***originally written for Something Beautiful Ministries on March 19, 2014***
Vanity is defined as excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements or the quality of being worthless or futile. Synonyms include words such as conceit, narcissism, self-love, self-admiration, self-absorption, and egotism; as well as uselessness, pointlessness, worthlessness, and fruitlessness.
In all of that right there, I think there is enough to know why vanity is not a beautiful trait to have- and yet, it’s something that most of us, even those of us who suffer from severe insecurities possess.
Self-love. Self-admiration. Self-absorption. What do all of these have in common? SELF. Vanity is “all about me.” How lovely a person who’s life and mind is absorbed by themselves? They’re not.
“ Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3
When I think of vanity, I think of things like Vanity Fair Magazine, lots of makeup and products, as well as fancy clothes. I think of external and physical beauty that is created. And when I think of someone who is vain, I think of someone who focuses mostly on these things and themselves. And then there are the people who seek only these things in others-for example: men who seek only vain criteria in women. There’s an interesting verse in the Bible related to this:
Jeremiah 4:30 says, “And you, O desolate one, what do you mean that you dress in scarlet, that you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you beautify yourself. Your lovers despise you; they seek your life. “
Desolate one, he calls her, alone, empty, and dry. Uninhabited is listed as an interesting synonym I think. She dresses in scarlet, wears fancy jewelry and apparently a lot of eye liner- and yet she is uninhabited. Beautiful and flashy, yet, there is nothing behind the facade. Also, interesting to note, she is told that her lovers despise her and they seek her life. Back to the men seeking vanity in a woman; her ‘lovers’ (these men) actually despise her. I believe what this means is that even if they think they love her, or exhibit loving behavior, they really only mean to do her harm and cause her spiritual death. They seek to own her attention and her heart for the wrong reasons, and they seek to be what God should be in her life. They want only to use her and for the wrong reasons and it is because of her ornate and decorated beauty that they seek her this way. It does feel nice to get dressed up every now and then, I won’t say it doesn’t, but for what reasons? Vanity. We seek attention to ourselves.
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” Proverbs 31:30
Being healthy is one thing, too, that can also make a quick transition into vanity when being healthy turns into an addiction to exercise or obsession with being fit becomes idolatry.
“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
On that note, there’s more to vanity than just being overly decorated or into our physical appearance. Vanity includes pride in our own achievements and good deeds.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward…” Matthew 6:1-7
The deeds described above might be done “for others” outwardly, but inwardly, they are done for “self” and are done for the attention. Their reward for these acts are not stored up in heaven and will not be given by the Lord- they’re given by the on-lookers who have nothing to offer but a “awe, that’s awfully nice of you.” When I read this, I think mostly of Facebook and other social networking sites. How many of your good deeds wind up online for people to “like” or “favorite?” If you’re only doing things to look like a better person, are you really being a better person or are you faking it for peer approval? Is your heart really in it to do good or to look good?
“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” James 1:26
Also in the realm of deeds, I think its safe to include careers and income here. A lot of people in today’s society are so caught up in the outward appearance that they do have money (whether or not they actually do). The Bible is pretty clear here:
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 5:10
“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:11
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” Hebrews 13:5
All these things, be they good or bad, even in moderation or with the most genuine or right of heart are worthless in comparison to knowing the Lord and being filled with His Holy Spirit. We live in a vain and self-centered world, but we are called to more than that. As it is written in Romans 12:2:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” More on these things to come.
For today, please join me in praying for our hearts to be exposed, our minds to be righted, and more of Him, less of us; more of others, less of self.
“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37