Ever been somewhere, not dressed at your best, experiencing anything but your best hair day, and maybe not totally acting your normal "self", only to come face-to-face with someone you know? How'd it make you feel? Kind of self-conscious? Or perhaps like you wanted to crawl under a rock? We've all had those moments! What did we fear the most in those circumstances? Wasn't it that we knew perfectly well that people evaluate others by how they look and/or how they are "behaving" at that moment? The truth is people evaluate people - don't they? The danger is that we only see "in part" - most of what makes up an individual is actually on the inside, isn't it?
Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18 MSG)
Paul really gets at the crux of this idea of "not judging the book by the cover". When we look at someone in a certain light just because they have or don't have certain things, we judge. When we evaluate someone by the clothes they wear, we judge. When we evaluate someone by the "title" they bear, we judge. None of these are a true estimate of the individual behind the belongings or the clothes or the "title". None of these truly "defines" them - their character (inner man) defines them.
Here are some things Paul reminds us:
* Deciding to follow Christ gives us the eyes to see beyond the outer appearance or the material possessions of another - and especially beyond the "titles" one bears because of past choices or current sins. But...eyes don't ensure seeing, do they? My mother has two perfectly normal looking eyes, but she suffers from macular degeneration - she cannot see details, color, etc. She has "normal" appearing eyes, but she does not truly "see". Seeing is a matter of perception - if the "receivers" are out of whack, what is perceived is also "out of whack". True perceiving happens on the inside - because the heart has been changed by the grace and love of Christ. When our "internal receivers" are all aligned as they should be with the heart of Christ, we begin to see others differently - apart from their appearances or past mistakes.
* Anyone in Christ gets a fresh start - it may not be immediately evident on the outside, but it is very apparent on the inside. This is the danger behind looking on the outside only - we miss the work going on inside (the true place of grace's work). The condition for seeing others differently is being in Christ. The condition of us seeing others as different is Christ being in them. The outward may take some time to actually catch up with the work being done on the inside, so we need to remember to NEVER judge by the appearance. The fresh start we ALL get gives us equal grounds - none of us stands in any "better" place than the other - we are all sinners in need of a savior. We are all "strugglers" needing a deliverer.
* God expects more of us. The scripture is plain - we are called to "settle our relationships with each other". Most of what causes us "riffs" in relationships is because of our inability to see what is on the inside of another. We judge by the outward appearances - what seems "apparent" in the relationship. Ever been with someone who is quiet, pulled inside themselves, and kind of not really present in the moment? How did it make you feel? Did you begin to think that maybe the individual did not want to be around you? You know, the opposite may very well be the case - it just may take a while for someone hurt by others they trusted to finally begin to open up in relationship again. So, don't get discouraged with them - give them the space they need - they are being made new on the inside first (where they are spending all their time at that very moment). As the "newness" begins to affect them inwardly, it will become evident on the outside, as well.
* The new life burgeons. Yep, had to look it up! It means it is beginning to grow - to put forth shoots. It is where we get our word "blooms" - it is the work of Christ on the inside, beginning to take root, then finding its way to the surface. Tiny shoots take form - struggling to the surface. No seed planted in the ground has an easy course to the surface - it takes some effort! The same is true of our new character - it takes some effort getting those shoots out into the light of day! So, be patient with the growth process.
Just as we have been embraced, we are to embrace others. We don't embrace their "sin", but we do embrace the person struggling to grow beyond their sin! Just sayin!