What Is Beautiful?
By Aleksandra Radmanovic
I recently did a search for how often the word “beautiful” appears in the Bible.
I found out that the Old Testament is full of beautiful women. Sara was beautiful. (See Genesis 12:11) Rebecca was very beautiful. (See Genesis 24:16) Rachel was lovely in form and beautiful. (See Genesis 29:17) Job’s daughters were more beautiful than any other women in the land. (See Job 42:15) The list goes on and on. I think my favorite, though, is Abigail. Abigail was beautiful and intelligent. (See 1 Samuel 25:3) What more would a woman desire be said of her?
I came to the conclusion that in this ancient biblical culture where spiritual qualities were more sought after than they are today, what was good, wholesome, and godly was also considered beautiful. And so a godly woman was considered beautiful both by God and by men. Beauty wasn’t so much about the outer shell, proportions, sizes, and shapes.
But what particularly caught my attention on this topic was a short story from the Gospel of Mark:
Mark 14:3: “While he [Jesus] was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.”
I had read this story before, but it had never registered with me that the woman actually broke the jar. Since the perfume was extremely expensive, the alabaster jar in which the perfume was held was probably worth a lot as well. Yet she broke it, possibly because she wanted to demonstrate that Jesus was worth everything to her. She was going to give Him her all, the best, the most precious and expensive thing she had, withholding nothing.
Mark 14:4: Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume?”
It is so easy to judge things in a superficial way. The depth of someone’s motivation is hard to discern at times, especially when they act in an uncommon way.
Mark 14:5: “It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
Mark 14:6: “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Here is the word I was looking for, beautiful, defined as “that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object of delight approximates one’s conception of an ideal.” Jesus saw into her heart, past what was the proper, reasonable, usual, or expected act of someone’s faith and religious conviction, and proclaimed that to Him, her actions were ideal. And here we also see Jesus’ conviction to stand up and defend one who is misunderstood and harshly and unjustly judged.
Mark 14:7: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.”
The world is full of deprivation and needy causes, but opportunities to express love to those who mean the most to us are limited.
Mark 14:8: “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare me for my burial.”
The little thing that she could do meant a lot to the one she loved and believed in.
Mark 14:9: “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
This woman believed in Jesus and she was motivated to act on her belief. She used what she had, did what she could, with originality and creativity, and wasn’t afraid to show it. That’s being genuine and authentic all the way. It made her famous and painted a fine picture of what God considers beautiful.
There are countless ways to serve God and express our love and adoration to Him. When the inspiration comes from within our hearts and we are true to ourselves, our actions, just like the actions of this woman, will leave a legacy for others to follow into the further beauties of God and His Spirit.
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Truth and goodness and beauty, are but different faces of the same All.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)
One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since He is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve Him in our neighbor; which He receives as if done to Himself in person, standing visibly before us.
—John Wesley (1703–1791)
If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.
—A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
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