged “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). When we gather with other believers to “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15), we are offering ourselves to him anew, body and all. It is precisely the sort of wholehearted offering Jesus had in mind when he said that the Father is seeking those who will worship him “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23–24).1 Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Let us ask ourselves these questions as we dress up for Sunday.
- Will my clothing bring increased reverence and awe to God?
- Am I focusing on God or on myself?
- Will my clothing be pleasing to God?
- Will I distract people from worshipping God?
- Will I bring glory and honor to God through my clothing?
January 25, 2015