Happy Friday. Today we are taking up the topic of physical appearance, because the Bible speaks often about physical appearance. Scripture contains dozens of references to physical looks — both to attractiveness and unattractiveness. Those categories emerge all over the Bible, so there’s no need to shy away from this topic. We looked at many of these texts when we addressed this topic in APJ 1699. And since listening to that episode, which became pretty popular, we’ve gotten several follow-up questions, including this from a listener named Sean.
“Dear Pastor John, thank you for APJ 1699 — ‘Why Did God Make Me Unattractive?’ That episode was excellent. I wonder, though, if you could expand on your last paragraph, about the beauty of Christ satisfying us despite the pain of rejection. In my younger days, I often lamented that I was not better looking. But now, I realize that I would have ruined my life several times over chasing relationships with ungodly women. I now see my average attractiveness is a massive spiritual blessing that protected me from idols, and that drove me deeper into Christ instead of into shallow patterns of life. I would not trade that joy for attractiveness in a million years.”
Just hearing you articulate the question again reminds me of how many pimples I had when I was 14 and 15, and how nervous I was around people, and how I so badly wanted it to be otherwise. Now I share that same amazement. I think God spared me a lot of junk by not letting me get on the fast track to trouble.
Another Kind of Beauty
Well, anyway, that was a beautiful testimony. I love his testimony. And I use the word beautiful when I say, “Isn’t that a beautiful testimony?” intentionally. That’s what we’re talking about here: beauty. I would rather hear a person say that from the heart than gaze on the most beautiful woman in the world, or on the most beautiful mountain or lake.
Natural beauties — yes, they’re good. They’re not evil. They’re a gift. We should receive them and see something of God in them. Everything good is a partial revelation of the all-satisfying God. But the beauty of soul — the mind and the heart, a beautiful mind — that in much affliction or disappointment finds Jesus to be satisfying, that is a beauty of another kind and a higher level. I love to see it. Just hearing this question was a great joy to me. It was beautiful.
Sean wants me to expand on the beauty of Christ satisfying us despite the pain of rejection. I think what might be helpful is to ponder four changes that need to happen in our minds and hearts in order to find lasting satisfaction in the beauty of Christ. I’ll name them and then just say a word about each one.
- We need to shift our focus from the beauty of the body to the beauty of character.
- We need to shift our focus from the beauty that satisfies the body to the beauty that satisfies the soul.
- We need to shift our focus from beauty as the world sees it to beauty as God sees it.
- We need to shift our focus from beauty in time to beauty in eternity.
1. Beauty of Character
First, we need to shift our focus from the beauty of body to the beauty of character. The most graphic illustration of the need for this shift is the appearance of Jesus in the hour of his most beautiful act. Isaiah 52:14 and Isaiah 53:2 say, “His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. . . . He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” In other words, he not only became sin for us; he became ugly for us. The ugliness of sin was accompanied by the ugliness of body, so ugly in his torments that it was hard to look at him. And yet, at this good-news-creating moment, he was, in another sense, more beautiful than at any other time.
God, give us eyes. I think that’s what Paul would say: “Give us eyes to see.” But Paul will put it like this: “the light of the gospel of the glory [that is, the beauty] of Christ, who is the image of God.” That’s what we’ll see, according to 2 Corinthians 4:4. The good news is the beauty of Christ at the moment of his greatest ugliness. That’s the shift of focus we need, from the beauty of body to the beauty of Christ — Christ’s character, Christ’s love.
“All of us, men and women, need a deep shift of focus from beauty of body to beauty of character.”
It’s not surprising when the Bible speaks to the beauty of Christian women, for example, with just this emphasis. It says in 1 Peter 3:3–4, “Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing that you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” Now, he’s not saying, “Women shouldn’t wear clothes.” That’s ridiculous. I mean, he’s not saying, “Oh, don’t wear clothes.” He’s not even saying they shouldn’t be attractive. He’s saying, “All of us, men and women, need a deep shift of focus from beauty of body to beauty of character.” Without that, all our talk about the beauty of Christ will be shallow.
2. Soul-Satisfying Beauty
Second, we need to shift our focus from the beauty that satisfies the body to the beauty that satisfies the soul. Now, the point here is not about the beauty we seek to have in ourselves, but the beauty we seek to enjoy in others. This requires a profound change of heart by the Holy Spirit. It comes naturally to us to enjoy good looks in the opposite sex, or beautiful scenery. There is enough of the image of God left in us that most fallen people can even admire and enjoy a beautiful act of sacrificial love and call it beautiful. They see something beautiful in sacrifice and love; they say, “That’s beautiful.” But it requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to see God in Christ as supremely beautiful and therefore satisfying.
This is a new kind of satisfaction. It’s not bodily. It’s not the satisfaction merely of the eyes. It is spiritual. The psalmist doesn’t have it by nature; that’s why he prays for it. He says, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love” (Psalm 90:14). This is what God has to do. God has to satisfy us with God. Or Psalm 17:15: “When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” Or Psalm 63:5–6: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food . . . when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.”
“To shift our focus from beauty that satisfies the body to beauty that satisfies the soul, we must know God.”
To shift our focus from beauty that satisfies the body to beauty that satisfies the soul, we must know God — really know him, know him until he becomes the source of all beauty and the sum of all beauty for us. Then we will be able to taste and see the beauty of Christ.
3. Beauty in God’s Eyes
Third, we need to shift our focus from beauty as the world sees it to beauty as God sees it. We live in a time when TV and streaming services and Facebook and TikTok and Instagram and Twitter and texting and FaceTime and a camera in every pocket continually throw into our faces the issue of looks, looks, looks. The appeal is constantly to the immediate response of our eyes. It is almost all outward. Visual appearance and its immediate impact is held up as desirable. But the deeper issues of character are not. Why? Well, because it’s artistically harder to depict character.
The appeal of character is not instantaneous. Most people don’t even have a clear sense of what character is. So the default is to feed the eyes, feed the eyes, feed the eyes. Feed the visual instincts, especially of the men. (Maybe not especially of the men. I don’t know what’s going on in the minds of women; I’m not a woman. I’m a man, and I know what they’re doing to me.)
First Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” We need to shift our focus from beauty as the world sees it and shows it to beauty as God sees it and creates it. This will probably require a significant shift in the viewing habits of many Christians.
4. Eternal Beauty
Finally, we need to shift our focus from beauty in time to beauty in eternity. If God created us with a homely exterior — we’re just not handsome or pretty — and in a world like ours, life has been harder because of it, then we need to shift our focus and realize that this light momentary homeliness, which we call a lifetime, is nothing compared to the eternity of beauty we will enjoy (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Here’s 1 John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” Which means at least, Jesus says, that we “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father” (Matthew 13:43). Finally, the beauty of Christ will be not only what we see but what we are, and we will be supremely satisfied in him.