One of my favorite historical events has always been the choosing of David as King of Israel. God sends the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the chosen king and Jesse trots out his sons. Big and tall and strong and good looking kids. But God says, "Nope, none of these." (paraphrased, obviously. Not sure God ever said "nope")
You know the story, they finally bring in the runt of the litter who's out back doing chores, and Samuel says, "Him?" And God says, "Him!" And Samuel says, "Are you sure?" And God says, "Don't judge a book by its cover." (again, a paraphrase, but it helps me get to the line about books and covers and judging, see 1 Samuel 16 for the actual version).
I've always loved that because indeed God does tell us that while man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart. And those are good lessons. And in general, the idea of judging a book by its cover is a good one. However...
Now, with books, her point is that the covers do indeed have an important part to play in the "book selection" process for the average book buyer. Obviously, the content is what is ultimately important, but it does make a good point: If the cover is horrendous, will the average buyer pick it up long enough to see what that content is?
And here's the point for us. While the story of David reminds us that what's on the inside is what counts, the truth is, what's on the outside is important to a degree as well. Our outward behavior is what "advertises" to the world what truly is on the inside. If I give no attention at all to the outward "appearance" of my words, actions, etc., then will I ever get the opportunity to show others what the inside looks like?
James, for example, reminds us that our tongues give away quite a bit. He tells us in James 3 that what comes out of our mouths should match up with what's on the inside. So if my mouth is busy gossiping, cursing, telling rude jokes; and then I try to tell folks that my heart is pure before God....hmmm, how much will they believe me?
Ah, but you can't judge a book by it's cover, you say. Well, to a degree. If you're God. He's the one who looks past the outside to see the reality of our hearts. He knows the truth about us no matter how hard we try to cover it up. But as He said Himself, man looks at the outside. Others around us will be browsing through life, and the cover they see on us will in large part determine if they will ever give us the time of day to find out what the "content" really is.
Please don't misunderstand. I'm not arguing for a focus on appearances alone. But if a book cover presents itself as an action packed sci-fi adventure and then the story turns out to be some cheesy romance; folks are going to be pretty put out! Likewise, we shouldn't pretend to be something we're not just to impress others; but at the same time, we should be very conscious about the fact that how we look, act, talk, etc. does have an impact in our attempts to share the love of Christ with others.
And in the end, if there is real life inside, it will be obvious on the outside. So while God judges the heart, the reality of that heart is seen on the outside. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Jesus said. So what's coming out of us? What does our "cover" look like? Does it truly reflect the content of our hearts? Now, if you'll excuse me, all this has put me in the mood to go do some book shopping!