We Are Too Quick to Judge by External Appearance and Thankfully God is Not

After King Saul rejects God’s ways Samuel is sent to anoint the one who would be the next king of Israel. Saul, the first king, was a man of great strength and stature. But God makes sure to instruct Samuel to look beyond those things. When Samuel goes to Jesse and searches among his sons and comes upon Eliab, God has specific instructions.

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 sees not as mans sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart

We know we’re not supposed to judge by appearances. But we do, for as God says, “man looks on the outward appearance.” Too often appearances have significant influence in all sorts of areas–on who gets certain positions or how someone is treated in their role. Think about presidents, pastors, waiters or waitresses, spouses, friends, employees or employers. Can’t image dictate far too much?

We are too quick to judge books by their covers. And it’s hard to resist such a temptation. We (sinfully and lazily) prefer to make the easy judgments based on the externals: beauty, color, strength–even other external data like degrees, diction, or dress.

But what do we miss when we lean toward the external? Who have we overlooked? Do you feel that at times you’ve been overlooked? God sees beyond the superficial and sees the heart. And the good news is that even when God looks in our hearts and sees our sin, he still doesn’t treat us as we’d deserve. God is not swayed in judgment the way we are. He sees us for who we are and has a greater vision for our lives. God treats us differently from the ways of the world and differently from what we deserve and for that we can be thankful.

Knowing that is how he sees us, our prayer should be to have eyes like his. Our aim should be to see people as he does; to look more than skin deep and treat everyone with the dignity they deserve.

Judges of the World and of Angels

Paul is upset by what the Corinthians have been doing in bringing their grievances before the secular courts. He mentions that having lawsuits is already a failure, but to then take such cases before unbelievers makes it all the worse.

Why does he say this?

In verses 7-8 he is lifting up the love, sacrifice, and humility that should instead be the character of a Christian community. Paul writes, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” He wants the body to endure the suffering, but instead it is getting caught up with the ways of the world, wronging and defrauding fellow believers in the courts. Earlier in chapter four Paul wrote, “When reviled we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” This is not the attitude of someone always seeking to prove themselves, to seek retribution, to fight it out before the world in the courts.

These battles in the courts are a public witness and they do not witness to the unity of the church or to the pattern of life that should be based on Christ’s crucifixion. It is to their shame, as Paul says.

After spending so much time in the preceding chapters speaking about the wisdom of God in the cross of Jesus Christ and a wisdom that we have received by the Holy Spirit, Paul is confronted with a church that appeals to the wisdom of the world to determine its verdict. God’s wisdom is greater and he has granted it to his people, so isn’t there even just one person wise enough to settle dispute in the church? Paul then reminds them that the judges of the world are no real authority on these matters, instead the saints are ones who will be given great authority. In Christ we will reign with him and we will judge the world.

Paul then makes his arguments as he moves from the greater to the lesser. If you will judge the world, can’t you then judge a smaller issue? (Not to say that this is trivial in the sense that it doesn’t matter, it is just of lesser significance than judging the world.) If you are to judge angels–creatures that are otherworldly, heavenly–can’t you judge matters of this life?

This is a call for the church to remember its calling. And it is a high calling. The Corinthians need to live into it, to see themselves for what they are and what they are going to be. If they are judges of the world, what does it say if they bring matters of the church before mere human (1 Cor 3:4) courts? If the church has been entrusted with the mysteries and wisdom of God, matters that the rulers did not understand (2:8, 4:1), what is the witness to the world if such wisdom is inadequate to discern issues within the Christian body? Who then is the real authority in the life of the church? If God’s wisdom is to rule in their church, they must change course and stop acting as though the law of the unrighteous is their judge.

An Assault on a Promise to Abraham

For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. (Jeremiah 7:30-31)

Reading through the prophets you come across a long list of the sins of God’s people, a people who are called to be set apart from their neighbors, who are supposed to be a holy nation. To me, this one stands out among the rest. They have not only been guilty of evil, but they have done their evil in the house of God. They have built up Topheth for a horrifying practice, sacrificing their sons and daughters. These “sons of Judah” have sacrificed their own flesh in pagan practices by throwing their children into the flames.

Michelangelo’s depiction of Jeremiah from the Sistine Chapel.

How much sorrow must this cause our God? He has many times seen his people turn away from him, which causes him grief. But here the sin of the parents is to destroy their own children. Judah is taking the lives of God’s people and in so doing, upending the promises of God. They are no longer cherishing the promise of God to Abraham and his descendants. Instead they cast the promised children into this Valley of Slaughter.

God promised Abraham offspring so numerous they’d be impossible to count and Abraham longed for a child. Children were an honor and a blessing. But here in Jeremiah as descendants of Abraham receive this promise, they mock God and his promises. It is evil in God’s sight as they slaughter their own kin–something so far from God’s mind.

This is a clear reason why Jeremiah comes to preach judgment, and good reason that he is known as the weeping prophet (Jer 9).

Tough to Be a Prophet

I’m sad Google ranked Joel Osteen higher than the prophet Joel.

Like other Minor Prophets, Joel is a book calling for repentance. Just because he is writing to God’s chosen people does not mean that they will necessariliy be spared from judgment. They have sinned against God and have been unfaithful to him. Joel preaches that their restoration will come once they turn from sin, and turn to God.

It’s not always a great job to be a prophet. Joel (and others) have to deliver messages against their people. They are messengers of bad news. They announce the sin of their peers. This is a quick way to make enemies, then and now.

But their message is not a despairing one. Look for the words of hope that are held out for God’s people. In the end, despite their lack of faith, God will renew them and will make his residence among us once more (Joel 3:17).