“For the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
When the Japanese occupied the Philippines during World War II between 1942 and 1945, the Philippine Guerrilla Movement made life miserable for the occupiers. The defenders of Manila were successful in tying up Japanese military resources that helped lead, ultimately, to the Allied victory. Among the members of the brave Resistance was a very unlikely Filipino woman, a former beauty queen named Josefina Guerrero.
“Joey,” as the American forces called her, was a master at subterfuge, successfully navigating in and around enemy strongholds. She had grown up in Manila, was raised by her grandparents and married a young physician. When Allied forces invaded Luzon in 1944 she volunteered to work as a spy for the Americans. She carried vital information where it seemed no one else could go. She often visited American soldiers in Japanese prison camps on the island. She brought food, medical supplies, and information. She went bravely where no one else would go. She wrote and carried maps of Japanese installations and aircraft batteries. This allowed American planes to target and destroy key strongholds. On one of her missions she hid information inside a piece of fruit. On another, critical documents were taped to her back. In still another, information was written on a ribbon in her hair. At any moment, she could have been simply shot as a spy by Japanese soldiers. But Joey was not deterred. And she was not searched. And so, the story continued throughout the war.
In the end, Joey Guerrero was an international hero, credited with saving hundreds, if not thousands of lives. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm, the highest award a civilian can earn. Why did the Japanese never search Joey? They were repulsed by her. Sickened by her appearance. They ridiculed her and laughed at her, all while she was helping to cut the heart out of their war effort. Joey Guerrero contracted leprosy in 1941. Her body was covered with open sores and her hands and feet were battered and bruised. The enemy made a critical mistake in judging her outward appearance and ignoring her brave heart. After the war, Joey was brought to a leprosarium near Carville, Louisiana, arriving in the United States as a hero.
Most people would agree that the majority of humans tend towards a significant degree of concern pertaining to the way they are viewed by others. Displaying a degree of concern regarding how our actions are perceived by others is actually an inherently healthy tendency. Certain people possess the attitude that living for oneself is a justifiable course of action. They contend that provided one’s words and actions do not inflict direct harm upon those within their sphere of influence, then the manner in which others view them is ultimately inconsequential. The implication of this attitude is that no one has the right to judge your actions based on their moral worth. It is indisputable that judgement ultimately belongs to God as only He can read the heart. However, the idea that we have the right to live our lives free of concern regarding the manner in which our outward conduct may be interpreted is problematic, according to the principles laid out in the Bible.
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:15. Is it possible to have lives perceived as blameless by all those around us if we fail to consider the manner in which our outward conduct is perceived by others? In order to have lives that qualify as beacons of lights to a dark world it is common sense to conclude that this cannot happen by accident. Furthermore, an important step in achieving such a connection with Christ in that our lives qualify as blameless is actually caring about how others perceive us. However, we must have a level of self-awareness regarding the reasons behind the desire to be viewed in a positive manner, realizing that our motivation should not be a craving for the honour and adulation of others. Instead, our motivation must be based in a genuine concern for the salvation of souls, and the realization that our outward conduct can directly affect people’s prospects for salvation.
It is apparent that, as Christians, people are analyzing every aspect of our lives. Any individual who has displayed conduct unbecoming of a Christian has likely heard the snide comment stating, “If you’re truly a Christian then why are you engaged in that course of action?” Why is it that people in the world analyze Christians so closely? Many people are aware of the fact that outward appearances and actions are one indicator of the state of the heart, and indicative of how seriously we take our Christian beliefs. Therefore, it is important to have a level of investment regarding the perceptions of others based on our outward appearance, words, and actions. It can be stated unequivocally that the degree of concern we display regarding the perceptions of others, particularly those in the world, is directly correlated with our level of interest in the salvation of all those within our sphere of influence. It is a major problem if we adopt the stance that if worldly people judge us based on our influence, it is ultimately inconsequential, stating that they are accountable for themselves before God, and also that our example should not be an excuse for them not to seek God.
We must care about the perceptions of others, but is it possible to care too much about outward appearances, or to care from impure motivations? And, if it is possible to care too much about outward appearances, then what motivations typically drive a course of action that puts significant stock in keeping up appearances at all times?
Many of us know the story of Ananias and Sapphira as written in Acts 5:1–11. Was it wrong for Ananias and Sapphira to keep back part of the money acquired through the selling of their land? Were they obligated to give the whole amount of money to the church? As the Bible indicates, after the land was sold the decision to give or not to give was their own. It is apparent that they had to pay their tithes, but this was the only obligation they had. Merely choosing to retain part of the selling price was not in itself a sin. It became a sin when Ananias and Sapphira deliberately led the apostles to believe that they were giving all the proceeds from their sale, to the church. In essence, they lied.
This is a primary characteristic which is observable when outward appearances are maintained from impure motivations. Keeping up outward appearances for the wrong reasons is defined by gross exaggeration, deliberately misleading actions or words, or outright lies. What is the motivation for this tendency to lie or to exaggerate in order to keep up a façade of outward righteousness? When investigating the public nature of Ananias’ and Sapphira’s charitable donation combined with their outright lie, it is clear that their goal of maintaining a positive outward exterior was not to influence others for right, or to glorify God through their actions. Instead, their goal was to bring honour to themselves through their ostentatious display of charity with the hope of receiving the adulation of men.
The desire to be seen and honoured of men is an example of an impure motivation, tending to inspire some to perform actions which are extraordinarily kind and caring. These actions are often exaggerated to the extent that they are not a true indicator of who that person is, or how they live their life on a day-to-day basis. When someone lives their life one way when there is no one around, and a completely different way when there are people around, their outward appearance is a façade rather than an accurate representation of who and what they are.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” Matthew 23:25–28
The Pharisees were known for their obvious, open, and exaggerated displays of piety and righteousness! They had the following discussion with Jesus: “And they said unto Him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but Thine eat and drink? And He said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. And He spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles;
else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” Luke 5:33–39
Why did Jesus especially take an issue with fasting in this instance? Fasting is not a sinful course of action. Fasting has many benefits. While going through various crises in our lives, fasting and prayer can promote a clear mind conducive to a deeper understanding of God’s will. Furthermore, there have been recent medical studies which suggest that fasting can provide health benefits such as improvements in blood pressure or cholesterol levels, bolstering of the immune system, or even the reduction of diabetes risk amongst those prone to the condition. Therefore, the question remains as to why Jesus had an issue with something that is clearly beneficial to spiritual health, as well as physical health.
The following verses give some clarification on the matter. “And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:9–14
The Pharisees were quite proud of their course of action related to fasting, and they would bring people’s attention to their fasts. Why did they feel the need to bring other people’s attention to a course of action which should be done for one’s own personal spiritual health and wellbeing? Quite simply, they clearly seemed to have other motivations for doing it, other than their own personal spiritual health. If their motivations for doing it were strictly for their own spiritual health and benefit, then they would have felt no need to publicize their course of action in this manner. The reality is that they had ulterior motivations for fasting which were so far removed from the spiritual benefit they could derive that, if the opportunity to be seen by men did not exist, they likely would not have fasted at all. Their impure motivations are apparent in the fact that they strategically performed their fasting at certain times, and in particular settings, and included behaviour which could not be considered normal for that individual if they were in private. Do we perform certain actions in particular settings to be seen and praised of men, when we know full well this is not something we would normally do if the prospect of being seen did not exist?
What impure motivations really motivated the Pharisees to fast, and to make great displays of their religiosity through various means such as public prayer or publicly giving large tithes and offerings? We have already mentioned the desire to be seen, in order to receive the praise of men. However, within the desire to be seen of men there is much more at stake than merely the desire to receive praise. As we read in Matthew 23, Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that they appear outwardly righteous to men, but inside they are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. The desire to appear righteous was a direct attempt on the part of the Pharisees to cover over or distract others from the iniquity existing in their personal lives.
In verse 26 it talks about cleaning that which is within first, which will lead to the outside being clean also. If we have a pure heart then we will never have to try hard to make a good outward appearance at certain strategic times in order to convince others that we are more righteous than we actually are. Our outward conduct will naturally give a true and accurate representation of the beauty of Christ’s character within us.
We believe that the last evidence this sinful world will receive of the true nature of God’s character, (despite Satan’s best attempts to misconstrue His character), will be our example. To a world that has continuously spurned God’s wonderful overtures of mercy, let us ensure that God’s last call to this sinful world is one which fully represents the beauty of Christ’s character, as reflected in our characters.
Conversely, if there is no true purity of heart existing within someone then it is quite natural for that individual to attempt to overcompensate with outward displays of Christianity, in an attempt to prevent their true character or secret sin from being revealed. More than just an attempt to shift people’s focus away from the sin in their personal lives, these ostentatious displays of piety are an attempt to quiet one’s own conscience and sense of guilt. The belief exists that serving God through visible works of righteousness makes up for unconfessed sin in one’s private life.
The righteous deeds of the Pharisees seemed morally upright to many of the uneducated masses because their actions were the most visible to the public, and seemed to involve great deeds which required significant sacrifice. The reality was that their deeds appeared the greatest because they had the most resources available to them. Furthermore, they overcompensated to the largest degree because their sin went the deepest, requiring the most significant displays of righteousness in order to effectively quiet their own conscience.
In Luke 18:11, we read the story of the Pharisee who prayed, thanking God that he was not like other men who committed horrendous sins. It is apparent that another feature observable in those who attempt to keep up a positive outward appearance from the wrong motivations is that they tend to compare their righteous acts to the perceived sins or lack of righteous deeds committed by those they believe to be morally inferior to them. This is an attempt to paint their righteous acts in an even more appealing light, and to justify their own lives by pointing out the sins of others. The Pharisee in this story who appeared so supposedly righteous may not have been an extortioner, unjust, or an adulterer. However, he possessed something with the potential to be worse than all of these three—a deluded sense of spiritual pride leading to a feeling of self-righteousness.
As long as someone feels righteous in and of themselves, there is never any reason for them to seek Christ’s righteousness or to feel their need of the salvation that only Jesus can offer. Feeling one’s need of Jesus has the power to inspire the individual to focus all their time and energy on establishing a personal connection with Him. In this scenario the individual would have no thought of striving to put on a grandiose show, because doing so is synonymous with self-righteousness and trying to work our own way to heaven.
Regarding Lucifer, we read, “The angels joyfully acknowledge the supremacy of Christ, and prostrating themselves before Him, poured out their love and adoration. Lucifer bowed with them, but in his heart there was a strange, fierce conflict. Truth, justice, and loyalty were struggling against envy and jealousy. The influence of the holy angels seemed for a time to carry him with them. As songs of praise ascended in melodious strains, swelled by thousands of glad voices, the spirit of evil seemed vanquished; . . . But again he was filled with pride in his own glory. His desire for supremacy returned, and envy of Christ was once more indulged.” –Patriarchs and Prophets, page 36–37
Someone holding a high position of trust such as a minister, or in Lucifer’s case, as the head of the angelic choir, can have a heart far from God and be merely keeping up an appearance. In Lucifer’s case he kept up a good appearance, and this seeming reverence towards God was designed to disguise the fact that he was working directly against God. Lucifer likely entertained the thought that if his subversive work went undetected long enough and a majority of the angels were convinced to join him, it would be too late to effectively suppress his rebellion by the time it was discovered. In terms of Lucifer, we clearly see that keeping up an outward appearance of righteousness is insufficient for salvation. Unless the heart is wholly converted to God each one of us will end up in the same position of directly working against God, whether this was our original intention or not.
Although outward appearances are important in the context of this world, we can be reassured by the following promises of God. “But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7. “And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a willing mind: for the LORD searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off for ever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9
The first promise is that, even if people are quick to judge us on our appearance, as long as we have done our best to represent Christ we must not let this affect us. We can hold this belief with assurance because we know that God judges the heart and the innermost motivations, which give rise to our actions.
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23. The second promise is that whatever is in our heart will ultimately be expressed to the world. Therefore, it is not necessary to make a significant effort to keep up an excellent outward appearance, because with Jesus in our heart our outward conduct will naturally be befitting of a Christian.
It is my wish and prayer that we will realize the importance of our outward conduct, our words, actions, and the way we carry ourselves. Conversely, while keeping the importance of appearances in mind, we must consciously decide not to use our outward conduct as a means to attempt to convince the world that we are something we are not. Amen.