An image that impresses

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post, I feel pretty and witty and bright!, that unpacked how unconcerned with our outward appearance we ought to be. A handful of Scripture verses were referenced to communicate this, including a personal favorite that I came across again this week in 1 Samuel 16 as God was unveiling His choosing of David as His anointed one. Samuel had seen Eliab, one of David’s brothers, and thought he was surely the Lord’s anointed to be chosen (v.6); “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'” (v.7). What struck me this time around was how David’s appearance was recorded, twice, within the same chapter as to how pleasing to the eye he was. “He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features” (v.12) and “He speaks well and is a fine-looking man” (v.18). If we are to be so disinterested with our outward appearance, then why are we reminded of how, in fact, attractive David was? I’m convinced that the words, outward appearance, convey a broader meaning than simply our physical portrayal.

As a Christian who entered into the realm of organized religion only seven years ago, I’d never been exposed to the ugliness that can be made out of professing Christians who are trying too hard to look and act the part for onlookers. It still baffles me. Thankfully, this has been a rarity, but a glaring one when witnessed. The image that some are striving to attain, or maintain, among those who can see them and their works is all wrapped up in the outward appearance that God Himself is not looking at. So why do some of us get caught up in how our lives appear to those on the outside when “the Lord looks at the heart”? If God doesn’t put an emphasis on our outward images, but instead focuses on our inner heart condition, just where is the confusion coming from?

Enter stage left: Pharisees. These guys get a raw deal, don’t they? They are students and teachers of God’s Law, practicing it to near perfection, but miss the mark entirely. Jesus harshly condemns their misplaced piety throughout all of Matthew 23, known as the seven woes. So, a raw deal, perhaps not; more like a raw reality check. The fifth and sixth woes He calls them on fall nicely in line with the outward appearance theme. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:25-28). There is much more that defines a Pharisee, but an overall consumption with how pious they appear to others is a telling sign; a trait that Jesus didn’t hesitate to expose without apology.

A Pharisaical heart can be passionate for God, but Paul expounds on this in Romans 10:2-4, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous about God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Tithe religiously, attend church faithfully, memorize Scripture fervently, follow God’s commands to the nth degree; however, without the vast knowledge that Christ revealed to us in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), that the law must penetrate the circumcised heart before it can be righteous in God’s eyes (Jeremiah 4:4), the zeal is empty and unimpressive to God. To man, it can have an appearance of righteousness, but “would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men” (Job 13:9)?

Enter stage right: David. So what was it God saw in David that made Him choose him to be His anointed? Apparently, David was easy on the eyes, so we know God doesn’t rule out persons with an attractive physical appearance any more than He would do so for someone not having good looks on their list of qualities. The apostle Paul gives us a succinct answer in Acts 13:22, “After removing Saul, he made David their king. He [God] testified concerning him [David]: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.'”

There is the culmination of what’s to be center stage: a heart after God’s own heart. Not one centered on creating an outward appearance that neglects the inward image He’s impressed upon us as most important to Him. The Pharisees of the New Testament would’ve ripped David apart, in part, because he was an adulterer and a murderer, but God saw in David’s heart more than any man can see: contrition for his transgressions against God (as seen poured out in Psalm 51), godly sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10), and a heart seeped with genuine humility before a Holy God. None of these unseen acts of righteousness were of concern for our hypocritical Pharisee foes. Although we can’t see into the hearts of others to determine which stage entrance they’re coming from, we know that God does and that is the heart of what truly matters. As God presses us further in the sanctification process, may we be pressed not to gaze too long at looking left, or right, but to keep our eyes center stage where Christ stands, for there is where our hearts belong.

 

 

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