Selected highlights from this sermon.
Physical appearance is over-valued in our culture. Those who are considered beautiful are treated better, and those who fall short of society’s expectations often feel inferior. But God’s people should not be entangled with the world’s standards.
We need to accept ourselves for who we are, and realize that our bodily features were given to us by God. Let us recognize that our character is more important than our appearance and that our bodies should be used to glorify God.
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Well, I have to ask a question. How beautiful do you have to be to be happy? Or to put it in a different way, how attractive do you have to be before you can feel good about yourself? America is giving an answer to that. Isn’t this country doing that? It’s giving an answer, and the answer is the more beautiful you are, the more potential you have, the more acceptance you’ll receive, the more possibility of a promotion, the more possibility of marriage. And if you are not blessed with the gift of beauty, we’ll feel sorry for you but you’re kind of on the scrap heap of humanity.
Listen to one woman: “Nobody noticed my accomplishments until I had cosmetic surgery. Now I am finally getting the recognition I deserve, and the promotion.” Or another: “Something fundamentally about me had to be changed. My chin, my nose had to be shortened. My eyelids! I have had 30 surgeries, and finally I am getting noticed.”
What’s going on in today’s culture? Well, first of all, we should not be surprised that a nation that is obsessed with sexuality would eventually become obsessed with the human body, with the cult of the human body. In fact, your value, especially during adolescence, is essentially determined by the way in which you look. If you don’t have the body of Jennifer Lopez or Brittany Spears or Brad Pitt, too bad, because you’re going to be condemned to shame and humiliation.
It’s no secret that you have to be beautiful in order to win the Miss America Contest, or to compete, or to be a cheerleader. Beauty is, according to James Dobson, the gold coin of human worth. And those who are blessed by it get all the breaks. I mean this has been proven many, many times. Children who are cute and who have those good looks, they are the ones who are given the benefit of a doubt, they are given more opportunities than the rest of us who are rather ordinary and somewhere else on that scale. So if your curves have turned to angles, and if you don’t have a cute face, too bad for you. You really just don’t rate.
Could I take a moment to read what Chuck Swindoll wrote about the adolescent girl? “Each tiny zit assures her that leprosy is just around the corner. And clothes? We’re talking about a daily nervous breakdown. And she’s got this body that won’t make up its mind, plus the kids at school and the commercials on the tube, and the magazines in the rack all team up in some kind of a secret conspiracy that convinces your once easygoing lass that she is horribly overweight, ugly beyond belief and hopelessly condemned to a life of embarrassment.” And isn’t that the way in which it is?
As a result of this, billions are being spent on cosmetic surgery. There are dieting programs, and it’s okay to diet. God knows that we need to diet because of the need for weight loss and the rest, but oftentimes it is only so that you get the right body so that you get the right attention.
And then we have what James Dobson has called an epidemic of inferiority. And so since significance is limited to a few, those who are blessed with the gift of beauty and attractiveness, people are so desperate (young people especially but let’s not limit it to them) that they get into all kinds of regimen opportunities to try to say, “I will measure up,” so you have eating disorders. I wish I could say more about them but I can’t because of the message. I just simply want to say that seven million young teenage girls, seven million struggle with some kind of an eating disorder. Like one person says, “They are thirsty in the rain. Surrounded by food they are determined they are not going to eat because they are going to be thin, and having chosen be thin, they have decided that they will even be thinner than people expect them to be until this begins to take on a life of its own, and they eventually in some instances die to be thin, and actually starve themselves to death, looking in the mirror thinking that they are overweight.”
This past weekend someone who works in a Christian college told me that a young woman got on the Internet and found out how to commit suicide. She got into the car and committed suicide and left a number of suicide notes, and the bottom line was, “I can’t measure up. No matter what I do, the bar is always higher. There’s always somebody more pretty that I am. There’s always somebody more popular than I am. I simply cannot measure up.”
And then we have not only eating disorders, but we have body piercing and tattoos. You know, women have always worn earrings. Even in the Old Testament women wore earrings. And I’m sure that that’s fine, but today on the news a couple of days ago I heard that somebody who wants to win the Guinness Book of World Records, or be in it, received… What was it? I was in bed when the radio came on and I heard it, so my wife and I disagree as to the number, but I think it was something like 165 body piercings in one sitting. What’s going on here with this tattoo business, by the way, and the body piercings? People are screaming, “Notice me.” In some instances, it is rebellion. I realize that, but what they are saying is “This is my body.” To quote someone, “This is my body. I can do with it as I wish.” Well, I sure want to explode that myth in this message today.
How unfair it is that we should judge people by their appearance, and act as if those who had nothing to do with the fact that they are particularly good looking, that they should be blessed, that they should be given the opportunities while everyone else is condemned and destroyed because of circumstances over which they had no control. And I’ll tell you something. There is nothing like inferiority on this point to strike a blow to self-respect and to self-loathing that comes. It destroys people, and it is destroying this generation. That’s a strong statement, but I believe it to be true.
And by the way, for those of you who were blessed with the gift of beauty, do you think that that was an advantage? In some respects, absolutely yes, because you walk through doors that nobody else could walk through, but on the other hand, it could be a very great negative, particularly to young women who are very attractive. And you’ve got all these boys who want to date them, oftentimes with motives that are not exactly holy, you understand. I’m sometime given to understatement. And so they have to put up with these temptations. They have to put up with people hitting on them.
One day I was preaching at a Bible college, and I was commenting on this point, and I said, “I believe, because of the emphasis in today’s society, that beauty is a curse.” Later on, I heard that one young lady walked into her room and said, “If it is a curse, may God smite me with it and may I never recover.” (laughter)
Why am I speaking on this topic in a series of messages on discernment, on the general topic Who Are You to Judge? Do you remember in the first message when I pointed out that one of the goals was to make sure that we do not imbibe the same values as the world, that we are not to be caught up with the standards of this world, that we must understand what we believe, and we must hold fast to that which is good? That’s one of the reasons, because I see this as such an important issue in society.
We must declare war on this idea that you are judged according to your appearance. We must declare war as a church. We must declare war as families, because listen up, parents. Your children or your grandchildren are being destroyed by that philosophy which is taught a hundred different ways. It’s even taught in nursery rhymes. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Well, who is the fairest?
It’s taught in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Oh, a little innocent poem, but you remember that he was not allowed to join any reindeer games. Why? He was different until he was able to do something so wonderful and so supernatural. “Now Rudolph, we’ll accept you with your eccentricities because look at what you have done.” All of that is seeping into society. All the magazines, all the television programs, all of the peer pressure say the same thing. Beauty is the gold coin of human worth, and woe to those who do not have it.
Now, what I’m going to do in this message is to give you a biblical philosophy of the body. And I do need to say that because it is, I believe, a biblical philosophy, if this message were taken seriously it could take care of the problem for those of us who are listening to it. But I’m not so naïve as to think that it will because the fact is that there is something within us that craves that significance, that craves acceptance and says, “My body must meet certain standards, and if not, I am inferior.” Now, I do want to explode that myth, so you pray that God will give me the grace to do it as we look in His Word.
Three very important propositions—statements that will help us. Number one, God created your body. God created your body! Now, I want you to listen to what God’s Word says about this. It says, for example, in the book of Isaiah (and I will simply read the text to you if I can find it here): “This is what the Lord says, your redeemer who formed you in the womb, ‘I am the Lord who has made all things.’” God was there when you were formed in the womb.
Again, I am reading from Isaiah: “Listen to me, you islands. Hear this you distant nations. Before I was born, the Lord called me. From my birth he has made mention of my name.”
By the way, do you like the name that you have? Many people want to change their name because some of us don’t think that our parents made a very good wise choice when they named us what they did. Well, of course, God knew what we were going to be named, and the Bible says, “Before I was born He called me by name.”
And then that very famous passage in Psalm 139! Most of us know it by memory. I am looking at it at verse 13. Psalm 139:13 says: “For you created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. (That’s a reference to his mother’s womb.) Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
I want you to know that as you were being formed, God formed you and created you and chose for you who you would be and what you would look like. If He had wanted you to look like Cindy Crawford or Robert Redford, He could have, but He didn’t, did He?
But now what I want to do is to look at the implications. Let’s look at the implications. There are certain things that could be called unchangeables that God gave us in the process of having created us in our mother’s womb. What are those unchangeables, as Bill Gothard calls them?
First of all, the features of your body, the color of your eyes, your height, the shape of your face. All of these things were a part of God’s construction process, Yes, all of this was made by God. Now, of course, there are things that we can change, and I’m not opposed to that. We can improve what God decided to give us, but at the end of the day the fundamental reality is He chose that for us. There was an ad in the newspaper that said… I guess it was for eyeliner or something like that. Please don’t nail me down to it exactly, but its bottom line was, “Let us give you the eyes that you should have been born with.” What do you mean “the eyes that you should have been born with?” It is God who chose the color of your eyes. And even someone I knew when I was growing up who had one brown eye and one blue eye… God chose those for him too. Can you accept that?
First of all, the features of your body! Secondly, the color of your body was chosen by God. Here I’m talking about your racial mix. Now hear me very carefully when I say this. If you do not accept your racial background as a gift of God, either you will have this great sense of inferiority or else a sense of anger and superiority as you try to get even with others, and as you try to affirm your significance in other ways. So I need to say this very loudly that your racial background and your racial mix is a gift given to you by God. Are you content with that? Can you accept that?
Another implication, of course, is gender. Gender was determined by God whether you are a male or a female. And I need to say it out loud I suppose that those who have sex operations, going from female to male or vice versa, I believe, are rebelling against the God who created them. And that’s why in the Old Testament it says very clearly that even cross dressing is prohibited because God did not want the blurring of the genders, and if God created you… You say, “Yes, but I’ve always wanted to be a man.” God wants you to be content, having created you as a woman, or having created you as a man.
Let me give you another one. The limitations, the disabilities that you have, they are a God thing. Moses stuttered. He wasn’t very good at speech, and that was one of the reasons he didn’t want to become the leader of the people. He said, “Give it to somebody who can talk better than I can.” And God says in Exodus 4:11… I’ve often pondered this verse. Wow! It takes your breath away.
“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’” Your physical disabilities! Now, of course, if they can be improved, if there are things that medical science can do, that’s perfectly fine. That’s the way in which we operate in our world, knowing the fallenness of our experience, but at the same time what we must do is to recognize and to see God in them.
This past week I read a story about a boy who was born with a birth mark that basically covered most of his face, and it did not bother him. He did not seem to be concerned about it at all. And somebody asked him how he handled it, and he said, “Well, as soon as I was old enough to see it my father always said I was given that birthmark because that’s where an angel kissed me, and that I have been kissed by an angel, and that God gave me this birthmark,” he said, “so that my father could always pick me out in a crowd.”
Now technically, of course, an angel didn’t kiss him, but the idea is thoroughly biblical. This child must be able to accept this as a God thing. You say, “Well, that’s hard to accept because he’s going to have kids in school make fun of him. He’s going to be discouraged because he’s going to be rejected. He’s going to experience that. Yes, yes, yes, but that’s where the parents come in and affirm the child and help him to understand that he is loved by God and that his form was created by the Almighty, and God was there in the womb. What pressure that takes off from people.
Your mental capacities! Again, this can be changed. We could improve it, but folks, just let’s talk more plainly than I have been talking a few moments ago possibly, and simply say that some of us are never going to be geniuses. We’re never going to be able to have the brains and the ability and the giftedness of others, so if we begin to compare ourselves with others we’re in bad shape.
Now, here’s what I want you to do, especially the young people who are here today. I would like you to look into a mirror, a full-length mirror, if possible. Look into that mirror and say, “Father, I thank You for the way in which You created me. I thank You for my limitations. I thank You for the things that I don’t particularly like that I would have liked to have had differently. Please forgive me for thinking You were not around when I was created. I pray that You might grant me the ability to accept who I am, and I don’t have to be anybody else.”
What freedom that gives to people, to finally give up striving against God. The Bible says in Isaiah, “Woe to him who strives with his maker, and who says to his maker, ‘Why hast thou made me thus?’” Isaiah said, “Does the potter not have the right over the clay to make it as it wills? Must the clay jar look in the eyes of the potter and complain?” Of course, we do all that we can to try to make ourselves look as good as we can, given our limitations, but we accept those limitations as from God’s hand because we know that He is the creator and our Father.
What an opportunity to be free! But you know that’s not the end of the assignment. It is not just that we look in the mirror and say that we are content with the way in which God made us, but rather, I have to accept you the way in which God created you. And you have to accept me in the way in which God created me. You see, if I reject you because you don’t reach some artificial standard of a certain height or a certain weight or a certain appearance, if I say, “No, I won’t have anything to do with you because you don’t fit this category of being a beautiful winsome person,” I am rejecting the God who created you. I, too, am striving against God who is our maker.
Do you know what? Can we accept the way in which we are as the wise and the good choice of God? And think of the freedom and the sense of acceptance. Do you realize that when God created all of the people that are in the world today, and there are what—four of five billion? And before those billions there were other billions, I am sure. God said to Himself, “I’m going to create each one differently. No two will be alike, and each uniquely woven in their mother’s womb.” Oh yes, parental characteristics are passed on. We know that, but all part of the divine plan. God created your body and mine.
Secondly, God owns the human body. God owns it! First Corinthians 6, that very familiar passage where it talks about the fact that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which we have from God, and we are not our own, says, “Do you not know (verse 19) that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. You are bought with a price.” Therefore, glorify God in your body. God owns the human body.
No, my friend, you don’t have a right to do as you wish because this is your body. You don’t have a right to say, “I can use it however I want to. I can abuse it because this is my body.” It is given to you by God, first of all, by virtue of creation, and if you are saved, it is now His also by virtue of redemption and He owns it.
I remember Joe Stowell talking about the fact that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and he said that he knows of someone who stepped on a scale, and as those numbers went way up he said, “You know, this isn’t a temple. This is a garage.” (laughter) Well, that’s the way our bodies are. I don’t know about your garage but I know what ours was like. Junk! It’s God’s and we can abuse it because of the way in which we refuse to take care of it because of lack of care because of what we eat, because of the way in which we drive ourselves, our lack of sleep. We can abuse our body. We can abuse our bodies if we determine that we are going to be thinner than anyone else ever thought we could possibly be, and we choose to starve ourselves because we’re going to be in control, and we’re going to look the way in which we want to look.
What I’m going to say now I’m going to say very carefully because I’ve been agonizing about this for a week or two as to what I should say about body piercings and tattoos, so it will be said with a great deal of care. You know, it used to be, as I mentioned, that women had earrings. Now, of course, you have nose rings. You have tongue rings. You have navel rings, and well, I’ll stop there. You have all of this happening. You have tattoos that sometimes cover the body, sometimes permanent tattoos, and you say to yourself, “Is this really what a Christian should do? Is this what a Christian should do?”
You know it’s interesting that in the Old Testament God expressly forbid that. For example, in Leviticus 19 the Lord says expressly, because this is what the heathen would do, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” And some people say, “Well, we don’t accept everything that’s in Leviticus.” And this was a heathen practice. We know that it all began with heathen practices. Nobody doubts that.
But it’s very difficult for me to be able to see how this kind of an abuse of the body can honor God. Perhaps all that I need to say is the words of a woman who had a permanent tattoo and then became a Christian. She said, “That tattoo is a reminder to me of my past life. It has become a reminder to me, therefore, of God’s grace in my life.” Think about that before you even think about whether that’s what you should do.
And then we can misuse the body because it becomes a vehicle for sexual attraction, and that was the great emphasis with which I began this message. And you know the great emphasis on cosmetic surgery nowadays. That great emphasis is, in a sense, intended to deny the curse that we were born with that eventually leads to death. Instead of honoring old age, people want to stave off old age as long as they possibly can, striving against it. I mean I’m talking about a week ago or so on Tv (Somebody may have seen this.) there was a woman who said, “I have spent a million dollars on cosmetic surgery.” By the way, can’t you and I think of how that million could have been better spent? But anyway, let’s hurry on. She said, “I’ve spent a million dollars on cosmetic surgery and I told my husband that even after I die he can have cosmetic surgery done because I even want to look good in the coffin.” Lady, you’re not going to look good in the coffin. I’ve seen many people in a coffin. None of them really looked good because they are dead. Just accept it!
God owns the body. Before you say, “This is what I’m going to wear, this is what I’m going to do, this is how I’m going to flaunt myself,” before you say all of that remember your body belongs to God. It isn’t yours.
Third, God uses the body. Notice what the text says: “Glorify God in your body.” You see, what God intended is that our bodies be vehicles of mercy, of grace. It says in the book of Isaiah, “I have created you to be my servant,” and so what God is saying is that as Jesus Christ goes to heaven, and His body is [not] here on earth, as we explained a few weeks ago, we then become His body. So as we become His body, we become the vehicle of sharing the Gospel. We become the vehicle of love and mercy and grace because we have within us the blessed Holy Spirit of God who indwells this temple, who owns this temple, and whose power is able to break forth out of this temple as we yield to the blessed Holy Spirit of God, content with the way in which God made us.
Let me bring this down to where all of us live, and specifically as we kind of summarize and bring the strands of this thinking together. First of all, character is more important than appearance. Character is more important than appearance! Remember the story. Samuel is supposed to find a king, and he goes and he is looking at the sons of Jesse. And one by one they parade before him, because he goes to Jesse and says, “God showed me that from your family the king should come,” you remember. And Jesse gets all of his sons together. Samuel thought that they were all there. And every one of them marched by and God said no to them all.
And Samuel said, “There’s some mistake. I’ve looked at all of your sons and God rejected them all.” And then Jesse said, “Well, you know there is another one, but he’s not even here. He didn’t show for this beauty contest because he’s taking care of the sheep.” Samuel says, “Get him.” And it was in that context that God said, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.”
Parents, I need to say this to you. You say, “Well, I really love my child.” It’s not enough that you love your child. You must also respect your child. You must have that child grow up with a sense of acceptance and a sense of being able to be loved by you and to be loved by God. You must grow that child so that he or she does not hate themselves because they do not measure up to this false impossible standard that the world has put before us. You must teach your child to be content with who he or she is as God’s creation and as a member of God’s family, and you must emphasize what God emphasizes: truthfulness, faithfulness, honesty, commitment. That’s where the emphasis has to be. It’s character which is more important than appearance.
Secondly, we must have modesty. Modesty is more important than acceptance. I feel sorry for parents today because one of their complaints legitimately is what do we buy for our young people? What do we buy for our daughters? All of the clothes in the store are, to put it mildly, immodest. Oftentimes beyond that, to be quite frank, indecent! And I don’t know how to solve all those problems, but what I do know is that Christian young people and older women should be examples of modesty. The Bible says that the emphasis on a woman (This is 1 Peter 3.) is not the outward adorning. It even talks about jewelry and so forth, which I’m sure is not wrong, except that what’s he’s saying is that’s not the emphasis. It’s to be the hidden person of the heart, which is, in the sight of God, of great price. The Scripture says in Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceptive. Beauty disappears, but a woman who fears the Lord should be praised.” What an emphasis we need in today’s society.
Finally, and last, we must find significance in our relationship with God, not the approval of others. Ultimately, our security has to be with God. I think again of someone who had plastic surgery—a lot of it. She said, “I have based all my self-worth on my appearance. Maybe I should have chosen something else.” Maybe she should have chosen something else.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus looked like? We have many artistic representations. Many artists have drawn pictures of Jesus. The fact is nobody had a camera. Nobody, to our knowledge, took a picture of Him. Nobody drew a picture of Him. All that we have to go on is supposition. I’m sure that He looked something like Mary, but what did Jesus look like? In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 53, it says something very interesting that may give us a clue, that Jesus was not very attractive. It says, “He shall grow up before him as a tender plant and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form nor comeliness, nor beauty that we should desire him.”
Maybe Jesus would not have won a male beauty contest. He simply did not have that physical attraction. In fact, we learned a few weeks ago that the Apostle Paul was apparently short and balding and very unimpressive because his critics said of him, “His letters are good but his appearance is very unimpressive.” Read that in today’s world. He’d have been a disaster on television for sure.
Jesus might not have looked that great. In fact, later on, of course, when He was flogged and so forth, it says that His visage (His appearance) was so marred that He no longer looked like a man. He was just this blob that had been so severely whipped, apparently.
What happens here is that Jesus puts a lie forever to the idea that the value of a person is dependent upon the way in which he looks. Jesus did the will of God. Jesus served the Father. Jesus completed the race successfully because He knew that what was in His heart and the desires and the motivation of His obedience, that’s what the Father was seeking for. “The eyes of the Lord travelled throughout the whole earth, seeking those who are beautiful.” Is that what it says? No. It says, “The eyes of the Lord traveled to and fro about the whole earth, seeking those whose hearts are perfect toward God.”
Accept yourself. Take that long look in the mirror and say, “God, after years of striving, it’s okay,” and then rejoice in the fact that your value is rooted in your creation and your relationship with God, and your relationship with Christ, and let the world do as they will when it comes to evaluating and judging beauty instead of character.
Our Father, we pray in the name of Jesus that indeed You would give us contentment with who we are. We pray especially for the young people who struggle, who, oh Father… The competition, the sense of who they are as they determine constantly the number of cards that they receive for a birthday party, all of that is related to their appearance. Our Father, today, grant them a sense of security, a sense of saying, “Yes, I am content to be who you have created.” And help us, Father, to be able to judge rightly that we might see the heart and not simply the outward appearance.
Now, what is it that you need to tell God in this moment? I want you to know that when Jesus died on the cross, the purpose of that death that I spoke about is that you and I might be redeemed. And some of you have heard the Gospel many times. You are here and have been visiting the church for a couple of weeks or months. Today may be the time when you say, “Lord, I trust Christ as Savior at this moment. I believe in Him that I might be saved.” You talk to God.
Father, receive our worship, and receive our hearts, we ask through Jesus Christ, Amen.
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