“Do all things without complaining and disputing, {15}that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom shine as lights in the world, {16}holding fast the word of life” – Philippians 2:14-15a

Introduction

The gulf coast was hit by a category 4 hurricane (Sandy). The city of New Orleans was almost completely flooded and many have lost their lives and still many others have lost everything that they owned except what they had with them. The entire city had to evacuate to get away from the devastation and so that they would survive. The city is uninhabitable at this point. The death toll is expected to continue to rise and the damage is in the billions of dollars. This was the worse natural disaster that the United States has ever experienced.

However, what was very amazing and disgusting during this whole time was the behavior of many people. There were actually people preying on the others that were devastated by the hurricane and its aftermath. People were looting, raping others, and shooting at news reporters in their helicopters. There were gangs that formed that began to terrorize others and wreak havoc during a time of desperation. The rescue attempts had to be halted because of the terrorists in that devastated city. There was a greater need for law enforcement than for rescuers because of the behavior of some of the people.

What I saw was terrifying, but at the same time very expected. I was wondering what would happen as time past and the people remained in despair. Even many police officers turned in their badges and therefore abandoned their post. I can only assume that they reneged on the oath that they took to serve and protect. There was even news footage of police officers that were looting (though there were only two that were shown).

Major catastrophes such as this will bring out the best and the worst of people. The true character of a person is revealed when the pressure is on. The true nature of a person is revealed when deterrents are removed. People looted guns to terrorize others. People were stealing big screen televisions when everything else around them was destroyed. Where were they going to take those things? People showed their true character during the time of need and despair.

However, there were other more gratifying things going on. People were banning together to help each other. People began to donate money by the hundreds of thousands to help those in needs. Families were taking in displaced families in an effort to help. I read one article where a man was “stealing” bandages from a Rite Aid, if I remember correctly. He said that he needed them for wounds and that he felt bad about taking them. He also said that he was a Christian.

Our true character tends to come out increasingly as a stressful situation lingers. The more remain in a stressful situation then the more we revert back to the real self. The façade is no longer maintained and we become who we really are in behavior.

Another very interesting thing that we could notice in any stressful situation is the response to emotion. We tend to do more emotionally than before when we are stressed. I believe that this is what is behind road rage. See my study on the emotions.

This situation has raised my concerns about character. How do we develop character? How can we remain upright in a time of great despair? How can we remain objective and consistent with God’s way when we are faced with injustices, despair, and great stress? How can we remain true to the Way of God when everything around us is stressing us to abandon that Way and respond emotionally and in a way that is consistent with the world instead of God’s Kingdom?

We are going to discuss those questions in this sermon? We are going to discuss the principle of character and how true character is developed so that we would be consistent in all areas of our life and at all times.

Lesson

Philippians 2:12-16 (NKJV) — {12}Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; {13}for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. {14}Do all things without complaining and disputing, {15}that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, {16}holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

Paul encourages the Philippians to continue living according to the Christian way. He says to work out your own salvation. It is a personal thing. Our lives should be indicative of the Christian way that we profess. However, how do we do this?

Verse 13 tells us that it is God who works in us to will and to do His pleasure. There are two important points here that we should not overlook.

  1. God works in us to will His way
  2. God works in us to do His way

This is very important because it tells us that God will help us to want to do what is righteous and to actually do it. God is with us all the way!

Be With God

1 Kings 8:57-58 (NKJV) — {57}May the Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers. May He not leave us nor forsake us, {58}that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, which He commanded our fathers.

This scripture is very interesting because it sheds some light on the whole concept of wanting to do God’s will and doing God’s will and how God helps us to do both. Here we see that God being with us is the first step on the path of wanting to do God’s will and also doing it. Is God with you? Can you say that you walk with God? Consider the following scripture, which is one of my favorites.

Psalm 1:1-3 (NKJV) — {1}Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; {2}But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. {3}He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.

Let’s break this scripture apart and evaluate the little pieces for nuggets of revelation.

  1. A blessed person does not walk according in the counsel of the ungodly
  2. A blessed person does not stand in the path of sinners
  3. A blessed person does not sit in the seat of the scornful
  4. A blessed person delights in the law or the Lord
  5. A blessed person meditates on God’s law consistently
  6. A blessed man prospers in his way

These are phenomenal revelations. If you are joined to God then you will want his will and therefore do his will and all the same time God is helping you do it. You see it is not merely by our own will that we do God’s will. We don’t have enough will power to consistently stand for what is right. Therefore, we need God to help us do what is right in terms of a lifestyle practice.

I have always been amazed at Psalm 1 because in verse three it states that this blessed man will prosper in all his ways. It didn’t say that this man would prosper according to God’s will or in the way of God. It states that this man will prosper in his way. What you have to realize here is that his will is being molded into what God wills. His desires are being influenced by God almighty. So it isn’t just his own will exclusively. His way is being directed by God and therefore ultimately God’s way is what is being practiced. Consider another scripture that sheds even more light on this concept.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV) — {5}Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; {6}In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.

  1. Trust God with all that is in you
  2. Don’t depend on your own understanding
  3. Be aware of God in what you do
  4. God will direct your paths.

Again we see the importance of being with God and God being with us. If we are with God then He will direct our paths. We don’t have to worry about what is the right way. The only concern that we should have is whether or not we are on the right path. That right path is the path that God has ordained for us. Therefore, we should always stay with God as much as possible because if we are with God then we are on the right path. We can’t be with God and disobey him and remain with him. Disobedience separates us from God. So all we have to do is remain with God and consequently know that we are on the right path.

Getting With God

How do we get with God? Consider what Jesus said in regards to this.

Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV) — {28}Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29}Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30}For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Jesus said to come to him, but how do we do that? Jesus is at the right hand of the Father so how in the world could we come to him and remain alive on planet earth? I believe that the key is in His next statement. He said to take His yoke upon us and learn from Him. That is, we should join ourselves with Christ. Again, how do we do that? What do we have now? We have the word. How does the world compare with Jesus Christ?

John 1:1-4 (NKJV) — {1}In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. {2}He was in the beginning with God. {3}All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. {4}In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Jesus is the Word. So we can come to the word and therefore come to Christ. The word that we come to is not just ink on paper so to speak. This word is living. It is spirit.

John 6:63 (NKJV) — {63}It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

We have to come to the word. We have to come to Christ. This means that we have to “hear” and “do” what Christ said. We are encouraged to be doers and not just hearers of the word.

James 1:22 (NKJV) — {22}But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

We have to become engrossed in the word. Being with God must be a priority in our lives else we will not do it. What are you joined to and committed to today? How much time to you spend working out your salvation, that is to say being diligent at living the true Christian lifestyle?

It is not enough to know the right way (be a hearer). We must do the right way or rather practice the right way (being a doer). We have to practice the Christian lifestyle else we will not live it consistently. Whatever is in your heart is who you really are.

Consistent Character

We cannot live a façade and deceive ourselves into thinking that we are living a righteous life. We shouldn’t deceive ourselves into thinking that because we go to church on Sundays and pray on Mondays that we are somehow accepted by God. We are accepted by God because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ and therefore we should live according to that Way.

This should be a reality to us and not a religious notion. Our lives should not be an obligation of ritual and rules, but a real effort to live according to God’s way. Let’s talk about this character issue. First, what is character?

Character is defined as the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another; moral or ethical strength; a description of a person’s attributes, traits, or abilities. I think that we tend to think of disposition when we typically refer to the character of a person. A person may have an upright or bad disposition in terms of their lifestyle. A person may be thought of as having good character, which typically means that he or she is a moral person at the very least.

So our character is basically the assessment of ourselves. Someone may demonstrate good character just by his or her general behavior. However, as I alluded to earlier, sometimes we live a façade. Our true character doesn’t show until something comes along that causes us to otherwise forget about maintaining the façade. When the façade comes down then the real person comes out and the true character is evident.

We therefore need to build a good character. How do we do that? Well first of all that good character is referring to operating or living in accordance with God’s way. It is not a mere moral code that we live up to. Having character means to live in accordance with the Kingdom of God and His ways. One could say that we should exude the fruit of the Spirit in our lifestyle.

Galatians 5:22-26 (NKJV) — {22}But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23}gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. {24}And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. {25}If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. {26}Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Christians should in general exhibit:

  1. Love
  2. Peace
  3. patience
  4. kindness
  5. goodness (as it relates to God’s way)
  6. Faithfulness (trustworthiness)
  7. Gentleness
  8. Self-control

I would say that the prominent one of all of those and more is the principles of love. We should love God and each other. Love is where the fruit of the Spirit comes from anyway. Note that it is the fruit of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) and not just our own fruit.

Building Character

How does one build character so that even in the most stressful situation you remain true to God and consistent with His way? I believe that the short answer is to practice, practice, and practice more. Here is a summary of what I have learned about this topic.

  1. Develop a true intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ
  2. Learn God’s way
  3. Be conscious of and aware of God’s way in your own lifestyle
  4. Modify your behavior by purposely responding to what you know (from God’s word) instead of what you feel
  5. Examine yourself to see if you are with God and therefore on the right path.

Let’s look at these briefly.

Relationship

First we must have a relationship with God if we are going to be with Him and therefore expect to live according to his way. We cannot merely take this to be a moral exercise or a religious walk. It has to be from your heart and therefore you have to truly seek God and build an meaningful, persona, and intimate relationship with Him. Remember that God will help you to will the right thing and He will help you do the right thing. You however have to be determined to stay on the right path since God will not make you do it.

Knowledge

Knowledge here is not mere information gathering. It involves a relationship with God. We truly know someone because we spend time with that person. We can know God if we spend time with Him. That means that we have to do the following.

  1. Read and study the Bible
  2. Meditate on God’s word
  3. Pursue God (prayer, fellowship time)
  4. Be aware of Him in your life

The point here is to know what the Word says. Know how God wants you to live. Know the will of God.

Romans 12:2 (NKJV) — {2}And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Renewing our minds will enable us to know the will of God. Our minds are renewed by allowing the Holy Spirit to change us through the word of God and through the power of God. Please understand that this is not an overnight thing. It may take years for you to change your behavior, break out of unwanted or bad habits, and change your lifestyle. The important thing is to remain consistent so that your way would change from the world to the Way, which is God’s way.

Be Aware of God

This is a very important process in your development. Being aware of God means that you are at least looking for Him and therefore actively pursuing Him. Remember Proverbs 3 where it says that we are to acknowledge God in all of our ways.

This also helps us to realize the reality of God. God sees all things and He is not pleased with sin. Being aware of God means that we are conscious of His presence, which hopefully provokes us to do right.

Modify Your Behavior

Think about what you are doing and then take a different course of action. If you used to holler out of the care window in a fit of road rage then instead tell yourself how meaningless such would be and just try to enjoy the ride home. See yourself and begin to take a different course of action in what you do. Try to examine yourself to see where you want to change and begin working at it. Remember that Paul said to work out our salvation. We have to work it out and therefore be persistent and consistent with it.

An important part here is found in our base scripture.

Philippians 2:14-16 (NKJV) — {14}Do all things without complaining and disputing, {15}that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, {16}holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.

  1. Don’t complain when you do things
  2. Don’t dispute when you do things

If you would do these then you would become blameless and harmless, that is to have a good reputation. You would also be true Children of God and mature in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. What does complaining do for the situation anyway except feed your emotions and cause you to go further and further away from God’s way.

Examine Yourself

This process is probably included with all processes. It is the envelope of all because it is the very thing that will help you move towards the right way. This doesn’t preclude the fact that we will still error and sin. However, it does mean that we are more active in following God and therefore will get more and more intimate as time goes on.

Examine yourself to see if all is well in your life. Determine if you are truly doing what God wants you to do. Stop a moment and “take inventory’ of your life so to speak. Just sit back and evaluate what you are doing and where you are going. This will surely help you stay on track.

Results

The results of these things is that we would obtain and maintain better and better character. We would be seen as peaceful people, trustworthy people, etc. We would be representatives and even ambassadors or God. We would truly be the light of the world. Building truly good character will enable us to remain godly even in the most horrific situations (or godlier).

The result of good character is that we live a godly life. So start your journey today. Strive to live a godly life. Strive to modify your character where needed. Don’t allow a major event show you for who you really are. Let the real you stand out at all times. Let Jesus Christ exude from your lifestyle as you witness the life of Christ to others merely by your behavior.

Application

We can use the information in this discussion to our lives right away. We can use this to alter the way we think and what we do. However, I should say that changing your lifestyle may be a long process. It isn’t easy to change something that you have taken years to develop. It may take years to get rid of it. I thought there would never be a day when I didn’t want a cheese steak or some of the other things that I used to eat. However, now I don’t even have a desire for them. It was a long way to get to this point however,

So know the way, do the way, practice the way, and be that way, which is in Christ. Amen.

 

Developing Character
By Pastor William R. Cunningham
For Sunday September 4, 2005