Do you remember the fairy tale “Snow White?” Recall how the wicked witch peered into her magic looking glass and said, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
The mirror’s answer was quite disappointing. “It’s certainly not you, Ugly!”
Does your mirror ever do that to you? Sad to say, but thousands of people’s mirrors disappoint them each day.
Have you ever known someone to look at a photograph of himself in his high school yearbook and say, “Golly, I take an awful picture. Just look at me!” Have you ever known a woman over-interested in clothes and make-up? She is always shopping, always touching up her make-up, and always trying to decide which tint to color her hair. Certainly you’ve run into people with inferiority complexes. “I can’t do anything right!” They say as they mope through life gloomily. And drugs? Why, if one does not like his neighbor he can move. But if you don’t like yourself, where can you go to get away from self? For many the answer comes in alcohol and drugs, a form of chemical escape. Then there is that strange man. He was so nice, but you found out he became a transvestite, moved to another city and changed his name from Robert to Roberta. And what about your friend at the club? He shot and killed himself last month. Why suicide?
All of these people are manifesting a brokenness that has troubled the human race since the fall. The book of Genesis teaches that man once had a good self-esteem. Both Adam and Eve were naked and “unashamed” (Genesis 3:7). They accepted who they were. God has looked on all His creation and pronounced it very good. And they looked on themselves and agreed.
But then came the fall. Both Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord. And the result, as we have seen was devastating. The fall broke man. It broke him utterly. And one of the first ways Adam and Eve found themselves broken was in their self-image. No longer were they accepting toward their bodies. They became alarmed at their appearance. And so they clothed themselves with fig leaves. Gone was their self-assurance. Missing was their self-worth.
This break is still within us today. And one’s inability to love himself affects nearly every area of his life. It affects one’s relationship with God. If you hate yourself, it is impossible to love the Lord. The logic usually runs like this: “I don’t like me. And God is my creator. Therefore, I will have nothing more to do with God. He messed me up the first time. I won’t give him a chance to foul me up again!”
Low self-esteem can also adversely affect your family life. A teenager who has difficulty with self-love might begin to overdress and run up some high clothing bills. Or she might begin to “underdress.” Her dad begins to notice and complains, “You’re not going to school dressed like that, are you?”
Self-loathing can also affect your friendships. Who wants to be around a fellow who has a dark cloud of inferiority hanging over his head all the time? Misery loves company, but company doesn’t love misery.
Self-confidence could get you a promotion, while personal contempt never will.
And finally, even one’s elderly years can be spoiled by inner reproach. We see this in the fear of aging, unwillingness to accept the limitations of advanced years, and in senior citizens that try to be something they are not.
In the great commandment, we are told to love ourselves. And as we have seen, in Legion’s life, God’s salvation helps restore our self-regard. If you study through the Scriptures you will begin to see just how a man can learn to prize himself as highly as the Lord does.
Your Looks Are No Accident
One of the first facts one needs to learn about loving himself is that his body is no mistake. God prescribed exactly how we look.
Did you hear about the child who went to the zoo, came home and wrote a letter to God? “Dear God,” the kid wrote, “Did you mean for a giraffe to look like that or was it an accident?” A lot of people feel that way about themselves. “There really must be some mistake! My neck shouldn’t be this long!” “Me and my big feet!” “Wow! Look at my face! Ugly! When God was handing out looks, I must have thought He said ‘books’ and hid behind the door because I didn’t want any.”
But did you know that the Bible teaches that God is in complete control of creation? You are no accident, no freak of nature! Just listen to what the psalmist had to testify as he examined himself in the mirror:
“For thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
God has known you since conception, and before. He knit you together. He formed your sex, your race, even your mind and your face! You are no accident! You are the workmanship of God.
You must know that when the Lord made you He made you with features, some of which are changeable and some of which are unchangeable. An unchangeable feature would be your race, the intelligence quota of your mind, the size of your foot, perhaps even the shape of your head or the texture of your hair. The Bible makes it clear that it is a sin to try to change some unchangeable features about yourself. A transvestite does this when he attempts to alter his sex. A teenager might sin in this way if he tried to pretend he was really older than he was. In Leviticus 19:28, God even forbids us to mutilate our bodies with ornate scars and tattooing.
There are, however, changeable features about our bodies. And it is here that the Lord allows us to make improvements. Your weight is usually a changeable feature. So is your smile, and the twinkle in your eyes. With the gift of science God has even allowed us to straighten teeth, improve our complexions with better hygiene, and even straighten a nose or minimize a scar by plastic surgery. If you can afford such care, these things are changeable. And it is no sin to try and make oneself as attractive as possible.
Designed To Serve A Purpose
Not only does the Bible point out that the Lord prescribed how you look, it also teaches that God designed you with a specific purpose in mind. He made you with certain abilities and even disabilities so that you could accomplish His plans for your life. You can see this in Act’s 9:15 where God called the apostle Paul to serve Him and refers to the man as “a chosen instrument of mine.” The word “instrument” is the same as “tool.” You see, God had a job to do, and He reached for Paul just like we reach for a screwdriver or a hammer instead of a pair of pliers or scissors. God had made Paul for a specific purpose.
I was in a sawmill one day. The whole plant had been shut down for two days due to a breakdown. A mechanic showed me an odd-shaped cog covered with grease. “This is the culprit,” he said. “It cracked and ruined the whole system.” After finding an exact replacement, the machinery began to run once more. But all it took was one ugly and dirty little part that quit doing its job and the entire plant was shut down! Creation is like that, too. It takes all kinds! Each of us is designed by God to fill a job here on earth. And the Lord, seeing how He wants us to fit in, designed us with all we need to achieve His goals. We are unique! Oh, we may feel like we’re that small, grease-covered cog, but let us stop doing our job and things go amuck. Stop and think! You’re the only one of your kind. No one else has your fingerprints. God made you especially for a purpose. And in some special way, you complete the universe!
St. Paul is interesting to study in this light. This apostle was likely short. His real name was Saul. But someone had nicknamed him Paul which is Latin for “Shorty.” We are told that Paul was not a good speaker. His sermons were weak. And, as if these “drawbacks” were not enough, Paul had also been shipwrecked two or three
times, he had been whipped with a cat-o’-nine-tails, rejected by his own kinsmen, and even stoned. Imagine the gashes! No doctor had stitched him up! The wounds must have healed as frightful disfigurements. And then there was the “thorn in the flesh.” Was it a problem with his eyes? Perhaps. A doctor names Luke was at Paul’s side much of the time. Paul must have been something of a walking candidate for the hospital emergency room. But instead of being hospitalized, Paul was often imprisoned. Yet God took this weak man, a tent-maker by trade, and made him the first great missionary of the Christian faith and author of half of the New Testament.
You see, Paul’s body was all a part of God’s plan. Sure, Paul did not choose it, but God chose him for it. Paul prayed for a “better” body, but God said, “No.” He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The truth is that the Lord gives each of us the talents, opportunities, and limitations we need to fit into His plan and achieve His goals for our lives. The problem comes when we do not accept that which we are. We grumble because we were born too late, too short to be a basketball star, too homely to be a movie starlet, or too slow mentally to be a doctor. In a “Peanuts” cartoon, Charlie Brown is unhappy about his lot in life. Lucy is bugging him. She follows him around, saying, “You’re a nerd, Charlie Brown! You are a real zero. You’ll never amount to anything!” Finally, little Charlie yells, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Don’t bother me anymore. I didn’t get a chance to fill in an application to be me!” That’s right! None of us got to choose our looks, our limitations, and gifts. It is mostly thrust on us like it was on St. Paul. For we, too, are “chosen instruments” of God to carry out the Lord’s work (Acts 9:15). Right here is where we are faced with a choice. We can either accept ourselves and cooperate with God in achieving His goals, or we can hate what He made us and put our hands to some other task. The Bible warns us to take the former choice. Isaiah 45:9-11 says,
“Woe to him who strives with his maker,
an earthen vessel with the potter!
Does the clay say to him who fashions it,
‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?
…Thus says the Lord,…
‘Will you question me about my children, or command me
concerning the work of my hands?’”
Unless one wants to strive against his maker and suffer “woe,” one has to accept himself. And here is where the Christian faith can be helpful. God is a benevolent Lord. We are special to Him. As such, can we not trust Him with our looks? Perhaps He saw that giving us great beauty would have made us vain and cause us to miss His plan. So, out of love, He made our looks more commonplace. Perhaps He saw that great intelligence would not be necessary in our job. Maybe He saw that short stature or a fair complexion would be necessary in accomplishing His goals. Whatever the case may be, the Bible teaches that we are no mistake. God designed how we look. And He saw that making us this way was necessary in achieving His goals for our lives.
Still On The Easel!
Another important word of Scripture is this. God is not finished making us yet. Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” It is fascinating to note that the Greek word used here for “workmanship” is “poema” from which we get our English word “poem.” Notice also that it doesn’t say, “We were His workmanship,” past tense. It says, “We are!” Right now God is still working on us.
Have you ever seen that famous unfinished portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart? It hangs in a Boston museum, but copies of it are familiar to every school child. The picture is considered a masterpiece, yet it has never been completed. The artist died before he finished it. Our lives are like that painting. We are unfinished. But our Lord is not dead. He is still on the job. We are still up on His easel! Work is underway. And we are literally Christians under construction. I like the way the apostle Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 3:18. “We are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
This gives us great hope! If you do not like what you are, just wait until tomorrow. The Lord is not through with you yet. In Him you are being changed, improved. I saw a button on a Christian the other day. It said, “PBPWM. GNFWMY!”
When I inquired as to its meaning, I was told that the letters stood for the sentences, “Please be patient with me. God’s not finished with me yet!”
The Frame Around the Character
Passing on, the Bible also teaches that we should learn to see our bodies as picture frames. They are frames around inner qualities which God wants to develop. Now you will notice that the purpose of a picture frame is to draw your eye into the painting itself. If a frame is too gaudy, it calls attention to itself instead of the picture. Likewise our physical bodies are not an end in themselves. They are like frames. They should draw attention to the character within.
Listen to what 1 Peter 3:3-4 says about this: “Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” We seem to be doing the opposite of this in western society today. The emphasis now is on outward glamor, physical beauty. You have seen a body beauty pageant. But have you ever seen a character beauty pageant? People want sex appeal toothpaste, eye catching hairstyles, shapely bodies and style of the minute clothing. Now don’[t get me wrong! I am not against physical beauty. I think a Christian should try to look as pleasing as possible. What I am saying is that character is more important than physical glamor. Character lasts. Physical beauty does not.
An elderly lady, crippled by arthritis, asked her visiting pastor, “Why does God let us get old? Why do we have to hurt so?” The minister shook his head, “I’m not sure,” he said, “but I have a theory. I think the Lord has given physical strength and beauty to the young because that’s the only kind of beauty they can have. But the strength and beauty of age is spiritual. It is character. It is wisdom. We gradually lose the physical beauty that is temporary so we will be certain to concentrate on the beauty that lasts, spiritual character!” This is true. “God,” the Bible says in 1 Samuel 16:7, “sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but he Lord looks on the heart.” God is not concerned with what we look like on the outside as He is with what we are on the inside. If it were up to man, we would bother only with outward glamor. But God takes this away from us. Physical beauty, if indeed we ever had it, fades rapidly. If you don’t believe me, return to your class reunion! But he Lord has a plan in all this. He takes something away from us to give us something better. He takes something perishable away from us to give us something better. He takes something perishable away from us to give us something imperishable. Our physical beauty fades so that we will learn to concentrate on character. The purpose of aging is to make us concentrate on the picture and not on the frame.
God in His goodness has not left us to fend for ourselves in building character. He has given us the Holy Spirit whose sole purpose is to reproduce Christ’s character within us. He is ministering within, assisting us to “put on the new nature, which is being renewed… after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). If you had William Shakespeare inside you, you could write some fine plays. If Winston Churchill could live in you, what speeches you could make! If T. S. Eliot could live in you, the world would see excellent poetry from you pen. If Rembrandt could live in your heart you could paint a masterpiece! But, alas, these geniuses are all dead. Not one of them can live within you. But there is one genius, one master, who is still alive. He can live inside you! The man is Jesus Christ! He can put His Spirit within you. He can empower you with His love, His character. It can all be reproduced in your life!
I know many people who are not very becoming physically. Many of their physical features might be considered handicaps. Some are short with big noses. Others are tall and skinny. Some even have had burn scars from accidents. For the most part their “drawbacks” are unchangeable features. From the world’s point of view, they should be bitter, reclusive, and full of self-image troubles. But no! These are some of the most refreshing people I know! They have joy. They have sincerity. In their lives are deep reservoirs of love. And they are wise. You hardly even notice their bodies for upon meeting them you are drawn right into their very soul.
One man I know, an airline pilot, suffered terrible disfiguring burns over ninety percent of his body when his plane crashed. “I look like God wants me to look right now,” he says, accepting his scars as for the moment, unchangeable. Yet behind all that ugly scar tissue there is something beautiful. He shimmers! His eyes twinkle! His voice is full of calm assurance. And God is using this fellow in some exciting ways among the paraplegic, the burned, and the scarred.
You Are A Testimony!
Not only does Scripture teach that our looks are prescribed by God and that we are made this way for a purpose. It also teaches that the Lord is not through with us yet. We are His poems, His works of art! And He is working within us by the power of the Holy Spirit to reproduce Christ’s character, to make us like Jesus. God does this for a purpose. It is advertisement. When we develop Christ’s character, people will look at us and praise the artist who made us thus. Check this out with Matthew 5:16. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works (not your good looks) and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
I was touring the National Gallery of Art in Washington once when I stopped to admire Murillo’s painting of the return of the prodigal son. The picture was fascinating. On one canvas the artist seemed to have captured all of the joy, the excitement, the tender pain, and great spiritual longing of a long overdue embrace. As I stood admiring the masterpiece, a young couple strode up and gazed at the painting in silence. Finally the girl whispered, “Beautiful.” “I agree,” the man said. Then both together bent over to read the artist’s signature. The same thing happens when the public is exposed to the character of Christ reproduced in our lives. They want to know what or who is responsible for the love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness and wisdom in us. And, of course, their inquiry leads them to the Master Himself, Christ Jesus.
A New Relationship With You Designer?
Perhaps you are struggling with self-esteem. Maybe you find it difficult to accept yourself. Others have been there, too. The man Legion bruised himself with stones (Mark 5:5). King Saul committed suicide (1 Samuel 31:4). Even Martin Luther, the great church reformer, struggled with dire feelings of self-loathing. It is said that Luther used to abuse himself physically, demand more of his body than it could deliver. He was always down in the he mouth, sour toward himself. This went on for years! Then one day, while Luther was studying his face in the he mirror, a verse of Scripture from Galatians 2:20 came to mind, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the he flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” With this thought in mind, Luther stiffened for a moment, thought, then said, “If Christ can love me and live in me, then there must be something lovable about me!” From that point on Martin Luther began not only to love God and his neighbor. He began to love himself. The cross became a divine plus-mark on his life. Luther began to celebrate himself as the pearl of great price God sold all to buy.
You, too, with God’s help can learn to love yourself. Go look in the mirror. St. Augustine wrote, “Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Why, the wonder of it all! You are made in the he image of God! And what more beautiful image is there? You’re so special that Christ died for you. You’re the only one of your kind! So, why not thank God for making you what you are so far? Ask Jesus to save you, to put His marvelous Holy Spirit within you. Then put yourself back up on God’s worktable and let Him finish what He’s started. “And I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?
It is you, your life in Jesus, a work of art!
Lord, teach me to love who you’ve made me so far! Amen.