Appearance Management for the Soul

appearance blog desires pharisees soul soul care Jan 12, 2022

Doesn’t the title of this post make you cringe? It sure did for me (Alan). But the irony is that it’s not very hard to pretend all is well in my soul when it really isn’t. It’s the sort of thing Jesus pointed out to the Jewish leaders with whom he was often in conflict.


“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26 NIV)


Jesus’s “woes” to the Pharisees are the exact opposite of his “blesseds” to the crowds. And this woe in particular regards our tendency to manage our appearance in front of others. When we focus our attention on how we appear, managing our visible behavior at the cost of inward honesty, we are dooming ourselves to the split personality of hypocrisy. At times I have given far too much attention to what is happening on the outside of my life at the expense of what is actually going on inside.


Recently I was discussing this with a person I counsel. He shared that a ministry colleague believed spiritual formation was little more than a bunch of self-indulgent navel-gazing that had nothing to do with the important realities of ministry. And some of it probably is.


But I can easily imagine a Pharisee saying something like that in Jesus’s day. But Jesus urges them to first address their hearts and their bent desires. If they are full of greed and self-indulgence on the inside, it’s only a matter of time before that flows over into their behavior, even if at first it’s just in their hidden private lives.


Desires distanced from God cannot be satisfied, and all our efforts to that end are subject to the inevitable law of diminishing returns. There will come a moment of sloppiness or tiredness when those hidden cravings erupt in the presence of others.


If we first give our attention to outward appearances, it’s like mopping up a wet bathroom floor and noticing that it’s still wet when we’re done. We never look around to notice that the toilet is overflowing. Fix the overflowing toilet. Then mop the floor. First address the source of our messiness, then the outside will really take care of itself. Staring at the outward causes us to be blind to the inward.



  • In what ways do you find yourself managing how others see you? Does it help? What might that orientation cost you? What would it look like to invest that attention and energy in cooperating with how Jesus wants to make you whole inside?