Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 25 August 2022:
Ruth 3:11 — “My fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.”
Ruth’s reputation of honor was well known despite her poverty. Boaz spoke of her integrity above her beauty — “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.” (NIV) “…for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” (KJV) Though not wealthy, famous, or equipped with any particular skill or talent, Ruth had a reputation of possessing noble character.
The Bible says that noble character is worth more than great riches. (Proverbs 31:10) Luke 2:52 points out that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” But the world honors talents, skills, personality, and appearance over character. Those lifted up by society are often those who are good at something (or just good looking), regardless of whether or not they are good people. In fact, the world is quite willing to overlook major character flaws of those who have enough talent or beauty. However, God calls His people to have both character and competence — character first.
Romans 8:29 – “…be conformed to the image of his Son….”
So how does a Christian develop character? The character development process is a perpetual cycle – your thoughts and desires turn into decisions; your decisions turn into actions (what you do); your actions become habits (your pattern of behavior) which, over time, solidify into your character (who you are); and the cycle continues as your character guides your thoughts. Everyone is continually becoming more of who they are through either a virtuous character cycle (conforming to the image of Christ – Romans 8:29), or a vicious character cycle – “while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:13)
To develop a Christ-like character, the Bible will instruct you to target all areas of the character development cycle, simultaneously and persistently, through a changed heart, changed mind, changed thoughts, changed decisions, changed habits, and, overtime, a changed character (be the new you that you already are). In other words, the perpetual (hopefully virtuous) cycle of change is not simply linear (one step to another), it is interdependent, mutually supportive, synergistic, and continuous. The Bible also explains that your decisions and actions both reflect your current character and shape your future character. Most revealing are the decisions you make when no one is looking.
The secular world sees character development as a wholly human endeavor, a product of the human will. Many religions hold the same viewpoint. However, though the Christian understands the importance of willpower in the process of sanctification, the Christian realizes their total dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit for both salvation and for sanctification (Christ-like character development – oneness with Christ).
Without Christ, character development is a house built on a foundation of sand. Without Christ, one can obtain the appearance of character without the true life and power of character. A person can act out character like the Pharisees who Jesus called hypocrites (hypocrite is the Greek word for stage actor) and whitewashed tombs – outwardly impressive but dead inside. The worldly version of character can produce results in life, but not eternal results. It is easy for Christians to be deceived by the many popular secular teachings on character development which promote placing faith in the inherent goodness of people, a goodness which supposedly only needs to be unleashed through proper education and practice. However, the Bible teaches that “love” and “self-control” are fruits of the Spirit, not a fruit of human intellect and willpower (Galatians 5:23). “Let no one deceive you with empty words (Ephesians 5:6).” Christians can also make the mistake the Pharisees made by pursuing good behavior (moralism) rather than Christ Himself –
- John 17:3 — And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
- John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- John 15:4-5 — Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
- 1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
- 1 John 4:16-21 — So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Christian character development is not about modelling Jesus’ behavior but rather growing to share His heart – His focus, thoughts, feelings, passions, attitudes, and choices. Behavior is the natural fruit of what is in the heart. The ultimate character virtue is love, and God is love; He is the foundation, the source, and the catalyst for all true love; apart from Him, there is not true love, only desires, which may at times have the appearance of love, but which cannot ultimately stand the test of love — “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
Christian character development is not building up a better you but rather sacrificing yourself for Him – being crucified with Christ and no longer living for self but for Christ alone. As stated above, the Bible gives many instructions on how to personally develop Christ-like character, instructions which demand daily discipline (disciples require discipline) and long-term perseverance, but we must recognize these disciplines as acts of worship and as acts of denying self rather than self-denial – there is a big difference between denying self and self-denial:
Jesus said the first step was to “deny self” (Matthew 16:24), while the secularist says the key to success is self-denial. Self-denial has been described as giving up something you want now in order to get something you want more later – making daily sacrifices to achieve long-term goals. For example, you don’t eat that cheesecake so you can look good at the beach this summer, and you motivate yourself by saying things like, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” Ultimately though, the focus is still on self, self-control for self-glorification.
Conversely, denying self is putting an end to self-seeking, self-serving, self-justifying, self-glorifying, self-centeredness, and self-confident living. It is dying to self, no longer living but Christ living in you, abiding in Him. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) Instead of resisting what you want now for sake of what you want later, it is no longer wanting what you wanted but rather wanting only Him and His will, appreciating that you have Him, walking in fellowship with Him, and passionately sharing Him with others because you love them like Jesus does and desperately want them to know Him like you do. It is an end to chasing after the worries of this world. Jesus said that eternal life was knowing Him. (John 17:3) Are you experiencing eternal life today and the fullness of joy which comes from knowing Jesus intimately? What might be standing in the way? Ask yourself this question: “Why do I do what I do?” What is your true motivation behind your actions and ‘good deeds’? What is the foundation of your character? “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)
A key virtue of godly character is humility. “The Lord lifts up the humble.” (Psalm 147:6) “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12 ) “Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6) Someone once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less.” Humility is obtained by not focusing on humility but rather by focusing on Christ. Humility is something that can only be attributed to you by others, not self-assessed. As soon as you begin to consider your own humility (thinking of yourself), you have begun to lose it. The key to growing in Christ-like character is keeping are your eyes affixed upon Him, rather than yourself or on others, and following Him one step at a time — “We keep looking to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.” (Psalm 123:2)
- Luke 9:23 — “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 24:28-31 — “So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
The way we treat others and the way we love others on a daily basis impacts our relationship with God –
- 1 John 4:11, 12 — Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
- 1 John 4:16 — So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
- 1 Peter 3:7 — Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
- Matthew 25:45 — Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
- John 15:12 — This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Cleopas and the other disciple who walked with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus came to a metaphorical crossroads, though unrecognized to them – a decision point that seemed minor but was actually quite significant: As the stranger walking with them (Jesus) prepared to journey onward into the evening, they had to choose whether to be obedient to God’s word or not: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)
The Bible demands special hospitality to sojourners and travelling strangers, and hospitality dictates that God’s people open their homes to travelers as Job proudly proclaimed was his standard practice – “the sojourner has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler.” (Job 31:32) Remember at the city gate of Sodom, Lot insistently opened his home to two strangers who were in fact angels, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Genesis 19; Hebrews 13:2) Jesus used hospitality as a test when he sent out his disciples to evangelize – “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you… shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’” (Mark 6:8-11)
So, Cleopas and his friend had a decision to make — invite the stranger to their home or let him go on his way. It was a small, quickly made decision. If they had said nothing, Jesus would have walked on, and that would have been the end of the story. No one would have called them out for their lack of hospitality as the decision would have gone unnoticed. Cleopas and his buddy would have gone on with their lives unaware of the opportunity they had missed due to their insensitivity to the will and activity of God.
However, the Bible says that they “urged him strongly.” Because of their obedience in this small matter of hospitality, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” They were faithful with a little thing and were given much, much more – their lives would never be the same again; they were first-hand witnesses to the risen Christ.
I believe God works much the same way in our lives. Every day we come to countless small decision points or crossroads, places where we must choose obedience or self-centeredness. It’s in the everyday, small decisions that our character is formed, where our spiritual eyes are opened (or closed), where we prove our readiness for greater things. We often ask, “What does God want me to do with my life?” But the answer is to walk in faithful obedience, one day at a time, making the most of every opportunity that God places before us, particularly during those seemingly insignificant moments. If we are faithful in the little decisions, God will reveal His bigger plan for us. If we are unfaithful in the little things, we will likely walk on contently, unaware of the great opportunities we missed.
I believe God is at work continually all around us, but we are often insensitive to his activity because we are distracted with the worries of the world and our own plans. We are very busy at work hoping that God will bless what we are doing, rather than seeking to become a part of what God is already doing in accordance with His plan. In our self-induced hurriedness, we walk right by countless “sojourners” without even noticing them, unaware of the great opportunities we missed. Jesus walked differently, always noticing and engaging that person in the crowd that everyone else was ignoring. Jesus saw what others couldn’t see because He was in tune with the Father, doing only what he saw is Father doing.
The disciples were often frustrated with Jesus when He became ‘distracted’ by those in need on the sidelines who, to them, were not the priority, not on the day’s schedule. Likewise, they worried when Jesus’ accessibility to people seemed to create demands they were not prepared to handle – “And the disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?’” (Matthew 15:33) Obedience to God in the moment requires faith which trusts God’s plan over your plan, and which is willing to address big issues with no clear solutions or to open cans of worms for the sake of love which others wouldn’t touch. In fact, responding faithfully in the moment might alter your entire course in life; many major ministries have been started unexpectantly by people who stopped to help just one person, never imagining that God would open their eyes to a life-long calling. Still others have walked past the opportunity, accomplishing their personal life goals, never realizing what could have been and could have done had they put God’s agenda first. What will God show you today if you walk in obedience to Him with your eyes open for His activity? What will happen today if, like the Good Samaritan, you are willing to stop what you are doing and go out of your way to put a stranger or someone else first in your life, despite the personal risk, cost, and discomfort of doing so? How might God ‘open your eyes’ and draw you closer to Him and to others in newfound levels of love, joy, and peace?
- Luke 10:30-37 — Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by CHANCE [emphasis added] a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
- Hebrews 13:2 — Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) –25 August 22: “My fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” (Ruth 3:11) Today, consider what the people in town would say about you. Would you primarily be described as a faithful follower of Jesus or just a ‘good’ person? Next, consider what God knows about you that others don’t. If others knew about you what God knows, would your reputation change? Strive to be a genuine person with no secret self. Seek the truth of you to be nothing but Christ in you. Be honest with God, yourself, and with others, and be transparent. The grace of God eliminates guilt, shame, and fear and brings freedom. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)