THE ABIDING LIFE
Suit and Tie
Our Identity in Christ
By Gwen Sellers
My dad retired about four years ago and essentially hasn't worn a suit since. There has been the odd occasion that he's needed to dress up, of course. But, for the most part, he gets by with the reality of "Colorado casual" and the informality of his retired friends. The other day he dug through his closet and donned a suit he likely hadn't even looked at for at least two years. He looked great! The thing is, we were just going to lunch at a relative's house. It was a celebratory occasion, but I chose to wear nice-looking jeans, my mom had on fancy leather pants, and our relative was the most causal in jeans and a sweater. On the way home we got to talking about his choice of attire and I was struck by his answer. He said that our relative "has a certain image of me and it's easier to just keep it that way." In his defense, he has worn jeans to this relative's house before, at her request, and then been teased for it. She is a difficult one to figure out. But what struck me was how often I have attempted to maintain an image simply for ease.
I've been a people-pleaser for a significant portion of my life. We're talking big league people-pleasing, like not really even being sure who I am because I'm trying so hard to be who I think people want me to be. Not healthy! In learning to be myself, or, perhaps more accurately, to accept myself, I have also been tempted to be, and likely have been, overly-assertive. What I mean by that is there has been a sort of knee jerk reaction to want to rub in people's faces that I'm not necessarily who I think they think I am. Taking the example of my dad, it would be like wearing gross, dirty jeans just to spite the suit and tie image. Also, not healthy! Either way, I'm looking to others for my sense of self rather than resting in the fact that I belong to God and am fully accepted by Him. God actually delights in me; and He's the One who made me the way I am to begin with, purposefully so. When it comes to social interaction, where is the balance?
I love what Paul says on the matter:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
Paul was steadfast in his God-given identity. He was "free from all" and "not […] under the law." But at the same time, he was "under the law of Christ" and recognized the utility of personal comfort. When it comes to loving others well, submitting to cultural customs or expected norms can go a long way to forging relationship. Obviously we're not talking about submitting to customs that are ungodly or that are personally unhealthy. But rather than throw in other people's faces that he wasn't like them or wasn't the way they thought he should be, Paul agreed to acquiesce to their cultural customs. He did not try to force others to become like him. He also didn't play into their image without regard for truth, as evidenced by his discourses against the Judaizers elsewhere. The only reason he became "all things to all people" was "for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessing." Paul sacrificed his own personal comfort in order to share God's truth. I get the sense that Paul was authentic, yet also gracious. Not compromising truth, but also not holding to his own rights simply because he could.
Really, I think he was probably like my dad. My dad's identity is not suddenly changed when he wears jeans or when he opts for a suit. His choosing a suit demonstrated respect for our relative. He wanted to honor her as she invited us into her home. But in her home, he was exactly who he has always been, regardless of his clothing.
Image Credit: Kent Wang; New Years Eve; Creative Commons
Tags: Christian-Life | Personal-Life | Personal-Relationships
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Published on 5-19-2014