The Measure of a Person

(1 Samuel 16:1-13)

What does our society value most about a person? What is it we notice about someone more than anything else? I suggest the answer is, appearance. Think about it. What do we typically notice first about someone, how they look, what they're wearing, whether their tall or short, thin or heavy, and other physical and cosmetic attributes.

What does the media focus on? Consider, for example, the countless awards shows. More is made of what people are wearing then the actual award their winning. The award has taken a back seat to the gown, jewelry, and tux.

Magazines focus on helping people look better. And consider what we as consumers focus a great deal on when we go shopping, or to get our haircut and so on. We're focused on appearance.

From the day we're born until the day we die, we are constantly being evaluated by how we look, what we do, how we do it, and what we say. And I dare say we evaluate others in the same manner.

In a recent article I read in USA Today it says that how you look relates directly to whether you get hired, and what type of salary you'll receive.

Our society is fixated on appearance and the economics of our society rest heavily on our desire to focus on our appearance. After all if it weren't for the value we place on looking good, many businesses in this country would go out of business, and our economy as we know it would take a huge hit.

A couple of months ago I walked through the FSK Mall to see just how many stores feed our desire to look good. After getting about halfway through the mall I lost count there were so many. Easily 90% of the stores catered in some way to appearance.

Elective plastic surgery is at an all time high as folks look to be nipped, tucked, lifted, and enhanced not for medical reasons, but for the sake of looking good.

When my family went on our short cruise to the Bahama's I spent some time sitting on the ship's upper deck watching people. Knowing I was going to preach on the topic of appearance I wanted to sit and watch people for a while to see how many were there to be seen, and how many were simply on deck to enjoy the sun and breeze from the moving ship.

I convinced my wife that what I was doing was sermon research.

Anyway, as I watched people it was obvious which folks were just trying to have a good time and which ones had the purpose of being noticed as their motivation.

The give away for me was when they walked back and forth across the deck several times. I knew it wasn't for exercise unless folks now exercise in high heels and boat shoes.

Now when we consider our scripture reading from 1 Samuel we get a different picture of what God is looking for as he evaluates individuals. What we learn from First Samuel is that outward appearance is not what most concerns God, it's not a criteria for God's judgment.

Saul, who was the King of Israel, was a tall and handsome man; he was an impressive-looking guy. Yet, as it turns out, he didn't possess the leadership abilities many assumed he had because of his appearance.

God tasked Samuel, who was a judge, prophet and priest, with anointing the successor to Saul as king. Now when God sent Samuel out among the people, I can imagine Samuel was probably trying to find someone who looked a lot like Saul to be Israel's next king. Again, Saul seemed to have the physical attributes people looked for in a king.

I think most people see kings as tall handsome men with a striking appearance. After all what princess wants to be rescued from the tower of the castle by a short overweight guy with bad breath? And I think if we were sent out to look for a king we would look for someone who looks kingly. We would look for someone who looks like a successful person, someone we would be willing to follow, would we not?

So we too get fixated on appearance as the key discriminator when we evaluate people that hold specific jobs or to do certain tasks. We have a vision for what our president ought to look like, we have a vision for what a company executive looks like, we have a vision for what a cosmetologist looks like, we have a vision for what a plumber looks like, and we have a vision for what the perfect Christian looks like.

And consciously or subconsciously when we look for people to follow, or to go to for a certain service, appearance plays a key role in our decision making process, and I think it should to a point. But God in God's infinite wisdom, warned Samuel, and warns us, against judging others by outward appearance alone.

When we judge people, more often than not, it's by their outward appearance only. We don't always take the time to really get to know the person and may overlook quality individuals just because they may lack the particular physical qualities society currently admires, or qualities we find desirable. But outward appearance doesn't reveal what people are really like, or what their true value is.

If God were to judge us by our outward appearance and our actions alone, how many of us would be in trouble? But fortunately, God judges our faith and character, not our appearance. And because only God can see on the inside, only he can accurately judge people.

Many folks spend hours every week; some spend hours every day, maintaining their outward appearance. And some even spend time in their cars continuing to get ready, so that they look as good as they possibly can when they arrive at their destination.

Now I'm not suggesting we shouldn't spend time ensuring our appearance is appropriate, because we should, after all God gave us these bodies and we ought to treat them appropriately, but we shouldn't be so consumed by our outward appearance that we neglect our inward character. And we shouldn't be so consumed by others outward appearance that we judge them based on their appearance alone, while failing to see the God-given qualities of their inward character.

So with all of this time we spend on looking good, who is it we're trying to impress? Who's attention are we trying to get? To whom are we focused on pleasing? Are we giving glory to God or are we seeking glory ourselves to feed our egos?

Well, know that while everyone can see your face, only you and God know what your heart really looks like. And ultimately it's the heart that God cares about. When God measures the quality of an individual God sees through all the veneer we adorn ourselves with and gets to the heart of the matter when he's evaluating the quality of our lives.

God is less concerned about our outward appearance, and focuses instead on our heart, and the quality and quantity of the fruit we bear. God wants to know our motives, our intentions, what are values are, where we place our trust, are we serving humbly, and to whom we are committing our lives to. These are the things of the heart, and this is what God looks for and measures. When we see Jesus face-to-face what words do we long to hear, "Well done, " or "Wow, you look good?"

In our society we've also placed a great deal of emphasis on first impressions. And first impressions are important, if they're genuine, because they do tell us something about others and ourselves. Many people are hired based on first impressions, we decide whom we'll date based on first impressions; we interact with individuals we meet based on our first impression of them.

But first impressions can also be deceiving; especially when the image created by a person's appearance is contradicted by his or her qualities and abilities. Saul's life serves as a great example of the difference between outward appearance and inward quality and ability.

Saul presented the ideal outward image of a king, but the actions of his character were often contrary to God's commands for a king. Saul was God's chosen leader, but this didn't mean Saul was capable of being king on his own without God's help.

Now if you take the time to read about Saul you'll discover that during his reign an amazing thing happened. Saul had his greatest successes when he obeyed God. And he experienced his greatest failures when he allowed his ego and pride to take over, and he acted on his own.

Saul had the raw materials, if you will, to be a good leader: Appearance, courage, and a bias toward action. And God would have even used Saul's weaknesses if only Saul had recognized them and left them in God's hands. But Saul couldn't find it in himself to move beyond his pride and ego to admit he had weaknesses. Not unlike many of us today. How many of us allow our pride and ego get in the way of responding to God's call on our life?

Saul's own choices cut him off from God, and eventually alienated him from his own people.

From Saul's life we learn that while our strengths and abilities make us useful, it's our weaknesses that make us usable. Our skills and talents make us tools, but our failures and shortcomings remind us that we need a divine Craftsman in control of our lives.

We spend a great deal of time pointing out and evaluating weaknesses, the weaknesses of others, as well as our own weaknesses. Yet we look at these weaknesses as negatives. But through Saul's life we learn that our weaknesses actually make us usable to God.

It's in our weaknesses that we are reminded we can't do everything on our own, they keep us humble, and they remind us that we do need God in our lives to provide guidance and help. It's in acknowledging our weakness that we allow God to mold and make us into the person we couldn't otherwise become. Know this, whatever we accomplish on our own is only a hint of what God could do through our lives.

So who or what controls you? Is it self-image and the view of others, or is it God?

I encourage each of us to consider if our outward appearance and actions bring glory to God, and does the first impression we leave with people present a true reflection of the Christian heart.

This morning it's my prayer that as we walk with Jesus, our outward appearance as a congregation draws upon our God-given inner character, so that we can stand before God and our community as faithful witnesses to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade