Actions speak louder than words, and our character is more often reflected by what we do than what we say. How do we grow our character so we reflect Jesus’ character to everyone around us?
Word for the Week
1 Timothy 3:10-16
And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise[a] must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The Mystery of Godliness
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Keep in Step with the Spirit
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But 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 keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
When it comes to modelling a godly character, I guess ‘striving’ springs to mind. You don’t simply turn to Jesus, and p are magically transformed into a lovely godly Christian. Turning from ‘your old ways into new’ is a life-long, daily commitment. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes you feel carried by God in it, at other times you feel alone in it. It can be like the classic ‘two steps forward one step back’ sentiment, or more like a million steps back in a moment. But you pick yourself up again and plough on, because you know somewhere in all this striving, you are simply trying to love God and others.
We strive from a foundation of grace and humility
With these passages above written by Paul, it’s good to interpret them through the lens of Jesus (a ‘Christocentric’ hermeneutics some clever theologians like to say). If we hold onto these instructions whilst forgetting Jesus’ incredible grace in the mix, we can be quick to fall into disheartening or judgemental ways. We begin equating God’s love for us in terms of how well we are performing on the ‘godly character’ scale; becoming proud when we believe we are doing well, or depressed when we know we have messed up.
But I’m reminded of the story in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The religious leaders were wanting to stone her, but Jesus challenges them saying ‘let him who has never sinned cast the first stone.’ In a humbling moment the crowd of accusers walk away, and Jesus meets this broken lady with forgiveness and acceptance. Let’s not forget that we strive from the basic truth that we are ALL sinners loved by God.
We strive from a rich relationship with Jesus
When it comes to wanting to grow in our Godly character, it’s something that we can all too easily want to pin down into tidy ‘to do’ and ‘not to do’ boxes. I remember quizzing my teacher once after attending a theological seminar around poverty and giving. ‘Do you think as Christians we should give all our money to the poor and live a monastic-esque simple life?’ I asked him. ‘It depends, if that is something you feel called to?’ This frustrated me, I wanted a blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. But it came down to personal conscience and convictions.
This has been a poignant reminder to me that as I pursue a ‘blameless’ life, I should not limit this to a list of rules, but it’s about drawing close to Jesus and responding to his Spirit. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for some objective truth around this stuff, but I reckon as we grow in wanting to be more like Jesus, the best place to start is by carving out time to hang out with him!
“God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”
– Joni Eareckson Tada
We strive because we trust that God knows what’s good for us
There is a fight between our ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’, hence growing in godly behaviour is far from a walk in the park, it’s a battle! But we commit ourselves to this journey, because we trust that there is a God of love who knows what’s best for us. God’s ways are higher; He knows us more than our culture norms or fleeting heart desires do. Yes, culture may tell us that ‘falling in love’ is the highest law of love, but God tells us faithfulness is where it is at.
Yes, our hearts may want us to dwell around envious thoughts, but God calls us back to us finding satisfaction in Him. Yes, it is easy to get sucked into gossip in the workplace, but instead we embrace self-control and kindness out of grace & love for that person. And as we lean into God’s spirit to do that work of moulding our characters into His likeness, we really will radiate His love to this world. What a privilege?! What an opportunity to simply enjoy walking in how God intended us to be, and inviting others into the joy of that too.
“Ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Own it Personally
Personal Reflection: What is our heart’s motivations around pursuing Godly ways. Have we fallen into the trap of believing we can earn God’s love by the right kind of behaviour? God wants you to work at your character from the security that this isn’t about winning Him over, it’s just about learning to walk more and more in his freeing ways.
In Community: Read through the passages from Timothy, Romans and Galatians. What jumps out as an area you want to grow in or just feel really weak in? Bring it to a trustworthy Christian friend. Speaking it out, repenting, praying it through with someone, being accountable about it, can make all the difference. Vulnerable I know, but there is unique power in working this out in community.
Reading: I recommend ‘Enemies of the heart’, by Andy Stanley. He is addressing the (at times controlling) emotions of guilt, anger, greed and lust. We have to recognise with issues around our character, it isn’t always simply about ‘behavioural management’, we need to dig a bit deeper. This book has some helpful pointers to really tackle with some walls we may come against in growing in a Godly character.
“The supreme test of goodness is not in the greater but in the smaller incidents of our character and practice.”
Speak it Out- Pray and Prophecy
Lord, we want to strive from a place of humility and knowing grace, we want to strive because we just love you Jesus and want to be more like you, we want to strive because we trust you know what’s best for us. Help us not to give up, to keep giving over the way we are to you. To keep caring about the simple calling of loving you and others in our daily life. Spirit, please help us, we really need it!