Summary: We put a lot of priority into the way we look, but God sees on the inside. God values character over appearance, and can rightly help us do the same as we trust him.
In our western society, we truly value outward appearances. People in America spend thousands and thousands of dollars on face lifts, behind lifts, and everything in between. Don Knotts, the actor who played Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show, once said, “What I need is a body transplant!” Maybe you’ve felt that way at time. We value our looks. And we value that first impression, whether in a job interview or meeting a new resident. We worry about our children’s weight, our friend’s wacky hair style, or our own attempts to exercise and diet.
Yet, what about the inside? While we need to care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, today’s passage speaks to the value of character, the inner self. Are you a good judge of character, in others as well as in yourself? Or do you sometimes find yourself the victim of a scam, taken advantage of by a seemingly fine-looking and trustworthy person but with ulterior motives?
The setting for today’s story is a major transition in the history of Israel. Their first king—Saul—was tall and regal looking, but he constantly rebelled against God, thinking he knew best. He had a character problem. So Saul is on the way out, to be replaced with a second king. History will record David in his weaker moments as an adulterer and murderer, with his tragic give-in-to-temptation with Bathsheba. But history will also remember a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), a writer of psalms, a shepherd king, a unifier of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the one who prepared for the first Temple, a fellow who wanted more than anything, most of the time, to follow God and care for God’s people. David would become the most famous king in the history of Israel.
But in today’s story he’s almost overlooked. His own dad forgets about him. When Jesse scrambles to line up his eligible sons to pass in review before the famous prophet and kingmaker Samuel, he forgets about the runt of his litter, his youngest boy, out in the fields tending the sheep.
And Samuel learns an important lesson: that God cares for the inside much more than the outside. God values character over looks. God values heart over body. God values obedience over appearance.
So out of this shift of focus—from outward appearance to inward character—I catch three major implications for us. Lesson #1, we need to …
1. Focus on pleasing God more than looking good. David spent a lot of time in the fields around Jerusalem, singing to God, talking to God, listening to God, before he ever became a king. He patiently ran from Saul’s homicidal attacks, trusting in God’s perfect timing and refusing to put down God’s anointed, until it was his time to take the throne. David’s #1 priority was to please God, not to look good or acquire power.
If Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, maybe that’s more important than looking like you have it all together. The most refreshing Christians I’ve met are those who first and foremost serve Jesus humbly. They know they are desperate for God’s grace. As D.T. Niles put it, they are “one beggar simply leading another beggar to bread.”
Jesus’ biggest enemies were seemingly religious people. Jesus compared these guys to whitewashed tombs, looking all good and pure on the outside but dead on the inside. Our relationship with God matters most. That will define our character.
Anne Graham Lotz once said, “I'm living my life for an audience of one. I live my life to please God. And I believe if He's pleased, that people like my mother and my daddy, my grandparents, you know, my husband, my children, they'll be pleased.” Make your first focus to please God. Second implication, we need to ...
2. Value character over appearance. Samuel had to learn that in today’s story. He looked at the oldest boy and thought, “This fellow looks like a king. It must be him!” But God said no. On and on it went, with the second and the third, and the rest of the boys are like extras on a Hollywood set; they’re not even named! Until finally, Samuel cries out in exasperation, “Is this all you have?” Then Jesse remembers the forgotten boy, out in the fields caring for the sheep. Samuel says, “This is so important we’re not sitting down until you fetch him!” And when David walks in, the Lord gives Samuel a thumbs up, and Samuel says, “That’s the one!”
If God values character over looks, and if we’re going to seek to build our godly character above all else, then we should look for that and promote that in others, too. We should help our grandsons and granddaughters value godly character. We should model and teach doing the harder right instead of the easier wrong. We should compliment character just as much as we do beauty. “You look so beautiful in your new dress!” And, “I really like how you helped your mother out by taking care of your little brother. You are so responsible!”