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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Should a Christian iron his clothes?

The title was almost "What would Jesus iron?" but that seems to come perilously close to a violation of the third Commandment, and there's too much of that already.

This is musing on the topic. Don't expect any firm, easy answers. Sorry. Similar musing could be applied to lots of other activities, such as, but not limited to: mowing the grass, washing the car, cleaning the windows, assorted grooming, vacuuming, weeding, painting, straightening the cupboards, getting the toys organized, sending Christmas cards, and even to doing an especially good job on homework. All of these are legitimate activities, but where should they fit in our priorities?

Test 1: Is there something more important to do?
In Luke 10, Jesus had some words for Martha: 10:38 It happened as they went on their way, he entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she came up to him, and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to serve alone? Ask her therefore to help me.”
41 Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (All scripture quotations are from the public domain World English Bible.)

We can't be sure of all that is going on here, because we weren't there, and couldn't have read anyone's minds, if we had been. But it seems that Martha had her priorities wrong. Jesus didn't say that it was wrong to fix a meal, but that there was something more important going on at the time. Perhaps He would have pitched in in the kitchen Himself, after He had talked to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Perhaps he would have performed a miracle, and fed them, and whoever else was around (probably a dozen or more disciples). Perhaps they would just have eaten later than they were accustomed to, or fasted through one mealtime.

It's always important to pray, witness, worship with others, and read the Bible. But if that's all we do, we won't keep a job, and our dwelling places, autos, and other possessions will suffer from neglect, and, perhaps, finally become unusable. At some point, Mary should have gone to the kitchen and helped. (Probably Lazarus should have, too.)

Test 2: Do we need to fit in?
In 1st Corinthians 9, Paul said this: 19 For though I was free from all, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. 

If everyone in our apartment complex keeps the front door and the back porch looking attractive, and is careful to park in her own parking spot, perhaps we need to, also, or our neighbors will think poorly of us, and may say, "Well, if that's the way a Christian acts, I don't want any of it." To a large extent, we should try to fit in, if we want to reach those around us with the Gospel.

Clearly, there are limits. We shouldn't steal from the grocery store, or go on alcoholic binges, so as to fit in with our unbelieving relatives, neighbors, fellow students, or co-workers who do such things.

Test 3: Is it beneath our position?
The apostles believed that they shouldn't be taking care of food distribution for the widows:
Acts 6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, a complaint arose from the Hellenists against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily service. 2 The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 6:4 But we will continue steadfastly in prayer and in the ministry of the word.”

But see John 13:12 So when he had washed their feet, put his outer garment back on, and sat down again, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You say so correctly, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither one who is sent greater than he who sent him. (World English Bible, public domain)

My guess is that the twelve weren't declining to "serve tables" because it was beneath them, but because they knew they had more important things to do, and others could serve in this way.

See also Philippians: 2:5 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

By example, and by His explicit teaching, such as in Luke, Christ taught us that mowing the grass, washing the dishes, or changing the oil, for the sake of others, is not beneath us: Mark 9:33 He came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing among yourselves on the way?”34 But they were silent, for they had disputed one with another on the way about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any man wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”

However, even with a Christ-like servant attitude, it may still be possible, as in Acts 7, that it is more important to be doing something other than serving.

Test 4: Is it a requirement for our job?
If what routine maintenance, or care in our appearance, we are doing is really required for our jobs, then we ought to do this maintenance, or be sure that we appear presentable. We should probably do standard grooming before going to work, in most cases. And most of us who are able should have a job. John the Baptist, who preached a strong message of repentance, didn't tell Roman soldiers to leave the army in Luke 3:14, but to use their position fairly, and to be content with their wages. Jesus didn't upbraid the apostles who had gone fishing after the resurrection, and tell them to stop immediately. As far as we know, they didn't remain fishermen for long, though. They truly became the "fishers of men" that Jesus had originally envisioned for them. (Matthew 4:19) That new job was one of higher priority than the old ones.

But note the next test:

Test 5: Are we doing this so we'll look good?
I may get fired if I don't wear clean shirts, or I may turn off people who need to see Christ in my life. But I don't have to wear $250 shirts, or send them to an expensive cleaners, to do either. I probably won't even need to iron them. I should probably paint the kitchen every few years, but I shouldn't need to paint it every six months. I should mow the grass, but I shouldn't be trying to out-do the neighbor across the street. Why am I trying to look good, or be thought well of? If it's for my own sake, that's wrong. If it's to please other people who aren't worth pleasing, that's wrong.

James had something to say about fancy dress:
2:1 My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. 2 For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; 3 and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place”; and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool”; 4 haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers. Didn’t God choose those who are poor in this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Don’t the rich oppress you, and personally drag you before the courts? 7 Don’t they blaspheme the honorable name by which you are called? 8 However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors.

Although Jesus didn't say anything explicit about ironing shirts, He had something to say about trying to look good:
Matthew 6:1 “Be careful that you don’t do your charitable giving before men, to be seen by them, or else you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Therefore when you do merciful deeds, don’t sound a trumpet before yourself, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may get glory from men. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you do merciful deeds, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand does, 4 so that your merciful deeds may be in secret, then your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
5 “When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

And more:
Matthew 6:25 Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?
27 “Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? 28 Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, 29 yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. 6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?

6. Is it hard on the environment?
It's impossible to completely keep from affecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil and living things around us. But we can be careful, and do as little damage as possible. Are we consuming more energy than we need? Ironing, and hair drying consume quite a bit. Are we using products that give off harmful chemicals? Are we destroying the habitat of other living things, directly or indirectly? See here for more on environmental stewardship.

7. Is it good use of the resources God has given me?
Should I be saving for my offspring, or contributing my time and resources to ministries to the poor, or to people in third-world cultures, rather than keeping my car washed and polished, or my lawn edged, or my wardrobe updated?

After answering all of the questions above, the Holy Spirit can help us know what Jesus would do. A couple of cautions are in order, though. First, it's much easier, in terms of effort, to spend a half hour meditating on the above questions, and at least pretending to pray, than it is to really get at that algebra homework, or the dirt on the windows. If we don't establish guidelines, and good habits, we'll be spending too much time musing about what to do. Second, we mustn't expect fellow believers to agree with us on all points. Their circumstances may be different, or the Holy Spirit may be leading them to act and think differently from us. God may want some of them to iron their shirts, when He doesn't seem to require that we do so.

Thanks for reading. Think about the appearance of your shirts!

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