What comes to mind when you hear the word “vain?” We might picture a teenage girl (or a middle-aged woman, for that matter) primping in front of a mirror. She’s making sure her hair looks just right or that her outfit is perfectly arranged. Her focus is totally on her outward appearance.
It could also be a conceited co-worker who’s constantly telling you how great he is. Or that mom on social media who posts every. single. detail. about her perfect child.
But there’s another definition of the word vain and that’s what I want to explore today.
In 2 Kings 17:15, we read about the children of Israel.
“And they rejected His statutes and His covenant…and His testimonies…and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them.“
According to this verse, these people had two issues. They rejected God’s way and they followed the way of the world around them.
It’s pretty plain what it means for us to reject God’s way. His Word tells us what we need to do. It’s up to us whether we choose to obey or not.
But I was a little bit intrigued by the second part of the verse. It says that the Israelites “followed vanity, and became vain.” In this case, some good synonyms for vanity are fleeting, empty, worthless, useless, meaningless, having no real value, and foolish. So they followed after these types of things…and then that’s the type of people they became.
I doubt we want any of those words to describe us! But do we ever follow after vanity? I would have to admit that I do. I allow myself to get caught up in things that are a waste of time.
As I considered how I might be vain, I came up with three specific areas. It’s interesting that in all three of these areas, we can look great on the outside, but have nothing of value on the inside. There are certainly more ways I may be vain, but these make a good place to start evaluating myself!
1. We are empty in our words.
Psalm 12:2 says, “They speak vanity every one with his neighbor: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.” There are three issues in this verse – foolish talk, insincere praise, and speaking with a hidden motive. How often do we find ourselves in conversations that include one of these?
There are many verses dealing with how we should use our tongue, but Proverbs 31:26 is one of my favorites. “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” How happy I would be if that’s how my speech was characterized!
2. We are empty in our thoughts.
According to Psalm 94:11, “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.” I have thoughts swirling around in my head all the time. How many of them fall into the “useless” or “worthless” category? This could certainly include those that center on criticizing others, worry, or fear.
We can follow God’s way and replace those thoughts with better ones. Remember Philippians 4:8? “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.“
3. We are empty in our worship.
Matthew 15:8-9 puts it plainly. “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” What a description of how we don’t want to be – making our worship only an outward show and living according to what men teach that is outside of what God’s Word says.
Instead, let’s be true worshippers. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” ~John 4:23 We worship God not for outward show, but from a place of love and gratitude for who He is and what He has done for us.
The children of Israel became like their idols. They lost their relationship with God and had no power against their enemies. Let’s ask God to help us keep our words, thoughts, and worship focused on things that have eternal value.
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