It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? And how or why it is asked is important.
For example, I’ve heard it asked by people with a “chip on their shoulder” who apparently didn’t like it when they thought someone was staring at them. And the reason they were being stared at, of course, was because of the way they looked. When I was much younger and less mature my inclination was to answer the question, “Obviously, not much.” I’m not proud of that and don’t recommend it.
A few times I have also witnessed the question being asked of someone who seemed to be staring at a person dressed in a way that was not easy to ignore. Sometimes it was the person being stared at who asked, and sometimes someone with her or him who asked. While I have witnessed such occasions, I don’t remember it ever happening to me. And I don’t foresee it happening in the future.
What got me to thinking about this matter was a return this past Sunday to the biblical account of the anointing of David. You may or may not remember that God had rejected the first king of Israel, Saul, who had been chosen by the people. God told the prophet Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons the LORD had chosen to be king.
When he saw Jesse’s first son, Eliab, Samuel was convinced he was God’s choice. But he wasn’t. Then Jesse called six more of his sons to appear before Samuel, but the LORD did not choose any of them. Finally Samuel asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel told Jesse to send for him and they would wait. As we know, it was David who was the youngest and was tending the sheep. When he arrived the Lord told Samuel, “Rise and anoint him, this is the one.” It’s one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament and there is so much for us to draw from it.
Let’s go back in the account to God’s response when Samuel first saw the eldest son Eliab and was convinced he was the one. In I Samuel 16:7 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.”
Of course we look at the outward appearance—that’s all we can see at first! And even though later we can tell more about a person by the way he or see talks and acts, we never have the ability to look at someone’s heart. Only God can do that. What can we make of all this?
Appearance is important, but isn’t what is most important. I think it would be a mistake to study this passage and conclude that it doesn’t make any difference how we dress or how we look. After all, people do look at the outward appearance. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we should be careful about our judgement of others solely based on the way they look. Not only that, even though we cannot look at a person’s heart as God does, it would be good for us to make the effort to try as best we can to discern another person’s heart.
Perhaps we should ask ourselves a couple of questions. One, what are we looking at? And two, when God looks at us and our hearts, what does He see?
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