Of all the guidelines I learned about "church etiquette" as a child, there was one that always confused me:women and girls shouldn’t wear pants to Sunday service.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of putting on your “Sunday Best” for God. And I respect the denominations that choose to wear skirts and dresses 24/7 (even outside of Sunday service), because they’re doing what they believe is right. But as my personal relationship with Christ develops, I only grow more sure that pants are not the thing that will separate me from hearing God’s voice – only sin can do that (and believe it or not, pants are not sinful.) As long as I’m not dressed in a way that
distracts from or dishonors God’s presence, I’m free to wear whatever “bottoms” I choose.
Still, not everyone shares my viewpoint, and a woman wearing pants during Sunday service still makes some older church mothers clutch their pearls in shock. It’s kind of like an argument the early church was having. Except, instead of pants, their disagreement was about circumcision (okay, it’s not an apples to apples comparison but go with me here).
Check out the first 3 verses of Acts chapter 16:
Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers[a] in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.
Paul knew that the Gentiles (that is, non-Jewish people) did not need to be circumcised in order to become Christians. In fact, he literally just left a church conference in Acts chapter 15 where they declared that all you had to do to become a Christian was believe by faith.
However, on this particular missionary journey, Paul and Timothy would be preaching to Jews who weren’t yet sold on the “Gentiles-can-be-believers-too” notion. Paul recognized that instead of listening and learning and growing, the audience would be fixated on the fact that Timothy, as a half-Greek half-Jew, was not following the “rules”. In that moment, it wasn’t about Timothy’s comfort or Paul’s convenience, it was about removing barriers to hearing the Good News. So, “in deference to the Jews of the area”, Paul instructed Timothy to be circumcised before leaving for the missionary journey.
Paul knew that circumcision had nothing to do with salvation, just like I know that wearing pants to church has nothing to do with whether God hears me or is pleased with me. But just like it wasn’t about Paul or Timothy, it’s not about me or you. Sometimes as believers, we have to be willing to take the L (that means, take a loss) if it means that someone else might be strengthened in their walk with Christ. If I’m leading praise and worship at another church where I know wearing pants will distract some folks, I suck it up and put on a skirt. Maybe having a glass of wine at dinner is fine for you, but it might be confusing or even triggering for a new believer or non-Christian. Maybe you don’t mind listening to clean secular music, but it could be a stumbling block for your fellow Christian. Fill in the blank with your “pants or skirt” dilemma. In these moments, what matters most is that we are “[living] in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall” (Romans 14:13).
After all, that’s what love is, right? Sacrificing something for the sake of someone else. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us by giving His life, so I think we can “wear the skirt” for our fellow believers every now and again.
Read 1 Corinthians chapter 8. What does the passage say we should do with our “freedom”?
Do you have your own “pants or skirt” dilemma? What is it?
First, ensure that your stance on the issue is aligned with God’s Word. If it is, then ask yourself: in what ways might my stance actually be a stumbling block for others?
First and foremost I thank you for the gift of salvation, freely given to anyone who would believe. Thank you for paying the price on my behalf, so that I don’t have to work to earn it. Lord, please show me the areas in my life where I might be a stumbling block for my fellow Christians and non-Christians. Reveal to me the ways in which I might be doing more harm than good, and show me the best way to right to wrongs. And, finally, thank you for hearing this prayer.
In Jesus’s name I pray, amen.