Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character. Psalm 105:19 (NLT)
Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold—gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away—and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:7 (NET)
“Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, only one thing endures and that is character.” ― Horace Greeley
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” —John Wooden
Is character important? Is it overrated? Are you kidding? How can you even ask such questions? I may be wondering why I could ask such a question as I recall Scripture and other quotes that illustrate the value and necessity of having a good character. And yet, even as some have determined that character deficiencies are a reason for rejecting someone for leadership, an examination of the lives of men and women that God has used mightily reveal some obvious contradictions.
As we survey the Bible for examples, it might seem those character deficiencies are a prerequisite for being used by God. Here are just a few examples: Abraham, called a “friend of God,” resorted to deception, not once, but twice tried to pass off Sarah as his sister (while technically true) instead of as his wife because he feared for his own safety. Abraham’s grandson Jacob twice stole his brother’s birthright and later he resorted to some trickery to increase the size of his flocks at his father-in-law’s expense. Jacob had a streak of larceny.
Next, we consider Moses who started his social justice campaign with the murder of an Egyptian and then was forced to flee, spending the next 40 years in the wilderness. As the leader of the Exodus, we see anger management issues as he smashed the tablets and then subsequently struck the rock when he was instructed to speak to it to bring forth water.
How about David? His lust led to adultery, which led to murder. Later, he succumbed to pride and called for a census which provoked God’s judgment. And our survey of Old Testament heroes would not be complete without mentioning Elisha whose vanity caused him to summon bears to attack some boys who called him bald.
In the New Testament, we think of Peter and his denial of Christ and years later, his hypocrisy of separating from the Gentiles when the Jewish brethren were present who disapproved. And Paul approved of the murder of Stephen and was a vigorous persecutor of the early church.
The point of what we are trying to say is this: godly character is important, but a failure of character is not an automatic cause for being disqualified to serve God’s purposes. Should we continue to preach and teach the value of a good character? Of course, even though God can overcome lapses in character, there is a price to be paid. Because of Moses’ anger, he would not be permitted to enter the promised land. David’s indiscretions directly led to the death of his newborn son.
As leaders, pastors, and as parents, we must continue to stress the importance of godly character. We begin by looking at ourselves to make sure that we are demonstrating godly character in our own lives. We must be open before God and ask him to examine us: Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart. Psalm 26:2 (NLT). Integrity and godly character are not overrated even though God is able to use flawed, imperfect people. We must be careful that we do not give up on someone before God does.
A leader has every right to demand excellence including virtue and character, but it must be tempered by grace and compassion. Paul writes: But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV). Jars of clay can sometimes be fragile and even crack, but when the light of the world dwells within us, the cracks simply provide a greater opportunity for the light to shine through.
God’s light shines greater through “cracked pots” than it does through those who have it all together. –Joyce Meyer
Finally, there is no shortage of books and quotations stressing the importance of character, and rightfully so, but our own failures and the failures of others are not necessarily fatal or final. We may look at our own lives and wonder how God could possibly use our brokenness when he may have us right where he wants us. As far as others are concerned, we must be careful to not be prematurely dismissive because our God is a God of redemption and reclamation.