|Vol. 16 No. 12 December 2014||
By definition, character is the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group or nation, moral excellence or firmness. The term in the Greek carries the idea of “the fact that one has proved oneself true or the act of proving himself true” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary – New Testament). This is the idea Paul expresses of Timothy to the church at Philippi in recommending him to labor with them in the Gospel. “But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father” (Philippians 2:22).
Paul also mentioned how God uses the trials of life to produce such in the life of every Christian. “And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Obviously character isn’t something that happens by accident, but something we develop through the course of our lives. It doesn’t happen automatically when we obey the Gospel, but it is something we devote ourselves to forming in our hearts and lives. It doesn’t come through theoretical reasoning, but rather character develops in the arena of everyday living, dealing with the good and bad of life, fighting battles for what is right and overcoming those forces that would thwart the goal of holiness in us. Paul reminded the Corinthians, “I wrote for this purpose: to test your character to see if you are obedient in everything” (2 Corinthians 2:9).
Character, then, is something we take a lifetime to shape and form in us. If we don’t nurture it with God’s love and discipline, with knowledge, understanding and application of God’s Word, then something else will result. That something else is sin, the temptations Satan utilizes against us to ensnare and destroy us. We recognize this when we may be told about someone, “That person is really a character!” or “What he said and did revealed his true character.” Character isn’t just an image one projects, but it includes what flows naturally from the heart. Jesus warned, “What comes out of a person—that defiles him. For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23).
What type of character do we possess, then? Whatever we choose. The story is told of an old Cherokee speaking to his grandson. “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.” The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.” Which one do you feed?
His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8)
Give Me a Discerning Heart
“Discern” means, “to come to know or recognize mentally, to see or understand the difference; showing insight and understanding.” In a practical way, one exercises discernment when he or she goes shopping. You may look at two competing brands of vegetables, with one priced higher than the other, and read the labels to figure out what the difference between them is. You may hear of something with which you’re unfamiliar, so you research to determine more about it and gain a better grasp of what it means. A discerning individual gains a level of wisdom regarding what is being investigated, going beyond mere perceptions to making detailed judgments and forming values from such.
Scripture speaks of discernment as well. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). Such implies not everything pleases God, and we need to understand what does please Him as well as what is the difference between the two. This is illustrated by Paul speaking of God’s wrath coming on those who walk disobediently, and how we should live as children of light (5:6-9). We have to look beyond our personal feelings and desires to please God, as our feelings and desires may be determined by the influence of sin. The writer of Proverbs reminds us, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).
So, what is our criteria for discernment? How can we properly evaluate our desires and feelings, the choices we make in life, to be able to choose wisely and please God? There are two avenues by which we can develop discernment in spiritual living. We must first be willing to examine and take to heart what God reveals in His Word. The Hebrew writer states, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:11-12). The Israelites made poor choices in the wilderness, which led to disobedience and God’s wrath (Hebrews 3:16-19). Scripture reveals what pleases God, and by allowing what pleases God to fill our minds and hearts, our consciences can be guided in the right way. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). We must spend time in the Word of God to learn what God expects of us.
We must also be willing to practice in everyday living what God reveals in His Word, applying it to the daily situations we encounter in life. The writer of Hebrews also stated, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The word practice here carries the idea of what is done by habit. It should be the Christian’s habit, from a familiarity with what Scripture teaches, to recognize the difference between good and evil, and to choose to live by what is good. This is what James meant when he wrote, “So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (James 4:17).
Discernment is necessary if we are to be successful in living the Christian life. God offers us the tools by which we can become discerning children of God, and in using them, become what He wants of us, what we need to be, and reach the goal He graciously offers us. “The wise of heart is called discerning…” (Proverbs 16:21).