Once again, welcome to our final discussion on our topic in discussion ‘Life Principles.’ In my previous presentations, I highlighted three main principles which dominate the scene of leadership in our world today. They are Pleasure, Power, and Possession.
The point is not to set oneself on the throne of judgement, or to pity from a privilege position those who have been duped by the fountains of pleasure or lured into the palaces of power. Nor can we diagnose with disdain those who seem to have given up and accepted life as a passive spectator sport. The point is, rather, that to some extent all three of these life principles have made inroads and left an imprint on our own life-style.
So you and I must look into ourselves at the deepest level, the point at which few people, if any, are ever permitted to know us. What do we really want from life? What do we really think would make us happy? You and I are now practicing a life principle, which may not be obvious from a surface view. Someday it will amount to a life wager. In the end everyone gambles his or her life on something, or someone, as the way to happiness.
In the Gospel narrative of the final Passover Feast (the Last Supper), Jesus dramatizes his own life principle and lays before the Apostles and all of us the condition of our own Christian discipleship. Almost immediately after Jesus gives his disciples the bread of his Body and the cup of his Blood, a dispute arises over “which one in the group should be considered the greatest” (Luke 22:24). After three years of tutelage under the greatest of all spiritual directors, the disciples still labour under their old delusions. They are petty, competitive, and self-centred.
So in the last hours of his life, Jesus tries to remind them of his central message. He washes their feet. According to Jewish custom, if the host of a dinner was honoured by the presence of his guests, he would wash their feet. If, on the contrary, the guests considered themselves honoured by the invitation, the host did not wash their feet, presumably indicating his higher social status. You will recall that, when Jesus ate with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), Simon did not extend this courtesy. Sir Wilfred Grenfell said, “Real joy comes not from ease or riches or from the praise of men, but from doing something worthwhile.”
Life principles are probably the most difficult to live and apply on a daily basis for it requires the search and examination of one’s inner soul and spirit and we so often fall short. There is a dilemma which some of us need to admit that we do have a gift and ability of leadership in some areas but at the same time our characters has flaws. Then, do we assume, accept, or take on the working out of that gift and potential in our life? Do we qualify for a leadership role when our characters have flaws?
Life principles are who we really are. We all think about a lot of things that are not godly, and things we would be ashamed of if they were available for all to know. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” My reputation is what others think of me, which may or may not be true, but my character is who I really am. Your character is the real you in the sense that you cannot separate what you do from who you are.
Everyone has a “public” face and a “private” face. Most of us tend to act with better behaviour around others than we do in private. Character is the aggregate of a person’s ethical and moral qualities, and it is demonstrated through the choices we make. So a person of good character is someone who acts morally and ethically upright. Undoubtedly, we are all a mixture of both good and bad, so we are not saying that to have “good” character a person never makes any missteps. Rather, he is someone who is always striving to take the moral high road and, when he recognizes he has done something wrong, does what is necessary to get back on track.
The list of “high value” character traits (those virtues we esteem) is extensive, and includes such things as integrity, courage, honour, honesty, and fortitude. In addition to the many noble traits there are, we Christians would also want to make sure that we are pursuing those virtues that God espouses. Certainly this list for us would incorporate the distinguishing qualities of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and humility. In fact, it has been said that the fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22 and 23 represent the character of Christ.
The type of character you have is your choice. This is why it was once said that, “Your character is the sum total of your life choices.” If you make poor choices, such as stealing, lying, or laziness, then you have poor character. I may not have a choice regarding the situations I am confronted with, but I always have a choice concerning how I respond to those situations. When dealing with frustrating or disappointing circumstances, I can respond with anger or with patience. The choice is always mine to make, so my character is always a matter of my choice, and thus it is my responsibility.
God absolutely cares about character, so much so that it could be said that the Bible is a character textbook. It is filled with instructions on what it means to live righteously, that is, in a “godly” and upright manner. The Bible is also filled with stories of men and women who have done it right, and many who have not. These are for our learning so we can benefit from the examples of others.
Just as there are examples of people with great character in the Bible, there are also records of those who did not do quite so well. King Saul, although looking like the right choice as a king, had some serious character flaws. The prophet Samuel delivered some great promises that should have inspired and encouraged him. Yet despite this, from early in his kingly career he demonstrated fear. In one of the first accounts about him we find that “…he did not tell his uncle what Samuel had said about the kingship” and then later that “…he has hidden himself among the baggage” (1 Sam. 10:16 and 22). Saul’s failure to address this deep issue of his heart continues to show up throughout his royal career, resulting in numerous acts of disobedience, murder, deceit, and pride.
The life of Christ teaches us great practical character lessons. In spite of difficult circumstances and times of severe difficulty, he always responded in a godly manner. He was the epitome of love, kindness, and gentleness. Yet, at the very same time, he was a man of great passion, strength, and fearlessness. And now, we too are told that this is how we can, and should, live.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea