March 29, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 2 Corinthians 5:11-12 (NRSV)
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart.
Our culture is obsessed with appearance. We experience this all the time. This obsession can easily dominate our lives. So much concern about outward appearance can distract us from what matters most: the state of our hearts. When we realize that God knows our hearts, we are motivated to pay more attention to what’s on the inside than what’s on the outside.
This devotion is part of the series: Treasure in Clay Jars.
I’ll confess that I watched the Academy Awards recently. I was interested in which movies would win this year and whether any celebrity would do or say anything outlandish. (I was actually impressed by how often winners thanked their moms!) But I also watched the Oscars because I regard this show as a significant indicator of cultural values and mores.
Once again this year I was struck by how much we are fascinated as a culture by how people look. So much of the commentary about the Oscars focused on what people were wearing, especially the dresses worn by women. This very thing draws millions of viewers who watch not just the awards show itself but the red-carpet spectacle before the show. After that’s over, we continue to ooh and aah over the glamorous people of Hollywood as they receive their awards, make their speeches, and parade around in splendor.
Obsession over how we look on the outside is nothing new, as it turns out. In writing to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul refers to “those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart” (2 Corinthians 5:12). These boasters weren’t focused on fancy gowns, however. They sought to impress people with their exalted words, wondrous deeds, and supposed ability to live supernaturally without the trappings of mortality. Many of the Corinthians were hoodwinked by these “super-apostles” (11:5; 12:11) because they did look awfully good on the outside. Rather than trying to compete with them in the matter of external glory, however, Paul points to the heart. He implies that if you’re going to boast about someone, boast about their inner being, not about what’s on the outer surface.
Of course preoccupation with outward appearance isn’t something relevant only to how we think of other people, like Hollywood stars or first-century super-apostles. We can become overly focused on our own outer glow, both our physical appearance and our resumé of success. Especially as we get older, we can fret about the signs of aging, whether that means the color of our hair or the appearance of a new wrinkle on our face. We might be tempted to spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars on various “anti-aging” programs.
But, I wonder, how much attention do we pay to the state of our hearts? Suppose one day we woke up and everything was inside out: who we are on the inside was visible to everyone and who we are on the outside was invisible. What would that be like for you? Would people around you see someone truly loving and gracious, radiating inner beauty? Or would they see someone else altogether?
Paul would encourage us to pay attention to our hearts for an even more significant reason than my little thought experiment. In verse 11 he writes, “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known by God.” Paul may well have been remembering a story from the Hebrew Scriptures. The Lord was guiding the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel. When a man named Eliab came before Samuel, Samuel thought “This is the one” because of Eliab’s impressive appearance. But the Lord said to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:6-7).
As I reflect on this passage from 1 Samuel and on Paul’s writing to the Corinthians from a Lenten perspective, I’m struck by the fact that our bodies may look great, but this won’t last. Or our bodies may not look so great for any number of reasons. But no matter how we look on the outside, what matters most of all is the “appearance” of our hearts. Are we truly people in whom the fruit of the Spirit flourishes? When we peer inside of ourselves, do we honestly see “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). More importantly, does God see these things in us?
Do you care more about how you look to others than how you look on the inside?
When God peers into your heart, what does God see?
How can we help our hearts to be more beautiful?
Take some time to talk with the Lord about the “appearance” of your heart. Ask God to help you see as God sees.
Gracious God, I would confess to you that I can get caught up in our culture’s obsession with appearance. I can envy those who look so good. And I can fret about ways that my appearance doesn’t measure up. I can also worry about impressing people with my accomplishments. The lure of “outward appearance” is real for me.
So I ask you, Lord, for the grace to value the condition of my heart most of all. Help me to see myself as you see me. May the fruit of the Spirit abound in me. And may I have a heart that seeks you most of all. Amen.
Banner image by Septian Simon on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Task of Choosing a King (1 Samuel 9-16).
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.