by James Rudy Gray
Chicago Sun Times columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote, "Since most of us would rather be admired for what we do, rather than for what we are, we are normally willing to sacrifice character for conduct, and integrity for achievement."
If that statement is anywhere near accurate, our culture is in a world of trouble. I recently asked several people if character was important. Everyone said yes. Then, I asked a second question, "What is character?" That is when things got interesting. Some gave a partial answer. Others were stumped altogether. It is a fair question and one that requires some thought. In our age, we throw out words that sound good even if we don't actually understand what they mean.
Character comes from a root word that means to scratch, etch, engrave, or stamp. It is the stamp or engraving impressed on our souls by nature, education, habits, and I believe the values and ethics of God's Word. Someone said, "Character is who you are when no one is looking." Good character, we might say, is the noble qualities and virtues that make up the ethics, values, and morals of a person. But how do we know which qualities are really virtuous? That question leads us specifically to the book of virtues, the Bible.
Again, I asked a group of people, "Would you prefer an airline pilot who has moral character and is a so-so pilot or a pilot who is morally bankrupt but is a world class expert as a pilot?" Everyone chose the morally bankrupt but competent pilot. What about a surgeon of Christian character who is not too good as a surgeon or an atheistic surgeon who is one of the best in the world? The group all chose the atheistic surgeon. That may seem like an unfair comparison but it is one that focuses on the issue of moral character. Moral character is more important in some situations than others, but moral character is always important.
Kent Hughes has keenly observed, "The closer a job gets to the moral core of a person, the more important moral character becomes. Perhaps it does not make much difference to the performance of a pilot, or a surgeon, or an athlete, or a gardener (though this is very debatable). But when it comes to teaching, moral character comes to the fore. This is even more so in personal counseling."
Teaching is important and moral character is important in the teacher. Teaching the Bible is even more important and moral character is essential for the teacher and preacher. Counseling people is important and moral character in the counselor is vital.
If you read 2 Timothy 2:20-26, the honorable vessels about whom Paul writes to Timothy are people who have strong moral character. To become a person with that kind of character Paul says we must know Christ and from that encounter of new birth we will then be sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work (Eph. 2:10).
Christian counselors make mistakes. We do not have all the answers. We misdiagnose or misunderstand someone's condition sometimes. But above everything else, we must be men and women of moral character. The stamp of God and His trust must be imprinted on our hearts and soul. What we say to people is important but how we live is critical.
In our postmodern or past-postmodern time, when truth is just a subjective word to many people, we need counselors who have moral character based on the unchanging, eternal, and always relevant truth of the living God. May God Himself encourage all of us who counsel to guard our hearts and minds from error and fill our lives with the life-renewing nourishment of His great teachings in Scripture.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the
National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the
American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors
Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.