You are a work in progress!
Character is our commitment to doing the right thing regardless of the personal cost. It’s been said that character is defined by what you do when you think no one is watching. Character involves the will to respond to values, principles and core values, rather than to the huge onslaught of appetites, urges, whims, or impulses that bombard us. There can be parts of ourselves we don’t want the world or the Church to see. Typically, we hide the aspects that would not be viewed favourably by those we look up to in our lives, and we can also hide our weaknesses. We need daily to seek the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit to walk in the truth and with integrity. The Holy Spirit’s help must be sought, it’s not a matter of willpower, but you have your part in it a willingness to follow God’s leading.
Fruit is required The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:22-26 Jim Packer says a similar thing with great eloquence in his book, ‘Keep in step with the Spirit’:
“Character is an important issue in the Church. Do we really want to give responsibility, opportunity and even profile to the man or woman who is poor or lacking in character?”
We all make mistakes, but ongoing character issues are ones that need to be addressed before these other issues we have mentioned are embraced. Paul’s epistle to Timothy is a handbook on character issues, and what is required from all, including leaders. Character is not something that is imputed as a finished work of Christ, but something we grow in over our lifetime. That lifetime-process is not an excuse for bad character though. There are certain mandates from Scripture that determine our walk before God. Character issues mean that we don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t envy and so on. But it is not just what we don’t do, but what we do. The list of ‘don’ts’ become objectively a list of positives for us, a list of the things we must do; we do speak honestly, we are trustworthy, we do think of others above ourselves, We’re living on the flip side of the way that we once walked.
The interesting feature in 1 & 2 Timothy, is that the entire focus is not on gift or ability, but character. God still uses people with bad character. It’s not a matter of being perfect before God will choose to use you but if we want to honour God, then we must endeavour to have a teachable, godly character that seeks to live a Christ-like and scripture-honouring life. If you lie, what guarantee does the Church have that you are telling the truth? If you exaggerate, how will they know and trust what you are saying when you say that God has spoken to you? And God speaks, sometimes audibly. Exaggeration is a subtle issue that some prophetic people suffer from. It shows a lack of character and shows the need to draw more attention to what is being said or claimed than is appropriate. Exaggeration is indirectly, self serving and focuses on oneself.
Why the fuss?
What matters most in terms of Church life is not your giftedness or abilities the Holy Spirit has given you, but your capacity to walk with character. Do you display the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Is it hanging, ‘off of the tree’, or are you like the fig tree that Jesus inspected. He saw it from a distance. It had great promise of fruitfulness but when it came under scrutiny nothing was there. It would shortly wither and die!
Character promises and delivers great value
Church leadership has to use the resources they have in people, but with wisdom. They have to ask the questions, ‘can this person be trusted?’, ‘are they doing the job for personal profile or to serve?’ Unfortunately sometimes the question has to be raised, ‘If we don’t let this ‘prophetic’ person do what they want, will they leave?’ That the question is raised reveals the issue of character.
Romans 5:3-4, “We also exult in our sufferings, knowing that suffering brings about endurance; and endurance [brings about] proven character.” The focus here is on this word “proven” (dokimen). When you put metal through a fiery testing and it comes out on the other side persevering and enduring, what you call that metal is “proven” or “authentic” or “genuine.” That’s the sense here. Church can sometimes be like that fiery furnace!
Proven character brings about hope.
Romans 5:4, ”endurance [brings about] proven character; and proven character [brings about] hope.” One of the great obstacles to a full and strong hope in the glory of God is the fear that we are hypocrites that our faith is not real and that we just inherited it from our parents and have been motivated by things that are not honoring to God.
One of the purposes of afflictions in our lives is to give us victory over those fears and make us full of hope and confidence as the children of God. Every prophet is called first as a child of God. Prophets are part of the Church, not outside of it, doing their own thing and accountable to no-one except God.
God takes us through hard times to temper the steel of our faith and show us that we are real, authentic, genuine, proven, and in that way give us hope that we really will inherit the glory of God and not come into judgement.