Keeping Up Appearances
- Chip Ingram
- 2002 13 Nov
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? When you catch your reflection in a storefront window, what do you think? Do you see a beautiful, or handsome person, full of potential and endowed by God to do wonderful things? Or do you tend to see that crooked tooth, those crows' feet, those extra few pounds around the middle?
Maybe you don't like to look in the mirror much at all, because it reminds you of all the things that need to be "fixed." Or maybe, you spend lots of time at the tanning booth or in the gym striving for improvement, trying to reach "good looking" status as it is prescribed by our culture.
We live in a culture obsessed with bodies. That's the bottom line (pardon the pun!). We can't grow old gracefully anymore; we have to have buns of steel and ageless skin. In fact, we are told that we can find beauty in an 8 oz. jar and youth in a vitamin pill. Television, magazines, advertisements, all bombard us daily with the faulty insistence that we just aren't good enough the way we are. Even though we may like the way we look, and desire to be content with how we are made, we are constantly reminded of our physical imperfections.
I believe it's part of our humanness, particularly for women, to walk into a group, take a look around, and begin comparing ourselves to everyone else. A little tape measure pulls out of our head (whether we are aware of it or not), and we size up ourselves, how we fit in, how we look alongside others.
But if we can, let's set aside all those messages and impressions from our culture, and hear what God has to say about our physical appearance. When God looks at you and me, what does He see?
Interestingly, the Bible doesn't waste a lot of ink describing people's appearances. We don't even know what Adam and Eve looked like, who were the original specimens of human perfection. We don't know what color Eve's hair was, how she wore it, or what shape her nose was. We don't know if Adam had a moustache or goatee, or what his body structure was. What we do know is that man and women were made in the image of God, to reflect who He is, to take care of the earth and to multiply and fill it.
In fact, many times when beauty and physical attractiveness is mentioned in Scripture, it's connected with the sinfulness of man! Sarai's beauty got her in trouble with Pharoah (Gen. 12:10-13), Bathsheba's beauty ignited the moral downfall of Israel's greatest king (2 Sam. 11:1-2). David's appearance was discounted altogether by Samuel, who pointed out that "God looks at the heart," and although we don't know exactly what Jesus looked like, Isaiah's prophecies tell us He wasn't particularly attractive.
On the other hand, God at times used the physical beauty of someone to bring about good, as in the case of Esther, and the Song of Solomon shows what a good thing it is for a husband and wife to be attracted to one another.
What we need to understand is this: Your physical appearance is attractive to God because He designed you and created you exactly the way He wanted you to be.
I've never known a mother who didn't think her newborn baby wasn't absolutely beautiful in every way. Years ago, I worked as a secretary on a college campus, and many of the women who worked there were in the "growing family" stage of their lives; every time a new baby was born, the mother would bring her baby up to the campus and show it off. One day, Sue brought her baby in, radiant with pride. Her child had been born with a severe cleft palate, and wasn't as cute to look at as all the other babies had been. In fact, many surgeries were required before the birth defect was totally corrected. But that didn't matter to Sue. She loved her baby; it was hers, it was part of her, and was the most beautiful little girl in the world to her. That's how it is with God. That's how He sees us. We are His, we are a part of Him because we were created in His image. He loves us, and we are beautiful in His sight. He made us in all shapes, sizes, and colors, with characteristics unique to us because we are one of a kind, and wonderful to Him.
Secondly, your value as a person, your innate worth, is not determined by your physical appearance. True, lasting attractiveness is that which flows from a heart filled with God. Many of us think that wearing the right clothes, being the right weight, having a certain haircut or body type makes us valuable. But this is false. Why? Because our outward appearance doesn't reveal what we are truly like inside, or what our true value is. Have you ever met someone whose outward appearance is not very attractive initially, but the more time you spend with them, the more you get to know them, the more beautiful or handsome they become?
The true us, the lasting part, is inside. The outer shell, the temporary part, is fading away. How backwards it is that we, as a culture, should become so fixated on what is so fragile and often bears so little resemblance to the "real" us! Our true selves, rather than deteriorating with time, grow richer, deeper, and more beautiful as we walk with the Lord and let Him form us.
Paul wrote, "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). He called our earthly bodies a "tent," that would one day be torn down. One day, through disease or mishap or malfunction, our tents will fold. But our true selves, which dwell for about seventy or eighty years within this tent, will continue to live for eternity, if indeed we belong to Christ.
Until that day comes, this is the tent we have. It may look different than other people's tents, but we need to take care of it and allow God to use it, regardless of its shape or form. After all, it no longer belongs to us alone. When God Himself purchased you with the death of His Son, he moved in with you, and turned your tent into His temple. It is important that we cherish and care for our physical bodies because He has chosen us, and wants us to communicate His character through the way we live.
Finally, we can do all we want to to improve our appearance. But what is most important to God and for eternity, is hidden within our hearts. Peter wrote "And let not your adornment be merely external, braiding the hair and wearing gold jewelry [and sculpting your body with a 24-hour fitness pass and dressing like Ralph Lauren?]; but let it be the hidden person of the heart" (I Peter 3:3-4, paraphrase in brackets mine). Our directive is not that we should avoid looking good. We need to dress and look appropriate to the culture within which God has placed us. But we must not be deceived into thinking that our outward appearance is a source of genuine attractiveness. Our value has already been determined because of our relationship with Christ; no one, nothing, can ever add to or take away from that value.
We have a choice to make. We can either look at the reflection of ourselves in the "distorted mirrors" the world provides, or we can choose to look at ourselves through the lens of God's Word.
How about it? Tomorrow morning, will you see yourself there in the mirror, or stand there on the bathroom scale, and thank God for the way He has made you? That means all of you, the things you like, and the things you don't. Then ask Him to grow you, the real you, into the kind of person that reflects His magnificence to the world around you.
About the author: Chip Ingram is President of Walk Thru the Bible in Atlanta, GA, and Teaching Pastor of Living on the Edge, a national radio ministry.