Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Last night, a new Miss America was crowned in Las Vegas. It all began in 1921 as a publicity stunt for Atlantic City, New Jersey, but it has since evolved into a larger competition, with thousands of dollars in scholarships going to contestants for their talent, their beauty, and even their contributions to society. The top prize is a large scholarship and the year-long opportunity to bring humanitarian causes into the spotlight. But if you've watched the news over the years, you realize that behind all the glitz and glamour, those young ladies are just as prone to sin and degradation as anyone else, with several well-publicized scandals rocking the organization every few years. As today's proverb reminds us, "charm is deceitful."
But the verses above are not just about women who misuse their God-given beauty for personal gain. By saying that charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, Solomon is also telling us about the fickle heart of anyone who does not love and fear God. Shakespeare wrote that true love "does not alter when it alteration finds" - i.e. love that is born from faith is constant and true, lasting through seasons and years without wavering. That is a major problem in our world: men and women both look at outer beauty as a primary criterium for selecting a mate and for maintaining their love. It's truly ridiculous to expect someone NOT to age, not to change and grow, not to mature. And yet, that is what happens, and fickle folk shed their spouses like winter coats as they look for more beautiful - i.e. younger - mates. To borrow from Ecclesiastes, chasing after beauty is "vanity and chasing after the wind."
"Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
Flesh is weak in that alone it cannot accomplish God's will. Flesh and bone lead us astray and deceive us into thinking things are better if we serve our lusts, and then as flesh fades - our faces change, our joints ache, our minds wander - we grasp at anything to try to renew that flesh. And yet, beauty IS fleeting, and charm is just an outward show that often is not part of one's inward being.
27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
We will die. That is our lot, the truly inevitable result of Adam's sin. We live for our appointed time, our lives measured by God and woven into the warp and weft of His divine purpose. Then comes the judgment, and that is when we are either saved or condemned. There is no in-between. And so Solomon concludes that fearing God is the rule by which we should live our lives. It is no accident that the book of Ecclesiastes concludes the same way.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man's all.
14 For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.
"Including every secret thing," he says. Including the things not seen on the surface, the things that people do not see as beautiful, charming, graceful or noble. Including the inward portion of the heart. Including the motivations and desires of our souls, the hidden fears and covert failures of our character. No matter how much we desire and achieve success or fame or wealth or power, God will not judge on those things. God will judge on how our love and fear of Him has shaped our lives, how we have written His Word and His commandments on our hearts and lived by them.
And any praise we receive will not be for our glory, but for our service.
"His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'"
Our faith in God and His salvation, our respectful and awe-filled fear of the Father, our love for His beloved Son as Lord and Savior: these are the things God will judge, the things that He will see behind our masks of beauty and charm. While our hair goes grey and wrinkles crease our faces, while our bodies creak and sag and slow down, our faith and love should blossom and grow. This is the end of the matter: our fear of God should strengthen and sustain us, that our love for Him should bring us closer to Him, and that His love for us should enter into our hearts to bring us eternal life even as our mortal lives end. Then we will indeed enter into the joy of our Lord and receive the praise only He can give.
Father God, blessed be Your name in all the earth. Where beauty and charm and success flee, there You will be to help us grow and flourish in You. Where human desires deceive and change, You, Lord, are true and constant. Thank You, Lord God, for being the same for all ages, and thank You for Your salvation that even today is transforming me to eternal life as my mortal life fades. To You alone be all glory and praise. Amen.