We rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).
It’s an old story. We would much rather complain about the way things are than make the sacrifice to change it, but character requires sacrifice. Those of us who know the Lord are called to make that sacrifice; we are called to live on a higher plane. Christians, above any other group, should be known as persons of character.
The references to character in the Bible indicate it’s something to be sought after. The Apostle Paul points out the unique relationship between suffering, perseverance, and character. The suffering he’s referring to are the trials and difficulties experienced by believers. He’s assuming, of course, that those who are persecuted would faithfully and courageously endure their persecutions; that they would not break under pressure and deny their faith in Christ.
It is important to recognize the difference between perseverance and character. Perseverance is something we do, but character is something we have… or don’t have. Character is all about who we are and what we’re made of. Paul’s conclusion is that those who persevere through trials are men and women of character. Their character is made evident by their response to what is happening to them. This definition of character presupposes two things.
First, there is an Absolute Standard by which to define right and wrong.
People of character don’t make up the rules as they go along. They have already agreed upon the rules beforehand. When faced with any situation, they don’t ask, “What’s right for me?” Instead, they ask, “What’s right?” People of character believe in an Absolute Standard of right and wrong that overshadows the entire human race, one to which all people are held accountable. According to the Bible, God is that Standard. He determines what is right and wrong. He has already set limits on human behavior. His code of conduct never changes or shifts with a particular culture or time period.
The second thing character presupposes is the ability and willingness to obey.
Agreeing with the rules of the game is one thing, but playing by the rules is something else entirely. How many of us break the law every day? Men and women of character have not only agreed to God’s code of conduct, but they also live for it.
Whereas achievement and fulfillment are the chief pursuits for many in this world, it’s different for men and women of character. They’re not necessarily opposed to achieving certain goals, but the difference is in their priorities. They are not against personal fulfillment, but for them, obedience takes priority over achievement. Self-control takes precedent over self-fulfillment. It is all a matter of priorities.
Are you willing to make character a priority? I have never met anyone who is against character, yet few people make it their priority. Men and woman are often quick to compromise their character if that is what it takes to reach the next step in whatever ladder they choose to climb. For many people, what they can do on the outside is not nearly as important as who they are on the inside.
To be persons of character, we must submit ourselves to God’s code of conduct.
We must agree with Him that His ways are right – whether we understand or not. We must have the attitude that says, “Lord, before You even tell me what the right thing to do in my particular situation is, I already believe You are right.” Then, we must follow through and actually do what God says. People of character do what is right simply because it is right. It is right because God says it is right.
I’d like you to try an experiment with me: think about all the places you could go to improve your outer appearance. Most stores are geared toward making us look or feel better. We’re bombarded from every direction by products designed to improve our looks and health. Just pick up any magazine and flip through the advertisements, or watch any commercial on TV.
Now, think for a moment about how many places are geared toward developing character. This list is significantly shorter than the first. Other than church, we don’t have much to choose from. There was a time when we could have put school on that list, but that’s not necessarily true anymore.
Clearly, we live in a world that is totally committed to the outer person and neglects the inner person. Yet, the social problems in this nation, the ones commentators and politicians are constantly complaining about, are not rooted in our appearance. Most of our problems stem from a lack of character among our leaders and citizens. Our biggest deficit in this nation is not a budget deficit or unemployment, but a lack of character.
If we don’t have a plan for developing our character, we simply will not. We will fall in line with everyone else. The only difference is believers will go to heaven when they die and unbelievers will not. My point is this: none of us drift into character. It takes effort; it takes a plan. Even as Christians, we’re prone to allow the cares of this world to choke out any time for working on the part of us that is most crucial to our genuine happiness and success – our character.
Character is to relationships what oil is to an engine. If we took apart the engine of a new car, we would find that each part is made to work perfectly with all the other parts of the engine. They were made for each other. Yet, if you run that engine without oil, it will eventually destroy all the other parts around it. The fact the parts are perfectly suited for each other is not enough. When there is a deficit in character, we pay for it in our relationships. It does not matter how perfectly suited we are for each other. If we don’t have character, there is going to be friction.
A Plan for Developing Character:
Part of my plan for developing my character involves a list of several traits I want to be known for. I rehearse my list mentally throughout the day. I meditate on Scripture that deals with these things. I pray every day that God would work on my character to the point where these characteristics will shape my public reputation. I want to be known as a man of godly character.
Praying to God for help developing my character is one thing, but when I get specific, that’s when I really begin to see a change. I think through the kind of person I want to be (not what I want to accomplish, but what God and others perceive me as being in my heart). Then, I work the list. I look for practical ways to work the qualities into my life.
You will be amazed at how your personal plan unfolds. You may change your list from time to time. That’s fine. But keep it going. That way, you will see your progress and you will stay involved in the process.
* Read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.