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What if we as Christians started fighting the real battle against shame?

“Those high school girls … they dress so slutty,” she said, and then casually chuckled and added, “It’s a battlefield for men out there.”

My entire body felt tingly and hot, as I sat quietly. I didn’t quite know why her words prompted such a strong response inside me, but I excused myself to the restroom. When I came back, the subject was changed, but I continued to mull over her words. She was on staff with a high school ministry and was referencing the girls she tried to save, help, counsel, whatever.

I didn’t say anything about her comment because it’s not my goal to go around pointing fingers, but you know what I wanted to say?

“Excuse me, ma’am. Stop it right there. Those slutty-dressing girls?

Battleground for men? What about the battle that women face — with the church and many telling us we are causing men to stumble?

What about all the shame that is heaped on WOMEN from the church about our bodies? Are we really in a battle over bikinis and low-cut tops?

What if we as Christians started fighting the real battle against shame? The shame that is pervasive throughout our culture — the voice that tells women they are dirty because men are stumbling over their bodies.”

Enough with the modesty talk that, in my experience, often leads to blaming women for men’s lust.

Sure, it’s important to dress in such a way so a man is looking at your eyes, not your breasts — BUT it’s not your responsibility to walk around worried about everyone else (Emily Maynard wrote a great article on this). If Christians or youth leaders, or anyone for that matter, has ever made you feel dirty because of something you wore or didn’t wear, I’m terribly sorry.

You aren’t dirty and your body is not a problem nor is it a burden. It’s a gift, a beautiful gift, one God gave you.

And if we are to love as Jesus loved, the word ‘slutty’ should not be a part of our vocabulary. Remember how Jesus responded to the woman caught in adultery? If you’re in ministry and stressed about how your girls are dressing, why not relax and remind them of their beauty? Why not tell them they are worth loving and see how it changes their need for every man in the room to notice them?

What if at the next church gathering, all the women dressed in loose-fitting turtlenecks and baggy pants — would we win the “battle”?

Would lust disappear with every v-neck tee and pair of skinny jeans? Yes, I know what a struggle lust is for men and I understand the importance of modesty.

But do you know what else I know? That calling women’s clothing, and especially choices, slutty hurts, especially when it comes from Christians who are supposed to love radically.

Ruthie Dean is a book marketer at Harper Collins Christian by day and a dreamer and writer by night. She and her mustache-enthusiast husband call Nashville home. Their relationship book, Real Men Don’t Text, will hit bookstores in September of 2013. You can read her blog and follow her on Twitter.

More from Ruthie Dean or visit Ruthie at

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  • Jpagan

    There needs to be balance. The Bible is emphatic on both aspects of this issue. First, a man should guard his own heart and thought life from lust and unbridled desire toward women. Secondly, both men and women are admonished to embrace modesty in dress.

    Is it a woman’s fault that a man lusts? No. His lust is his sin; yet, her immodesty is her’s.

    The body God gave is beautiful, and, because It does exact sexual responses from the opposite sex by divine design , God consistently instructs us to embrace modesty and godly shame, while reserving our physical endowments for the marriage partner and the entirety of the body for His kingdom work as the temple of His Spirit and a “living sacrifice”

    • DA

      Well said ..

    • Brian

      Very, VERY well said!!!!!

  • Always Wondering

    Excellent article Ruthie! Every major religion, when it swings to the right, tries to blame women for men’s lust. Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, taught that each must deal with one’s own heart.

    I was at a camp once where a girl was be berated for her swim suit. It was probably the most modest one of us all, though we all swapped her ours to try on, but the counselor kept at her. Finally, another gal asked the counselor what kind of suit would be acceptable, thus putting and end to trying to guess at it. The real problem was Judy was just a gorgeous girl, body, soul and spirit. It seemed only a burka would keep her from being attractive. She was even accused once of sitting immodestly.

    The sad thing was she started to believe all that stuff. She married a man who did not love her inner beauty, but paraded her outer beauty. Unless men looked too long and then he would beat her. Can’t have a pastor’s wife causing men to lust. She NEVER dressed immodestly. She finally had to sneak out of the house on the floor of her brother’s car. The pastor’s church blamed her for the beauty and the beatings. She has since come to terms with the fact that Jesus holds her in proper, higher esteem.

    • Ruthie Dean

      What a tragic story. I wish it was the only one like it that I’ve heard . . . but it’s actually very common. How sick that Christians can twist a God-given gift into something shameful.

      I hope she will continue to know how accepted and loved and cherished AND NOT DIRTY she is . . . it will probably be a lifelong journey. Prayers for her.

  • DFA

    The truth is, this author was hurt and is still wallowing in unforgiveness. The fact that she hasn’t forgiven some old lady years ago makes her the wrong person to advise young girls on dress. I’m sorry but some clothing is inappropriate for women or men carrying the name of Christ as part of their identity. Showing of your body does not glorify God in any way. Get the log out of your eye before you try to correct the rest of the world.

    • mommabear

      I don’t agree, she is just relaying a past story and I don’t see unforgiveness in her words at all. I do see you deciding and judging her motives and heart which is Gods job not yours! As women we need to dress modestly because our worth comes from Christ not male attention but “modest” means different things to different people/cultures. In some countries arm pits are provocative but low shirts are not. I am very,very conservative myself but look more at someones intent in what/why they wear something than the actual outfit. I find as an older woman I don’t go after what someone wears but rather let them know their worth and where to find it. I teach them to set themselves apart from culture and that they are the temple of Christ and when they get this enough is said!

      • amos8

        “As women we need to dress modestly because our worth comes from Christ not male attention…”

        That is great! I agree wholeheartedly, yet this is not where the author is pointing women … and very few will see or admit this.

        Our value/worth is in God alone through His grace, yet, wittingly or not, the author is still pointing women back to their bodies and their “worth” in themselves, not Christ.

        Few things are more destructive, yet no one will address this!

        • Jen Smith

          Amos: you must be referring to a different article. Nothing in this article tells us that women should rely onin their bodies for worth.

          • amos8

            “You are beautiful, not dirty. You are worthy of love. You have a beautiful body to glorify God.”

            These quotes, this sentiment, however subtly or overt, encourages women (and men) to focus on their bodies, on what is temporary, and to put their hope in the creation rather than the Creator and to put their hope in find their worth in people (… what people think of them/their bodies).

            I asked a women whom I started counseling–who almost died recently due to anorexia–about this article and the notions quoted above. She immediately exclaimed that this would have “made me go back to my disorder.”

            You see, in the pop-psychology world these notions are common place and applauded, but in reality they are simply untrue and very destructive. Yet when someone has the conviction to confront this folly the are immediately disdained and accused of being uncaring, a Pharisee, legalist, etc.

            Truth matters! “Caring” a lot is nice, but great concern with little to no truth is a deadly combination.

            Furthermore, “You are worthy of love” is a nice sentiment but very inaccurate and harmful. At a minimum, it corrupts the concept and reality of love. Should we love those who are worthy? Or should we love people despite their worth? Did God look at us and say something like, “Hmmm, I think they are worthy to love, so I am going to …. (send Jesus, provide salvation, etc)”? That is not love, that is a transaction. If I paid $10,000 for a car because I was getting a car about that value then what is so great about that? But if we give $100,000,000,000 for something that is worthless, then that is truly amazing.

            Jen, I want someone to love you (to be loving toward you) even when you are not at your best … if not at your worst. I don’t want someone to love my daughter because “Hmmm, you have been pretty good to me today, so I will be loving to you as a result of your worthiness.” That is a gross perversion of love.

            The author’s/pop-psychology’s notion of love is anti-Biblical! Yes, it is popular … and highly accepted and praised by the world … yet that should tell us all we need to know about “you are worthy of love.”

        • MarciH

          I saw it. Nowhere does the author say that dressing provocatively is wrong. To me, this article is a little too “tickle the ears.” Tell women that the church has been wrong all these years, it’s perfectly ok to dress however you want. Well I’m sorry. It’s NOT OK to dress in a provocative manner. Whether you’re causing your brother to stumble or not, doesn’t excuse you to dress however you want. We are in a war over bikinis and low cut tops, especially if they’re brought into the church. Christian women need to be told that part of the life change that happens is a change in the way you dress.

          • amos8

            Great discernment, Marci!

      • Ruthie Dean

        Thanks for standing up for my words. Merely trying to show that I can relate.

    • Traci

      She isn’t saying that its alright to dress provocatively, she is saying that its time to stop blaming women for the wandering eyes and minds of the men who follow Jesus. Take the pressure off of the girls for the way men are wired and teach the men to take ownership and control of their thoughts. The girls aren’t “causing” boys to stumble. Every individual is personally responsible for whether or not they stumble. Blame shifting doesn’t work.

  • pablo taylor

    Nice article, but are saying the women never look at men? Are you saying that all men are pigs? I have seen young women admiring attractive men in their muscle shirts. It goes both ways. Yes our bodies are beautiful both women and men and yes we all need to be modest but to make it seem like only men have lust problems is insane and bias.

    • Ruthie Dean

      Oh course women look at men. Just not the point of my article. Men aren’t chastised in the church for dressing immodestly, at least in my experience.

      • pablo taylor


        I do agree with you. What is your opinion of woman who purposely dress in a provocative manner because she wants to feel good?
        Here in Costa Rica there are many women who dress like whores and love it when men whistle at them.
        Even in the public and private schools it is common and even acceptable for women teachers and psychologists to dress extremely revealing in front of the kids.
        Too me not only is this immoral behavior but also a form of pedophilia. Why do they have to dress sexually in front of small children?
        if a male teacher or male psychologist dressed that way he would automatically be assumed a pedophile and a danger to the children!
        Pablo Taylor

      • Kim

        Perhaps it’s because men don’t show up for church with their shirts unbuttoned or in shorts up past the knees. I see far more women dressed quite provocatively in church than men at a sports event. Yes, women and men alike are to blame for their lust issues but if the truth be known women reveal more flesh then men when it comes to appearance.

  • Mark and Faith Siebert

    This is one of the subjects we are addressing even tonight with the youth I minister to. I hear you, Ruthie. We cannot not allow others to make us feel dirty or guilt-ridden for the weaknesses and sins others battle. Taking offense is something that the offended individual carries, not the offender. But reading Romans 14, we are instructed to avoid making others stumble in such a way at the expense of our freedom for the sake of the whole body. In my opinion, you have faced some extremes, no doubt. Unfortunately the extremes are all too common.

    You proclaimed this: “Your body is not a problem. You are beautiful, not dirty. You are worthy of love. You have a beautiful body to glorify God. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.” These are valuable truths. Preach them from the mountaintops! But they are not a license to increase the shame of men and women who struggle with lust.

    In a sex-saturated society, shouldn’t the church be a place where a man can find greater freedom from sexual pressure just as women shouldn’t feel treated as sexual objects in the church? Modesty does not mean baggy clothes, but is more about the attitude in which we approach our adornment. We are called to freedom in Christ together.

    • Sheryce

      “In my opinion, you have faced some extremes, no doubt”

      This is what bugs me. Forgive me, but I’ve heard plenty of people brush off women’s -extremely- common experiences of being guilted and abused by the Church over the issue of “modesty.” It’s not an extreme. It’s the norm. I guarantee you if a woman has spent long enough in a Church, she’s heard it before.
      Frankly, I’m at the point where I don’t think it’s a good idea for a man to address it at all. If you’re going to, don’t even bring men into it. Explain that the body is God’s temple, and modesty is about reflecting Christ and not ourselves (and as such it’s something BOTH men and women need to be careful of).
      As soon as you bring “a stumbling block” into it, it becomes a subjective guilt-ridden mess. What’s the line? How far should I go? If one man is tempted by any skin whatsoever, am I a stumbling block for leaving the house with my wrists showing? If I’m at the beach in 25 degree (celcius) weather, is showing my thighs a stumbling block? It becomes all about the man, when it should be about honouring the person God made you to be.
      If people are going to be addressing modesty, they need to be affirming the woman God created, and not making her feel guilty for another person’s sin issues.

      • Traci

        Yes! I agree one hundred percent. Growing up in the church, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard modesty preached to young women so we “don’t cause our brothers to stumble”. Being in ministry now, I love that my husband teaches the boys to keep themselves from stumbling. Temptation is everywhere. Even in baggy pants and turtlenecks. Teach the men to control those thoughts and not to give a “second look” when their mind is prone to wander. Don’t blame the girls for the thoughts the boys are allowing themselves to think.

        • Sheryce

          I love that when Jesus actually addresses lust, he doesn’t command women to cover up, he simply states “Pluck your eye out.” Lust is a difficult issue, but it’s still the fault of the sinner, no one else. We should be teaching boys to view women as human beings, not sexual objects, and we need to be teaching all people to not blame others for their own sin issues.

          • Ruthie Dean

            “It’s still the fault of the sinner, no one else.” Amen. Thank you!

      • MarciH

        Maybe it’s mentioned so often in church is because its such a problem in church. I’m not saying we have to wear long dresses and long sleeves, but as long as girls and women are coming to church dressed in a provocative manner, it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
        On a side note, I take issue with your saying that men should not address this. The fact of the matter is that biblically, men are the spiritual leaders. When you say that men shouldn’t say anything on a subject, it sounds more like you don’t like what the man is saying so you use the excuse that they’re not a woman to justify not listening.

  • Kathryn Leonard

    As a Pastor/Speaker to women, I deal with many who are abused, abandoned in one form or another, and the list could go on. Those that dress for attention are hungry! Oh, so hungry, and Jesus knew it and took His tribe into Samaria to teach them a lesson…the outcast, the woman labeled, the woman shamed and shunned…I get her, I see her, and she is worth My time and investment! He saw her thirst and hunger, and He filled it! With Himself! He was the answer to her pain, to her emptiness, to her shame! I thought that was our message, Church!

    Thank you for this article, just as we need to look past purple hair, piercings, foul language, etc., we need to look past a girl’s blouse and we need to see….as Jesus saw! Faces, souls…

    I respect the men who have responded, but you will never know the pressure a young woman faces in today’s society to be sexy, beautiful, but not fit for the Kingdom. Really? Is that how we are going to leave it?

    Jesus didn’t!

    • Jen Smith

      Amen about all of this. Even in my youth (the 70s &80s) the pressure to look a certain way was there. ALL…THE…TIME!

    • Jen Smith

      The concern I have is this: if shame-based teaching is used from an early age on girls, won’t some conclude, “Well, I feel lousy and am considered to be a stumbling block for my appearance in one way or another. I may as well just give in and be sexually active?” I’m not explaining it well.

      • amos8

        Miss Jen, I think I hear you, and I wholeheartedly agree that “shame-based teaching”(and motivation) is most definitely harmful … if not excruciatingly destructive, and let’s do all we can to change that. But let’s also be aware of and concerned about the man-centered teachings of “You body is beautiful.” “You are wonderful just the way you are.” “You can do anything because you are special.” (even though they might make people feel good … for a while).

        Perhaps it is subtle, but these all get us to fix our eyes on and put our hope in ourselves, our abilities, the creation, and, ultimately, what people think about us. This brings us back to the problem of “shame-based teaching” where we are motivated by what people think of us rather than our sufficient worth in God ALONE and 100% apart from ourselves/abilities/looks, etc.

        The author may be well-intended, but her/this approach is equally, if not more deceptive and destructive. It still encourages girls to put their hope in their bodies and themselves and, worst of all, away from God, His grace, and His unmerited and unfailing love.

        Why not always encourage women to put their hope in God and to seek “inner beauty”? It is cliche in the minds of some, but it is 100% Biblical to seek and appreciate the inner beauty of others, as does God.

        Out beauty is not bad, nor shameful, but the problem comes when we value it too much. Whenever a person values out beauty/appearance too much (in themselves or others) it is destructive.

  • amos8

    I appreciate your efforts here, but women do NOT need to find value in what is fading (nor do men), or what is on the “outside,” yet you are instructing them to do so!

    “You are beautiful, not dirty. You are worthy of love. You have a
    beautiful body to glorify God. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”

    Even though this notion may be well intended, you are still encouraging women (and men!) to put their hope in their bodies … in what is temporary and fading … and what we should NOT be focusing on. You are pointing them to the creation! You are actually feeding the problem! This is like getting an alcoholic not to drink by getting them to take prescription drugs instead.

    Notice how you conflict with God:

    “Your beauty should NOT
    come from OUTWARD adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the
    wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your INNER SELF, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past WHO PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD used to make themselves beautiful.”

    What do you do with the flagrant contradictions with Scripture? Your notions sound good, they may even might make people feel good (for a while), and they appeal to the flesh (ironically), but they are destructive and anti-Scripture … and, dare I say, anti-women! They only destroy and pervert a woman’s value, and hope.

    Why not encourage women (and men) NOT to focus on our bodies, and, rather, encourage them to “put their hope in God” AND to invest their concern and effort in the “INNER” part that “does not fade”?? Why not teach everyone to seek what “is of great worth in God’s sight” (i.e. HEARTS that are right with God … by faith and grace)???

    “…why not relax and remind them of their beauty? Why not tell them they
    are worth loving and see how it changes their need for every man in the
    room to notice them?”

    What does God value? What do godly men “value”?

    “A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.”

    “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

    Yet, again, you are emphasizing the opposite!!!!

    There are so many destructive ideas in your assertions, please, please reconsider what you are doing to others.

  • Amanda Sims

    Another problem with all of this is how girls who are not traditionally considered “attractive” wind up viewing themselves. If such a girl is accepted simply because she is “not likely to cause a man to stumble” she too is judged by her appearance. The message sent is that it’s all about looks. And it does damage on both ends of the “beauty” spectrum.

    • Michael Dean

      Great point, Amanda. I’ve heard from friends that when the youth leaders called out certain girls for modesty, they felt ugly and undesirable because they weren’t a “stumbling block”.

      • MarciH

        What?!? So girls can only feel attractive if they’re sinning?!? There’s a much deeper problem going on if a girl feels ugly because she’s modest. Modesty and attractiveness are NOT opposites. The fact is, we’re not to find our beauty in outward things. And if a girl can only feel attractive if she’s seen as a “stumbling block,” then she’s finding her beauty in the wrong place.

        • Jen Smith

          She’s not saying that at all. It’s the point that shame is used; the fact is that so many in the church focus on a woman’s physical appearance, not on what’s going in inside. Is it reslly riht to assume that a modestly dressed woman or man has virtue? No. You have to know the person. Neither can one assume that immodest dress is an invitation to: a date, sex, rape, etc. ! Why not do what Christ did: care about the person instead of defending weak-minded individuals who see only stones to cast?

    • Jen Smith

      Totally correct, Amanda. “Church” peopls are no better than the world when doing this.

  • MarciH

    The one problem I have with the article is while she talks about not blaming women for men’s lust, she never once condemns a woman for how she dresses. Yes, the woman may have been a little insensitive in how she phrased the statement by calling the girls “slutty” dressing, but the fact remains that they probably WERE dressing in a way that needed to be addressed. And I’m sorry, but if you are dressing provocatively, then you should be ashamed. You should feel dirty. Not because of causing a man to stumble, but because of your own sin. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that it’s alright to dress in such a manner and feel alright.

    Going back to causing a man to stumble, there is some validity to that. Yes, a man is responsible for his own sin, but you wouldn’t take an alcoholic to a bar. The scientific fact is that men are visually aroused, much more than women. Men do fight a constant battle against lust, and we as women shouldn’t make the battle harder for them.

    You don’t have to wear a bag around, but you don’t have to dress like you should be working a corner either. And the sad fact is that I have known many christians who dress extremely provocatively. There is a difference between wearing a pair of shorts, and wearing a pair where your butt hangs out.

    It’s just a little too vague to say, “you’re beautiful and there’s nothing to be ashamed about,” when you don’t know the individual circumstances. What if someone does have something to be ashamed about? What if a young girl, who has been following the world’s lead and dressing provocatively finds your article and decides that she doesn’t need to change the way she’s dressing.

    No, your body is not the problem, but what you do with it, how you act with it, and how you dress it, most definitely is.

    • Jen Smith

      “Slutty” is more than “a little insensitive.” It assumes that a girl or woman is, or wants to be, associated with a behavior (promiscuity).

      • MarciH

        That may be what Paul said avoid even the “appearance” of evil. No, they may not want to be associated with this behavior, but sadly, if they dress in this manner that is what people (both inside and outside the church) will think. Your body may not be the problem, but they way you adorn it most definitely is. And that is the problem I have with this article. Not once does she address the fact that as Christians we should be dressing modestly.

        • Jen Smith

          I don’t imagine Christ using a word like slutty, esp. about someone young, impressionabke, seeking approval and perhaps needy, and teaching them shame over the body He created for her. If a female is, say, exceptionally full-lipped with big, bright eyes and men are turned on, should she wear a burka?

    • Jen Smith

      By the way, she does refer to the need to dress so men make eye contact, not look at your breasts, 6 paragraphs from the end. She doesn’t trash specific clothing, but she ‘s not saying to be foolish.

    • Jen Smith

      And she “never once condemns a woman” for her manner of dress. I didn’t realize God gave us the power to condemn. Wow. Address it, perhaps, but in love.

  • Kim

    I am a Pastor’s wife and a Worship Pastor. I agree with the fact that a woman with an attractive figure is a gift from God. I also believe that modesty is a must for a Christian woman. I’m all for being “in style” but when we see more legs, cleavage, tight clothing that reveals type & color of undergarments, contour of body parts then I consider it the woman’s issue for drawing attention to herself. No, she’s not to blame for her body but she is responsible for how she dresses and carries herself.

    • MarciH

      Totally agree. I think it is a shame that we are seeing this type of dress more and more in the church. And instead if condemning it, it seems to me like the author is condoning it. As far as a guy’s lust, it is a scientific fact that men are aroused visually. It’s like someone who struggles with alcoholism, they are responsible for restraining themselves, but you would be sinning if you took them into a bar.

  • Jen Smith

    Yes!! I have been blamed for a guy’s lust. It hurt, too. And I’ve not forgotten it.

  • MarciH

    Yes, we ARE in a battle over bikinis and low cut tops, for the simple reason that a Christian woman should not be wearing them.

    • Lauren Baer

      The Christian woman is reconciled to God. Our battle, or rather our mission, is to address the Christian woman’s heart. Why is she dressing so? Where in the Scripture does it call her to dress differently as it calls me to dress differently? She’s not in this alone, and we are both called to work hard to dress to glorify God. There is not a line between Christian-woman-wearing-bikinis-and-low-cut-tops and Christian-woman-in-a-tasteful-tankini-and-a-crew-neck-top. We are on the same side, fighting in the same battle for Christ.

      Our job as Christian women who God has shown the value of not choosing bikinis or low cut tops is to help edify and support women. Take her to a website where she can order an ADORABLE and super flattering one piece or tankini or skirted swimsuit (depending on her body type). Ask her where she got that one, beautiful top that you know is in her wardrobe that is flattering and God glorifying, and tell her it’s your favorite top on her because of how it fits her and why. Not because it covers up her boobs, but because when you have a tank top on under a v-neck it actually draws looks up to her gorgeous eyes while still giving her a great silhouette because it tucks in at the waist.

      Whatever it is, build her up. And don’t ever tell a woman you’re in a battle over her bikini because, by that, you’re telling her that the bikini is more important to you than why she’s wearing it.

  • Jen Smith

    Adam & Eve were naked and felt no shame….until they fell. I’m not saying we should go naked, or dress to be provocative, but I am saying that a shameful view of our bodies is apparently not approved of by our Heavenly Father.

  • Pastor CSL

    I think about the story in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was feasting at the home of Simon the Pharisee. The Scripture says that a “certain immoral woman” joined the supper and poured highly expensive perfume over Christ’s feet, wiping off the excess with her hair. Simon was appalled, and thought, “If this man were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman is touching Him. She’s a sinner.” Luke 7:39 NLT As another poster has said, those who dress provocatively are the ones most in need of the touch of Christ. While we should always teach Christian modesty, we should also minister to the immodest people with the needs of the heart in mind more than the bodily appearance. We also need to not make this a solely female issue. Men, especially the younger men, are likewise dressing provocatively with tight pants, underwear hanging out, certain styles of shirts, etc. We need to be true missionaries who minister to the inner needs rather than to the outward appearances. Like Simon, we need to remember our own sins which Christ has forgiven.


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