Outward Appearances

The movie, The Matrix (1999), starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and a host of others, is a movie about outward appearances and deception. The YouTube movie clip I posted above shows how deceptive outward appearances can be. In case the clip doesn’t show up or open up on your device, it is also available at this link.

The Bible mentions a lot regarding the deception of outward appearances. A list of just a few of the verses on this topic is available in an article titled, Bible Verses About the Deceptiveness of Appearances at this link. Here are the verses listed in that article:

  • Matthew 7:15
    Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
  • Proverbs 31:30
    Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
  • Matthew 24:24-26
    For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.”
  • John 7:24
    Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.
  • 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
    For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
  • Genesis 3:6
    So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.
  • Deuteronomy 13:1-5
    If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods—which you have not known—and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
  • 1 Samuel 16:7
    But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
  • Proverbs 26:12
    Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
  • Matthew 23:5
    But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments.
  • Matthew 23:14
    Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
  • Luke 18:9-14
    Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat 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 everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
  • Ephesians 6:12
    For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
  • 1 Peter 3:3-5
    Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands…
  • 1 John 4:1
    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

In an article published on May 30, 2018 (and updated on March 6, 2022), titled, Outward Appearances Are Deceiving–I Samuel 16:7,” by Ed Jarrett, blogger at AClayJar.net, he writes:

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 people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

God had sent Samuel to Jesse’s house to anoint the next king of Israel. When Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, was presented, Samuel believed that he would be the one to anoint. Apparently, he was big and strong and kingly looking. But God had other plans, ultimately choosing David, the youngest son of Jesse. And what God told Samuel here is an important lesson for all of us.

What Is Important?

Outward appearances are important to many people, both for themselves and for how they judge others around them. But outward appearances can be deceiving and are not really all that important. Does a clear complexion, white teeth, flat tummy, bulging muscles, and designer clothes really make you more valuable? Or is what is on the inside of a person more important: their heart, mind, and will?

I’m not sure that it is possible for us to completely ignore the packaging that a person is wrapped in. But how much better if, like God, we would learn to put more stock in the inner person. To value people for who they are rather than what they look like. (Quote source here.)

It is pretty much impossible for us to completely ignore the packaging that a person is wrapped in. But how we respond is what matters. This reminds me of the words of James found in James 2:1-13 (the following is taken from The Message Bible):

My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?

Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms?

You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things, specializing in keeping one or two things in God’s law and ignoring others. The same God who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” If you don’t commit adultery but go ahead and murder, do you think your non-adultery will cancel out your murder? No, you’re a murderer, period.

Talk and act like a person expecting to be judged by the Rule that sets us free. For if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.

Even our nonverbal communication–a tilt of the head, a reflection in our eyes, a haughty look, a scoff, smirking, mocking, glaring, staring, cynical laughter, deceptive game playing, and our body language in general–can clearly indicate to someone that we reject them. And God doesn’t miss what we do to others, either, and it clearly speaks to those we do it to what we really think about God regardless of what we may claim to believe about God. Our actions speak louder than words.

I took a book off of my bookshelf this morning that I had not look at in a while. It is titled, All In: You are one decision away from a totally different life (2013), by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. He is also a New York Times best-selling author of 19 books. On the back cover of “All In” in big bold capital letters are these words:


The following is the rest of what is written on the back cover of the hardcover edition:

If Jesus is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all. Many people believe they are following Jesus, but they have mistakenly invited Jesus to follow them. Mark Batterson calls it the inverted gospel. He challenges you to go all in and all out by fully surrendering your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. This is when the true adventure begins.

How we treat others (all others) is a direct reflection of what we think about God and Jesus Christ and whether or not Jesus is really the Lord of our lives. We cannot say we love God and Jesus if we hate or disdain those we don’t accept or like, including our enemies. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:43-48 how we are to respond to those we don’t like for whatever reason we don’t like them (and that could even be from gossip we’ve heard about them that may not even be true):

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In an article titled, When Jesus says, ‘Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,’ does that mean we can attain perfection, and should we?” by R. C. Sproul (1939-2017), founder of Ligonier Ministries and the radio program “Renewing Your Mind,” founding pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, professor, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine, he wrote:

There are a couple of things we need to understand about this statement. In the first place, the word that is translated “perfect” literally means “be complete.” So often, the New Testament and the Old Testament will describe people as being upright and righteous—not in the sense that they have achieved total moral perfection, but rather that they have reached a singular level of maturity in their growth in terms of spiritual integrity….

Now to the question of whether we can, in fact, achieve moral perfection in this world. If Jesus says to be perfect, the assumption would be that he would not require us to do something that is impossible for us to achieve. Therefore, there are Christians, many Christians, who believe that, indeed, it is possible for a person to reach a state of moral perfection in this life. That view is called perfectionism, and people develop a theology whereby there’s a special work of the Holy Spirit that gives them victory over all sin or all intentional sin that renders them morally perfect in this world. The mainstream of Christianity, however, has resisted the doctrine of perfectionism chiefly because we see the record of the greatest saints in biblical history and in church history who to a person confessed the fact that they, to their dying day, struggled with ongoing sin in their lives. Not the least of which, of course, was the apostle Paul, who talked about his ongoing struggle with sin…. (Click here for quote source and to read the rest of his article).

In an article published on September 22, 2016, titled, What does Jesus mean when he says ‘Be perfect…’?” by Paula Gooder, a contributor on BibleSociety.org.uk, her thoughtful reflection shows the struggle involved. She writes, “Following is no intellectual exercise, it requires whole-life transformation. We are called to mirror the character of God, not merely to do or say the right things.” She continues by writing:

Okay, okay, I know I’m not helping! That just makes it worse not better–now we don’t just have to be perfect, we have to mirror the character of God, too. So before we go further let’s just be clear, this is challenging and it’s meant to be challenging and there is no way round that. Jesus’ calling to us requires our all and more. (Quote source here.)

As she continues, she brings up a comparison with “maturity” (1 Corinthians 2:6, Philippians 3:15, James 1:4), and I very much appreciated the illustration regarding cracked pottery she brings up at the conclusion of her article:

But perfection is not what we are aiming for, far from it in fact. One of my favorite passages from Paul is 2 Corinthians 4:7 which says that “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

The extraordinary power that Paul has been talking about is God’s glory that shines in the world. Ben Witherington observes that the Corinthians were well known for their pottery–not just their highly glazed pottery but their pots made of inferior clay that, when fired, cracked and made great light diffusers.

An example of Kintsugi pottery

Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians is that our cracked imperfect exteriors (in this instance his in particular) are nothing to be ashamed of—they are vital. A well glazed pot keeps the light in; only a pot riven with cracks can shine God’s light in the world. The cracks let the light out.

When I have spoken about this in past people have brought to my attention Kintsugi pottery (an example of which you can see at the side of this post). Kintsugi pottery is a Japanese practice which mends broken pots with gold or silver so that the resulting pot is more beautiful than the one that broke.

We are called to be who we are with all our cracks and imperfections.

It’s a slightly different image but still as powerful. As Christians we are not called to be perfect. We are called to be who we are with all our cracks and imperfections, knowing that God’s glory will shine through those cracks into the world around us and that the gold of God’s love will mend our brokenness into something far more beautiful than it was before. (Quote source here.)

I like her thoughts on how we are like those cracked pots, and it goes along with what Paul states in Philippians 2:12-16:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I (Paul) will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

And there is our answer… for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” I’ll end this post with Jesus’ words from John 7:24 (NCV)–Stop judging by the way things look…

But judge . . .

By what . . .

Is really right . . . .

YouTube Video: “Start Right Here” by Casting Crowns:

Photo #1 credit here (YouTube Video)
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here