What is meant by the word “character”? Sometimes we use the word to describe someone with particular qualities in their life. For example, we say, “He is quite a character.” At other times the word “character” is used to denote a symbol representing speech. For example, we affirm that the Greek alphabet has 24 characters. In this brief article the word is used to represent the inherent complex of attributes that determines a person’s moral and ethical actions and reactions.
Our nation was founded, for the most part, by people of character. Solomon said, “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34 NKJV). More than 100 years before our declaration of independence, John Winthrop, the Puritan leader who led a group to our shores, affirmed, “The eyes of all people are upon us.”
On January 29, 2009 the governor of the state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich was removed from his office on charges of trying to sell Barak Obama’s vacant Senate seat. The lawmakers also banned him for holding public office in the state ever again. Recently, Ted Stevens, Alaska’s dominant political figure for more than four decades was found guilty of violating federal ethics laws for failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and services he had received from friends. Around a year ago former Newark mayor Sharpe James was convicted of corruption charges, ending a four-year federal probe and tainting the legacy of one of the state’s most influential and unforgettable politicians.
All around our nation we see evidence of a breakdown of moral fiber. For our nation to remain great and receive the blessing from God there must be character in government. Not only in government, there must be character in business. The vulnerability to greed is built into all of us. There is strong evidence that we have abandoned our primary ethical focus on what is right and what is wrong.
There must be character in leadership. No matter the organization, character is the most important attribute of its leader. It is even more important than talent or competence. Our Lord set lofty standards. The great Sermon on the Mount shows the Lord’s high elevation of ethics. The Lord also modeled leadership. He lived among the people. He adopted, not the kingly position of royalty, but was a servant. Sam Walton grew from an Arkansas nobody, to an international businessman. Among his rules for running a successful company such as Wal-Mart, he stated, “Celebrate your successes, and find some humor in your failures.” He then noted, “Listen to everyone in your company. Figure out ways to get them talking.”
This quality of righteous character must come from the inside-out. Our Lord stated it is what comes from within that defiles. And He said “What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean” (Mark 7:20). There must be character in the church, in our schools, in our communities and in our families. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of the drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-9).