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Character Counts

by Tim O'Hearn

It has been said that character is what one is, and reputation is what others see one is. There are those who have good character but a lousy reputation. Others have a good reputation but a lousy character. The ideal is when the character and the reputation are very closely aligned. We don’t generally brag about our character, unless someone impugns our reputation. Blessed is the man who can say, “you know my character, because you see my reputation.” Such a man was Paul.

But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. (2 Tim 3:10-11)

Timothy probably was, at least in his later years, Paul’s closest companion. Paul called him “my son in the faith.” (1 Tim 1:2) It is likely that nobody knew Paul better than Timothy knew Paul. When Paul lists these various attributes of which Timothy was well aware, he was essentially giving his own definition of character. If these things were his reputation, and we want our public and private personae to align, then these must be the qualities Paul most valued. That begs the questions, what is so important about these qualities? Why does Paul listExample was important to Paul. How we live, he says, is subservient to how we are seen to live. them as attributes of his character? And how can we incorporate them into our own character?

Doctrine has become a bad word in some circles. Some try to teach that doctrine is unimportant as long as we love one another. Others say doctrine is fine, but the Bible is so confusing that one doctrine is as good as another. Paul, however, lists doctrine as the first, and perhaps most important, aspect of character.

Why is doctrine so important to Paul? It seems to have been important all his life. He was trained at a young age by one of the greatest sages in Jewish history. Everything we know about him in the book of Acts occurred because of doctrine. He persecuted the church because they did not fit his view of Jewish doctrine. He was himself persecuted because of his doctrine.

Doctrine is simply that which one holds to be true, and teaches to be true. Whether a person likes it or not, everyone holds certain doctrines. Those who denigrate doctrine do so because of their doctrine. This is why Paul holds doctrine in such high regard. Every action in the character-filled life must be based on doctrine. If it is not, then it is hypocrisy. Either one acts in accordance with one’s view of the truth, or he acts in spite of it. If the former, then he has character. If the latter, his reputation may be good, but his character is that of a liar. Doctrine is that important.

That which Paul taught was so important to the church that it was to be that on which fellowship was based. “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom 16:17) It was such an important part of Paul’s character that he said he would not have any association with those who went contrary to his doctrine.

Manner of life, Purpose

Right conduct was part of Paul’s definition of character. This is, however, more than merely doing what was right. The word translated “manner of life” only appears in this place in scripture. It comes from a Greek word which means to lead, intensified by a repetition of the root word. Essentially it could be translated “leading leading.” What does that imply in defining character?

Paul seems to be recognizing that the way we live is right or wrong for more than just ourselves. Our manner of life is part of our character because others are watching us. While the word does include simple conduct, manner of life is more importantly distinguished by our example. We are what others see; we are our reputation.

Example was important to Paul. How we live, he says, is subservient to how we are seen to live. In Romans 14 he addresses whether people can be carnivores or vegetarians. His conclusion is that if a person is convinced in his own mind that it is a sin to eat meat, then one should honor that person by not eating meat in his presence. In 1 Corinthians 8 the question is a little more specific; should one refrain from eating meat if it may have been offered to an idol. Again, Paul’s conclusion is that our example is more important than being technically correct. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” (1 Cor 8:13)

Jesus knew of those who held their correct lives to be more important than their example. In fact, we have a word for such a person: pharisaical. The P’rushim (Pharisees) even bore a name that means “separate.” Quite often the reason Jesus berated them was because their practice, while correct, was presented in such a way that they were not good examples. Most people have known this sort of person. They teach the truth, but in such a way that they turn others off to that very truth. To them truth is a stick with which to beat others into submission. Paul was glad to know that Timothy knew him to be an example, not just a righteous man.

Every week the Jewish priests put twelve loaves of white bread on a table in the Tabernacle or Temple. In the Greek these were referred to as the showbread, or, literally, the bread of purpose. Perhaps this was in Paul’s very Jewish mind when he mentioned purpose as a part of character. Purpose is more than just a meaning for existence. In Paul’s mind it was setting one’s life before God. If manner of life was our example to others, purpose is our offering to God.

Paul told the Romans, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom 12:1) Our way of life is what we present to men, our purpose is what we present to God.

Longsuffering, Patience, Persecution, Affliction

Speakers of English often think of longsuffering and patience as synonymous. In the Greek in which the New Testament was written, however, these two words carry different, albeit similar, meanings.

Patience is steadfastness. It is the quality wherewith we remain faithful to God in spite of anything that will try to push us off course. It is not, as in the current interpretation, waiting for something to happen. Rather, it is being ready to remain on track whenever something untoward does happen.

Longsuffering carries the idea, in the original, of taking a long time to consider repaying evil for evil. It is equivalent to turning the other cheek. This is the person who counts to ten (or a hundred if necessary) before responding to an insult. True character is shown when we choose to act rather than react. It is under such times of stress that we show how prepared we are to deal with problems. Either we rely on God, and are prepared to do so, or we get in the mud with the pigs.

Persecution and suffering are related to longsuffering and patience. These are the things that can knock us off course. These are the insults to which we react or show longsuffering. Perhaps Paul lists them here because our reactions to suffering and persecution become part of our character.

Why did Paul specifically mention his persecutions in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra? He suffered in many other places later in his life; why go back to the early persecutions. Remember, this is in a letter to Timothy, who was from that area. Over the last forty-one years there have been many tornadoes in many places. To those who were in Lubbock, Texas—or had friends living there—on May 11, 1970, one tornado is more memorable than all the rest. Students had to leave their dorm rooms and spend the night in the halls or the basement. Businessmen in the downtown area east of Texas Tech suffered extensive damage. To some of those people the recent tornadoes in the Midwestern United States are merely reminders of what happened that night in May. Paul suffered often, and often in Timothy’s presence, but those persecutions near Timothy’s home town are the ones Timothy would most remember.

Faith, love

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor 13:13) In thisPatience is being ready to remain on track whenever something untoward does happen. verse Paul includes two of the characteristics he knew Timothy had seen in his own life. He is not telling Timothy that hope is any less important a characteristic. He is saying that trust and desiring the best for others even at one’s own expense are important.

Faith is more than just believing in the existence of God. “The devils also believe, and tremble.” (Jas 2:19) “Faith is trusting that God exists and that he will reward those who carefully search for him.” (Heb 11: 6) Belief is internal; faith is visible. Paul said Timothy had known his faith, which implies that Timothy had been a witness to that faith. He had seen in Paul what faith is.

One way to show faith is through love. “By this shall all know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn 13:35) It is our trust in God that motivates us to show goodwill to those who may even be the ones persecuting us. It is easy to love those who are like us. It is a positive character trait to love those who are unlike us, or too much like us. “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?” (Matt 5:46-47) “Love is longsuffering.” (1 Cor 13:4) In this it is intimately tied to other characteristics of which Paul is speaking.

Character counts. Paul may have considered other aspects to be part of character, but these are the ones he listed to Timothy. If these traits are not the sum total of character, they are a pretty good start.