Hebrews 12:1-2 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In winding down this series on laying aside weights I come to a subject that has not been easy for me to deal with. The reason is not because I don’t know what I think about it, but that it is one of those packages without a handle. Have you ever tried to pick up something that had no handle? It’s not easy. With this, I don’t know for sure where to grab hold of it because there are so many ways it can play itself out in our lives today.
Proverbs 31:30 says, Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised. This verse appears to be speaking in relation to individual women as the last half indicates. But, I want to focus on the phrase “beauty is vain” here.
First of all, please don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with making ourselves attractive in a modest and wholesome manner. I have no problem, as regular readers will well know, with making our homes comfortable, attractive and homelike. My concern about the “beautiful life” is that there is so much vanity available for us to imbibe in a capitalistic world gone crazy. There is a lot that is purely of the world and the flesh. In fact, it is probably safe to say that this subject, like that of perfectionism, is quite close to being a “sin which doth so easily beset us”.
In a number of cultures now there are aspirations to gracious living and “the beautiful life”. These things take on different aspects depending on the group you’re looking at, but there is an obsession with the beautiful life, dream homes, gracious living and being outwardly “gorgeous”. Consumer-driven commercialism, T.V., internet sources, the DIY movement, and more have presented a multitude of ways to become more lovely, stylish, beautiful, etc. The “before and after” images and episodes, which are common, give an added “inspiration” to covet better houses, furniture, décor, clothing, makeup, even faces. (It’s always important to remember that Paul wrote Christians through the Holy Spirit that comparing ourselves among ourselves is not wise! 2 Corinthians 10:12)
This ideal has made its way into the Christendom (meaning all areas of religion that claim anything to do with Christ) in various ways as well. Some groups – Mormons, “Biblical Patriarchy”, Reformed, and Charismatics, to name a few – even put a spiritual connection/obligation on living the beautiful life and having a beautiful family. Among some “christians” it is as if it were a moral duty to present a lovely image to the world. Some even have the ideology that by flaunting their wealth they will impress others; and in the case of some, such as the Dutch Reformed and some mega church gurus, there can be a belief that they are “showing how much God has blessed us” by doing so.
One of the problems we need to confront is the confusion between the beautiful life of gracious living and the beautiful life of holy and grace-filled living.
Growing up in Western Michigan I had the opportunity to see that the beautiful life mentality does not lead to happiness and contentment. One young lady we knew came from “an elegant home” in a “prestigious neighborhood” in the suburbs. Her mother had strict rules for the décor of their house which applied even in the kids’ own rooms. I was in that house once and saw the almost austere gorgeousness on display there. One day this particular young lady had occasion to visit my family’s house. We lived in a parsonage with mismatched trim and carpeting, cheap paneling, etc., which was very plainly and inexpensively decorated. When she came in she exclaimed, “Oh, it’s so cozy!”, and was obviously very pleased. I was rather surprised since our house was so unstylish. Probably the young lady could see that our house was used for love, family comforts, friendship and general amiability rather than as a show piece and investment. She preferred humble comfy to “the beautiful life” in a “dream home” – at least when she met it face to face.
My mom also had two different friends – one a believer and one unsaved – who had all white living rooms in which their children were not allowed. She was totally unimpressed with this kind of décor. Her attitude was that any room in a family home that was such a show piece that it was off limits for the kids was a waste. Can you imagine Jesus Christ being impressed with that? Matthew 19:13-15 Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
My mom lived in numerous small, unimpressive dwellings during their years as missionaries, yet one friend of hers once told her that she envied her because my mom knew what her work for the Lord was. Mrs. Brown (as we’ll call her) had no clear idea apparently. She did try, but she also worked outside the home and spent a lot of time and money making her house and family “beautiful” and redecorating periodically to impress her social club….er…church friends. (Yes, the church you fellowship with can and does affect your thinking about and contentment with your living arrangements!)
My family also knew a lady (a believer) years later who moved her family from one house to another in search of her “dream home” but never found it. She undoubtedly wasted a goodly portion of her husband’s hard earned money purchasing and selling houses in such quick succession.
The common theme that stands out in all of this to me is the emptiness. None of them were fulfilled with their beautiful life, their dream home, or their gorgeous houses. Some were never ultimately satisfied with what they had either. They were always straining toward something better. This disturbs me as I find myself having similar feelings and I don’t want to pour my life work into something that only ends with emptiness. After all is said and done, she who dies with the most beautiful dream home dies.
2 Peter 3:10-11 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
How were the Christian ladies bettered in a way that counted for Christ? They weren’t. We can’t take the things of this life into eternity with us. In the end, perfect house décor, “dream homes” and the beautiful life are all very much of this world and not of the one to come. Somehow, in light of the things that Jesus and the apostles taught, they can’t matter all that much. Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. The Lord Jesus said, “…The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20
The apostle Paul asked for some things to be brought to him, 2 Timothy 4:13 The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments. This shows that some things in this life do have value, but they are not the main event in life.
The Dream Life
God created a beautiful world. We’re created in His image, so it also gives us pleasure to make attractive spaces and things. But, beauty living is overrated. A perfect living room or dining room or even a house is not essential. It is not next to godliness, and often it isn’t even comfortable. Comfortable houses may be pleasant but they probably aren’t elegant and may not be “beautiful”. [Painting by Carl Wilhelm Hols]
Having a house to keep, clean, decorate, etc. is time consuming, no doubt about it. But having your “dream house” can be so much more consuming. Mandy at Biblical Homemaking found to her chagrin that having her large “dream house” required much more work than the small house they left behind. Now she struggles to stay focused on God and people. He has to remind her more to think on Him than He did back when they were in the small house. Link: letting go of your dream house (Disclaimer on versions other than KJV and possibly some content.)
Having a beautiful life can also tempt us to pride. It can tempt us to think selfishly, as the rich man in the parable who decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Yet God called him a fool! Luke 12:18-20 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
1 Timothy 6:9 says, But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. More possessions mean more trouble, more work, more complications, more things to go wrong. Living “the beautiful life” requires more money, more time on pointless things (manicures, pedicures, yearly fashions, new cars, new paint, etc.), more care for weeds and thorns rather than for the fruit unto righteousness. Luke 8:14 And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. The beautiful life can choke us and make us unfruitful. These things are weights that need to be laid aside.
We all feel the pull of things and of making things beautiful, elegant, pretty, cute, etc. Books, T.V. shows and internet sources are rampant with such things. This is the reason that Home Depot sponsors HGTV. Many of those shows make people want to “improve” their life ($$$) in some way. The DIY movement entices us by saying we can have “the beautiful life” at a fraction of the cost – but what is the work and time investment? Don’t be fooled into wasting your life on projects to “keep up with the Joneses on a shoestring”. We need to weigh things carefully so that we don’t spend our time and resources wastefully. We need to weigh our motives and discern if we have a good reason for some project, or if it is just a desire to keep up with the rest of the pack living the beautiful life. I know. I struggle with these things myself.
Some of us love to garden, but that also can become a snare. The creation of God in flowers and plants is beautiful, but it can be overdone. My desire at this point in my life is to make gardens that are less work to maintain and that also produce some useful things while still being beautiful to look at (mixing herbs and flowers). Gardening is very therapeutic, so it can offer a great escape from stress, depression and anxiety, but as with all beautifying ventures, it can be overdone. I’ve seen yards that obviously consumed huge amounts of time to be maintained.
Some people also get caught up in the beautiful family image. The late Vision Forum Ministries and other “Biblical Patriarchy” groups encourage this to a great extent. Some Christians colleges do as well. Beware of the vanity of pride that comes from showing off beautiful daughters with long flowing hair and handsome sons all dressed to certain specifications. It is very enticing to think that we can exhibit spiritual things with beautiful outward appearances. 1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. [Painting by Walther Firle]
What is the Christian’s dream home?
Heaven. John 14:1-3 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
What is “The Beautiful life”?
Walking with God and doing His work and will. Psalms 90:16-17 Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.
Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
The fruit of the Spirit - Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Beautifying the inner man - 1 Peter 3:3-4 Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
What is Gracious Living?
Living in the grace of God - 1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain… (What a thing to be able to say with the apostle Paul!)
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
The Ministry of Less
I have a friend who has a “beautiful home”, or it could be if she made it that way. She has decorated it to be comfortable and pleasant up to a point, but it is not pristine or gorgeous inside. It is, in fact, a bit humble. I thought it was a bit odd at first until I had occasion to visit some Christians who have a show place style house. Then I understood. She did not want to make other Christians who live in humble houses feel ashamed or intimidated when they visited her house. She herself had formerly had a nice house in the suburbs and she figured it out when she moved to another area. She intentionally made their current house plainer so that it would be comfortable to all.
A dream home or beautiful life in the worldly sense is not necessary to serve Christ. In fact, perfect homes often limit the amount of serving that can be done in them because they are too perfect to be comfortable and useful. They tend to be obviously expensive and self-aware. And then too, when we spend less time puttering around our “beautiful things”, we will have more time to spend actually ministering to others. [Painting by Margaret Isabel Dicksee]
The seduction of fine things is also that they are difficult to hold lightly. It is hard to take joyfully the spoiling of your goods when you’ve put a lot of focus on your earthly possessions. Hebrews 10:34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. It is also hard to extend hospitality without grudging. 1 Peter 4:9-10 Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
My own grandparents struggled with this in the first house they actually owned. Because they’d always lived in parsonages, mission houses and rentals, they had a hard time not putting too much value on the house they owned in their retirement. The living room in that house had a white carpet when they bought it, but instead of changing it (it was a small room) or having it dyed, they covered the main thoroughfare with runners and plastic and then fussed about any stains or marks guests got on the carpet. I never understood their behavior when they could have afforded to change the carpet and avoid the worry. It really was an unnecessary weight.
This isn’t to say that it’s “evil” to have some luxuries or nice things in this life. But, don’t set your heart on them. Don’t give yourself to them. Sometimes God gives us some fleshly comforts to enjoy for a season – good vanity to help us stay in the fight or to keep us in good health so that we can serve Him more effectively. We will know the difference if we’re honest with ourselves about these things. Sometimes, for His reasons, God gives much. It is not evil or wicked to enjoy that while it lasts, contrary to what some Mennonites and Amish might teach. But, we need to remember Proverbs 23:4-5, Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.
The luxuries of this life are Of This Life. Paul said he learned to be content with both much and little. This is the key. Philippians 4:11-13 Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
So, these are some weights we need to lay aside -
The beautiful life
The worldly, earthly versions of these things are all choking thorns that make us unfruitful. Paul said, Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, Philippians 3:8
Remember the story of Mary and Martha? When Jesus visited Martha’s house she became very distracted with serving her guests.
Luke 10:38-42 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Jesus was not looking for a “beautiful home” and lovely family, a beautifully appointed table, an elegant meal, amazing “foodie” dishes with rare ingredients, fine china, clean carpets, dust-free mantles, immaculate guest chambers, etc. No. He said ONE thing is NEEDFUL – sitting at His feet hearing His word.
God’s creation is full of beauty, true. But, most of that is free! Beautiful faces and bodies still age, become ill, die and rot. Beautiful homes and things may perish in fire or flood, or be stolen; and you can’t take them with you. Beautiful gardens may die or be plucked up by the next owner. Beautiful clothes do little to nothing for the inside person. Beautiful families may or may not grow up to love and serve God.
If you get nothing else out of this please remember these two things:
1. Beauty is vain (Prv. 31:30).
2. The needful thing is to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His word.
Matthew 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Martha and Mary – A poem by Annie Johnson Flint