Philips Brooks said in the Yale Lectures that the preparation of the ministry must be nothing less than the making of a man. He said to prepare a man for ministry was not to teach him certain tricks and fill him with knowledge, but to knead and temper the man’s very nature until it was “of such a consistency and quality to be capable of transmission.” He even went so far as to say in one sermon that the great purpose of any life should be “the shaping of character by truth.”
But what is character? It is the basis of reputation, the true man behind what people see and think. It can be described as who a man is not only in public, but when he is alone in the dark. True character is what Jesus described in the Beatitudes as He began the Sermon on the Mount, and what He demonstrated to perfection in His own life and ministry. Character is manifested in the beautiful qualities that the Apostle Paul described as the Fruit of the Spirit. It gives rise to integrity, to inner wholeness. A man of character is not guilty of hypocrisy, fooling others as to his nature and motives, or of duplicity, fooling himself. Character is Joseph going to prison for being honest and chaste. It is Moses giving up luxury as the prince of Egypt for the life of a Jewish prophet and a sacrificial leader of an ungrateful people. It is Jeremiah spending a lifetime pleading with Israel to repent while watching the nation die. It is Martin Luther declaring, “Here stand I. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” This is character.
This kind of character demonstrates itself not only on the grand scale of public ministry, but in the hidden duties and services of everyday life. It is always willing to go the extra mile. It will not cut corners on a job that no one will inspect. It will give freely expecting no recompense or recognition. It is simply a life lived before God, seeking to please Him and Him alone in even the smallest of thoughts and actions, regardless of what others may say or do. True godly character of this nature is not built overnight. It takes time and is often a painful process involving the most hurtful experiences of life. It is developed through making God’s Word a part of our inner being, of meditating on it and obeying it wholeheartedly. It is built through faithfulness in worship and prayer. It is strengthened through suffering and weakness as we learn to depend on God’s grace to bring us through and to bring Him glory. This depth of character is a product of discipline and devotion, of courage and commitment.
Character can be compared to a grand and beautiful cathedral. It is slowly built, one stone at a time, following careful and specific guidelines. But it can be quietly destroyed, little by little, by hidden interior decay. Decay that can for a long time go unnoticed by those closest to us or even by ourselves, but is never unnoticed by God. The deterioration of godly character is always an inside job, possibly only as we allow ourselves to drift into sin and compromise. Character is built by the decisions we make. Life is built on character and every decision of daily life, however small or insignificant it may seem, is either placing another stone in the great structure of our character or whittling away at its support from the inside. This is why Proverbs 4:23 sternly warns, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
When character is damaged by neglect and ministry is broken, can it be restored? Not if the offender makes excuses instead of confessing and resists authority, seeking second and third and fourth opinions that please him better. But yes, if the offender will humbly confess. If he will turn from sin completely and willingly submit himself to the Potter and His tools as they reshape the vessel to be honorable again. May these offenders then be restored to a position of service in the ministry? Yes! If they have repented and been Biblically brought back into fellowship, they may serve again as humbled and careful ministers of God. Character is difficult to build, and often far more difficult to rebuild, but God is a God of restoration and second chances.