“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a metaphor intended to capture a proverbial truth – that we shouldn’t assess a person’s value by their outward appearance, but by who they are on the inside – their character, personality and values. Unfortunately, book publishers know the truth – we really do judge books by their covers – and so a great deal of time and money goes into designing a great cover. They know you’ll be more likely to buy the book if the cover is appealing.
Now, I wouldn’t want to push the analogy too far. Designing a good book cover is a very good thing indeed (I very much appreciate graphic designers!). The reality is, though, book covers fade and grow out-dated and get dusty and weathered. It happens to all the great books and all the bad ones (Yes, even e-book covers face some of these issues for those thinking they’ve outsmarted the system!). In the end, no one calls a book “good” simply because of its cover.
Jesus asks the church to shine goodness before the world, but warns us later of the temptation to do it simply for people’s approval. There is much at stake and hypocrisy is always a few subtle shifts away (hence he uses the word “beware” in 6:1-2).
We have to be careful in this. We cannot simply work on the cover and present a list of charitable deeds to fly in front of our intended audience. The Church must gain the reputation for being good because it actually is. And so, are we?