We are each a display case for God’s glory. We are meant to be a visible image of the invisible God.
This leads to two questions for personal reflection:
1) What sort of case am I?
I always make the mistake of going to the store hungry. I go with five or ten things in mind and leave with a basket full of everything that looked good. I have one dinner plan figured out and intend to buy what I need to make it, but suddenly I have a week of meals planned (and not a few snacks).
Most of the time, I hesitate to try new things. I know what I like and I stick with it.
My wife is a bit more brave.
She’ll come home with a new product and open the package, ready to give it a chance.
And immediately she gets upset.
“Are you kidding me? They needed this huge bag for that little bit? Half the bag is empty! And look at this box! It has three inches of empty space at the top! What did I spend my money on?!”
The outside doesn’t always reflect what’s within.
The gimmick of false advertising is true in other areas of life. Things aren’t always what they seem.
The display case isn’t there to attract attention. It’s meant to reveal what’s inside. But sometimes our ‘displays’ can be calculated to look good, drawing the eyes of the audience to us instead of to God.
Imagine going to a museum for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit. You pay your money, get your tickets in hand, and head inside. When you get to the viewing room, you’re treated to a series of gold-layered, jewel-encrusted, ornately crafted cases. They’re so extravagantly decorated that you can’t even see the contents. Sure, they look great, but what’s the point?
Jesus spoke of the hypocritical Pharisees as whitewashed tombs made to look pretty but full of death and uncleanness. They were cups washed on the outside to look useful but full of spiritual dirt and grime. They did their good deeds for people to see, so that everyone knew how holy they supposedly were.
Sure, they looked great, but they missed the point.
The case can attract attention in another way.
A few years back, we heard about a zoo on Okinawa, and we were excited to take the kids to see the variety of animals. Our kids had not been to any stateside zoos yet, so this was a unique experience for them. We arrived and started the tour through all the various pens and cages, and they were delighted to see living animals they had previously only read about.
But my wife and I were shocked.
The cages were dirty. Most of the animals seemed miserable. The grounds appeared untended. Our kids didn’t know any better, but we had seen well-kept zoos before.
We couldn’t enjoy the sights because the poor condition of the displays stole our attention from the animals we came to see.
Paul wrote about vessels and containers in a house. He said some were made for honor and some for dishonor. Paul encouraged his protégé to live a godly life and thus be recognized as a vessel of honor.
A friend of mine modernized this analogy by talking about porcelain.
“A Lladro figurine is made of porcelain, and so is the toilet. Which would you aspire to be compared to?”
If the display case is covered with filth, or if it’s covered with dust from lack of attention, no one will see what’s within. Inside, there may be great treasure or beauty, but the ugliness on the outside keeps people away.
I think of the many times I have seen people pushed away from the gospel by the hatred, pride, or condescension of the messengers. Similarly, one grave mistake or angry word can ruin our reputation and close the door of opportunity to share the good news.
Sometimes we need to dust off that display case!
We don’t want fake “picture perfect” lives or public good deeds to become a misleading distraction. But we also don’t want people to refuse to look closer based on the mess they see on the outside.
That leads to the second question:
2) What is on display in my life?
Military veterans are often presented a “shadow box” upon retirement. The design and contents of the shadow box tell the whole story of a military career. All the awards and medals the individual won will be displayed. Rank insignia occupy a prominent spot. Unit patches may be shown, and various emblems or badges that identify specialties will also be featured. A folded flag is often the centerpiece.
Imagine a beautiful hand-carved wooden case with a rich varnish that shines in the light. There’s an engraved golden plate on the bottom with rank, name, date of enlistment, and date of retirement. Underneath that is a funny quote selected by friends and peers. The pristine glass window reveals a lush navy blue velvet interior.
And it’s empty.
Or worse yet, the few medals and stripes leave more navy blue empty space than they cover up.
What achievements are in my shadow box, I wonder.
Are they all based on what I used to be long ago? “I used to lead worship… I went on that missions trip one time… I led a Bible study for a few months…”
Are the contents of my display case even worthy of public viewing?
Think of the peril of public ministry. Far too often, we see the decline and fall of some notable preacher as the secret doors of their ‘display case’ are opened for all to see. It’s easy for me to point a finger and judge. My life isn’t in the public eye.
Yet the world around me is walking past the exhibition of my life every single day. Is there something in that case that tugs at their attention? Is there anything of value, anything of interest? Or do they only see what they’ve seen before?
The display case isn’t made just to hold stuff from years past. It’s not made for great achievements I will do “someday.” And there’s no secret compartment that is completely hidden from the eyes of others.
What sort of case am I setting out for the world to see?
What have I put within it?
I was made to be a visible image of God, an exhibition for the eyes of the world to see His glory.
They’ve got their tickets in hand.
Is the display worth their attention?