“Why do you have a class that addresses trivial external matters like modesty, gender-distinct clothing, or 1 Cor. 11:2-16? Don’t you know that ‘man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart?’” ~student
1 Samuel 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
1 Samuel 16:7 is often used to silence substantive discussion about externals in the life of a Christian and ranks among the most misunderstood and misused texts in Scripture.
The context of this verse is Samuel's mission to anoint a replacement for King Saul. When Samuel observed the excellent physical characteristics of Jesse's first son, Eliab, he assumed wrongly that he was God's choice.
God corrects Samuel's impression by informing him that whereas Samuel can see only the outside, God can see the inside and His choices are based upon the heart.
There are several reasons why this text does not imply that God is concerned only with heart issues and does not care about externals.
1. God does not say he cares only about the heart. He says that He can see the heart; whereas man cannot.
2. Both the Old and New Testaments give ample evidence that God does care about externals.
For example, God required Israelites to wear tassels on their outer garments to remind them of His commandments (Num. 15:38-39; Deut. 22:12). He required Israelite men not to cut their beards (Lev. 19:7; 21:5). This requirement made Israelite men standout significantly from their upper class ANE counterparts’ highly stylized beards (e.g., here or here). God designed garments for His priests to wear “for glory and beauty” (Exod. 28:2, 40).
In Matt. 6:17 Jesus commands us to wash our faces and anoint our heads when fasting. In other words, make the outside look nice so that the discomfort of fasting does not appear.
In 1 Cor. 11:2-16 God clearly addresses men and women’s hair: long hair on a man is a shame; shorn or shaven hair on a woman is a shame, whereas long hair is a woman’s glory.
In 1 Tim. 2:9-10, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about how women are and are not to adorn their outside.
The idea that teaching about outward appearances is necessarily unspiritual and legalistic flies in the face of Scripture itself. If we teach the whole counsel of God’s word, then we will teach the parts that address, whether explicitly or implicitly (e.g., Rom. 12:2), our “outward appearance.”
The whole counsel of God teaches that our outward appearance should be a consciously designed reflection of our inward love for God and passion for His glory. God looks upon both the heart and the outward appearance. Since man can see only the outward appearance, how much more zealous should we be to live out love’s obedience to our Father’s external commands, that men may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven!