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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Gifts & Character
tripped up

By Dennis Pollock

Having given my life to Jesus in 1973, I have been a Christian for quite a few years now. I have attended many different churches, read more than a few Christian books, listened to quite a number of Bible teachings (many on cassette tapes during my early years), and have seen a number of Christian leaders rise and fall. I have also witnessed the unraveling and fall of ordinary Christians, men and women who once seemed to love Jesus supremely, but through the years grew cold in their faith and eventually succumbed to the temptations of the evil one.

 

The most notable ministry disgraces and scandals are, of course, the sexual ones. These are the ones that end up on the evening news and get even the non-Christians talking. You can almost hear the chorus of demons, singing, “Another one bites the dust.” But for every pastor, evangelist, or worship leader who falls into sexual sin, there are probably a dozen ordinary Christians who also fall in this way. Almost none of these planned it, expected it, or even thought it possible to end up in a foreign bed, but still it happened. A few minutes or a few months of illicit pleasure, and then came the consequences. Broken marriages, scarred children, divorce courts, attorneys fees, gossip, lies, and deceit. And when the dust clears, the church of Jesus Christ has taken another hit, and families have been split asunder. It is not pretty.

 

Non-sexual Scandal

 

Not all falls from grace are of the sexual sort. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, was an incredibly gifted minister of the gospel with tremendous charisma. In his early years of ministry it seemed that almost everything he touched turned to gold. Bob had a tremendous measure of compassion for the poor and hurting in the world and founded World Vision as a Christian charity aimed at helping orphans and poor children in underdeveloped nations. The ministry took off like a shot and grew in leaps and bounds. But while at the apex of his success Bob seemed to unravel. Even though he was gone more than he was home, he couldn’t seem to get along with his wife and left her to live in an apartment a short distance away. His wife loved him and sought to reconcile with him, but Bob would have none of it and refused to even see her.

 

Bob’s angry personality affected his relationship with his ministry board as well. Eventually they insisted that he step down from the helm and hired a new president. Pierce had been forced out of the incredibly successful ministry that he had founded and shaped. He was able to find new means of ministry, but never at the previous level. Bob finally died of cancer, living alone in his apartment. Even though his wife begged him to allow her to care for him during his last days, he refused. Finally, as his sickness progressed, he allowed her and their girls to share a meal with him. Shortly after that, he was dead.

 

Bob Pierce’s problem was not a lack of gifts. He had gifts most of us could only dream of. But somehow he seemed to lack the character and stability that would have enabled him to successfully navigate the transition from fiery young minister to seasoned, mature statesman in the body of Christ.

 

The Two Things Needed

 

In successful ministry, two of the necessary major components are gifts and character. Most of us tend to focus on the gifts. If a man or a woman is a great speaker, or singer, or writer, we assume that this individual must surely be very godly and possess sterling character. Otherwise, why would God anoint and bless his or her ministry this way? But anointing and talent do not always guarantee character. To be impressive on stage or behind a pulpit does not indicate that one is impressive in his daily life, in his relationships, or regarding all those critical, small decisions that add up to integrity.

 

Our gifts are our weapons, our unique talents and divine enablement, through the Holy Spirit, to destroy the devil’s work and to glorify God. God’s gifts in the lives of His children are beautiful and wonderful to behold, and they are awesome in the incredible amount of good they can accomplish. But these gifts are never supposed to stand alone. Gifts without character are a disaster waiting to happen. The arrival of that disaster is not a matter of if but of when. Our Christlike character must be the foundation for our gifts if we hope to carry those gifts for a lifetime without scandal or failure.

 

The problem of the prodigal son was not that he had too much money. Some people manage to go through this life with a great deal of money, and yet they do much good for the world and never fall into disgrace. Money itself does not guarantee corruption. The prodigal son’s problem was that he insisted on his inheritance far too early. He got the money, as he demanded, but he didn’t have the character to use the money wisely. His immaturity, selfishness, and love for pleasure caused him to quickly squander all his wealth. Money, without the wisdom to manage it well, is a curse instead of a blessing.

 

Spiritual Wealth

 

And so it is with spiritual riches and gifts. Anointing, talent, charisma, and the ability to speak or sing, are all wonderful gifts and graces from our Heavenly Father, but if we possess these without the foundation of character, our lives, our weaknesses and our lack of self-control will bring a reproach upon God. Rather than glorifying Him we will give His enemies another opportunity to scorn Him and His people.

 

For this reason, we are commanded to pursue character. Note the word pursue – not amble in its general direction, or hope for it, or dream of it, but vigorously pursue it. Paul writes to Timothy:

 

But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).

 

Previously in this passage, Paul had been talking about the love of money, and how it leads people into terrible error. He follows by telling Timothy to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, and so forth. In other words: “Don’t pursue riches; pursue character.” Let’s consider two men. One is wealthy, arrogant, hot-tempered, and promiscuous. The other lives on a small salary but is patient, kind, honest, and fully devoted to his wife, as a result of his faith in Jesus. Which is the richer man? In God’s eyes, the poorer man is the richer man, and the richer man is the poorer man.

 

Peter’s Charge

 

Peter exhorts us:

 

Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).

 

Once again, we are told to make the acquiring of character of utmost importance. Faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, kindness, love – these are the things we must build in our lives, whatever else we may or may not accomplish. We are not encouraged to pursue power, miracles, fame, self-esteem, and greatness. We are told to pursue such simple things, things like kindness and perseverance. How few young people, just starting out in their careers, marriages, and adult lives, would ever say that one of their big goals in life was to be unusually kind and patient! Even many ministers seem to miss this. They will preach sermon after sermon and series after series, encouraging us to follow our dreams, fulfill our destinies, and achieve the greatness we are meant to achieve. But they will ignore those simple character traits which absolutely must serve as foundational to any “greatness” we may obtain in this life. Greatness should never be our aim; if it is to come our way let it come as a byproduct of the character of Jesus Christ manifested in us.

 

Divine Love and Character

 

We nearly always refer to First Corinthians 13 as the “love chapter.” This is understandable since several of its sentences begin with “Love is…”  But I think sometimes calling this chapter the “love chapter” doesn’t quite tell the whole story. Yes, Paul is talking about the power of divine love in our lives, but he is not merely describing the results of us having warm, fuzzy feelings toward everybody and everything. In a sense he is really talking about godly character, the very character of Jesus Christ and what that looks like in our lives. If Jesus’ character is reaching its full bloom, we will be patient, we will be kind, we will endure hardships without anger or complaint, we will live humbly, bearing what must be borne, and rejoicing not in ugly evil things but in all that is good and pure.

 

Paul tells us that this kind of character, this character of divine love, is the one thing we must have, or everything else we do is meaningless: “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, if I have faith to move mountains, if I understand all the great mysteries of the Bible, but do not possess this love, this bedrock character that comes through Jesus Christ, my life is in vain, my so-called ministry is worthless.”

 

Once we understand that the character of Jesus Christ in us is fundamental and of far more weight than ministry or even family success, we will always ask, “How does this character come? What is the process?

 

Allow me to present what I consider to be the two most fundamental keys and means by which we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the realization of the character of Christ in our lives.

 

Fruits of Righteousness

 

First, godly character comes through an intimate relationship with Jesus. Paul writes, “…being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). The fruits of righteousness – the fruits of compassion, patience, gentleness, honesty, respect for others, kindness, and so forth are “by Jesus Christ.” They enter our spirits when we first trust Jesus as our Savior, and they grow as we abide in Jesus, walk with Him, fellowship with Him, and depend upon Him daily. You cannot come into close proximity to the Savior and remain unchanged. If you want to stay in your same old selfish, grumpy, griping, angry, lustful ways and attitudes, then by all means don’t draw near to Jesus. And this is precisely why many people want so little to do with Christianity and with Christ. They instinctively realize that to draw near to Jesus is to experience change – gradual change to be sure, but change nonetheless.

 

True godly character is never built into human lives just by making an effort to be a better person or reading positive, uplifting books. It is built day by day by doing what we were made to do – walking in fellowship with our God and with His Son Jesus. As we make fellowship with God and time in His word a priority in our lives, bad habits will drop off, patterns of upright behavior will emerge, self-discipline will appear “out of nowhere,” and responsibility will strangely become our friend.

 

Win the Small Battles

 

But also we must become acutely aware that to pursue character means to win all the small integrity battles that we face on a daily basis. People who fall into flagrant sin and terrible scandal never do so after years of godly, daily living. Almost certainly the big battles are lost because over the past years, all kinds of small battles were lost. In all sorts of critical, smaller, moral choices, the wrong choice was made. Self-control was sacrificed for pleasure, responsibility was forfeited for the sake of selfishness and the easy way, integrity was denied and greed and lust were embraced. Finally, after years of making poor smaller choices a poor bigger choice was made, and people looked on in shock and amazement. But it was no surprise to God. He saw it coming a long way down the road.

 

To repeat Paul’s words to Timothy: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.” Actively, aggressively, doggedly, tenaciously seek these character traits with all your strength and all your soul. Guard your hearts and carefully make your daily moral decisions in the presence of and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And by all means, abide in Jesus! When supported by the bedrock of godly character, God’s gifts prove overwhelming to the powers of darkness.

 

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