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For the past three weeks we have looked at several overarching categories of the virtues that make up character, and next week we are going to end by talking about how to build and maintain character, so tonight is sort of a bridge between the two because we are going to continue looking at some of the virtues that make up character, but we are going to do it by looking at the role that suffering and trials plays in our character development. And there are two primary ways that suffering helps us as we seek to become women of character. First, suffering and trials reveal our character. Second, suffering develops our character.
SUFFERING REVEALS OUR CHARACTER
So let’s look at this first point, that suffering reveals our character. To start we are going to turn back to the story of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
The first time we looked at this we talked about how the world has one version of what character is and it is built on a foundation that is faulty, like the house built on sand. But God’s version of character is like the house built on the rock because it’s built on a firm foundation. The next time we looked at this parable we talked about what the builders had in common which was that they both had knowledge of God’s Word. But the difference was found in whether they put it into practice or not. The one who did was called a wise man and the one who did not was the foolish man.
Now, I want to look at the houses from the angle of the storm. So my question for us is, what is the role of the storm in this parable? First, the storm represents trials in our lives. But even more, it revealed which was built on sand and which on the rock. So in essence, it revealed who was the wise builder and who was the foolish builder. So in this we need to recognize that before the storm came there was no visible difference between the two houses. It was the storm that revealed the unseen difference which in the end was the most crucial aspect of each house. So in the same way, the role of storms in our lives, or struggles/hardships/trials….is to reveal the good and the bad. To reveal in us areas that have been built on truth, and others that have not.
Using the storms in our lives to assess
Practically, how does this look in our lives? When this happens, when storms hit our lives, it doesn’t mean that we will be overall found to be wise or overall found to be foolish, like the houses. But instead, when the storms hit we will usually see a little of each. When we are struggling we will see areas where we have grown AND areas where we are weak and need to grow. Last week as I was thinking about this lesson I spent some time on my own thinking about this in the past year of my life. I have shared with ya’ll a little bit about a difficult situation I have been dealing with this year which involved specifically two people who I have really struggled with. And so I spent some time “assessing” myself in this struggle. I started by writing out the ways that I saw character growth in myself during this time, and I thanked God for that. Then I wrote out the ways that I failed to walk in a Christ like way and the character traits I need to grow in. That part was obviously not easy, but as I did it I felt freedom and clarity, and it also gave my struggles a much bigger purpose in my life and helped me to see the hand of God in them.
So this first point tonight is very simple. Suffering in our lives gives us a chance to honestly see how we are doing in our character development. And doing that gives us a chance, not to wallow in self-pity over areas where we have not grown, or even to gloat pridefully over our strengths…but instead, to celebrate how we have grown, see what God has done in us, and be affirmed by that, and then also to take an honest and humble look at the areas where we need to grow and focus on that moving forward. John Maxwell explains that we need to “examine the condition of our character” in times like these because, “unaddressed cracks in character only get deeper and more destructive with time.” (21 Indispensable Qualities, p.6) And that is the truth, if each time you face a trial in your life you ignore this chance to face your weaknesses honestly, then they will only get worse throughout your life, they won’t just go away.
Think about how this applies to you today. What are the trials in your life right now? How are you struggling? In this struggle do you see ways that you have grown in the past? Have you taken the time and courage to face the ways that you still need to grow, the areas where you are weak? I really encourage you to do this this week as I did, don’t leave the cracks in your character unaddressed, this is one of the ways that you will develop character.
SUFFERING DEVELOPS CHARACTER
The second point tonight is that suffering develops our character. Or maybe I should say, it can. Trials are God’s way of refining and shaping us. But in order to do that we must have the right attitude and response. Let’s look at some scripture that speaks to this. First, let’s see what Paul says in Romans 5:3-4.
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Paul beings in verse 3 saying “not only so…” In the previous verse he had encouraged them to “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” To find joy and encouragement knowing the hope they had in eternity. But then he catches himself, and he tells them to also find hope in things that are not as joyful at face value- sufferings. And he tells them to even rejoice in their sufferings. And then he tells them why in verse 4. He explains that when we suffer it builds perseverance in us, and that perseverance gives birth to character, and character gives birth to hope. Now keep this in mind and turn to, James 1:2-4.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James echoes the same sentiment as Paul, find joy in your trials! Why? Because trials test our faith, when our faith is tested it builds perseverance in us, and perseverance gives birth to maturity and completeness in Christ. And remember from the first week that the primary difference between the world’s version of character and God’s, is that the character we are striving for is that of Christ. So when James says that perseverance leads to maturity and completeness, he means Christlikeness, which is God’s version of character. So James is saying the same thing as Paul in Romans….trials develop perseverance which builds character.
Perseverance, Endurance, Steadfastness
If you look at both these passages in various translations you’ll see that three words are used interchangeably: perseverance, endurance, and steadfastness. So we see here that there are a few words in the English language that explain what Paul and James are trying to tell us about trials and what our response should be. Now, the reason why sometimes there are different words in different translations is that there isn’t an exact English correlation to the Greek word used, so translators do their best to express the “flavor” of the word. So sometimes I like to look at all the translations to get a really full understanding of what the author was trying to tell us.
Perseverance/Persevere – continuing in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or not prospect of success; steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay.
Endurance/Endure – to suffer patiently, specifically something painful or difficult without giving way
*So both words involve facing something difficult and how you respond to it
Steadfast/ness – resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering
Greek – In Romans and James the same Greek word is used that is translated as endurance/perseverance/steadfastness, hupomonen, which is a compound of two words, hupo and mone. The second meaning “endure” or “stay”, and the first is the preposition “under”. So in a Greek dictionary (Lexicon) this compound means literally to endure under something, or to stay under something that is pressing down on you and is difficult.
So now think about what they are saying when you combine all of those definitions of this one word. To persevere or endure means to actively move forward but also to passively suffer patiently and not give in. In addition it means to mentally make a resolution that you stand firm and not waver and to submit to what is pressing down on you. I think this is what James meant in chapter 3 when he said wisdom from God is submissive, we are wise to submit to the things God allows or brings into our lives, especially the difficult things
Now going back to the verses in Romans and James. What they both say is that when we suffer these things are developed in us. Our ability to persevere, to endure, to be steadfast grows stronger. But they only grow stronger as we choose to walk in them, not when we fail to choose them. So each time you are in a difficult situation and you choose to uphold a godly virtue, you develop it like a muscle so that you grow stronger in that area the next time you need it.
Can you think of other virtues that are strengthened or grow when we suffer and choose to walk in them? What are some other virtues that are connected to and developed through trials and suffering?
● Self-Control – 2 Peter 1:5-6, the text we looked at the first week, shows there is a connection between self-control and perseverance. The definition of self-control is “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations” So this adds even more flavor to what it means to endure a difficult trial.
● Faith – Hebrews 11 tells us about all the “heros” of the faith who show us what it means to have faith, and in verse 27 speaking of Moses it says, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” It was Moses’ faith that allowed him to persevere in a very difficult situation.
● Courage – Berg says, “Though endurance means to be constant under external pressures, it does not mean merely controlling our temper, gritting our teeth, waiting out the storm, or tying a knot in the end of our rope and hanging on. There is often an ethical issue at stake in endurance-a principal to be courageously defended….Kittel comments that ‘there predominates in [this word] the concept of the courageous endurance which manfully defies evil.” (p.72)
● We could also add to this list patience, being teachable, and humility.
In his book Essential Virtues, Jim Berg (p.76-77) tells a story of how character development occurred throughout a certain woman’s life. He showed how her character was developed not in a few particular instances, but constantly throughout her life as she persevered through difficult situations. And as she did this it further prepared her for the difficulties she would face later in life. Do you see how subtle this works in our lives? Her character qualities slowly developed over time through small and large trials. Doesn’t that give you so much hope as you face trials today to know that it is going to make you that much stronger for the trials you will face in your future? John Maxwell says,
“Adversity is a crossroads that makes a person choose one of two paths: character or compromise. Every time he chooses character, he becomes stronger, even if that choice brings negative consequences.” (21 Indispensable Qualities p.4)
One of the things about the virtues that make up godly character that I hope you have come to see over the past several weeks is that not only do they grow as you practice each one individually, but they are also all connected. As you grow in one another also develops, and in the same way we can’t grow in one area unless we are growing in others. Think about all the virtues we’ve talked about the last few weeks and how intertwined they all are.
Role of Discipline
The last thing I want to talk about tonight is discipline. When we are being disciplined by God it feels very much like suffering. Discipline is one of the ways God corrects our disobedience to teach us to follow His ways. It is directly from Him and not malicious or spiteful. Instead it is infused with love for us and a desire from God our Father to see us grow more like Christ and enjoy the fruits of that. But even knowing that it is often hard for us to receive, much less see it as joyful and rejoice as James and Paul said. So let’s look at how the author of Hebrews says we should respond to God’s discipline in our lives. Read Hebrews 12:5-11
So in verses 5-6 he tells them that they should take God’s discipline seriously and not write it off or ignore it, but at the same time they need to keep in mind that He disciplines them because they are His children and He loves them. So when God disciplines them they should not “lose heart”….or despair, get depressed about it. It is actually a good thing! Then in the following verses he elaborates on this, how amazing it is that God sees us as His children! And that just as we respect our parents for the lessons they taught us we should even more respect and submit to God when He teaches us.
Then in verse 10 he reminds us of an amazing truth. He says that God disciplines us for our own good. So that we might become more holy. So that we might grow more like Christ…..grow in character. Similar to how fathers discipline their children…but better. The author of Hebrews ends here, in verse 11 saying, you will never like discipline, it will always be unpleasant and painful. But….
“Later on…it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
As we read through the Proverbs we find many many verses that explain that discipline is the way to life and ignoring God’s rebuke will always lead to death. When we trust God’s discipline He promises that it will always be fruitful in our lives….there will always be a harvest of righteousness and peace in our lives because of it.
Isaiah 26:3 tells us,
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
And this is what I want to end with tonight. Whether you are going through a trial that has been brought about by evil….or whether you are struggling under God’s discipline in your life….we are promised that God is allowing it for our good and that there will be fruit if we submit to it, receive it, engage in it, and allow it to do it’s work in our lives. Trust God in it and remember that His promises never fail and His love for you is unfailing. It’s all about perspective and how you choose to view it. And when we see it in this way then we will begin to see how much our character development is dependent on our attitude in suffering.
I asked you earlier to think about what you are struggling with currently and gave you some questions to help you assess how you are doing. Now I want to take that a step further and ask you if you are running away from your struggles, refusing to deal with them, or are you engaging in them allowing God to refine and shape you? Are you trusting Him and submitting to the trial He has allowed in your life, or maybe how He is disciplining you?
Questions for Discussion & Application:
● How has a current struggle in your life shown you a strength or weakness in your character?
● Who are people in the Bible who model for us how character is built through suffering? Discuss how they suffered and how they grew through it. (examples if needed: Mary, Ruth, Daniel, Joseph)
● Why is it so hard for us to trust God during a trial or when He is disciplining us?