Date: 7/11/04
Text; Proverbs 1:20-33
Title: Your Character Matters
Theme: As followers of Christ, we are to make an effort to develop characters reflecting our relationship with HIM.

As we approach the Presidential election season, we begin to hear increasingly words such as "image, image make-over, projected image". Each political party is doing its best to present its candidate in the best possible image. No wonder some one once said, "since the entrance of TV into the election process in the early 60's, it is all about image."
Os Guinness in his book, "Character Counts" writes, "We live in a culture where character has been replaced by image, truth by power and plausibility, confession and moral changes by spin control and image makeovers."
When we are bombarded day in and day out by image, spin control and image makeovers, sometimes it is hard to maintain character, truth, confession and moral changes.
Yet as we search the scriptures, we find nothing about image makeovers and spin control; instead, it is confession and moral changes. There is no power and plausibility; instead, it is truth. There is no image issue; instead, it is character issue. You see, the purpose of the scripture is to help us to know the triune God. Having known him, the instructions are there to help us become like Christ. Its about change of values, character and behaviors.
This morning, I would like to study with you the book of Proverbs, to find out what it teaches about character. In Chapter one, we see a listing of character types. In the book of Proverbs, the basic tenet of character is not intellectual ability, but moral orientation. First, let us take a look at the various character traits one is to avoid.
I. Characters we are to avoid.
In 1:22, there are 3 words describing 3 different characters. "How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?你們愚蒙人喜愛愚蒙,好譏笑的人喜歡譏笑,愚昧人恨惡知識,要到幾時呢?"
1. The "Simple Ones愚蒙". The simple one means those who are not committed to godliness or ungodliness. They are not neutral, but easily misled. They are easy targets, easily distracted by new fads. Very often they make their choices and decisions because everyone else is doing it. They tend to go with the 51% majority. In their Christian walk, they don't have any convictions. They are easily persuaded by the latest new theories. For example, when they read the Da Vinci Code, they will think it is true that Jesus married Mary of Magdalene. That there is no divine Christ and the scripture prior to 325 AD. They will start to think that everything the church taught is false. They are gullible.
2. The Fools愚妄. 1:22; 27:22, "Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him你們愚蒙人喜愛愚蒙,好譏笑的人喜歡譏笑,愚昧人恨惡知識,要到幾時呢?你雖然用杵把愚妄人與碎穀一同搗在臼中,他的愚妄還是離不了他." In Proverbs, the term fools is not used in the context of one's intellect. It is a reference to one's moral capacity. It means a stubborn perspective on life. In 1Samuel 25 is a story about Abigail and her husband Nabal. Without Abigail's knowledge, Nabal refused to pay wages due David and his followers. This greatly incensed David and he wanted to get even with Nabal by killing the family. Nabal's wife, Abigail came to David and beg for mercy. This is how Nabal was described: 17, "Now therefore know this and consider what you should do, for harm is determined against our master and against all his house, and he is such a worthless man that one cannot speak to him.現在,你要想一想,看看你該怎麼辦,因為災禍必定臨到我們的主人和他的全家。他是一個性情兇惡的人,沒有人敢對他說話。” 25, "Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name, and folly is with him請我主不要把這個性情兇惡的人拿八放在心上。因為他的名字怎樣,他的為人也怎樣。他名叫拿八,他也真是愚笨。" Nabal is stubborn, no one can speak to him. He is a fool. A fool refuses to see his/her problem. It is always others' fault. That sounds familiar, doesn't it? I don't have a problem. I don't need to see a counselor. It is all your fault. I am OK. The scripture calls such a person "Fool"
3. The Mockers/Scoffers. 1:22. 13:1, "wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.你們愚蒙人喜愛愚蒙,好譏笑的人喜歡譏笑,愚昧人恨惡知識,要到幾時呢?慧的兒子聽從父親的教訓,好譏笑人的不聽責備" A mocker is someone who ridiculed moral instructions. This past week a federal judge candidate was being ridiculed for his belief in the biblical teaching on Woman's role in a marriage. Some senators made the statement that how can anyone in this day and age still believe in this. How can you still believe in the Bible as God's word without error and therefore it is the standards for faith and behavior? How can anyone still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman? This is ridicule, making fun of moral principles, especially when it is related to the biblical teaching. We see plenty of this in our news media, work place and academic environment.
4. Wise in own eyes. 3:5-7, " 5Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.要一心仰賴耶和華,不可倚靠自己的聰明; 在你一切所行的路上,都要承認他,他必使你的路徑平坦正直。 不可自以為有智慧,要敬畏耶和華," A person wise in his own eyes is often a person that is unteachable. It is beyond help, for it is the greatest sin in Proverbs. 26:12, "12Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.你見過自以為有智慧的人嗎?愚昧人比他更有指望。" A person wise in his own eyes will say, what can you teach me that I don't know? Or the statement, "I don't need to go to the worship service anymore, for I have been listening to sermons for over 25 years. I have heard it all." Really? Howard Hendricks once said, a person is brain dead the day he received his PH.D. We think we have learned it all. With nothing else to learn.
5. Lacking judgment/sense. 15:21, "Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.無知的人以愚妄為樂;聰明人卻行事正直。" He thinks foolishness is fun. Unable to tell the difference between right and wrong. I think of some soldiers smiling and apparently having fun while treating the prisoners in a very inhumane way. This is lack of judgment. Or individuals engaging in a disruptive and destructive life-style; such as addiction to drinking, smoking and pornography. They think they are having fun and enjoying life. This is lacking judgment.
These are some character traits the author of Proverbs urges us to avoid. Now let us take a look at:
II. Character traits we are to cultivate.
You probably have noticed that the various character traits are scattered all over the book of Proverbs. You see, the book of proverbs looks at life from different perspectives. And therefore one see the different traits permeating one's entire life. It is not compartmentalized, but integrated.
First, wisdom. 1:2, "2To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight,…要使人曉得智慧和教訓,了解充滿哲理的言語;" We are told to be persons with wisdom. Wisdom is really the spiritual counterpart of common sense. A wise person knows what to do in difficult situations. When there is conflict with another person, a wise man knows how to resolve rather then running away or withdraw from the situation. A wise man knows that the Lord is in full control of our life, therefore he can learn to be at peace no matter what situation he may find himself in. A wise man knows the right from the wrong, what is appropriate from inappropriate. This is how he can be protected from sin. A person of wisdom will not put him/herself into situations that may cause him to sin.
Second, Understand/discernment. 10:23, "23Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool,
but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding.愚昧人以行惡為嬉戲,聰明人卻以智慧為樂." 15:21, "21Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.無知的人以愚妄為樂;聰明人卻行事正直." 17:10, "10A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.對聰明人說一句責備的話,勝過責打愚昧人一百下" A man of understanding is a person of who knows the difference between right from wrong, good from bad. He walks in a straight path; will not put oneself in a compromising situation. He is not perfect, but teachable. When he is corrected or rebuked, he is willing to accept and make appropriate changes in life. This is not easy for us, isn't it? When we are rebuked, or corrected, we become defensive, angry and run away from the relationship, fellowship group or even the church.
Thirdly, Prudence精明. 13:16, "16In everything the prudent acts with knowledge,
but a fool flaunts his folly.精明的人都按知識行事,愚昧人卻顯露自己的愚妄。" 14:15, "15The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.愚蒙人凡話都信;精明的人卻步步謹慎" 14:8, "8The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.精明人的智慧能分辨自己的道路;愚昧人的愚妄卻欺騙自己。" A man of prudence is one who is careful, thinking things through. C.S. Lewis describes Prudence as practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come out of it. Its like checking carefully before pressing that delete button. There are some who thinks things through but with no action. Others have action but fail to think it through first. A prudent person thinks through things carefully before he speaks or acts. You see, without prudence, we will find ourselves apologizing all the time. And after a while, people will not take our apology seriously. Chinese have a saying, "think 3 times before you act."
III. These character traits are for us to acquire.
We have seen what characters to avoid and what to develop. How? There are several simple suggestions:
1. Gift. We are to recognize some of the characters are gifts to us when we experience rebirth into God's kingdom, family. Having become a Christian, we begin to have that propensity of wanting to become wise, prudent and understanding. But there is more to this.
2. Effort to cultivate. Matthew 10:16, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.現在,我差派你們出去,好像羊進到狼群中間;所以你們要像蛇一樣機警,像鴿子一樣純潔" Hebrew 5:14, "14But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.只有長大成人的,才能吃乾糧,他們的官能因為操練純熟,就能分辨是非了" These passages tell us that good character traits need to be worked at. We are to make an effort to acquire and become. It does not happen overnight.
3. Discipline. 4:23, "23Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.你要謹守你的心,勝過謹守一切,因為生命的泉源由此而出." How to acquire the good characters? Discipline. There is no simple, short cut. There is an Olympic divers' team being trained here in Woodlands. The team members practice 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. They watch what they eat. They are focused. We too are to be focused in our discipline to acquire the godly characters in life.
4. Teaching. 2:1, "1My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you.我兒,如果你接受我的話,把我的誡命珍藏在心裡," We need consistent teaching to remind us of the importance of such characters. As adults, we teach our children. We also need to be taught and reminded by pastors at church.
5. Priority. 23:23, "23Buy truth, and do not sell it, buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.你要買真理,不可出賣;要得智慧、教訓和哲理" When you really want that dress, that camera, that CD, you will go and buy it. We must have that strong desire to possess these characters. Not just wishful thinking or keep asking others to pray for me, but I really want to be a person of wisdom, understanding and prudence.
Does character matter? Of course, and you know that. Imagine, you just met a guy/girl; really cool. He is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, two PhDs'; graduated summa cum laude from the best School in the country. Then you find out he is rude, arrogance, stubborn, dishonest, making fun of the moral principles dear to you. Would you continue on with this relationship? Deep in our hearts, we know character does matter. We also know that character causes conduct. What I do is only a reflection of what I have inside. And moreover, my conduct also shapes my character.
We live in a culture, including the Christian culture where great emphasis is on what I want to accomplish in 5 or 10 years. I think these are good and noble goals we need to develop for life. But I feel an even more crucial question for all of us to ask is: What kind of person am I becoming. What kind of a person will I be 6 months, 1 year or 5 years down the road? From time to time, I would ask myself, as a pastor of this church, what do I want to see you become by the time you leave this church?
I certainly want you to know a lot about the Bible. I want you to know how to lead a Bible study and teach SS. Of course, there are all those different ministry skills I'd like to see you acquire; such as EE, counseling and leadership skills. And now, I am beginning to understand more and more, what matters most, is not how skilful you are in the Christian ministry. But what kind of person you are. When I see you one or two years later, what character traits are there? Are you becoming more like Christ? This is what matters most. I like to close with a quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux: You know well enough that our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them."