Things Are Never As They Seem With Christianity

Text: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Christianity does not function like everything else in the world.  In other words, the world typically looks at outward appearances, whereas the Lord God looks at the heart.  Indeed, unlike Christianity, the world looks at the appearances of a person, place, thing, or idea to make a judgment. For example, larger cars, trucks, and SUVs have been more popular in the United States than small vehicles for quite some time.  Bigger is better. Furthermore, in America, there is often a preference for spacious homes with larger square footage. Additionally, portion sizes in restaurants are often larger compared to some other cultures. This preference for size can be linked to notions of abundance, prosperity, and a frontier spirit historically associated with the American experience.  Furthermore, in America, we have historically valued things that are heavy. That is to say; things that are heavy are viewed as solid and durable – made with supposedly better materials.  Whereas things that are light are generally viewed as cheap and flimsy.  

In the church, we think this way as well.  For example, we have accepted the idea that loud noise, big groups, a lot of activity, and a busy-looking social media account are what constitute a vibrant and healthy church.  Indeed, just look at a church’s social media account, and you will see that often, the emphasis is not on what is being taught and given in a church but rather on how many people attended a particular event or what people accomplished. To paraphrase a 20th Century theologian, 

“Pastors and churches in our hectic times are harassed by the temptation to seek size at any cost – they are greedy for thrills and surface stimulation.  Tragically, Christians like to spin their wheels in the church, burn the gasoline, and make a lot of noise without getting anywhere while enjoying the smell of rubber and the exhaust of power.” 

Now, speaking of social media, it is important to keep in mind that in our personal lives, we tend to showcase selected portions of our lives that highlight only positive moments.  While there is nothing wrong with doing this, the catch-22 is that the world often sees only an idealized version of people on social media, where only the happy moments and the nice-looking times are shared and not the mundane and low points of life.

To the point, the world tends to look at and seek outward appearances.  It judges a book only by the cover.  However, this is not how Christianity functions.  Take our Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel as an example.  

In 1 Samuel chapter 16, we hear that the Lord sends Samuel to anoint the future king of Israel.  Now, one would think that a future king would be tall and have a commanding presence.  However, the Lord God has never based His decisions on mere outward appearances.  Listen to what the Lord says to Samuel when Samuel thinks he sees Israel’s future king – a man named Eliab.  I remind you that Eliab had a good outward appearance. Loosely stated, God’s response to Samuel was: 

“Looks aren’t everything, Samuel. Don’t be impressed with Eliab’s looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him.  God judges people differently than humans do. Men and women look at outward appearances; God, though, looks into the heart.”  

And so, to the point, the Lord God did not seek out a king based on outward appearances, but He looked for a future king who was after His heart.  In other words, the Lord God did not tie Himself to external outward appearances but sought out a future king who would not run after other gods.  The Lord God was more concerned about the future king’s inner disposition and character rather than his appearance and height.  

Now, at this point, we need to be very careful.  You see, in our culture right now, there is a mindset that says, 

“You can’t judge me; only God can judge me!”  

In other words, the you-can’t-judge-me-only-God-can-judge-me mindset suggests that other people cannot judge you because they do not truly know your inner character.  It also suggests that our perception of one another is limited – that only God can truly criticize.  

Now, to your surprise, for the most part, we can agree with this.  We would agree that we cannot base our judgment of each other solely on outward appearances, for if we do, it is rather superficial.  Furthermore, making judgments only on outward appearances is a sure way to go down the road of breaking the 8th Commandment.  Without knowing a person’s thoughts and desires, we can easily put the worst construction on people’s outward actions.  And finally, when it comes down to it, we must affirm that only God can judge the intents and purposes of the human heart, for only God is able to know a person’s inward thoughts and desires.  But this is where it gets very – very – interesting.  Please hear me out!  If God is the only one who can accurately judge the thoughts and desires of our hearts (which is indeed true), then we are in deep trouble.

Let me try to say this as clearly as possible.  Yes, there are going to be people in this world who will judge you and me incorrectly and superficially on outward appearances.  When this happens, it is wrong, superficial, short-sighted, and a typical junior-high-mentality of small-minded people.   However, if we are more comfortable having God judge our hearts rather than other people judging our outward appearances, then we are very na├»ve at best and a fool at worst.  You see, when God looks to the hearts of mankind, we stand condemned before Him.  Remember what the Lord says about our hearts?  He does not say that our hearts are morally pure, good, and full of warm, pious sentiments.  Instead, in Jeremiah 17, the Lord says, 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it.”

And so, be more concerned about the One who can see your heart than the one who can only see outward appearances.  

But didn’t we just say that God chose David to be king because he was a man who was after the heart of God?  If so, was David the odd man out; did David have a cleaner heart than most?  Hardly!  

Dear friends, King David had his faults.  He obviously committed sin.  Remember that one time when he had sex with another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and then tried to cover it up by having the woman’s husband killed in battle? His heart was hardly pure with these deeds.  He had blood on his hands and a sin-sick heart to boot.  Indeed, David committed sin, just like you and me.  He was guilty of great offenses outwardly and inwardly.  And yet, He was a man after God’s heart.  

Dear friends, what made David a man after God’s own heart is not that he did not sin.  Now, it is indeed true that he ruled outwardly as a pretty faithful King; however, inwardly, in his private life, what made him a man after God’s own heart is that his flagrant sin was met equally with bold repentance.  Thus, David lived as a man after God’s heart, as He trusted in the promises of the Messiah to be washed clean from the guilt of his sin.  He rested in the grace of God that made him whiter than snow.  He rested in a God who could create a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit.  

And so, the point is very clear!  Dear Christian, when the Lord God cuts through all the superficial facades that we put up… when God removes our outward decorative masks… when God pulls the outward curtains back… when He shines as light into our dark hearts… when He looks right to the core of our being - our hearts - He judges you not according to the appearances of your heart but according to Christ’s shed blood, and says, 

“Your iniquity has been atoned.  Your sin has been washed away.  You are white as snow. Well done, faithful servant.”    

And so, today, by faith, you shall cling to Christ in your heart, in your mind, and in your body because things are never as they seem with Christianity.  The Lord does not base His verdict of you on your outward appearances, and - hear this clearly - He certainly does not base His verdict of you on the appearance of your hearts, but He looks at Christ’s nailed hands and the shed blood of the cross to declare you clean – forgiven – outwardly and inwardly for Christ’s sake.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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