When God wanted the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, He told him to go to the house of Jesse, who had several sons. (cf. 1 Samuel 16:1)
When Samuel arrived, he was very impressed with Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab. Eliab was a fine young man, tall and handsome and Samuel though God has surely chosen him for the job. But Samuel was mistaken.
God taught Samuel, saying, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
In the end, God chose David, Jesse’s youngest son, who, at that time, was much smaller and less impressive than his brothers. Now, in fairness, David grew up, he got bigger, stronger, and became a mighty warrior in his own right. But that wasn’t why God picked him. David had internal qualities that God desired in the leader of His people.
Over the years, other kings would come to the throne of Israel. As they ruled, God judged each one of them. But God never judged them based on their economic successes, their tax policies, their military victories, or how well they made deals with other nations. Rather, throughout the Old Testament God looked at their hearts to see whether they kept His commandments, or whether they did not.
In the New Testament, when the apostle Peter is called by God to preach to the household of Cornelius, Peter, moved by the circumstances in which he found himself, rightly declared, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation He accepts those who fear Him and work righteousness.” (Acts 10:34-35)
When God looks at a man, God sees the heart and soul of the man. When God looks at men who have hearts of faith and righteousness, God is pleased with what He sees. When God looks at men who have hearts of sin and unbelief, God is unhappy with what He ses.
Notice the words of Scripture concerning the discernment and wisdom of God in such matters: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
The point of this is twofold.
Firstly, in trying to please the One to whom we must give an account, we should remember what God sees when He looks at us. When God looks at a man, He does not look at the man’s nationality, his bank account, his height, his skin color, his eye color, his hair, or his property. When God looks at a man He sees the heart, and He judges the heart.
This reality should compel those who want to be pleasing to God to be most mindful of the right things. Men waste a lot of time trying to fulfill “the lust of the flesh,” and “the lust of the eyes,” striving for health, beauty and wealth. But we should remember, “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8; ESV) Likewise, we are urged not to trust in riches, but to trust in God, not to lay up physical treasures, but to seek for spiritual treasures that cannot be taken away. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17; Matthew 6:19-21)
You aren’t going to get to heaven working for those things that please men; you need to work for those things that please God.
Secondly, as we mature spiritually, we need to try to see the world the way God sees it.
Though we cannot discern the heart the way God does, Jesus taught His followers, “Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with a righteous judgment.” (John 8:24). When we make judgments about people, we should not do so according to their wealth, their power, their looks, or any of their other physical attributes. That was the way that Samuel wanted to judge Eliab and God reproved him for it. God wanted Samuel to learn to look deeper, and so should we. Men have a soul and it’s the soul that matters above all other things.
In life we are called upon to make many decisions about individuals around us, and as we do so, we should always strive to remember that what matters is not what men see, but rather what God sees when He looks at a man.
If you would like to learn more about the things God is looking for in men, the church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.