Jesus was probably not a very appealing teacher. Visually, there were not a lot of things that encouraged people to follow him: He was poor; He was unlearned; He didn’t always publicly perform miracles (sometimes He even went out of His way to hide them); He was not very well liked in His hometown. Jesus both taught and demonstrated we can’t always trust our eyes for right judgments. He told the Jews, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). The Jews had just accused Jesus of being demon-possessed because in their eyes He did not adequately respect the religious law. This was the case when Jesus healed on the Sabbath against Sabbath law.
Jesus was often condemned because He appeared to many to be spiritually contemptible. Conversely, the Pharisees were often honored because they looked holy and demonstrated great knowledge of the law. The Jewish people had come to revere this law over the God who gave the law. Steeped in such legalism, they automatically rejected anything they saw as remotely contrary to complete adherence to the law. They came to judge people based not on what God wanted, but on appearances. They judged based on their own selfish interests.
We too tend to judge people in this way. We too judge others according to appearances rather than by “righteous judgment.” Who are these “others”? What are they like? They are awkward. They are short. They are wrinkly. They are fat. They are plain. They are poor. They are smelly. They are ugly. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. The world of mankind revolves around appearance.
To an extent, appearances are important. It is important to present yourself in a respectable, modest, Christian way. Everything about our appearance and presentation finds a place in the minds of everyone we meet. However, there is a definite line we should not cross in being concerned with appearance. There is a special danger of basing our judgments entirely on appearance. Verbally, society takes a negative view of judging people based on appearance. However, what people say does not always translate to what they do. We may be spiritually repulsed by acting out of selfish, superficial judgments. Physically we’re drawn to such behavior. It is how the fallen minds of men work.
We do not have to be taught to judge based on appearance. From childhood, we are drawn to honoring what looks the most visually appealing. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis noted that human beings judge each other by external actions, but God judges by their morality. Even the most moral of non-Christians tend to judge people on these external, outward actions. It is true that Christians have been made closer to God. However, we are never perfect while on this earth. We are still attached to these human bodies. The danger of judging based on appearance is a very present danger throughout our lives.
Even Paul freely expressed his own struggle to keep his body in line (Romans 7:7-25). The lesson of Paul is even Christians can fall into the danger of doing what we know we shouldn’t and not doing what we know we should. We know we shouldn’t judge people based upon appearance. We know we shouldn’t act based on those shallow judgments. However, that’s exactly what we do. We judge people before we even know them. We judge filtered through our own whims based upon how they look, what they do, and how they talk. The key phrase here is “through our own whims.” Christianity does involve judgment, but the judging is not to be based on our own feelings and thoughts. Follow the command of Jesus; follow the command of God; let your judgment be a righteous judgment.