Character Development – 2 Peter 1:5-11

You Will Know Them By Their Fruit

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Creating Character

Good character is created.  Bad character is following the path of least resistance.

Character progresses through four stages:

  1. Thoughts – our thoughts are the first step in what we will do.  We process our thoughts, and through our conclusions (right or wrong), we develop attitudes.
  2. Attitudes – We now move into beliefs.  When we have an opinion on something, we form beliefs.  We act upon our beliefs, because they form the worldview that we have.
  3. Actions – We are now putting our beliefs into action.  We project our worldview through the result of our beliefs in action.  We can say that we believe something, but if we never act on it, do we truly believe it?
  4. Character – As we act consistently, we form patterns of behavior that become character.  We may occasionally do something that is odd for us, or out-of-character, so to speak.  Character is the pattern of behavior that we instill in ourselves through repeated actions.

Powerful Properties

Peter advises us to build our character in stages.  God says things in specific ways so that we can be better prepared to follow Him.  In this case, there is a progression of character that Peter advises us to adopt.  We are to add onto the next AFTER we establish the previous.  Just as in any learning endeavor, we need to follow the steps to ensure that we get the full foundation of understanding and knowledge.  Here are the aspects of character, IN ORDER, that we should inculcate into ourselves:

  • Faith
    • Faith is the beginning foundation for our eventual goal – love.  Without faith, it is impossible to proceed in learning Godly character, which (eventually) displays itself in love.
  • Goodness
    • Without faith, it is impossible to please God.  We need faith first, and then we can begin to understand the goodness of God.  As we understand God’s goodness, and walk with Him, we are to emulate what we see.  And God IS Good…
  • Knowledge
    • As we grow in modelling goodness, we desire more knowledge of God.  We are turning away from worldly knowledge and towards Godly knowledge.  God will only provide you the knowledge that He knows you can be trusted with, for you will be held accountable according to the knowledge that you have…
  • Self-Control
    • Once we receive knowledge, we need to put it into practice.  This requires consistency.  Self-Control is the next step in our foundational building block of character.  Without it, we are merely doing what we want, when we want, and it is impossible to move forward.  How can we develop perseverance without first being able to do something consistently?
  • Perseverance
    • As we act upon our knowledge, we strive for consistency.  It does us no good to act Godly one day, and evil the next, with no rhyme or reason to our behavior.  We are to seek out perseverance in our pursuit of Almighty God.  But without the foundation of faith, goodness, knowledge, and self-control, we very well would pursue the WRONG path to perseverance…
  • Godliness
    • As we grow in our perseverance, we begin to truly experience Godliness in our actions.  We are now (fairly) consistent in how we practice what we have learned, and are growing in His character daily.
  • Mutual Affection
    • Is it not odd that mutual affection is this far down the line in the development of Godly character?  Just as in anything else, when we jump to the end, and don’t put in the time learning the basics, our ability to succeed rapidly approaches FAILURE.
  • Love
    • Once we have the basics, and are implementing them consistently, making the effort to embrace the body of Christ, we begin to show love.  God is able to help us to love one another as Christ loves the church.  He fills in the gaps where we are weak, and helps us by slowly weaning us off His overwhelming power so that we can pursue Godly character, which results eventually, in love.
    • He still helps us to love, for we cannot love as God loves apart from God, but we grow in His character by consistently CHOOSING His ways.
    • God will slowly remove the training wheels from our bicycle as we learn to ride.  If He was to constantly and consistently help us, how would we learn to make the right choices?  Do we not do the same for our children?  This is how we grow…

Each of these steps are necessary, in order, so that we can develop and grow in Godly character.  We do them out-of-order, or ignore them, to our spiritual peril.

Always Advancing

Peter next implies that in order to advance in our Christian Faith, these “qualities” need to be a part of our lives in increasing measure.  Each of these steps are to be pursued constantly, not just one after another. Each of these should CONSISTENTLY and CONCURRENTLY growing in our lives.  We just should not pursue the next step until we have a good handle on the previous step, however.

Becoming Blind

When we ignore these steps, we become nearsighted (unable to see what God is doing, and where we SHOULD be going) and (spiritually) blind.  We become like the person who proudly says, “I am a babe in Christ!  I’ve been walking with Him for 30 odd years or so!  I’m goin’ to Heaven.  Woo Hoo!”.  Imagine a 30-year-old man walking in diapers, throwing temper tantrums, drinking formula from a baby’s bottle, and acting like a baby.  What would you think?  That is what we look like to mature, Spirit-filled Christians when we do not grow in Godly character over time (let alone those who don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior)…

Confirm your Calling

Peter then urges us to be diligent in this.  The verb that translates here as “make every effort” in the Greek is spoudasate.  It means “endeavor with great diligence!”.  It is an imperative command.  This is not a suggestion, but an exhortation!  When we pursue Godly character in this manner, it “confirms” our calling and election.  It is VISIBLE FRUIT that shows that we are saved.  We have the responsibility to learn Godly character as part of our sanctification.

Anyone who does not embrace sanctification is not willing to die to self.  This should be a “red-flag” to us that there is something not right in our heart.  Whatever the issue may be, get it resolved (seek Christian counseling if this sounds impossible), and begin your spiritual development and training in Godliness.

Rich Reward

Peter then says if we do these things, we will not stumble.  Are you tired of stumbling in your walk?  Are you tired of being tripped up?  Here are the steps to fill in the gaps in your spiritual training.  Did you miss a step?  Is the foundation a little shallow at one end?  Go back to the beginning, and lay the foundation deep and wide, with Christ as the cornerstone (of your faith).  Once the foundation is solid and secure, the building that is built upon it will withstand the attacks of the enemy.

And be assured that if you follow these steps, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you as you pray for deliverance, strength, and wisdom to complete each of them, you will receive a rich welcome into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  And certainly, you will hear these words: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Have I laid down the right foundation in my pursuit of God?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, I thank You for the wisdom and revelation of Yourself in Your word.  Help me to review my foundation, and see if there is anything that I am lacking.  If I have missed a step, I pray, Father, that You will help me to see it.  Take me back to my earlier training, if necessary, and help me to learn each lesson again as You know that I need to.  Help me to shore up the weak points in my walk.  Father, strengthen me as I humble myself before You.  I know I don’t always do things right.  I stumble and I don’t know why.  Thank you for reminding me that to truly learn, I must put in the time and effort in the right way and in the right order for the results to bear great fruit.  Forgive me for my sins, and help me to honor you in every action, word, and deed.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Combat Training with God – Titus 2:11-12

Live A Godly Life By Saying No To Worldly Passions

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age

Grace of God

Salvation to all people has now been made available through the graciousness of The Lord God Almighty.  Grace is the mitigating factor in for the perfect justice of God.  He cannot look upon evil with approval.  Grace provides us with the opportunity, clothed in the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ, to come before Him in prayer for the forgiveness of sin.

Taken to the extreme, grace can be abused.  Paul warns us that we should not continue sinning so that grace can abound.  We are to accept grace as an intervening agent that is our source of salvation, and provides us with the opportunity to walk in holiness and uprightness before God.  If we rely entirely upon grace to see us through life, and live our lives the way that WE want, we are not submitting ourselves to the Holy Spirit.  There are some key scriptures that bear repeating over and over.  One is the command of Jesus Christ, our Commander-in-Chief:  Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.  By relying completely on grace and ignoring the commands of the Holy Spirit of God, we place ourselves in a perilous situation where Christ may refuse to acknowledge us when He returns:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Decline Distractions

We are to be in training as soldiers of Christ, not involving ourselves in the affairs of civilians.  In this, we are to focus upon the desires of our Father in Heaven, and not the pursuit of worldly passions, which is ungodliness.  We are to rightly discern what is good and right, and what is wrong and evil.  This is a skill that every disciple should be training to do.  As we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, we can test God’s good, perfect, and pleasing will.

What is it that plagues you?  What trips you up, sucking you into its death spiral of doom, ruining your walk with God, and destroying your relationships and efforts at pursuing righteousness?  It is these things that we need to say “No” to so that we are able to say “Yes” to God, “Yes” to righteousness, and “Yes” to victory.  Without declining ungodliness and worldly passions, we are like a cup, being constantly filled with the world, with no space left to be filled with God.  Saying “No” empties us of the passions and pursuits that vie for our time, talent, and treasure in conflict with the known will of God through His word.

Get Godly

Live a life that is self-controlled, upright, and godly in this present age.  Each and every person alive on Earth, whether they choose to acknowledge it, is an image bearer of God.  Everyone, by their very existence, owe their very lives to God, for He has created us.  When we choose to live lives devoid of self-control, we deny what God has already declared is true – that we bear His image.

It is only by living upright, godly lives that we are able to properly bear the image of God.  We have been given the opportunity by God in a gracious act of love to be able to choose how we want to live our lives.  Plagued with a sin nature, and the constant goading and pressures of the world, the devil, and our own evil desires, we do not have the strength by ourselves to overcome this.  Always turn to God when you sin.  Allow His grace and mercy to overwhelm you, and take joy in Him who created You so that You will find the strength to continue when circumstances do their very best to destroy you.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Do I find that living a godly life is a greater desire in my life than that of worldly pursuits?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You constantly pour out your grace and mercy upon me.  Help me in my weakness so that You will be my strength.  Help me to lean upon You for strength as my circumstances overwhelm me.  Give me a heart like David, that I might continually turn to You and desire Your holiness in my life, regardless of how bad I have messed up.  Help me to be humble before You, that You would lift my head up and restore me.  Grant me the desire and strength to live a holy life, far removed from the worldly passions and pursuits that bombard me with promises of fulfillment that only You can fulfill.  Shake me out of my complacency, and equip me to focus on the tasks at hand.  Remove the pull of desire that distracts me from You and fulfilling Your will in this life.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more? Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Marriage and God – Titus 2:1-8

Our Elders Are to Teach The Young Families The Key Pillars To Marriage

1 You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. 2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.

Creative Chiasm

A chiasm has been formed in these verses.  It contrasts men and women, and specifically, the mature versus the immature.  The structure looks like this:

Older Women – Young Women
/\
Older Men Young Men

It is an interesting contrast between these groups, especially the instructions given to the younger men and women.

Mature Men

Paul indicates that older men should be taught the following:

  • Avoid Excessive Wine (Temperate)
    • Excessive consumption of alcohol can severely impair a person’s judgment.  This can lead to terrible words and actions that cause great pain and resentment long after the effects of the alcohol wear off
  • Be Worthy of Respect (Honorable)
    • Paul touches upon a very core need for men – to be respected.  It is hard for a man to love a woman when he does not feel respected.  Paul urges men to live their lives in such a way that they are worthy of respect.  They are to make it as easy as possible for their wives to give them the respect that they so desperately need and desire.
  • Be Self-Controlled
  • Be Sound in Faith
  • Be Sound in Love
    • Paul exhorts men to unconditionally, volitionally, and sacrificially love their wives and others.  When they love their wives in this manner, it will help their wives to blossom and open up like a flower unfolds it petals, fully displaying its inner beauty to the world, confident in itself.
  • Be Sound in Endurance

Wise Women

Paul also urges that older women be taught the following:

  • Be Reverent in the Way They Live (live holy lives)
  • Avoid Slandering
    • The gift and curse of the great capability of women to communicate is the potential for gossip.  This needs to be avoided at all costs, so that no one is slandered.
  • Avoid Excessive Wine
    • Wine has the ability to lower the inhibitions of all who consume it, and everyone who does must take extra care to guard themselves against its effects
  • Teach What is Good

The interesting part is that Paul indicates that only after these characteristics are taught to older women that they will be able to properly guide the younger women in their ways.

Little Ladies

Paul then lists several ways that the older women should urge the younger women:

  • Love Their Husbands and Children
    • The interesting part of the word “love” here is that it comes from the Greek word phileo – to be greatly fond of.  God has already placed unconditional love – agape – into the hearts of women.  Older women must now teach the younger women to like their husbands and children.
  • Be Self-Controlled
  • Keep Chaste
    • It is ever more important that young ladies carefully guard their hearts against the wooing of other men.  In moments of emotional distress or feeling unloved by their husbands, younger women can be particularly vulnerable to a man who breathes life into her heart.
  • Be busy at home
    • In the time that this was written, it was mostly men who went out to work the land and provide for their families.  Yet it was documented in Proverbs 31 that a wife of noble character engaged in entrepreneurial enterprises as well as taking care of the family:
      • 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
        14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
        15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants.
        16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
        17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
        18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
        19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
        20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
        21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
        22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
        23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
        24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

  • Be kind
  • Submit to their husbands
    • Submission is the dreaded word that every women cringes at.  It brings about the feelings of some patriarchal tyrant who tries to keep his wife barefoot and pregnant, staying silent, and doing everything he asks – being at his beck and call and essentially his slave.  But submission is a beautiful thing.  We each are to submit to the Holy Spirit as Jesus Christ Himself submitted completely to God.  Submission has been described as being willing to duck so that God can throw a right-cross at the one who is in charge.  But only a fool would not listen to the counsel of the one that God has placed at his side for his benefit.

Growing Guys

Paul then goes on to tell what the young men should be taught:

  • Be self-controlled
  • Set an example by doing what is good

Paul provides these instructions for our benefit.  It is at our own peril that we scoff at them or ignore them.  Western culture teaches us that we should seek our own welfare before the welfare of others.  But God in this passage shows us just how important it is to self-regulate rather than indulge our heart’s every desire.  It is better to follow the word of God than it is to follow our own hearts.  This is because our hearts are deceitful above all, and without the transformation by the Holy Spirit and the word of God, we will be duped into desiring what the flesh wants, rather than what the Spirit of God desires.

There are now a higher percentage of Christian marriages ending in divorce than those who are not professing Christians.  This should not be!  There can only be one reason for such widespread failure in our marriages – we are not being obedient to God’s word.  Let us now take the time and remember the advice given by God to Solomon, the wisest man ever to live:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

The choice is ours.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I doing what God desires me to do as revealed in His word to ensure that my marriage is as best protected as it can be?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are the embodiment of truth.  You know all things, and reveal Your truth to us through Your word.  Help me to learn Your truth and put it into practice so that my marriage would flourish as well as bring you honor, glory, and praise.  Help me to submit myself to my spouse and to live life in accordance with what is good in Your eyes, so that You will be able to bless us in our marriage.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?

Stewardship and God – Ephesians 4:28

It Is Not Only Important HOW You Make Wealth, But Also What You DO With It

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Stop Stealing

Solomon, the wisest man to ever walk the Earth (with the exception of Jesus Christ), provided some insight into work:

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Solomon understood that there was more to life than merely acquiring wealth.  Security and prosperity come from the Lord, and not from our own endeavors.  When we take on the responsibility for trying to obtain what we believe is needed in order to live, we end up wasting our lives in vain by spending inordinate amounts of time and energy in pursuit of money and possessions that inevitably end up in the hands of others.

God has given us a Commandment to obtain our wealth through His proscribed ways:

You shall not steal

When we steal, we are coveting that which God has not directly nor indirectly provided to us.  It is a violation of His law of conduct between a person and society, as well as that person and God.  When we steal from others, it deprives them of what God has permitted them to obtain through their endeavors, whether legally or illegally.  Secondly, it says that we do not trust God to provide for us in our time of need.  Finally, it indicates that not only are we not content with what God has provided for us, but that we have greed and covetousness in our hearts.

It is better to be poor with integrity than to be rich and a fool.

Work for Wealth

Work expresses itself differently in everyone’s lives.  In this case, Paul indicates that we should all be doing something with our hands to generate wealth.  This is not a call to manual labor per se, but rather a call to use the gifts and talents that God has provided each and every one of us with in order to both do something that is legal (both in terms of man’s law AND God’s law) and that is desired by other people who are willing to trade either money, labor, or goods in exchange.

If you do not know what specific special skills God has provided to you for His glory and your monetary enrichment, seek the Lord in prayer and fasting for the answer.  Then, when God provides the insight, set your mind towards the goal of honoring and glorifying His name in that venue, giving all glory to God who has provided You with both the skill and opportunity.  Placing God first in this will surely honor and glorify His name, regardless the outcome.  And your dedication will be noticed by others who are in the position to promote you and use the abilities that you have been given for greater use and economic enrichment.

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Saving and Spending

There are only four things that you can do with money:

  • Spend it
  • Save it
  • Invest it
  • Give it away

In each of these, there is value.  Paul shows us here that there is value in giving some of it away.  God provides to us, and we should share as God places it upon our hearts with those who are encountering difficulty.  And while wisdom and discernment should be used when giving to others, we should give to others.

Those who live by thievery do so from self-serving motives – whether it is the thought of self-preservation (food, shelter, clothing) or greed and covetousness, it reveals where our hearts are.  Paul encourages those who now obtain their wealth through work to not only think about themselves, but also those who need assistance.

We are told many times in Scripture to help widows and orphans.  In the time when Scripture was written, those were the two most vulnerable segments of humanity within society.  Widows had no protection of a husband, and orphans had no family with which to provide them with basic necessities, guidance, skills, and resources for opportunity.

The opportunity to help those less fortunate than ourselves is a characteristic that God wishes to foster in each and every one of us.  And it is unnatural to one who has been rejected by society with no prospects of earning money to be compassionate towards others as they were starving or otherwise at the mercy of the physical rigors associated with homelessness.

Saving some of the wealth that we have earned is paramount to a measure of security.  And while we do not place our trust in the money that we have, from an emotional standpoint it is much easier to do our work when we don’t have to concern ourselves with the thought that we will be unable to meet our financial obligations as we frugally seek to stay away from debt.

Sharing and Shaping

In order to share with others, we must first have something to share.  This is a secondary benefit of dedicating part of what we have earned (and what has not be confiscated by our government in taxes for their continued efforts).  Good stewardship reveals itself in how we conduct ourselves and our finances.  Setting aside “for a rainy day” is one of them. Setting aside for the betterment of others less fortunate is another.

Additionally, it develops within us the ability to control our desires.  When we say “NO!” to the voice in our heads that tell us that we need something right now, we are better able to say “NO!” when something truly important occurs in our lives that requires us to have self-control.

A good rule of thumb to use when you believe that you absolutely, positively, MUST have something RIGHT NOW is to ask yourself some questions:

  • Will I or someone else be severely impacted in my/their physical well-being if I do not purchase this right now?
  • Is this something that I absolutely need (as opposed to something that I want)?

If you answer yes to either of these questions, you may need to purchase it.  Now ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can I live without this (forever)?
  • Can I live without this for at least a week?
  • Will I be financially indebted or exposed to financial ruination if I choose to purchase this right now?

If the answer to all of these questions are “No’, then you probably need to purchase it right now.

If your heart is still set on purchasing something that you want and do not need, then give your emotions a hiatus.  Place purchasing the item on probation for a period of time, perhaps a month, or if very expensive, six months.  You may find that after a period of time, your desire for what you want to buy may change.  And if it is something that you really desire, you will be in a better place emotionally to get it at the best price possible.  Advertising and sales try to emotionally involve you in your purchasing decisions.  “90% off offer only today!” is very enticing not only from the perspective of getting a bargain but also from the knowledge that you will have it immediately.

The principle here is self-control over our desires.  Each of us should develop this so that we can better react to the triggers that we face when in the world – the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.  When we can get these things under the control of the Holy Spirit, we are in a much better place to be trusted with additional resources by God for His glory.

A Qualifying Question

Let’s ask a question:  Am I able to exert self-control when presented with the opportunity to be immediately gratified?

A short prayer of preparation:

Father in Heaven, You are to be praised, for You show such great self-control especially given the grievous nature of my sin.  You patiently wait for me to repent, and lavish your grace and mercy upon me.  You provide for my every need, and even some of my desires.  Help me, Father, to learn the self-control that will help me to be more useful in Your kingdom.  Keep my heart from worldly desires, and help me to fix my eyes upon Jesus, to look full in His wonderful gaze.  Remember me in my weakness, for when I am weak, You are strong.  This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Want more?  Why not try A. B. Simpson or A. W. Tozer?