Ever noticed how many civilians look at Soldiers when we’re in dress blues? They look at the medals and decorations. They ask us what our ribbons and medals symbolize. They ask us, “What does that stand for?” They often thank us for serving. Understandably, they admire the appearance of us as Soldiers. They admire the external accoutrements that adorn the uniform. Many Soldiers have combat patches and/or combat action badges that serve to demarcate they’ve served in combat zones and/or been in direct combat with the enemy. And what do we see oftentimes? We see other folks stare at those medals, and mentally assess what the Soldier wearing them must be like. However, there’s a big difference between medals and mettle. Medals are external; medals commemorate. Mettle, on the other hand, is internal; mettle undergirds. Medals are visible ornaments; mettle is inherent character. Medals decorate but mettle strengthens.
In 1 Samuel 16, Scripture records where God ordered Samuel to find the king of Israel that God himself had chosen. When Samuel went to survey the lot of young men from whom he thought God would choose, Samuel thought God would choose Eliab, one who appeared to fit the bill. Samuel thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” (1 Samuel 16:6, ESV) However, God did not judge Eliab’s appearance. The very next line draws the discerning reader up short. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV).
Many readers know whom God had chosen; he’d chosen David. The New Testament calls David “a man after [God’s] heart” (Acts 13:22, ESV). The principle? Eliab lacked godly character; Eliab was unequipped with mettle. Eliab may’ve had medals, if you will, but lacked mettle. He lacked the quality of resilience, of godly character, of fortitude that would stand David in good stead as Israel’s greatest king during the monarchy. David had mettle.
Subsequently, David’s monarchy waxed and waned. He was far from a perfect king. He, too, was a man with feet of clay. He was, in short, a man much like we—prone to wander. Yet he had mettle. He had that inherent quality of character that God grants and grows. That mettle is more important than any external medals we wear on the outside.
I’m a country boy at heart, and I remember a phrase from a conversation my mother and I had when I was a child. I’d been talking with my mom about someone in our family whom we both loved. I’d asked Mom about how and why this person seemed so much deeper than most folks. My mom said, “Still waters run deep.” She was right. Depth of character, a person’s mettle, is what matters.