Do You See Only the Outward Appearance?
HEINZ, a teenager driven by hatred, planned to kill his stepfather. Happily, he lacked the courage to do it. Several years later he decided to commit suicide but could not go through with that either. He got involved in stealing and drug trafficking, for which he was imprisoned. Then his marriage failed.
Today Heinz is no longer addicted to drugs. He is making an honest living. He has a happy marriage and a fine relationship with his stepfather. What made the difference? He began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gradually, his outlook on life began to change.
No doubt, many who knew the old Heinz passed him off as a hopeless case. Thankfully for many people like him, God did not give him up as beyond redemption. Why not? The reason is: “Not the way man sees is the way God sees, because mere man sees what appears to the eyes; but as for Jehovah, he sees what the heart is.”—1 Samuel 16:7.
That is one big difference between man and God. We tend to judge from outward appearances. We even say that “first impressions are lasting impressions.” In other words, we tend to categorize people based on initial reactions. But God, because he can read the heart, is just and impartial. And that is why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth so that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) In this connection, dedicated Christians have the privilege of being “God’s fellow workers” by actively preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom to all mankind. (1 Corinthians 3:9) Yet, Christians have their limitations—they cannot read the hearts of people. Therefore they must be impartial and avoid being prejudiced by outward appearances.
Jesus’ half brother James was aware of this danger in the early Christian congregation. He said: “My brothers, believing as you do in our Lord Jesus Christ, who reigns in glory, you must never show snobbery. For instance, two visitors may enter your place of worship, one a well-dressed man with gold rings, and the other a poor man in shabby clothes. Suppose you pay special attention to the well-dressed man . . . Do you not see that you are inconsistent and judge by false standards?” On this basis, do we sometimes misjudge people who come to the Kingdom Hall for the first time?—James 2:1-4, The New English Bible.
Jesus Set the Example
Jesus saw people, not as sinners beyond redemption, but as possibly sincere persons willing to change if given necessary help and proper incentive. That is why he “gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:6) In his preaching activity, he viewed no one of good heart as untouchable, unworthy of attention. His view of people revealed no proud feelings of self-righteousness.—Luke 5:12, 13.
How unlike the Pharisees, of whom we read: “But the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw he was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, began saying to his disciples: ‘Does he eat with the tax collectors and sinners?’ Upon hearing this Jesus said to them: ‘Those who are strong do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.’”—Mark 2:16, 17.
This does not mean, of course, that Jesus condoned the dishonest and wrong practices committed by these sinners and tax collectors. But he knew that people can get caught up in a wrong way of life, perhaps even unwittingly or because of circumstances difficult to control. He therefore showed understanding, being “moved with pity for them, because they were as sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34) He lovingly made a distinction between their bad actions and their possibly good hearts.
In dealing with his followers, Jesus also looked beyond outward appearances. They were sinners who often made mistakes, but Jesus was no unreasonable perfectionist, constantly taking them to task for every little infringement. He knew that their intentions were good or, as we might say today, that their heart was in the right place. What they needed was help and encouragement; in giving this, Jesus was never stingy. No doubt about it, he saw people the way God sees them. Do we try to imitate his marvelous example?
Do You “Judge With Righteous Judgment”?
Once Jesus was faced by a group of self-righteous complainers who were irritated because he had performed an act of healing on the Sabbath. He instructed them: “Stop judging from the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Why did they not rejoice at seeing in Jesus a miracle worker who had made “a man completely sound in health” instead of becoming “violently angry” and seeing in him a breaker of the Sabbath law? By judging from the outward appearance, they betrayed their bad motives. They revealed their judgment to be self-righteous and unrighteous at the same time.—John 7:23, 24.
How could we perhaps make the same mistake? By failing to rejoice when a repentant person comes back to the congregation or when a very worldly person learns the truth and starts benefiting from spiritual healing. Sometimes we may judge people by their unorthodox dress or grooming and write them off as never likely to become Witnesses. Yet, many former hippies and others with unorthodox life-styles have eventually become Christian Witnesses of Jehovah. While such ones are in the process of making adjustments, we do not want to allow “judging from the outward appearance” to blind us to their good heart condition.
How much better, and in line with Jesus’ fine example, to pray for them and to offer them practical help in reaching Christian maturity! To see in them a cause for rejoicing may seem difficult. But if Jehovah draws them to himself through Christ, who are we to reject them on the basis of our own narrow criteria? (John 6:44) Self-righteously judging someone, when we know neither the heart nor the circumstances, could put us in the way of adverse judgment.—Compare Matthew 7:1-5.
Rather than severely judging such new ones, we should help, encourage, and admonish them by way of example. However, while showing kindness, we certainly should not idolize new ones who perhaps are well-known in the world. That would be a form of partiality. It would also be a sign of immaturity on our part. As for the person himself, would our adulation help him to be humble? Or would it, rather, embarrass him?—Leviticus 19:15.
Do Not Expect More Than God Does
Our view of others is very limited compared to Jehovah’s, who reads the heart. (1 Chronicles 28:9) Appreciating this will prevent us from becoming modern-day, self-righteous Pharisees, trying to press people into our own man-made mold of righteousness in order that they might fit our concept of what is correct. If we try to see people as God sees them, we will not require more of them than he does. We will “not go beyond the things that are written.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) This is especially important for Christian elders to take to heart.—1 Peter 5:2, 3.
We can illustrate this in the matter of dress. The Bible requirement—God’s requirement—is that a Christian’s clothing must be neat and clean, well-arranged and not betraying a lack of “modesty and soundness of mind.” (1 Timothy 2:9; 3:2) Obviously, then, the elders in one congregation went “beyond the things that are written” a few years ago by requiring every public speaker in their congregation to wear a white shirt, even though pastel colors were generally acceptable in that country. Guest speakers who showed up with a colored shirt were asked to change into one of several white shirts kept in the Kingdom Hall for just such emergencies. How careful we have to be in order not to impose our personal taste on others! And how appropriate Paul’s counsel: “Let your reasonableness become known to all men”!—Philippians 4:5.
Good Results From Looking Beyond Outward Appearances
Appreciating that we cannot read people’s hearts will help us maintain a better relationship with those around us, both inside and outside the Christian congregation. It will help us to think positively about others, not questioning their motives, “for even we were once senseless, disobedient, being misled, being slaves to various desires and pleasures.” (Titus 3:3) Realizing this, we will be willing to preach to everyone, even to those who, from outward appearances, might seem unworthy. After all, the decision to accept or reject the truth is theirs. The responsibility to preach it to everyone is ours.
Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses, like Heinz, are happy that they were welcomed into the Christian congregation by brothers and sisters who looked beyond outward appearances and did not judge by first impressions.
Take Frank, who showed up one Sunday at a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in southern Germany. What did those in attendance see? An unkempt young man with a beard and shoulder-length hair, dressed in dirty clothes, well-known as a frequenter of local bars and a heavy smoker—an individual who had neglected his girlfriend and their baby twins. Nevertheless, he was warmly welcomed at the meeting. He was so impressed that he returned a week later. What did they see then? A neatly groomed young man in clean clothes. The third week they saw a young man who no longer smoked, this time accompanied by his girlfriend and their two children. On the fourth Sunday, they saw a young man and a young woman who had just obtained a marriage license to legalize their relationship. On the fifth Sunday, they saw a young man who had broken off all ties with false religion. Today, some four years later, they see, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses reports, “a family that makes such a fine impression you would think they had been our brothers for many years.”
The quality of a book is not necessarily reflected in its binding nor that of a house in its facade. Likewise, the true quality of a person is not necessarily reflected in outward appearances. Christians who try to see people as God does will not judge by initial impressions. God pays attention to “the secret person of the heart,” and for that we can be thankful.—1 Peter 3:3, 4.