“Your character is what God knows you to be; your reputation is what people think of you.” I came across that saying this past week while preparing for devotions with the teachers at Glenvale Christian School on Thursday morning. It would be wonderful if our character was the same as our reputation.
Last week I lamented the fact that it is increasingly argued that what people do in private is their business as long as it doesn’t affect their public life. I pointed out that I have huge problems with that argument.
I can recall a time (not all that long ago either) where a businessman in a responsible position – if he was found to have been unfaithful to his wife and to have walked out of his marriage – would be asked to clean out his desk and leave. The argument was that if he couldn’t be trusted in his marriage relationship he couldn’t be trusted either with the responsibilities of the company. In other words, a lack of integrity in one’s private life was likely to lead to a lack of integrity in other areas of life as well.
Today that would not only be seen as being very old-fashioned and narrow minded but it might even lead to the company being sued for discrimination. Some years ago a married woman worked night-shift for a trading firm. Her boss had already had several relationships that ended in disaster. After a while this man began to ask the woman about her family and her marriage. Like all people she had some issues at home and she unwisely shared them with her boss. He comforted her and encouraged her to tell him more about the problems at home. The relationship between them quickly developed to the point where she left her husband and took off with her manager. No action was taken by the company – it was accepted that this is life: so get over it. I thought it was odd because this manager was in a position of power, of trust and responsibility and he clearly took advantage of this woman. If I as a pastor did something similar I would be open to a charge of sexual abuse.
All this was very much at the back of my mind as we studied the letters of Timothy and Titus with the teachers last Thursday. Godliness is a concept that is very important to the apostle Paul – he uses it ten times in these three letters. He calls Timothy to train himself in godliness but he also instructs Timothy as a pastor in the different ways in which he should call his people to live godly lives.
In these letters this godly character is given a special twist. First because godliness is not merely about the lifestyle we live… it is also the teachings that we believe. In fact, our lifestyle flows out of the truths we embrace. Godliness is about believing the gospel and then living accordingly. It is gospel that is our greatest motive towards and what most empowers Godly character.
But for Paul there is another side to it as well. A Godly character makes our beliefs attractive. At the end of his two letters to Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy on how slaves and servants ought to behave. And then significantly he adds that if they prove themselves trustworthy they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive. That’s worth keeping in mind next time we’re tempted to forget about maintaining a Godly character.