Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover – a guest post by Marlena Graves

[Today’s guest post is from Marlena Graves. We didn’t plan it this way, but her post is a great follow-up to my series last week on judging, judges, law and legalism. (Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five.) Follow the links below to explore more of her great writing after you’ve got a taste of it here.]


We often hear the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The point of course, is to move beyond the superficial trappings of a book to its content and to move from the superficial trappings of a person to his or her character. The point is, that a book with a not so great cover may be a treasure. And conversely, a book with an eye-catching cover may prove empty, not delivering what we expected. The cover, the exterior of a book, does convey something doesn’t it? Publishers use book covers to make a good first impression and to lure readers into purchasing the book. A cover is part of the marketing strategy. We are told not to judge a book by its cover, but publishers and marketers know we do. And we often judge people that way, too.

Even though I’d like to think that I am generous and mostly unprejudiced, that I’m immune from judging people based on superficialities, I know I do. After my family, and what amounts to be a small church full of people, were maliciously harmed by Christian leaders of a certain theological and denominational bent (despite an uproarious public outcry calling these leaders to account and condemning their actions), I find myself recoiling when this particular denominational group is mentioned. I have visceral reactions. I associate much that is wrong with the church with them and people like them.

I am prejudiced.

I am judging a person by denominational trappings.

When those prejudicial feelings start to erupt, I try to get a hold of myself. Try to tell myself that I know many lovely, Jesus-like people in this denomination. Prejudice, judging people by superficialities, is not the Jesus way. I must rid myself of it. It is malicious. It was what was done to me. So what if I don’t agree down the line with everything people in this denomination stand for? Who agrees with anyone down the line? I hate being pigeonholed. It’s hard to climb out of the pigeonholes in which people trap us. Am I going to turn around and do the same thing?

Our prejudices put us in danger of not loving others as Jesus has called us to love. They have the power to break fellowship among believers. How many times do we excommunicate people from our lives because of our prejudices?  Too often. And sometimes we aren’t aware of it.

I am always amazed that Jesus had fishermen, zealots, and tax collectors among his twelve disciples—not to mention female disciples like Mary of Bethany (though not among the twelve). The educated and uneducated, those from rural areas and those from bigger towns, and those with dissenting political opinions, all traveled in a close-knit pack. There were arguments and competition among them, questions about who was the greatest. But slowly, ever slowly, Jesus’s presence began to form them into more loving people, people who cast off their prejudices. They couldn’t help but observe how Jesus interacted with and loved people who were the target of their prejudices: the poor, women, Samaritans and other gentiles, and even Roman officials. Which reminds me, a great way to begin ridding ourselves of our prejudices is to interact with those we are prejudiced against. It’s hard to demonize people we know.

Like a book cover, our denominations and church associations do say something about us, but they don’t tell the whole story. All of us have to move beyond seeing superficial Christian trappings to trying to see the contents of a person’s soul. We may discover that we have more in common than we previously thought. And even if we don’t have a lot in common, Jesus is the tie that binds us together; he commands us to love one another so that people will know we are his disciples. I am convinced unprejudiced love is the only way they will know us as disciples; those who do not know God are attracted to our genuine love for God and for one another. Love always enfolds others into itself.

May we labor to rid ourselves of prejudices in Jesus’s name as we depend on the Holy Spirit.


Marlena Graves[Marlena Graves (M.Div. Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, NY) is a by-lined writer for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics Blog and Gifted For Leadership Blog. She is grateful to have been a member of the Renovare Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press), will be out in June of 2014. She blogs at:]


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10 Responses to Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover – a guest post by Marlena Graves

  1. Tim a good read, few points I’m not sure I agree with. 1Samuel 16:7 comes to mind and as a result the answer may not be looking into their soul. Not sure we need to either, as God has already given us some great truth regarding the conditions of our souls in Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23, 4, 5, 6:23 and Ephesians 2:1-3. In accepting these as true we soon discover we are all in the same boat. That brings us to being able to come to the truth of Matthew 7:1-5 which always helps towards us coming to bring to reality the truth of Christ’s final prayer in John 17. As we come to that point we gladly, joyfully embrace those with differing views than ours.

    Post reminds me of a quote from Newton: “If ever I reach heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third– the greatest wonder of all–to find myself there.”

    • Tim says:

      I’ll let Marlena address the issues you raise, Pat, since it’s her post. One point I see, though is that you say we’re all in the same boat. That’s what Marlena said too, in essence: all of us who are in Jesus are in him together.

  2. Tim says:

    Marlena, thanks you for your openness and for writing this heartfelt call to come together in Jesus. It’s hard to look beyond our trappings and toward our connection with Jesus, but when we do we get to see that he is all that matters in our relationships with one another in him. You’ve given me much to think about and to consider in my own life and how I see the people around me, whether they are easy to get along with or the relationship is more difficult.

    I so appreciate that you allowed me to run this here today!

  3. lauradroege says:

    I really identified with the story about your reaction to a particular denomination after being hurt by some leaders within it. Many years ago, my husband and I left a Baptist church; we were devastated by how we’d been rejected after I’d been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. I swore up and down and sideways that I’d NEVER go to a Baptist church again. Whenever I heard the word “Baptist”, I flinched, I cringed, I felt hackles forming under my skin. I painted Baptists with a broad brushstroke, thinking that ALL of them would reject me if they knew my diagnosis or try to cast a demon from me or something. Talk about judging a book by its cover. I excelled at it.

    Fast forward ten years, and we had to leave the Presbyterian church where we’d been members. I repeated my militant stance against Baptist churches: never, never, never would I set foot in one again. Guess where we ended up? Yeah, God has a sense of humor. We’re going to a different Baptist church now. It was a last ditch resort after trying five or six other area churches, and I had to wrestle with God quite a bit for Him to get me in those doors.

    In the end, I heard something very complimentary about the senior pastor: how, despite going through the hell of watching his wife have Stage 3 cancer, he showed compassion and abundant generosity toward a minister who’d been unfairly laid off from his congregation. God used that news to suggest to me that perhaps my prejudice was unfair, even wrong, and that I should give this church a chance.

  4. Jeannie says:

    I really appreciate this post today, and the comments so far as well. I’ve certainly found myself judging people based on externals — very recently, in fact. I was grocery shopping about 2 weeks ago and this young couple (both quite heavy, apparently of lower socioeconomic status) ahead of me in line was slowing things up by trying to get a price-match on bacon — showing the clerk a flyer from a different store, etc. They had the wrong package size so they couldn’t get the price-match. As I stood there I found myself judging and pitying them: they hadn’t read the package carefully, they were needlessly inconveniencing everyone else for the sake of a few cents, etc.

    Then this past weekend I went to a Christmas bazaar and there, at one of the tables, was this same couple selling homemade jewelery made by their 8-year-old son, who was with them. The mom told me proudly that her son had Asperger’s and that he had both a paper route and a jewelery business. I had to realize I’d misjudged this couple on appearances only. So it was a good reminder (like this post is) not to make that mistake.

  5. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Oh Marlena, yes and amen. I love your observation about the Mötley Crüe gang Jesus gathered and formed into his one body. What a challenge for us to live this truth out today. (And Tim, thanks for hosting!)

  6. Really great post. I do think it’s important not to demonize any branch or denomination of the church, even if we don’t agree with everything. Every denomination has something unique and beautiful they help bring to the Church Universal. I’ve had Baptist friends, Charismatic friends, Reformed friends, Catholic friends, etc., etc., and I know people who are genuinely loving and serving God. (I also know hypocrites in all denominations, too). But I’ve learned so much about God through being open to learning things from every different part of the church. We have so much more that unites us than divides us. I wish we could see past our differences sometimes.

  7. Aimee Byrd says:

    I heard some good advice from a friend that is related to this. He was about to debate a well-known atheist, and he asked the guy to lunch before the debate. It reminded each of them that they are human beings, and not the caricatures that they had made one another out to be. They were able to enter a serious debate on the issues, with respect for one another.

  8. Pingback: Reconciliation Replay (November 14, 2013)

  9. Lisa Murray says:

    Thank you, Marlena, for a thoughtful word. I loved how you described Jesus’s presence as the quality that formed his followers into more loving people. His presence is what transforms each of us, not a set of rules or dogma, and certainly not an earful of shame or condemnation. @LisaMur90355601

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