Character - page 1

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From the Fall 2006 issue of Knowing & Doing:  


by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute


“Consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
Love is never safe apart from character.

haracter in Crisis
  The oft-discussed crisis of character in this nation is due to the widespread disdain for moral absolutes. If there is nothing fixed, then character is based on quicksand. The attitude of many (more than two-thirds of people in the USA) is that morality is based on the situation or that it is solely a matter of personal preference. Despite this relativistic tendency, there is a desperate desire to inculcate character in the educational process. But you cannot have it both ways. Either you give up your relativism or you give up a solid foundation for character. As the Hebrews passage calls us to do, we need to “consider how” to shape or create character in our time.
  The word for “let us consider” (katanoeo) is used fourteen times in the New Testament. It means “notice, consider, pay attention to, look closely at.” George Guthrie says: “Believers are to rivet their attention on the need for conscious activities of encouragement among those in the Christian community.”
  Consider how to stimulate. We are to consider one another, considering how to stimulate each other to love (and good deeds). Such consideration has not often been done. Sometimes it is assumed that merely teaching what is right and what is wrong is enough. It is easy to neglect the cultural context in which people live, the social, economic, and community pressures that contradict or undermine faithfulness. We can also underestimate the difficulty of reversing deeply entrenched patterns (bad habits) that bind us. We can also neglect desire. We can teach people duty, but it is much more difficult to teach the desire to do your duty. You can want to do what’s right (desire), but not know what right is (duty). But many know what is right (duty) yet lack sufficient desire to consistently do it. So we must seriously “consider how to stimulate one another” to really love and consistently manifest good deeds.

The Importance of Character

  Love is never safe apart from character. How can we risk loving friends, spouses, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow citizens? Sometimes we are called to love without regard for our own safety (as in loving our enemies). Yet it is wise before entering into a long-term relationship to consider the other person’s character. This is especially true in friendship, marriage, business partnership, etc. Love in a relationship is only safe when there is character present. A habitually abusive spouse may do an occasional good deed, but it is not safe to be in a relationship with him or her. In like manner, a church is not safe apart from the character of its members. A business partnership is only as safe as the character of the partners. A nation is only as safe as the character of its citizens. You can only trust wisely when you discern good character being present.
  Relationships can only rise as high as the characters of those involved. Plato argued that you cannot be good friends with a bad person because sooner or later that bad character will manifest itself. That relationship will only rise as high as the lowest level of character between the two. Similarly, Aristotle argued that there are three kinds of friendship: (1) utility, (2) pleasure, (3) virtue. Only the friendship of virtue can be trusted to rise to the heights because only it is based on unchanging values. Friendships of utility, based upon a common situation, such as working at a summer camp, playing on a sports team, or working at the same job, can be of great value but it would be unrealistic to expect that all these relationships would continue beyond the common context in which they grew. If the relationship was primarily about playing basketball together, it may be that if you were to meet later, the only thing you would have in common was basketball. If you were together in a summer camp situation, it could be that accomplishing the task of running that camp was what the friendship was about and that outside that context, there would be little else in common to bind the relationship. If the relationship is primarily about utility—accomplishing a task—then the relationship may not continue outside the context of that task.

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