When you look at yourself, what do you see?
The story goes that a husband and wife were sitting at the counter in a diner, enjoying a cup of coffee, when the man nudged his spouse and said, "Honey, look at that old couple at the end of the bar! Someday, that will be us!" His wife glanced in that direction, then replied with some amusement, "But dear, don't you realize that's a mirror at the end of the bar? That's us!"
Indeed, our mental self-image can be far from the reality of our situation. We seldom see ourselves as others see us. Yet if we are to grow in life, we need to have a proper mental image of ourselves—and of those around us.
We often tend to evaluate people by their outward appearance. For example, someone who is well groomed, well dressed and well spoken is usually afforded more respect and attention than someone who lacks those attributes. While this in itself is not an evil practice—and indeed there are times where grooming and attire are important—a wrong emphasis on this may lead us to be misled by a smooth-talking fraud, or to overlook the fine character and sound values of someone who may not be sophisticated or cosmopolitan in appearance.
Certainly, we should always put our best foot forward, and first impressions do last. Yet, we must not let this overshadow our appreciation of the vital attributes of good character, kindness and honesty. Taking the time to really get to know a person is absolutely essential if we want to determine who he or she really is.
The Bible contains some pointed instructions on this subject, from which we can learn valuable lessons. For example, when God rejected Saul because of his stubborn attitude and disobedience, Samuel was instructed to select a new king for Israel. The process led to the discovery of a young man whom no one had even considered at first.
Samuel first observed one of Jesse's sons who appeared to be a good choice, "But the Lord said to Samuel, '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).
After meeting Jesse's other sons, none of whom God found acceptable, young David was summoned from the field where he had been caring for his father's sheep. No one had thought of David, yet God saw something in him that others had overlooked. God's judgment was proved, as David overcame many obstacles over a period of years to become the greatest king of Israel.
James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, wrote on this subject in the New Testament. "My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, 'You sit here in a good place,' and say to the poor man, 'You stand there,' or, 'Sit here at my footstool,' have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?" And then, he continues, "If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin" (James 2:1–4, 8–9).
In order to be well-rounded, and to be self-aware so that we can continue to grow, each of us needs to maintain an accurate self-image—one that is healthy but also realistic. And we should be equally careful to follow the admonition of the Apostle James and avoid showing partiality in our dealings with others, especially based on appearances. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "now we see in a mirror, dimly."
Thankfully, the time will yet come when, in the Family of God, we will all know each other in truth. Request our booklet, The World Ahead: What Will It Be Like? to learn more about that wonderful soon-coming time.