Originally published on our site on September 13, 2009:
First, a few words. Several weeks ago I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me with this thought:
“Phil, you look at others with eyes of flesh. You see as man sees. You need to see as God sees. Look with eyes of faith. ‘For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” (1 Sam 16:7)
The following transcript of this sermon excerpt is what God has used to pierce my heart recently. I did not find this transcript somewhere, but wrote it myself through listening intently to this sermon because as I listened and transcribed I could feel it changing my heart. I wish that everyone I know and love would hear it, read it and be changed by it. It’s just that powerful.
To find a full recording of the sermon by CD or mp3, visit http://www.gospelinlife.com/the-temptation-of-beauty-5417.html
The Temptation of Beauty – Sermon Excerpt Regarding Proverbs 11:16, 22
Dr. Timothy J. Keller
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
The idolatry, the obsession, the over-value of physical beauty and sexual attractiveness, … What amazes me are these two verses, is that it actually is showing how both men and women back then and especially now are guilty of it.
Verse 22, which we’re looking at is actually a slam and a critique of men, that’s the reason why the beautiful person in this proverb is a woman. Why? This is saying that the habitual and widespread habit of men to objectify, dehumanize and commodify women by evaluating them almost strictly on their looks, is destructive foolishness. When men evaluate women almost strictly on their looks; when men differentiate their regard for the woman and the way in which they treat the woman on the basis of where they are on the looks spectrum, it’s destructively foolish.
Men, let me just suggest that if you don’t think this is true, you’re probably not going to see it in yourself, so watch the other men. Look around you for two days and watch. And you will see it. It’s enormously obvious.
Now why have I asked you to do this exercise and not the women? The women already know it. They’ve seen it. And it not only erodes their trust of us, it not only has damaged terribly the relationships between the genders, and it continues to, but it also terribly, (as I’m going to show you in a second), damages their own self-image and self-regard. It is psychologically and socially destructively foolish. That is how the male idolatry, over-obsession, over-value of sexual attractiveness and physical beauty is played out.
But the women, it plays out in women’s lives too, and the example there is verse 16. “Beautiful women obtain wealth and violent men get rich.”
Now the word, “wealth” is the translation of the Hebrew word “kabod,” which is the word that means, “glory,” and that means a lot more than wealth, as I’ve often mentioned here. The word, “glory” literally in the Bible means, “importance,” “significance.”
And notice what it’s saying? Men, not all men, but men, habitually, use coercive power in order to get prestige, and women, not all women, but many women, use looks. To get what? Significance!
And here’s how it works out in women’s lives: Too many women tie their self-regard, almost completely, to a greater degree, to their looks, to how their face looks, to how their body looks, to how their shape looks, to how they dress. Now, you realize if it’s true that if women have their own particular form of this pathology, and men have their own form of this pathology, but the pathologies are inter-locked, the pathologies are inter-dependent, the pathologies aggravate one another and they fuel one another, so it gets worse and worse and worse as the years go by!
This is serious. Let me meditate before we get to the solution. Let me meditate for a minute about just how serious this really is:
When we under-value sex by making it into a product or an appetite, we de-humanize the other. But when we over-value sex. When we over-value physical beauty and sexual attractiveness, we de-humanize ourselves.
Let me show you for a minute how women and men do that. How’s it dehumanize women? Well, we talked about it and maybe it’s kind of obvious, but it’s obvious that even back then, there was a peculiar temptation for women to just tie their self-worth to what’s on the outside. Instead of caring about your character, why should you, (this is how I think women think), “Why should I care about my character when nobody else in the world does?!”
It’s always been a huge temptation. But there’s something particularly poisonous and pathological in this regard for our own culture. And here’s all I know:
Eating disorders are 3-5 times higher amongst (the rate is 3-5 times higher) women in industrialized nations than poor nations, and it’s twice as high amongst college educated women as amongst non-college educated women. And what this seems to mean is, the closer you get to the heart of western civilization, the closer you get to the heart of western culture; the more successful you are, in fact, from what I can tell, the closer you get to Los Angeles, and New York, and London, and Paris; the closer you get to the big cities, the culture forming wombs of western society, the more women are bombarded with a sense that they’re fat and ugly almost no matter who they are!
Now that’s devastating.
On the other hand, it’s de-humanizing to men. And it’s dehumanizing to men in two ways. First it’s dehumanizing because of this addiction to beauty we have pornography. Now it’s almost impossible for me to talk about pornography without sounding like a minister.
And who in the world wants to hear a minister? So don’t, don’t listen to me. Here’s what I suggest, go to, it’s online, go to the October 20th, 2003 edition of New York Magazine. What astounded me about that edition, was New York Magazine (and if you know anything about it, it’s slick, it’s glossy and it’s after the hip, it’s after the young New Yorker, it laughs at anything that even looks like sexual self-restraint, it’s liberated, it wants you to think it’s liberated, it wants you to be liberated you know, every way) and that’s why it astounded me that when they actually turned to the subject of pornography, even they had to be realistic. There’s story after story in there about guys who are admitting that they are hooked, that they are spending hours on the internet, they’re spending hours on the computer. They know it, they know this isn’t right but they can’t stop. And it’s utterly damaging male-female relationships.
And here’s the reason why; To get intimacy with a woman, with a real woman, it’s complicated! I mean, you know, they’re complicated! It’s scary! You don’t know what you’re doing! Why do it when you’ve got this?
It’s the escape. It’s the false intimacy. It’s the poisonous intimacy. It’s just undermining the incentive, it’s undermining the ability. And then if you do move out into a relationship with women, real women aren’t like that! They don’t look like that, they don’t act like that! You’re not ready. And women if you don’t know that the men are damaged by pornography for relationships, then you’re being naive yourself. You’re not being wise.
But there’s a second way in which this addiction to sexual beauty and physical beauty is hurting men, and that is the way in which they determine who they’re going to date. The way in which they determine who they’re going to mate with and who they’re going to marry. What they do is they go by 80% of the women they don’t even think about them. They’re just not pretty enough, they just go right by them. They don’t even think about them look at their character, they don’t look.
Then they narrow down to 20% that they’ll even think about. Now when you’re talking to some of the 20% that they think are pretty enough to consider, and they find a shallow person and they say, “Oh, I’m not interested in her, she’s shallow.”
Oh, she’s shallow?
You see, in other words I have just gone by 80% of the women in the world, I haven’t even looked to see what their character is like, I’m not even thinking about them. Oh, that’s really deep. That’s not shallow? In other words, you’re saying, “Oh I’ve rejected her because she’s shallow. I want someone who’s beautiful AND deep.”
Well here’s the problem, you’re not deep. Because what you’ve done, (and this is creating a great deal of alienation and a tremendous amount of isolation), there’s all kinds of people that would be wonderful dates and wonderful friends and wonderful mates for you, that you’re not even thinking about. And no wonder you’re finding it so hard and you’re so scared. And of course they’re all so isolated because they know they’re being passed over in various ways; Listen, this is serious. This is creating isolation, this is creating alienation in our western culture at an enormous rate.
“Well,” somebody says, “OK, you’re a minister and it’s your job to alarm me. Well I’m alarmed, and so I’m not going to give in, I’m not going to be a shallow person, I’m not just going to look at the skin, I’m not just going to look at appearance, I’m not going to over-obsess over beauty, my own beauty or other people’s, I am going to change!”
“I am going to try! I am going to leave here and I am going to try harder.”
It won’t be enough. And I’ll tell you why it’s not going to be enough; I don’t need to look to the Bible, let me tell you why. The psychologists and even the evolutionary biologists will tell you, you will never break this enormous power that beauty and sexual beauty and physical beauty has on us and our culture today, just by trying.
First of all the psychologists will tell you, one of the reasons we’re obsessed with beauty, we either need it in others, “I need to be beautiful or I need to be with the beautiful.” One of the reasons why psychologists say we’re so obsessed with outward beauty is because we don’t like what’s inside. We know we don’t like what’s inside. There’s a shame, or there’s a guilt or there’s a feeling, “I haven’t lived up.” And if I’m really great looking on the outside, or if I’m really with somebody who’s great looking, then somehow that feels like it covers the unsightliness on the inside. Now you know that’s what the psychologists will tell you. The obsession with beauty comes from not feeling all that wonderful about what’s on the inside; not all that confident that you’re lovable.
And of course that’s what the Bible says anyway. In Genesis 3 says the minute we experienced alienation from God, the minute we experienced a sense of shame, we needed to cover up, we needed something to cover that sense of nakedness that we felt, we needed cosmetics, we needed a great outfit. We needed beauty.
But until we are radically sure that we are loved and lovable, we are not going to be free from this desperate need to be with or to be beautiful.
Secondly, the evolutionary biologists go even further, and I think they’re right about this. They say, “Why do you think that we’re obsessed with beauty? Why do men dump their wives for younger women? Why do women desperately try to continue to look young? Why are we so obsessed with beauty?” They say, “Because we want to survive and we don’t want to admit that we’re going to die.”
This is a way of denying that. We don’t want to admit our mortality. And until we’re completely free of fear of death, and completely free from any inner shame or feeling of spiritual inadequacy, you’re never going to overcome this obsession, this over-valuing of physical beauty and sexual attractiveness. So, you need a power coming in to your life if you’re going to overcome it.
Where do we get that power? It’s not going to work just by trying hard. Here’s where we get that power. Let me tell you where to get that power.
At the end of Proverbs, the sage says something beautiful. He says, “I look at the wonders of creation, the eagles soaring, the ships sailing, I look at the beauties of creation and I see them all reflected in human sexuality.” He says that you don’t understand human sexuality unless you see in human sexuality the glories of creation.
But Paul, the apostle, the New Testament, goes one up on the sage; and says you don’t understand sexuality unless you understand the glories of redemption. And Paul says in Ephesians 5, “Husbands love your wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her by washing with water through the word to present her to Himself, a radiant church without stain or wrinkle or any blemish …”
Paul says, “Husbands, you’re never going to understand; Wives, you’re never going to understand married love and sexuality unless you understand that God Himself is your lover who has died to make you beautiful.” That’s what that verse says.
What is that all about?
Ah, just this. God made us not just to be His subjects. Not just to be His sheep. But to be His lovers.
When you’re in love with somebody, you can’t not think of them. You think of them all the time. You’re reading a book, you think of them. You’re going some place you think of them. Even if they’re not around you. When you’re in love, you’re thinking of them all the time.
Look at what God said, He wanted in His relationship with us. He wanted us to center everything on Him, He wanted us to do everything in the name of His glory, He wanted us to be obsessed with His glory. He wanted to be pre-eminent in every area of our lives.
You say, “Oh my goodness! Is that over doing it? Is that overbearing?”
No! He wanted us to be in love with Him. He just wanted us to treat Him the way we treat people when we fall in love with them. He wanted us to see Him as the ultimate beauty, which He is! But we turned, the Bible says, and gave our heart to other things.
“Well,” says God, in the beginning of Genesis, in the beginning of human history, “I will get you back. I love you, but I’ve lost you, but I’m coming to get you back.”
And so He comes in the person of the Messiah. He comes in the person of Jesus Christ. But here’s what’s so interesting. Here’s our lover come back to win our hearts, and yet we’re told in Isaiah 53, which describes the Messiah, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”
Now there’s two Hebrew words that are used there. “Beauty,” and “appearance,” which can also be translated “shapeliness,” that are the same two words that describe Rachel, Jacob’s wife Rachel, who was one of the great beauties of the Old Testament.
It’s almost like Isaiah is saying something about Jesus in terms of Rachel. Now do you remember the story about Jacob, Leah and Rachel? Jacob was a typical guy. He had a messed up life, he didn’t like himself, and when he was working for Laban and Laban had two daughters, and one of them was gorgeous, Rachel.
The same two Hebrew words. She was beautiful and shapely. She was one of the most incredibly beautiful women the Bible talks about. And Jacob said, “If I could have her as my wife, then my life would be healed! I could merge with the beauty. Then I wouldn’t feel so bad about myself, then I’d feel good about myself. And he wanted Rachel, but he didn’t want Leah.
Leah, the other sister, was the girl nobody wanted. Her father didn’t want her. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying her! And then Jacob didn’t want her, because even though he married her, (he had to marry her) he spent all the rest of his life ignoring her. She was the girl nobody wanted. But get this. God chose not the beautiful Rachel, but the girl nobody wanted, the homely girl, the cross-eyed girl, the overweight girl, to be the one through whom the Messiah came into the world. To be the one who brought the Messianic seed into the world.
Now Jesus Christ, the Lord, the lover of our souls, who’s come back to get us, deliberately comes not as Rachel, but as Leah. Deliberately comes as the un-Rachel! That’s what Isaiah 53 is saying. The un-beauty queen. The one who didn’t even get invited to the prom! The girl or the boy who nobody wanted.
Why would He deliberately come externally unsightly? Why would He come like that?
To show you real beauty.
The only way you’re going to be, I’m going to be, the only way that we’re going to be shaken out of the illusions that are distorting our lives is if we see this. Jesus Christ was beautiful! He had all the glory, but He emptied Himself of His beauty and came to earth to die for our sins. He came in to a world that’s obsessed with power; He had no power. With beauty; He had no beauty. With credentials; He had no credentials. And so we cast Him aside, we rejected Him, we killed Him!
Paul says so in Ephesians 5. He lost His beauty and became the ultimate person of character who on the inside was gorgeous, on the outside wasn’t, to die for us, not because we were beautiful but to make us beautiful.
It says He died to make us radiant and spotless and without blemish! Jesus Christ shows us real beauty; sacrificial love, character (even though you’re unsightly on the outside), and loving unlovely people in order to make them lovely. Beautifying people with your love.
Why did He do it for us?
It says in Isaiah 53. It says, “The results of His suffering He will see and be satisfied.”
What’s the results of His suffering? Us!
See, Here’s how I use beauty in my life. I use it when I’m exhausted. When I can’t go on, that’s when I go to the ocean and listen to the waves. That’s when I go north and look at the leaves. That’s when I put on my favorite movies and watch the most beautiful passages. That’s when I put on the music that I find the most beautiful. And beauty is what gets me to keep on going!
What kept Jesus going?
Through the cross, what kept Him going? You and me. The prospects of us, in His arms, was the beauty that kept Him going. When you see that, then finally your heart will be melted out of all of its distorted understandings of beauty because that’s beautiful.
See when you see an ugly man, Jesus Christ, but who was beautiful on the inside, coming to love us, not because we were lovely but to make us lovely, to the degree that sinks into your heart, to the degree that you finally see, “I am loved!” That’s the end of your shame and your spiritual inadequacy. To the degree that you see, “I am going to be resurrected!” that’s the end of your fear of mortality. Only that will ever break the hold that beauty has got on you and me. He had no beauty or majesty that we should desire Him externally, but He had the only beauty that will transform your life if you merge with it. So do it.
Let us pray.
Thank you Father for giving us what we need to overcome some of the distortions that our culture gives to us, that our own hearts bring to us. We want to be wise we don’t want to be stupid about sex and about beauty and we pray that you’d make us wise by looking at your Son, Jesus Christ, who though He was beautiful lost His beauty that we would become beautiful in your sight and get the only beauty that will last forever. We ask that you would change the way in which we deal with one another, because we know that. Make us a community of people who look to the heart and not on the outward appearance. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.