Mahailia Jackson, the late gospel singer, made a song entitled “Lord, I want to live the life I sing about.” As the title of her song suggests, it is her prayer and earnest desire to synchronize her lifestyle with her faith.
The idea that we are not or do not live and practice what we preach or profess can be a shock to the system. It is difficult for anyone to come to terms with and/or digest the fact that a disconnect exists between the things we say we stand for and what we actually accept, allow, or let slide. It is sobering to find out that the standard we espouse or hold others to is not necessarily the same standard we ourselves live by.
Actually, the English language has a word for this it is called “hypocrisy.” Promoting one standard or way of life, but practicing the opposite or something entirely different.
For the unbeliever hypocrisy is no big deal because God uses a different standard to judge unbelievers than the standard God uses to judge believers. Furthermore, the world expects and accepts hypocrisy as a part of our social fabric. We have come to expect lawyers to be ruthless and to have sold their souls to the devil and will do whatever it takes to win a case, even if it means distorting the truth, withholding the truth, or flat out lying. The irony here is that they are sworn to seek and pursue the truth. We have also come to expect and accept the fact that politicians will say anything to get elected or re-elected and then recant or come down with a case of short-term memory loss once they are in office.
What about believers? How does a believer keep him or her self from being swallowed up in the morass of hypocrisy that pervades our world?
The late John Wooden, former head coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team wrote, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” These words from the late John Wooden remind us that the way believers insulate themselves from the infected by the world is by not being affected by how the world thinks and acts. We do this by seeing, hearing, and recognizing what is happening around us, but we pay greater attention to what is going on inside of us. The issue as Mr. Wooden aptly point out is our character. This is where our focus needs to be at all times.
Rather than looking for others to tell us how good we are, let us examine our own character traits and listen to what they say about us. D. L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark.” If we want to know what kind of character we have simply turn the lights off and see how we act. We learn more about ourselves away from people and out of the public eye then we do when people are watching us. If we want to see who we are not, take a snap shoot of how we act in the company of others.
The truth is that our character traits reveal to the world that we really are. As Gamaliel Bradford states, “In great matters men and women show themselves as they wish to be seen, in small matters we show ourselves as we are.” The human agency is such that it has the potential to rise to any occasion. The greater the challenge the higher we are capable of rising. Challenges trigger something within us that enables us to reach deep down inside and summon the wherewithal to come up with an appropriate response to the challenge. On the other hand in more mundane everyday matters we also have the tendency to be dismissive, surly, cantankerous, hypercritical, or passive-aggressive. We want the world to see us as highly motivated, courageous, problem solvers detailed and organized and they must never find out that in our private lives we are not what we seem in public.
The apostle Paul and his traveling companion Silas were run out of the Greek city of Thessalonica and headed for another Greek city called Berea. In Berea, they met up with a group of believers called the Bereans. The text says, “The Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians.” If we were to contrast the two groups, the Thessalonians and the Bereans, we would discover there were stark contrasts between the two groups.
The Thessalonians were driven by jealousy and seemed more intent on creating and perpetuating strife, discord, and acrimony. They were not happy unless turmoil and confusion existed. They appeared to be a very I, self, and me centered group. When things did not go their way, they acted out like spoiled children until they got what they wanted.
The Bereans however were cut from a totally different cloth and exhibited more positive character traits than the rabble rousing Thessalonian sect. The Scriptures tell us that the Bereans “Received the message with great eagerness.” They were hungry for the Word of God. Paul paints the picture of a group of men and women who came to church looking forward to what God had to say to them. You get the idea that these folks simply could not get enough of God’s Word. This is absolutely astounding when you consider over indulging in anything will eventually turn a person off.
The Bereans apparent voracious appetite for the Word of God speaks to their attitude that God has something to say to us about whatever situation or circumstance we face. The Berean posture also provides us with an example of how we should approach church. The church should not be seen as a place where our attendance is compulsory or required, nor should we come feeling as though we have some obligation to fulfill. Rather the church should be seen as the place where we come to meet and dialogue with God. It is here in God’s house where God will offer us a prescription for our ailments, a balm that will soothe our aches, and revelation that will help us to fit the pieces of the puzzle called life together. The Berean appetite for the Word of God says something too about their perspective about God’s Word. Too often we really only want to hear “Good News” and bristle at the thought that God would chastise us. In reality even what is perceived, as bad news is “Good News.” What some would consider God’s chastisement is God offering correction, guidance, and direction to His children. Bad character traits do not just happen; they become ingrained and reinforced with practice. The Word of God then becomes a teaching tool to help correct and eradicate bad character traits and behavior patterns that will ultimately prove detrimental to our wellbeing.
The text tells us that the Bereans were not only hungry for hearing the Word of God, but they also “Examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” After reading this I decided to do some research. Saying that “Americans love their Bibles so much that they keep them in pristine unopened condition” can summarize the findings of my research. The available statistics on reveal that:
- 19% of American Christians are Bible readers
- 92% of households in America own at least one copy of the Bible
- 59% read the Bible occasionally
- 37% read it at least once a week (probably on Sunday in church)
- 14% belong to a regular Bible study group
- Women are 42% more likely than men to read the Bible
These statistics taken from Christianity today and other sources point to a growing problem in America, Biblical illiteracy.
The Bereans according to the apostle Paul’s eyewitness account searched the Scriptures daily for themselves to confirm that what they were hearing was indeed consistent with what was actually in the Bible. There is no substitute for finding something out for your self. A believer who fails to check the Word of God for him or her self is relying on hearsay and to repeat what you hear without first checking is called spreading rumors. One of the questions we must ask ourselves is my faith based and build upon what I have heard or what I know? Until we have seen for ourselves, on what basis can we determine the teaching we are receiving is credible, true and consistent, or even found in the Word of God.
Christians are a microcosm of our society. In today’s world people are listening more and reading less. Although this in and of itself is not a horrible thing, the idea of taking someone else’s opinion as fact without first checking the validity of their statements is just plain lazy. For the longest time I was under the impression that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves was actually in the Bible.” I heard my mother say it, I heard it on TV and I remember reading it, so why would I not think it was true. Once I became a serious Bible student I discovered it is not in the Bible and it is not true.
The Bereans teach us that even nice well meaning people make mistakes, get things wrong, and take things out of context. Therefore, the only way we can know for sure is to do our due diligence and search the Scriptures for ourselves.
Finally, the Bereans hunger for the Word of God coupled with their diligence in searching the Scriptures daily put them on the road to Discovering God for themselves. No matter how much someone tells you about God, it is not the same as discovering God for yourself.
When we look at the Bereans we see a group of men and women whose character traits spoke loudly about them. As a result of their character traits –
1. They were grounded in the Word of God – The Word of God was in them sown and planted deep into their hearts, mind and souls. These were a people that could not be duped or easily fooled by clever sounding arguments. They knew the truth when they heard it and people who saw them were able to recognize that the truth lived in them.
2. They had a daily personal encounter with God in Christ – Every time they opened the Word of God, God in Christ spoke to them personally and directly. Whenever they set out for worship they did so with the expectation that God had something to say to them and whatever they heard other people say God said they went back to see if God actually said it.
3. The Word of God moved them – The Bible says many believed. In other words, they changed their position. The Word they received opened their eyes to the fact that they needed to change. It helped them to see that they needed to change the way they operated, change the way they did business, change the way they viewed things. The Bereans discovered that in their willingness to change their position God could and would move closer to them. They found out that when we become willing to move, God is willing to lead us. As long as we are anchored in cement, we cannot experience the fullness of God’s love nor can we experience the depths and breadth of God’s grace and mercy. The moment we make the decision and say OK, Lord, do it your way, God begins to go to work on us and in us. God goes to work reshaping our attitudes, behaviors, and our character inside of us and God goes to work reshaping our present, future and destiny on the outside. As this change occurs we also begin to look at life differently. We are able to see God opening doors that once appeared to be closed and taking us places we once never dreamed or imagined we could go.
The Bereans discovered that who I am in Christ is more important than who I am in the world. As far as the world was concerned some of the Bereans were prominent men and women, but after hearing the truth they concluded that social status could only carry us so far. After this life has ended our social status is worthless.
What about us? What does our character say about us? Do we live the life we sing about or do we need a character overhaul? A significant number of the Bereans who came to Christ were members of their societies upper class and they recognized the need for some character tweaking after receiving the Word. What about us?