1 Corinthians 10:12,
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!
What does it mean for us to have godly character? It is an important question, but not an easy one. Quick, easy answers to what it means to have godly character mask a lack of genuine understanding. Godly character is not something we can apply to our lives from the outside, like a veneer. Godly character begins at the core of our being and permeates every aspect of our life.
As a woodworker, I prefer solid wood to veneers. A veneer is a thin layer of an expensive wood that is glued to a cheaper wood to make it look better. On the surface, a solid piece of oak looks just like a piece of pine with an oak veneer. If you sand the one piece of wood enough, you will soon break through the veneer and expose the pine below. If you sand the solid piece of oak, it will remain true.
The same principle is true for us. If our character is merely a spiritual veneer, when the trials and pressures of life rub against us, our true character will come through. If our character is genuine, the trials and pressures of life will reveal that as well.
One of the reasons to use a veneer is to get a consistent look, without flaws. Veneers are created to look perfect. When working with solid wood, you often encounter small flaws that make the look less than perfect. If the image of my character is too perfect, then it is most likely a veneer. If on the other hand small flaws are evident, then it is more likely the real thing. So what are the general qualities of a godly character?
A person with a godly character is genuinely humble. Humility is not a trait that is valued today. As a society, we celebrate the bold, the arrogant, the self-promoting. The truly humble person is lost in the shadows. In some ways, humility is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Yet, God places great value on being a person of humility. In Proverbs 3:34, Solomon writes: He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. James picks up on this and takes it a step farther.
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
"God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:6-10
A person with a godly character has a realistic understanding of their strengths and weakness. The problem with a veneer character is that it promotes a false understanding of ourselves. We begin to believe that the façade we have created is genuine, when it is not. Paul challenges us to be honest with ourselves about the true nature of our character. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Romans 12:3
A person with a godly character focuses more on what God thinks than on what people think. We put on spiritual veneers to impress others. We want to be seen as more spiritual than we really are. We want others to be impressed by our godliness. Genuine godly character looks for God’s approval above the approval of people. Paul was constantly struggling with people’s opinion about him. In Galatians 1, Paul puts his cards on the table, so to speak. Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
A person with a godly character is gentle toward others, full of grace. One of the sure signs of a veneer character is our negative response to others when they rub against us. In the heat of the friction that is caused, our true character will come through, in the form of anger, bitterness, resentment. What we want to come through is grace. A person with a godly character may have a negative immediate response, but they will deal with the other person with real gentleness and grace. Conflict is always a test of our character. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1
A person with a godly character knows that they are unfinished. Remember that the goal of a veneer is perfection. A veneer character will always protect the image of perfection. Genuine, godly character recognizes the rough edges and imperfections. A person with a godly character sees themselves as a work in progress. They are always striving to smooth out the rough edges and work through the imperfections of their lives. Instead of hiding their unfinished state, they acknowledge it in appropriate ways. They don’t make excuses, they take steps to strengthen their character. I truly admire the Apostle Paul for this quality. He saw himself as a work in progress right up to the end of his life.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:10-14
We are all works in progress. God is in the process of shaping, molding, and refining our character. As we faithfully cooperate with Him, we will more and more reflect His image and glory into our world. Let’s not settle for a veneer of character, but strive for true, godly character that goes all the way to the core of our being.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.