Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His divine manhood. While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life. -One Solitary Life, James Allan Francis
Lately, I’ve been thinking anew about the power of true godly character. I must admit, I have given more time and thought to strategies for being successful in ministry, how to grow a church when I was pastoring, how to communicate more effectively and speak more powerfully, how to raise more funds as part of the mission organization I now lead, how to reach more people with the Gospel, etc, than I have godly character.
But the above quote about the life of Jesus really does say it all. What made Jesus great was not merely what He did, but who He was. In fact, it was out of who He was that He did what He did, not the other way around.
I am also still thinking about the life of Billy Graham since he recently died. Billy did preach the Gospel to more people in person, than anyone in history. However, at his funeral, what I found most moving was the story his daughter Ruth shared about how he showed her the heart of God, in her darkest moment of sin and failure. (If you have not seen it, watch it here: Ruth Graham’s Story).
Godly character is really all about showing others the heart of God or what God is like. While I believe the following quote, attributed to Saint Francis, (even although he didn’t actually say this), is misguided, preach the Gospel and when necessary use words; it is true to say that when we lack godly character, the Gospel suffers. I believe part of why Billy Graham was so effective and powerful in his preaching was because he was a man of godly character. Clearly this is true when we consider the impact of the lives of people like Jesus, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and others. It was because of who they were, not merely what they had or did, that impacted the world so powerfully.
If anything is needed in our lives and culture today it is likewise men and women of Christ-like character. This is in fact God’s one and only purpose for our lives as Christians, that we become like Jesus (Read my recent article on this here: God’s Purpose for Your Life). Further, when I consider my biggest regrets in life and ministry, they all revolve around a breakdown in walking in godly character.
So allow me to very briefly share six attributes of Christ that I have been reflecting on and asking God to work more of in my own life, recognizing my lack in these areas, and need to be conformed more to the likeness of Christ. In reality, we all have room to continually grow in these core character traits until the day we see Christ face-to-face and are perfected in full likeness to Him.
They come from Colossians 3:12-13: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Compassion is a word that means to be “moved to the very depths of our being” by the sorrow, struggling, suffering or pain of others. However, Christ-like compassion always moves us to some type of action to help alleviate that pain in others. Compassion is never just a feeling, but a coming alongside another in their suffering or distress. How often are we moved to action on behalf of the suffering of others?
The word kindness does imply a sense of “good-will” towards others. However, Christ-like kindness goes further again than just a “feeling.” The Greek word for Kindness used in the New Testament actually means “to show oneself useful to another.” In other words, true kindness finds joy in practically serving others according to their need. Kindness reveals itself in being charitable, hospitable, meeting needs and in acts of kindness. It is “good-will” expressed by “good-deeds” towards others.
Humility is that trait that doesn’t put oneself above others. It doesn’t look down on others, but stoops down to serve others regardless of who they are. When we are humble, we acknowledge our sin before God, are free from pride and arrogance, walk in obedience to God and His Word, and do not boast about ourselves. True humility is God-focused and other focused rather than self-focused. Humility is the cloak we put on that enables us to serve God and others in a pleasing and sincere way.
I struggle with gentleness. Gentleness is a disposition of being mild of temper, sweet in relationship with others, and possessing manners that are not rough or rude. Currently, I am reading a nearly 1,000 page book on Ulysses S. Grant. Towards the beginning is a quote of his in the context of taming and training horses, one of his early loves. In this quote he says the following, If people know how much more they could get out of a horse by gentleness than harshness, they would save a great deal of trouble both to the horse and the man. Gentleness requires much self-control, patience and a longer-term view than immediate but shallow results. Gentleness endears trust and respect more than harshness ever will. I know I need to work on being more gentle when dealing with my children and in relationship with people.
The reason most of us struggle with patience is because the word really means “to suffer long” and who likes to suffer at all, let along long?! Patience is the bearing up under pain or being provoked, rather than breaking down and exploding in rage. It is a calmness under pressure, stress, affliction or frustration. It’s the ability to bravely endure trials, testing of the soul and/or unfair treatment as you await justice.
Christ has been patient with us in our sin and stubbornness. He patiently endured his suffering on the cross on our behalf. He bore up silently under his unfair treatment, mock trial and abuse, without lashing out in hatred or anger at his persecutors. He also did not give up on his disciples, despite their failures, faults and weaknesses.
Forgiveness is the very heart of the Gospel message. Christ died on the cross and suffered on our behalf to forgive us of our sins. If this is how He treated us, (not treating us as our sins deserve), how much more should we forgive one another? Forgiving is not excusing people’s sin, but pardoning their offense. Being forgiving means we no longer hold that transgression against that person. It means we do not retaliate in like or worse manner, but instead return the offense with mercy and grace.
This requires more strength and is more powerful in bringing others to repentance than retaliating could ever do. While not everyone will respond with repentance, it does demonstrate the heart of God and gives room for God to work in that person’s life, rather than taking it into our own hands in an emotionally charged and vengeful way. Forgiveness protects our own hearts from becoming bitter and poisoned.
All of the above character traits are actually expressions of one word: love. And when we think of love, we think of God, for God is love. Therefore, when we walk in love, we show the world who God is. And scripture says, without love we are nothing, for the greatest of all is love! (1 Corinthians 13).
Lord, help me grow more in Christ-like character. Thank you for being compassionate, kind, gentle, long-suffering, forgiving and gracious towards me. Help me reflect those same realities in relationship with others that they might see you through me.