Does Character Count? 9/20/98

Psalm 15:1-5
Page 805 Come Alive Bible

Jesus Christ dealt with a cast of characters as diverse as we. He provided for all the potential of peace with God in time and for eternity. In time He inspired hope and for eternity He enabled the love of God to be shared.

It is through the most circuitous route that He leads us to build our character. The path is marked for us: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom 5:1 – 4).

This passage explains why so few people live positively with inspired hope. It is character that produces hope.

Character traits were once the words used when persons were spoken of. People were described as persons of character. Words, such as, honesty, integrity, truthful, and dependable were used.

Gradually the operative word changed from character to personality. Charming, cool, funny, and outgoing became the vocabulary.

Character has been so devalued as an admirable trait we have even been assured character doesn’t count. God said it does.

Psalm 15 opens with a strategic question: “Oh, Lord who may approach your holy place? Who may worship on your holy mountain?”

Transliterated that means what are the character qualities we should bring into the presence of the Lord? Then the answer: “Those who walk blamelessly, live righteously and speak the truth from their heart.”

How can it be said character doesn’t count in a world full of “oughts” and “shoulds.” Frequently in Scripture the expression “ought to” is used. It means what we “ought” to do is for our good and God’s glory.

Every “ought” is rooted in a value; every value requires a choice, every choice reveals character. Get it!

Every ought is
rooted in a value;
every value requires
a choice; every choice
defines a character.

Character isn’t something you have; it is something you are that inevitably shows itself in what you do.

As a child I learned the axiom: “Reputation is what people think you are. Character is what you know you are.”

Yet another: “Take care of your character and your reputation will take care of itself.”

And another: “Only you can damage your character.”

Aristotle, the godfather of Greek philosophy, asserted human behavior can be shaped, that certain behaviors are helpful for individuals and society, and the best way to develop good behavior is by observing good role models. The Greeks identified four cardinal virtues: PRUDENCE, JUSTICE, COURAGE, and TEMPERANCE.

Though there are many attributes of those who can come into God’s presence, let’s concentrate on these four. Consider developing these four character traits. Look for them in others and model them.

We live by stories. Your life is a story being lived out. Your autobiography would be your story. Recently we studied the life of the Old Testament character Joseph as a man of character. Let’s consider his story in evaluating these character traits.

Prudence is practical wisdom that leads to good choices and results in successful living.

Certain self-imposed tests of a decision are practical.
A. ACCEPTABILITY: Will this please my Lord?

B. BENEFIT: If this is known will it cause my friends embarrassment?

C. CONSEQUENCE: Am I prepared to live with the outcome?

Joseph was a prudent man, meaning, he had horse sense. As Prime Minister of Egypt he likely was the individual who oversaw the building of some of the greatest pyramids in Egypt. He was no minor player. He handled the fortune of the Egyptian empire. He was the overseer of the personal household of the pharaoh.

Every path has its puddle. There was a big one in Joseph’s path.

His character was shaped by keeping God center stage in his thoughts. When enticed by the wife of the captain of Potiphar, the captain of pharaoh’s elite guard, he resisted the temptation. His prudent choice was based on a simple fact. It wasn’t, I might get caught. It was, “How can I sin against God?”

Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them…”

A modern story compliments prudence as well as that of Joseph.

John, a young soldier, stood nervously straightening his uniform and looking through the crowd in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. He was looking for a woman he knew by reputation but not by face. She was to be identified by a small red rose she was to be wearing.

Their story began several years before in Florida. He bought a used book of poetry. When he started reading it he was more intrigued by the hand written notes in the margin than the words of the author. The notes were by the book’s original owner. They revealed an insightful and prudent person. In the front of the book John found the woman’s name and hometown. With great effort he found her address and wrote her.

The next day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He enlisted in the military and was almost immediately shipped overseas. He wrote again and she eventually responded. The continuing correspondence developed into a romance. He requested a photo but she refused. She said that if their relationship was meant to be what she looked like wouldn’t matter.

Finally, when the war ended they scheduled their first meeting in Grand Central Station on Friday evening at 7:00 PM. She wrote, “You’ll recognize me by the small red rose that I’ll have in my lapel.” He arrived two hours early. Let’s now let him tell his story.

“At just about 7:00 PM a young woman was walking toward me. I stood up. She was the most stunning woman I had ever seen in my life. I started moving toward her, and then I noticed she wasn’t wearing a small rose in her lapel. When she walked past me she said, ‘Going my way, soldier?’

“I was about to follow her when I saw directly behind her another woman who was looking at me expectantly. She was much older than I had expected and not as attractive as I hoped. She was wearing a small rose in her lapel. I wanted to follow the other woman. But I didn’t. I was clutching the book from the used bookstore that began it all. I was going to give it to her as a present.

“‘Hello, I’m John, I’m so glad to meet you.’ Even as I said the words, I was thinking of the other woman. ‘Would you like to go to dinner?’

“The older woman seemed confused and said, ‘Son, I don’t know what this is all about, but that beautiful young woman who was walking in front of me pleaded with me to wear this small red rose in my lapel. She said if you were still going to take me out to dinner, I should tell you that she’ll be waiting for you in the restaurant in the hotel right across the street. She said it was some kind of test.’”

That beautiful young woman was the one with whom John had been corresponding. He made a prudent choice based on his character.

Joseph made a prudent choice not to compromise his character. When the wife of Potiphar tried to seduce him he ran so fast his cloak was torn off him.

He did what Paul years later told young Timothy to do, “Flee … youthful lusts” (II Timothy 2:22).

The word “flee” means to run so fast as to kick up dust.

Flee and don’t leave a forwarding address.

Psalm 15 notes that in the eyes of a person of character “a vile person is despised”(Vs. 4). That is, there is no playful tolerance with evil. They do not develop friends of base, crude, evil, foul or gross persons.

Conversely a prudent person “honors those who fear the Lord” (Psalm 15: 4b).

Justice centers on acts of fairness, honesty, and the rules of law.

Psalm 15: 2 gives three descriptive terms for such a person:
1. “He walks uprightly…” This is one translation of the Hebrew word for “integrity.” (vs. 2a). He leads an uncorrupted life.

2. “And works righteousness…” (Vs. 2b). He does what is right.

Dr. Madison Sarratt, a math professor at Vanderbilt University, would tell his students before a test: “Today I am giving two examinations, one in trigonometry and the other is in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there are no good people who cannot pass the examination of honesty.”

3. “He speaks truth from his heart…” (Vs. 2c).

This type person tells the truth plain and simple. He doesn’t have a personal glossary of terms as defined by himself. He doesn’t play word games. He avoids semantical sand traps.

An old Hebrew translation of this is: “One who doesn’t trip over his own tongue.”

As a youth Joseph was sold as a slave by his older brothers. Years lapsed and God elevated him from a pit to prime minister. A famine ravaged the land of Israel and his brothers had to come to Egypt to beg for food. They stood before the prime minister not knowing he was their brother Joseph. He did not deal with them vindictively but justly. He had a sense of justice, fairness, honesty, and respect for law.

The person who pleases God is defined in verse 4b as one who keeps his word: “He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” What he says he will do even if it is challenging or costly to do. Parents that is applicable in the parent\child relationship. When you tell your child you will do something —- do it. Don’t promise your child you will go fishing and then cancel when someone with whom you have been wanting to play golf calls with a tee time.

If you do, don’t be surprised when your child promises to do something and doesn’t. You will have taught the child by example.

A sense of justice motivates honesty.

Joseph didn’t have a lapse of memory when it came to justice. He dealt fairly and honestly with his brothers. Justice prevailed.

We often joke about how forgetful we are. Age is often inappropriately associated with forgetfulness. As we age there is one thing we must remember. When we were young we also forgot things. One senior friend with a sense of humor said of a lapse of memory, “Excuse me, I was having a ‘senior moment.’”

An older couple was watching TV one night. As he got up he said, “How would you like some ice cream?” Happily she replied, “I would love it, and put a little chocolate syrup on it. However, before you go to get it write it down so you won’t forget. Write it down.”

She heard his scurrying around in the kitchen for the longest. He returned with a plate of scrambled eggs. She said, “I told you to write it down so you wouldn’t forget. You forgot my bacon.”

God has written down certain things so we won’t forget them. One is we are to “act justly.”

A sense of justice is of no use if we don’t have the courage of our convictions. Joseph was courageous. He was willing to endure false accusation, accept the wrath of Potiphar, and experience prison rather than compromise.

Joseph could have compromised in his conscience. He could have concluded at several stages of his life that following God’s path had gotten him nothing but trouble. It hadn’t worked. However, he had the courage to live by his God inspired convictions.

Temperance, the fourth Greek virtue, means self-control.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of individuals who failed to exercise self-control and lost control.

In the New Testament one of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.

We all have appetites. You can run through an inventory of them starting with an appetite for good food. Controlling them is our responsibility.

There is no more classic example of self- control than Joseph. His ego had an appetite. The woman pursuing him found him very handsome the Scripture said. That fed his ego. She was enticing. That appealed to his libido. The ego and libido are two very demanding appetites. We are responsible for controlling them by the power of God. Those who make prudent choices do. Individuals who have a sense of justice do. Persons with courage to stand for the right, do. Self-control results from a combination of these.

Such persons are described in Psalm 15 as those who may abide in God’s presence.

Psalm 15 began with a question and ends with a promise.

Psalm 15 closes with assurance: “He who does these things shall never be moved.” Certain character gives stability and consistency.