Today is a national holiday in the United States honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Congressman John Conyers and Representative Shirley Chisholm are responsible for introducing the bill that President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1983. Although Dr. King’s birthday is January 15, the holiday is always observed on the third Monday of January.
M. L. King is remembered for his tireless work in the area of civil rights. The peaceful marches. The fiery speeches. His untimely death. And, of course, his 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.”
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).
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.
The wise man wrote “A good name is rather to be chosen than riches, and loving favor than silver and gold.” (Prov 22:1). This speaks to the character of a person.
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).
Jesus’ Mountain Message is all about developing godly character. (Matt 5-7). In it he emphasized the importance of our attitudes, not just our actions. That thought and motive speak to the heart of a person. It’s not enough to refrain from adultery, we must not lust. While murder is reprehensible, hatred in one’s heart is also wrong. And love must go beyond those that love us to even loving our enemies. That’s character.
Character is doing the right thing for the right reason. It is based in deep convictions. It is monitored by conscience and personal accountability. And it is maintained by self-discipline. Dee Bowman was right when he wrote “To conquer yourself is likely the greatest and most important challenge in life because until you truly own yourself, you can’t give yourself to Christ.” That’s character.
As we work to develop a Christ-like character, this mean to treats others with respect, kindness and courtesy. Let us not judge others by their race, ethnicity or skin color. Neither let us label others based on their social status, economic condition, or political affiliation.
Remember, our reputation is what others think we are. But character is what God knows we are.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman