Although January 15 is the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, today is ML King day. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed into law the bill to make the 3rd Monday of January a National holiday to honor Dr. King, remember his legacy and celebrate his achievements.
When you think of Martin Luther King Jr, you remember his tireless work in the area of civil rights. The peaceful marches. The fiery speeches. And unfortunately his untimely death. But most of all, I think of the great “I Have a Dream speech, delivered in August of 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln memorial. In that passionate speech Dr. King challenged us with these words.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Our word of the week is character.
By definition character is “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.” Character has to with moral and ethical qualities. Reputation. Behavior. And integrity.
English translations of the Bible don’t use the word character very often. Ruth, in the Old Testament, is called a woman of “noble character” (Ruth 3:11). Paul wrote that “endurance develops strength of character” (Rom. 5:4). And Timothy is spoken of as a young man with “proven character” (Phil 2:2).
The Bible warns us against things that can undermine Christian character. Paul writes that “bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:3) The Hebrew writer admonishes, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have (Heb. 13:5). And the wise man warns against dishonesty because it will “ruin your character” (Eccl. 7:7).
Godly character means to treat all people without prejudice, partiality or partisanship. Fifty years ago bigotry was accepted in many circles. And prejudice was too often demonstrated even by those who called themselves Christians. Today, we have our first black President, who was reelected to a second term. Many of our African-American citizens have made a substantial marks in fields of education, medicine, science, literature, sports, entertainment, religion and politics.But even with our progress, we still face the temptation to superficially judge others by race, ethnicity, social status, or economic success. These measurements will always fail. Dr. King was right. Character is paramount.
In The Testament of Hope, Dr. King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Christians are called to develop the character of Christ. He was kind. Caring. And compassionate. He treated others with respect without regard to their ethnic background, social standing, or economic status. While the word “character” is not used it is the center piece of Jesus’ sermon on the Mount. The foundation of the golden rule to treat others like we want to be treated (Matt 7:12). And the essence of the two greatest commandments to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37-40).
Character is the foundation of all other qualities. Goodness. Virtue. Honesty. Courage. Purity. All of these and more are the fruit produced from the root of character. They are the handiwork of thoughts, influences, and relationships. The wise man wrote, “As he thinks in his heart so is he” (Prov 23:7).
Today is a good day to ask, “What is the content of my character?
Dr. King once observed, “The time is always right to do what is right.” And, after all, isn’t that the core of Christian character?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman