The Nature of Character

May 9, 2010

Having Mother’s Day fall during Discover the Word can be a challenge because it is really expected that on Mother’s Day you will speak to Mothers. But when you are focusing on a specific book it can sometimes be hard to find the hook to work with a specific topic.
If you were here a year ago you might recall that we were focusing on the book of Acts and for Mother’s Day we looked at the Mother of John Mark and some of the things that defined her.
The book of Romans, not so easy, I did consider Romans 16:13 Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother, who has been a mother to me. And I thought I could use it as a spring board into: what it would mean to be a mother.
But then I thought that was a bit of a stretch especially seeing as how the entire focus of Discover the Word is about learning about the particular book we are studying. So I went back to the drawing board and stumbled on the passage that was read earlier this morning, in particular Romans 5:3-4 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
And the light came on, the light that is the passion of every Preacher’s heart the realization that “yes this will preach.” When I was growing up whenever I grumbled about having to do something I didn’t want to do or whined about the way a particular event ended up my mother would tell me “It’s good for you, it helps develop character.” I tried the same sage advice with my children only to be told “But I don’t want to be a character.” Somehow it seemed to have lost its meaning. Nevertheless that’s where this morning’s message is taking us. Last week I spoke on “The Nature of Sin”, this week we are going to look at “The Nature of Character” What it is and what it ain’t. And I think these are things that your mother would want you to know, how’d you like the “Mother’s Day” segue?
What Character Isn’t. Often we confuse a person’s reputation with their character. We see how a person acts when they are around us or around others and we define their character by those observations. We think: Well, they are kind to animals, keep their lawn mowed and don’t tell dirty jokes so they must have a sterling character.
There is a story told in the Old Testament, Saul had been king of Israel, but because of a series of sins and acts of disobedience another King is to be chosen. God gives direction to his prophet Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem and that it is there he will find the next king. God had revealed to his prophet that his chosen would be the son of a man named Jesse, so he travels to Bethlehem meets with Jesse and says “Trot the boys out so I can have a look at them.” Or something like that. We pick up the story in 1 Samuel 16:6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!” Don’t know what Eliab looked like but it must have been kingly because Samuel immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was the one who should be king, and they hadn’t even tried on the glass slipper yet, sorry wrong story.
Samuel seemed to have forgotten the qualifications that the last King, Saul, possessed. 1 Samuel 9:2 Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.
Let’s pick the story up back in Bethlehem, 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
And twenty five hundred years later the story is still the same. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
But isn’t that the easiest thing to do? To judge by outward appearances? We are warned to not judge a book by its cover, but when you don’t have time to sit there and read through the book you often make that first decision based on the cover. Most of you know that I am a prolific reader, I read at least one novel a week plus what I’m reading in the office and sometimes I start a book based solely on how cool the cover looks. When I was working with my publisher on the Penn of Denn he stressed how important the cover design would be if we wanted to get people to at least pick up the book.
The reality remains that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and often you have to make at least your initial judgement based on what you can see. And a person’s reputation is important but it’s not their Character. There are times I start reading a book because of a cool cover and get into it and realize that it isn’t the book I thought it was and so I stop reading and close the book. And sometimes we are impressed by the perception of who someone is until we get to know them, and when they don’t measure up to their cover we stop reading and close the book.
It was Abraham Lincoln who said “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
So if character isn’t your reputation, If it isn’t what people see when they look at you then what is character. Good question, so let’s look at What Character Is You ready for this, because it’s deep, do you have your pen out? Reputation is who people think we are, character is who we are. Character is who we are when nobody is looking, when nobody is around and we think there is no chance we will ever get caught, how we behave then, that is our character.
Character is the very essence of who you are, not who you are when you everything is going well, not when the kids are all behaving and you have more money than you know what to do with. But character is who you are when you are tired, angry, stressed or jealous. Character is who you are when the doctor gives you bad news, when you lose your job and your kid ends up in jail.
The word that Paul uses for character here surprisingly enough is a Greek word, who would have thought? Paul uses the word δοκιμή
dokimē and it means, proven or tempered. William Barclay says this of the word dokime. “Dokime is used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word sterling. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God.”
Henry Ward Beecher an American preacher and author from the 1800’s wrote “A man’s character is the reality of himself; his reputation, the opinion others have formed about him; character resides in him, reputation in other people; that is the substance, this is the shadow.”
Marva Collins wrote “Character is what you know you are, not what others think you have.”
Thomas Paine said something very similar two hundred years before that “Reputation is what men and women think of us. Character is what God and the angels know of us.”
And when Ronald Reagan was President he stated “You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.” And I have no idea what that means.
And it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing. Your character travels with you and it’s there when you work and when you play and it’s there when you interact with your colleagues, with your friends and with your family.
Your reputation may take you as far as your coffin, what people think about you and how they perceived you, but you will know whether those perceptions were justified, only you will know who you really are, well you and God. But at that point all you will be holding in your hands when you stand before God won’t be what people think you are it will be what God knows you are, it will be your character. Heed the words of Jesus to the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1 “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.”
Most of us can figure out how to develop our reputation, do this, don’t do that. But often it is doing or not doing what can be seen by others. And so we are advised to Dress for Success, and politicians are told to never be photographed with a drink in their hand, and pastors are warned about being careful to avoid even the illusion of impropriety.
But the question today is How is Character Formed? Character is formed by the choices we make. And not just the choices we make today but the choices we made yesterday. It was Anne Frank, who spent most of her teen years hiding from the Nazis in war torn Holland and dying in a German concentration camp who wrote in her diary: “The final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
Character doesn’t just happen it is a process, so based on what Paul is telling us here without the things that shape character, character doesn’t happen. Let’s go back to our scripture again Romans 5:3-4 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
And so if we go back to the original word dokimē we discover that the tempering process happens in the fire. A piece of metal is refined, purified and hardened through a process that if metal were alive it probably wouldn’t enjoy very much.
It usually isn’t the good times in our lives that form who we are, they are fun but they don’t shape our character. And so my mother was right, those things that I did that I didn’t enjoy developed character. And when we go through the tough times and make it through to the other side we are better for the experience. Which explains why Helen Keller who lost her sight and hearing as an infant was able to write “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
And yet others in similar circumstances become withdrawn and bitter, it has been said that we will go through our problems or we will grow through our problems and in the end they will make us better or they will make us bitter but the choice will always be ours. You will never know how strong you are until you face adversity and you will never know what you can do until you walk through the fire and the deep water.
It was author and speaker Cavett Robert who said “If we study the lives of great men and women carefully and unemotionally, we find that, invariably, greatness was developed, tested, and revealed through the darker periods of their lives. One of the largest tributaries of the river of greatness is always the stream of adversity.”
I have a friend who works out of our denominational headquarters with pastors who are starting new churches and Chris does a great job, he is able to come along side of those men and women and guide them through the problem areas and encourage them and teach them. And he can do that because he started not one church from scratch but two. And the first one Country Side Community was a church planting success. Started in a small city in South Dakota it took off and flourished, within a couple of years they had a couple of hundred people worshipping with them and today they average well over a thousand on Sunday morning, people have been touched and lives have been changed.
And because of that Chris was recruited to start another church this time in Madison, Wisconsin. Everything pointed to Madison being even more of a success then what happened in Spearfish. But it wasn’t.
The new church struggled and limped along, Chris’ wife had to go to work to help support them and then Chris had to find work outside the church. And the church in Madison never really developed but I tell Chris that he could never do the work he is doing right now without Madison. The story would never have been complete with only Spearfish.
There is a reference in the psalms that says Psalm 105:19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. Remember Joseph? He was the favourite son of Jacob, but if you follow the story you would know that as a young man he would not be described as having strength of character. Perhaps the spirit of arrogance, of pride, of entitlement, but not character. And then he was thrown into a well by his brothers, who then sold him into slavery, and he was taken to Egypt where he was sold to a man named Potiphar, falsely accused of rape, thrown into prison was forgotten after doing favours and emerged as a very different person.

 Remember Psalm 105:19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. Joseph discovered that it wasn’t all about Joseph, and he discovered the secret of a scripture that wouldn’t be written for 600 years. The prophet Isaiah records the words of God in Isaiah 43:2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Four times in the story of Joseph, each time after something bad happened, if you consider things like being sold into slavery and thrown into prison for something you didn’t do as bad, we read the words Genesis 39:2 The Lord was with Joseph, . . .

 And regardless of what you are going through, the flood, the deep water or the fires, whatever they are, if you are a Christ follower he will be with you.

So you have developed your character what now? Well the scary thing is the reality is that along with being built your character needs to be protected. So here is the question: How is Character lost? And the answer is the same as it was for: How is Character is formed? Character is lost by the choices we make. And not just the choices we make today but the choices we made yesterday. Character is lost easier than it is found but it is still the result of choices that we make.
It was Aristotle who wrote “Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses or avoids.” And I would suspect that the lack of character reveals a lack of moral purpose, exposing the class of things a person chooses or avoids.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” Who are you hanging around with and how are they affecting you? We all know that the people our children hang out with will influence them, so why do we think we are immune from those same threats?
Here are a couple of thoughts to close with the first is from Stephen Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” “Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character…
And the second closing thought comes from Paul who wrote in the book of Romans 5:3-4 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
On Friday, at the Leadercast Tony Dungy was interviewed. Dungy of course was the coach who lead the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007, and it was mentioned that when Dungy was scouting for the team that he had a category on their evaluation form labelled DNDC. Asked what that stood for Dungy said it stood for Do Not Draft Because Of Character. Dungy went on to state, “In the draft, there are only a few things that will knock a player out of consideration for our team, and this issue of character is one of them. We have a category on our evaluation form that is labeled ‘DNDC’—Do Not Draft because of Character.”
So here is the question to end on: If there was a category on the evaluation form for you to get into heaven that was marked DNDC how would you rate?