Updated: Aug 4, 2020
A Detached Character
I was sitting hunched over my small desk in a tiny classroom during my undergraduate studies and I was thinking to myself, “I agree with what you said, but not the manner in which you said it.” The young man who was speaking was a peer and he was making a case for his conviction on God’s design for man and woman. After class I was conflicted because I agreed and sympathized with a person who had a divisive and presumptuous character, and it did not trouble him at all. A question loomed long in my head; how can he be so unconcerned about his character?
This would not be the last time I experienced a lack of concern for one’s own character. If one were to check a prominent pastor’s twitter feed or a popular Christian blog site it would not take long for individuals to find harsh, cheeky, discourteous, and rude comments from claiming Christians towards one another. Some comments are ignorant, however some thoroughly thought through, but what fell short was not their proof-texts but the way they addressed their fellow brothers and sisters. As much as the New Testament calls for believers to stand for doctrine and truth (Rom. 16:17, Eph. 4:14, 1 Tim. 1:3,10; 4:6; 6:3, Tit. 1:9, 2:1,10), the New Testament also says much about the spiritual maturity and godly character of the believer (Gal. 5:22-26, Luk. 6:43, John 15:4-8, Rom. 14:19, 1 Tim. 6:11, 2 Tim. 2:22, 1 Pet. 3:11).
So, what then brothers and sisters, are we upholding doctrine at the expense of neglecting our own character? Have we groomed people to fight for Christ while neglecting their progression into his likeness? By all means let us preserve and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ, let us be faithful to our study of the Word, let us progress in the renewing of our minds, but let us do so by growing in Christlikeness not contentiousness.
This is not a call to undermine theological training. This is not an observation of the effects of social media towards our polarizing society. This is not a guide to a theological triage to help one engage other believers with differing views. Nor is this a commentary on the Christian conscience and how we are to love those we disagree with. This is rather a plea to take one’s character seriously, for Christ has not just saved us from something but to something. He has called us out of darkness into light (Eph. 5:8; 1 Pet. 2:9). He has called his enemies to be sons and daughters (Rom. 8:15; Eph. 1:15). We were once sinners, but now we are righteous and being made holy (Rom. 5:1-11,19; 1 Pet. 3:18). We are now one body and Christ is the head (1 Cor. 11:3, 12:12-13; Eph. 4:15, 5:23). Considering such truths, what does it mean to have “unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Pet. 3:8). What does it mean to be people of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...” (Gal. 5:22-23).
May our character be one of our strongest apologetics amidst the present climate of our culture. Below are two categories in which the Lord has given us to mature and develop our character. In no way is this list exhaustive (e.g. spiritual disciplines, evangelism, discipleship, preaching, etc.) but may these two things help draw our attention and spark conversations concerning our lifelong maturity until glory.
You may be wondering why suffering? Why begin here? Some may view suffering as a momentary setback or a bump in the road, but Scripture approaches suffering differently. As followers of Christ we are not to shy away from suffering and hardships, rather we are to rejoice. Scripture calls for us to “count it all joy” (Jas. 1:2) when we face trials, but why so?
We welcome suffering because it plants the seed of maturity.
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 (Rom. 5:3-4, ESV).
Paul’s comments within this section are interwoven with the implications of our reconciliation. In Christ the believer is justified, and they now live their life in light of eternity. Considering this eternal reality, the believer welcomes suffering. Paul proceeds with a chain of progression from endurance to character and character to hope, with hope as the end goal.
Think for a moment on how suffering impacts many aspects of our life. It puts us in uncomfortable situations and undesirable circumstances, but they reveal much of our character. When we face the loss of a loved one, when we have harsh disagreements, or when we endure financial stressors; how do we respond to those moments? Suffering provides a space for such reflections. Suffering provides opportunities for the believer to display their trust in the promises of God or in themselves. To believe that one can control the outcome of their suffering communicates a belief in their own self-sufficiency. It reveals that their character is marked by pride. However, may we be like that of St. Fallan, a sixth century Celtic monk whose hope was in the Lord when he learned during the middle years of his life that he had lost his sight. In response to his suffering he wrote these words:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Here is a man with no sight to see, but what he fixes his mind upon is the Lord above all things. In God’s sovereignty he uses such moments of suffering to mature and develop the character of the believer.
The Lord has not called us to live this Christian life alone. As important as it is for us to keep ourselves personally accountable to our growth (Phil. 2:12-13), spiritual maturity should also be occurring within the community of saints. Paul calls the church in Galatia to bear each other's burdens (Gal. 6:1-10). Paul calls the church in Ephesus to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1-21). Paul calls Timothy to preach the Word for it is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16-4:6). John calls the church to love one another not merely with words but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). Each imperative given in these letters are carried out within the context of the church, for our progression towards holiness happens together.
Therefore, pursue relationships within your local body of saints. If you do not have a local body, then I urge you to find one. How can one be obedient to Scriptures' call to love, to be patient, or to consider others, when we remove ourselves from the community where that happens? Pray that the Lord would open doors for you to commit yourself to a local body of believers and may your character experience the fruit of community. For us who are in community, let us draw our attention to a professional quarterback, which they improve through countless repetition. It is in community that we get our repetitions in extending love, hospitality, forgiveness, charity, patience, and all the more. Let us posture ourselves humbly in fellowship with the saints to be challenged, to be kept accountable, and to do the same in turn.
Jeffrey Her (BS, Toccoa Falls College) is a husband to Heaven, a Senior Pastor at Hmong Hope Church in Indianapolis, IN, and a dad to his dog; Shephard. He has faithfully served the Hmong District of the C&MA for nearly five years and is currently an MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO.