Culprit #5 is worry over outer appearance. Image. Reputation. Getting notice and applause. Trying to impress. The bad news is that seeking approval from others, when it’s a life-style, will sabotage you.
The good news is that without willful anger, obsession with others, swearing, and score-keeping (steps 1-4), this culprit is much weaker because it has little left to draw on. Add grace and assistance from the Holy Spirit to our practice, and success is built in (assuming we’ve followed correctly).
At the start of this series, I said that chopping the Sermon into random bits causes it to become the Sermon That Doesn’t Count. Well, because the entire chapter of Matthew 6 is devoted to outer appearance, space here allows me to hit just the highlights, but I encourage you to read all 34 verses.
Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, don’t announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they’ve received their reward in full.” (Mat. 6:1-2)
Verses 5-18 bring similar cautions for when you pray and when you fast. (Jesus offers his famous Lord’s Prayer here.) He hasn’t banned public prayer and goodness, of course. The trap is in doing them to get notice and approval. If you get it, you will have received the reward you sought—until the next time you need it. If you don’t get it, you’ll feel like a failure. Either way, your “reward” will be a hoop-jumping life-style that leaves you at the mercy of everyone else’s opinions.
Your Life is Your Treasure
Verses 19-23 talk about storing up treasures in heaven. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Jesus isn’t saying that nothing on Earth is valuable or worth pursuing. Rather, this is about kingdom realities of living well, what we hold dear.
It’s actually a reminder of spiritual adultery. What are you looking at? What are you chasing? Whatever we treasure is what we’ll search for, good or bad. So if your “eyes” are good, your whole body will be full of light. If not, you’ll be filled with darkness, the very things Jesus just outlined in steps 1-4.
Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about what you’ll wear on your body. Isn’t life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (v. 25)
“So don’t worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For pagans chase after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (vv. 31-33)
People who use this to teach that human life and earthly bodies are trifling in God’s eyes make a terrible mistake. Note that Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry whether you will eat, drink, or have clothes to wear,” but instead, don’t worry what you’ll eat, drink, or wear. Big difference! Jesus repeatedly affirms how valuable human life is. Again, success depends on sequence in seeking—not for God’s sake, but for yours.
Food For Thought
If people are actually starving or have inadequate clothing, kingdom disciples are some of God’s resources to help. They don’t do charity to look good on the outside. They do it because of who they are inside. They’re precisely the ones who love God, themselves, and neighbors and have put into practice Jesus’ Sermon steps.
There’s a difference between needing food for healthy nourishment and needing food to boast rightness. First-century moral battles over meat sacrificed to idols or “clean” and unclean food were common. Paul taught that although God gave laws about what is and isn’t the healthiest to feed on, they were lesser laws. He, too, knew that food and drink aren’t what ultimately bring wellness. Even today, it’s amazing the morality that even non-religious people attach to food and drink.
Is red meat okay? Or should we eat only chicken or fish? Or should we skip meat altogether and go vegetarian? What should we drink? Is it okay to be a Christian and drink coffee? Alcohol? Some churches forbid both, feeding all kinds of angry bickering and contempt. On the other hand, many people order expensive fine wine or gourmet meals to impress others. It all makes for a rather hoop-jumping life.
The smartest option is to make your best health choices and let others make theirs. If you’ve dumped willful anger, obsession over others, swearing/proving, and score-keeping, this won’t be terribly difficult.
Clothes Make the Man?
Does a custom suit or designer dress determine anyone’s moral soundness? Expensive clothes aren’t inherently immoral. The trap triggers when we use them to show off or put on a façade. Kids can get so hung up over what they wear that murder over a jacket or pair of shoes has been commonplace. “Killer outfit” takes on a whole new meaning when people live and die by what they wear.
Is it sinful for men to wear ponytails or earrings? Should women be allowed to wear pants or wear their hair short? What about green hair? Tattoos and body piercing? And, dear me, what should we wear to church? Our “Sunday best,” of course! The thinking for some, perhaps, is that we may be shabby on the inside every other day of the week, but we shouldn’t look that way on Sunday.
These needless anxieties miss the point and aren’t worth losing sleep over. Just as we can’t make one hair white or black by swearing, so here Jesus reminds us that we can’t add a single hour to our lives by worrying (v. 27). He didn’t need clinical studies to know that stress takes years off our lives. Just let your Yes be yes or your No be no, and allow others the same.
Life and well-being are what’s important because what we put on our bodies is less important than what we put in them, especially our minds. When we treasure living well in God’s kingdom, we find things much improved and relaxed on the inside. The result is a much-improved outside, including relationships.
We’ll look at culprit #6 in the final installment, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts? Do you fear, seek, or give approval/disapproval based on outer appearance? While we all do this unavoidably from time to time, how does it undermine relationships when it’s a habit?