Character and Reputation

July 28, 2017

Character is moral and ethical strength, or as someone has defined it — it is who we really are when no one is looking. Reputation is other people’s evaluation of our character. Although the words, character and reputation, do not occur in Proverbs 3:1-12, they are certainly concepts that underlie this speech to a young man.

The concern for reputation is found elsewhere in scripture. Proverbs 22:1 reads, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (ESV). In this speech, the young person who follows this teaching will gain a good reputation: “So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4, NASB). Notice that the teacher’s concerns go deeper than what people think of me. He desires a good reputation before God, who knows who we really are when no one is looking.

The path of character is the means to this good reputation before God and man. The law is not to be forgotten, but to be obeyed from the heart (3:1). Mercy and truth are also to be written on the heart (3:3). The person of good character is directed by inner principles and not by the outside influences of circumstances and pressures from other people.

The person of character is also directed by his or her relationship to God. God is to be trusted (3:5). Direction for life is to be learned from God. We are not trust our own moral sense or as Proverbs puts it — “not lean on our own understanding” or “be wise in our own eyes” (3:5, 7). We need our consciences trained by God. God is to be feared or reverenced (3:7), and we must depart from evil. This requires humility on our part so that we will be guided and corrected by God.

Character also has its rewards. Proverbs 3:1-12 pictures length of days, peace, health, strength, and blessings coming upon the person who follows these instructions. Yet even though there will be blessings for the life of character, this section also closes with a reminder that there can also be chastening: “for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12, ESV). Whatever the circumstances, the person of character must follow the law written on the heart and trust God from the heart.

Here in Proverbs 3:1-12 is the path to good character and reputation.

The Science of Humility

January 6, 2012

Humility has recently been studied by psychologists and social scientists. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology looked at helpfulness. Another study published in the Academy of Management Journal considered humility and leadership. Dr. Wade C. Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, who led one of the studies states: “Our discovery here is that the understudied trait of humility predicts helpfulness.” Note that the trait has been understudied and overlooked. What did these studies discover?

  • Humble people are more willing to lend a helping hand than arrogant people.
  • Humility is a predictor of helpfulness.
  • Humble people do not think poorly of themselves.
  • Humble people are not insecure, but instead have an accurate view of themselves, understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Humble people are actually comfortable with themselves.
  • Humble people make more effective and better-liked leaders than those who are self-promoting and “wear their accomplishments on their sleeve.”*

That humility has positive benefits should not be a surprise to the Christian. The Bible has much to say about humility.

  • He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:9, ESV
  • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2, ESV
  • The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4, ESV
  • I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV
  • Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3, ESV
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10, ESV

Researchers are interested in whether humility can be cultivated. As Jeff LaBouff, of the University of Maine, states, “If we can increase humility, either in the short term or the long term, we might be able to increase those pro-social behaviors.” As a Christian I believe we can learn humility as we follow our Lord “who humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8b, ESV).

* – “Humble People Are More Helpful”

What Spills Out

October 12, 2010

A man had a short temper. He seemed nice enough until he lost his temper, and then, he could inflict emotional pain with his words. The outbursts would come with the frustrations and accidents of life, and those kinds of moments always come. In his book, After You Believe, N.T. Wright tells this story.

A famous preacher had a friend who was well known for his short temper. One day, at a party, he asked this friend to help him serve some drinks. The preacher himself poured the drinks, deliberately filling several glasses a bit too full. He then passed the tray to his friend. As they walked into the room to distribute the drinks, he accidentally-on-purpose bumped into the friend, causing the tray to jiggle and some of the drinks to flow over the brim and spill. “There you are, you see,” said the preacher. “When you’re jolted, what spills out is whatever is filling you.”

When you are jolted, what spills out reveals your character. In a discussion about unclean foods, Jesus makes the same point.

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20–23, ESV)

That is why Jesus talks about trees and their fruit. (Matthew 7:15-20, 12:33-37). A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus is giving a lesson on tending orchards. He instructs us to “make the tree good.” Jesus’ solution for behavior (“fruit” in Jesus’ parable) is to transform us on the inside (“make the tree good”). When our character is transformed to be more Christ-like, we don’t have to worry much about the actions that spring from such character. After all, good trees (people) produce good fruit (behavior).

This really is God’s plan. When Jeremiah prophesies of the new covenant, it is about “the law written on hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). When Paul writes of the big picture of what it is all about, he says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV, my emphasis). We are to be like Jesus.

Character transformation is a lifelong process. We must cooperate with God to allow Him to change us on the inside. It takes God’s word. It takes prayer. It takes effort. It takes time. When you are jolted, what spills out?