TONY ELDER: Don't let beauty distract you from God

Don't let external beauty distract you from God

Recently as I've driven around, I've noticed the patches of wisteria dotting the landscape along certain stretches of the road. The presence of that plant is especially evident this time of year due to the seasonal blooming of its colorful clusters of flowers. Those violet hangings often brighten up otherwise drab and plain scenery.

I can imagine my young granddaughter, whose favorite colors are pink and purple, sighting those plants and proclaiming their beauty. She might wish that she had some of those purplish flowers hanging in the trees and bushes around her yard. That would be understandable, because as a youngster all you see is the attractiveness of such an object.

But what my granddaughter wouldn't realize is how invasive, damaging and deadly that plant can be as well. It may look pretty in the spring, but if you don't watch it and properly prune it, it can get out of control.

Although it may display outward beauty, underneath it might be strangling the life out of other plants and small trees. I understand that its vines can even damage weak fences, shutters or other objects on which it's allowed to climb.

The Bible warns us against judging strictly by the outward appearance of an object or person (I Samuel 16:7). It reminds us that beauty and charm can be deceitful (Proverbs 31:30). Jesus described the religious leaders of His day as being like "whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27).

Additionally, outward attractiveness is often a major contributor to a person being tempted to do wrong. In humanity's first sin, one of the factors that persuaded Eve to take the forbidden fruit was that "it was pleasant to the eyes" (Genesis 3:6). Could it be that the fruit just happened to be in Eve's favorite color?

When Achan sinned by taking some of the spoil from the overthrow of Jericho for himself, he confessed to having seen and coveted a "beautiful Babylonian garment" (Joshua 7:21).

When David was tempted to follow a path that led to adultery and murder, it began with the recognition that his neighbor's wife "was very beautiful to behold" (II Samuel 11:2).

Don't get me wrong. Beauty is a wonderful gift that God has given us to enjoy. He has created our world, as well as the universe, with some magnificent displays of masterful artistry. God recognizes and appreciates beauty. I believe He wants us to do so as well.

When God was giving Moses instructions about the priesthood, He told him to make the garments of the high priest "for glory and beauty" (Exodus 28:2). God didn't just want the clothing to fit properly and to be practical, but also to look nice.

The problem isn't beauty itself. It's the fact that we tend to be blinded and persuaded by what's outwardly attractive to us. We focus on the cluster of pretty flowers and don't look deeper to see the strong vine that is doing great damage. We reach out for the beautiful rose and don't realize the danger until we get stuck by its thorny stem.

Let's not allow the outward attractiveness of an object, a person, or an activity blind us to its true nature. Let's not be deceived by something that's beautiful, but which would damage our relationship with God or bring death to our souls.

Wisteria is a beautiful plant, but one that has to be kept under control. Don't let anything beautiful but deadly invade your life, get out of control and strangle the spiritual life out of you.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.