One of the many joys of the season are the many festive lights adorning homes, providing a colorful feast for the eyes. Some go all out with these decorations and it can be truly delightful to drive up and down the streets of a community, simply enjoying the sights provided by a multitude of bright lights, all lit up together.
It is to be hoped that the joy within a home so decorated is matched by a similar warmth inside.
In truth, it is sometimes easier to decorate the outside of a house in a warm and joyous manner than it is to create true joy and warmth inside. Lights on the outside require a small expenditure of time and money, and then the electric company does the rest. Love and joy within a home requires constant work and selflessness, daily sacrifices and deeds of kindness, as well as continual affection, patience and forgiveness. Yet as beautiful as Christmas lights can be, they are not as beautiful as a home in which love truly lives.
Sometimes, as with homes, so with people, the outside presents a false reflection concerning what is inside. A warm outer show sometimes masks a cold interior.
Jesus famously rebuked many of the religious leaders of His day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26; ESV)”
While such a false showing may sometimes fool men, God is never fooled, for He looks on the inside rather than the outside (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). He judges a man not by the outward façade of piety, but by the inward workings of faith and righteousness. He judges a home, not by the decorations adorning the outside, but by the love and kindness on the inside. Our goal then is not to do the outward deeds merely to be seen of men, but to conform our inner man to the standards of God so that we are pleasing to God (cf. Matthew 6:1).
This doesn’t mean we should completely dismiss the importance of an outward showings of faith and love. God’s examination of the heart is not an excuse to pay no attention to our deeds. Jesus also taught His disciples, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16; ESV).” Jesus was not opposed to works of righteousness seen by others; He was opposed to hypocrisy — pretending to be something that you are not in order for others to think better of you. The need to have a clean inside does not prelude the possibility of washing the outside as well. Ideally, the outward act reflects the inward man. As James wrote, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18; ESV).”
When our inward man is filled with joy, hope, love, patience and kindness… it follows naturally that these characteristics will overflow into kind speech, loving deeds, and ready mercy. As Jesus observed, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45; ESV).”
Going back for a moment to the Christmas lights, there is a desire and an expectation, as one drives by and enjoys the various decorations on the various homes, that the outward adornments are reflected by a similar warmth inside, and that the festive air presented to the neighbors is indeed present in the celebrations of the family within the home.
So it is with the disciple of Christ. It is a beautiful thing to see a person living the joyful life of love and peace that Christ brings to His followers. A life well lived can itself bring joy and warmth into the lives of those around, but it is earnestly to be hoped when we see such an outward showing of faith that the inward man is in harmony with the outward, that the deeds seen are simply an adornment to a heart that is in every way pleasing to God. Such a union of inward beauty and outward light is the goal, for it was the very kind of life lived by our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.
The church of Christ invites you to come worship and study with us, as we give thanks to God for the gift and example of His Son, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us at chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.