Keeping Up Appearances

“But all their works they do to be seen of men: for they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, ‘Rabbi'” (Matthew 23:5-7).

It is one of the most natural desires of mankind: to be valued and appreciated. Most would rather people have a favorable opinion of them than an unfavorable one. Few are those who revel in being unloved, unappreciated, and completely rejected by others!

This impulse is natural for a reason– we were never meant to be alone. Just as God maintains relational unity– One God in Three Persons, one in will, purpose, essence, substance, and mind– we, having been made in His image, seek after relational unity with God and with others (cf. John 17:20-23, Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:27). It is nearly impossible to develop healthy relationships when we show complete disinterest in the ways others look at us. Not a few social customs emerged as ways of living so as to be acceptable to one’s fellow man.

Yet, as with all impulses, the desire to be valued and appreciated can be tragically misdirected. This is Jesus’ concern with the Pharisees as expressed in Matthew 23:5-7. They certainly wanted to be valued and appreciated– and made it their goal and obsession. They received what they wanted. But it did not please God.

It was likely that there were a few Pharisees who were sincere in their approach– they really wanted to serve God through their phylacteries, garments, and wanted to be humble. Sadly, such were hardly the majority. We can be confident that the reason that these charges burned was because they rang true in the hearing of the people. Sure, the Pharisees acted religiously. But far too many did so in order to keep up appearances and to gain favor with the people. We can safely reason that if the Pharisees were offered a chance to receive salvation and eternal benefits but would be despised by their fellow Jews on earth, or to be condemned yet receive the glory and accolades of their fellow Jews on earth, most would take the latter route– because most did, according to Matthew 23, Acts 7, and the testimonies throughout Acts. Jesus’ summons to humility and suffering were too much for them to endure.

When confronted with such a passage, it is quite easy to point fingers at the Pharisees. It is also extremely easy to find opponents, religious or otherwise, and point fingers at them. Yet we must remember that Jesus is speaking to fellow members of God’s covenant people to wake them up and exhort them to repentance. As painful as it might be, it is always best to first point the finger at ourselves before we try to point it at others (cf. Matthew 7:1-4)!

How many works do we do in order to be seen of men? It is less an issue of the types of things that we do and more of an issue of the motivations behind what we do. It was not inherently wrong to have broad phylacteries or long bordered garments. For that matter it is not inherently wrong to be honored by one’s fellow man. It is all about why we do what we do– are we doing it to please others? Are we doing it because we are afraid of what others will think about us if we do not?

There are some obvious applications of this. Not a few give themselves titles or “earn” titles and insist on their use. Jesus condemns this attitude (Matthew 23:8-12). It is one thing to be given the seat of honor; it is quite another to constantly seek it out and love it and cherish it. The world does not lack people who have too high of an estimation of themselves, and who are quite sure that others should also. The world is full of monuments of ambition and glory-seeking; some are physical, some are not; some are magnificent in their glory, and far too many others are tragic in their failure. These all will pass away (1 Peter 1:24-26). These glory-seekers may get their reward on earth, but they are headed for quite the disappointment on the final day!

Nevertheless, this conversation can get personal and painful very quickly. It is one thing to talk about glory-seeking actions like we have; it is quite another to start talking about the appearances we keep up among one another. While no one lives an entirely transparent life, most of us could use a little more transparency and authenticity in the way we present ourselves. We feel like we must “keep it all together” on the outside even though things may be falling apart inside. Yet how willing are we to find some fellow Christians with whom we can discuss our difficulties and confess our sins (James 5:16)? What stops us from “going forward” regarding our difficulties? How many soldiers of Christ have fallen, having rarely or never cried out for help for fear of rejection, finding it easier to say nothing and to keep up the appearance of righteousness?

In Jesus we have the example of the authentic life. He served others, always mindful of His connection with the Father (cf. Matthew 20:28). He humbled Himself greatly (Philippians 2:5-8). He received honor at times but was not acting in order to receive the honor. Yet He also honestly grappled with the sufferings He experienced; He did not hide away from them or act like they were not there, but poured out His anguish before God and His disciples (Matthew 26:37-39). There was nothing to hide.

While propriety does demand that some things ought to remain private among people, we cannot delude ourselves into thinking that anything is hidden before God. We must live transparently before Him and authentically toward others, as Jesus did. We must not live seeking self-glory and honor; we may get it, but we do so at the expense of our relationship with God. We must never do anything just to be seen by our fellow man. That certainly includes any number of public religious acts and “rituals,” but let us not fool ourselves– it includes the very manner of our lives as well. We want to be accepted and appreciated, and yet, in Christ, God is willing to accept and appreciate us more deeply than we can ever imagine, but only if we allow ourselves to be satisfied in Him and Him alone (Romans 8:1-39). Let us not be as the Pharisees; let us be willing to endure the shame and dishonor of humility and discipleship, and serve God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Keeping Up Appearances

Walking By Faith

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We walk by faith, not by sight. This verse is justly famous, used plentifully in sermons and articles and in conversation. The statement gets right to the heart of the distinction between the life of the believer and the life of someone in the world.

Yet, in context, it is an aside explanation. Paul has been talking about the resurrection and the desire believers have to be fully clothed and in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4). We are to be of good courage despite being absent in the Lord while home in the body, even though we are willing to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). We walk by faith because we are absent from the Lord.

We recognize that Paul is not trying to say that we literally walk by faith and not by sight. Christians should watch where they are going just as much as everyone else, and need their maps and GPS to know where they are going like others do. Paul’s concern is based in one’s perception of life and where they place their trust. Do they trust in God, that is, to walk by faith, or do they trust in appearances, that is, to walk by sight (Greek eidos, better understood in terms of appearance or form; cf. Luke 9:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Where is our trust really founded?

It is good for us to consider the depth of the power of this verse and the idea behind it. It seems almost customary in our reason-worshiping society to minimize faith and maximize what can be “proven.” We try to make the case that believing in God is eminently reasonable. We try to make the “leap of faith” to be as small as we can.

That may have some value when presenting the message of the Gospel to the world. It is true that believing in God and His work as revealed in Jesus the Christ and in Scripture can be defended by reasonable and rational argumentation (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), but tension remains between reason and faith. In the end, we cannot “prove” God’s existence, the resurrection of Jesus, or any such thing according to standards of empirical science. Even the attempt would be sorely misguided! We walk by faith, and there should be no shame in that.

It does not really take a lot of faith to believe in something that goes along with your way of thinking. It really does not even take a lot of faith to believe in God when things are going well and you believe that you are blessed. It is in the midst of trial and difficulty, be it through physical, mental, or emotional distress, or persecution, or some other such thing, that we demonstrate where we have placed our trust.

It may be true that by all appearances there is no God, there is nothing but suffering and misery, and life is pointless. It is in those times that we must remember that we are to walk by faith, not by appearance.

It may be true that by all appearances the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. It is in those times that we must remember that we are to walk by faith, not by appearances.

It is entirely true that by all appearances Christians are old-fashioned, believing in a God and miracles and all kinds of things by faith without much physical evidence at all. And that is right, for we do not walk according to appearances, but by faith.

We must trust that if we love God and do the right thing, all things will work out for good (Romans 8:28).

We must trust that if we suffer for doing good, we are blessed, for we are following in the Master’s footsteps (1 Peter 2:19-25).

We must trust that the God who was willing to suffer the loss of His Son is willing to give us all things (Romans 8:32).

It is easy to say that we walk by faith, but it is something entirely different to actually walk by faith. It is always easier to trust in appearances– to place our trust in our own skills, our own ideas, our own attitudes, our own perspectives. We know that Jeremiah says that it is not within us to direct our own steps (Jeremiah 10:23), and yet what do we do in good times and bad? Do we truly depend on God and trust in His ways or do we first try to accomplish whatever we seek to accomplish by our own strengths and only then turn to God when all else fails? Do we seek to persuade men based on men’s standards or do we proclaim only Christ and Him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2)?

Appearance always gives reason for doubt, apprehension, fear, misgivings, and excuses. Faith trusts, emboldens, and, ultimately, liberates. Where will we place our trust? Let us truly walk by faith and serve the Risen Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking By Faith