D.L. Moody defined character as what you are in the dark. Character is what you are when you are all alone, when there is no one around to impress. It has been said that the measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.
It comes down to what you think about when you are alone. What makes you sad? What makes you mad? What makes you laugh? What makes you angry? A German proverb says, “A man shows his character by what he laughs at.” Everyone has character of some kind. Character is simply a long habit continued.
The Bible records the story of four young men who exhibited extraordinary character and integrity: Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel. After the Israelites were taken captive and carried away to Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar wanted Israel’s brightest and best to be brought into his palace to be tutored and guided by him. So the best-looking, smartest young Jewish men were brought into the court of the king and were given the privilege of actually eating from the king’s table. This would have been the finest food available at that particular time. They were schooled in the ways of Babylon. And among those who were chosen to sit at the king’s table were Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel. The world was their oyster. They were getting the finest education at the most prestigious school, with access to the most delicious foods in the world.
Yet they were living in a world and culture that was largely hostile to their beliefs. For Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel, it would have been a compromise of their beliefs to eat the foods that were served at the king’s table. So Daniel asked permission for them to be able to eat other things instead. He basically told the king’s official, “I will make you a deal. Let us just eat vegetables and water. The other guys can eat all this other stuff, and we will see who fares better after a period of time.”
However, for Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel to not eat the king’s food was to put themselves in jeopardy. King Nebuchadnezzar was cruel and vicious. He had taken the king of Israel’s sons and had them killed before their father. He then gouged out the king’s eyes so the last thing this father saw was the death of his own children. To defy King Nebuchadnezzar could mean being put to death. This was not the way to climb the corporate ladder in Babylon. If you wanted to get ahead, you played by the king’s rules.
As time passed, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel did well. They were healthy. They were robust, even healthier-looking than those who had been eating at the king’s table. These four made a stand in a seemingly small area, and when they were tested later in a significant one, we see that their character had been clearly formed.
Each of us is different. Each of us will face challenges. As a pastor I am often asked, “Is it OK for a Christian to do thus and so?” Those are not always easy questions to answer, but I have a four-question test that I will apply.
Question 1: Does it build me up spiritually? There are things that, if you do them, are not outright sins. But they do begin to tear you down spiritually. They weaken your resolve. They dull your interest in the things of God.
Question 2: Does it bring me under its power? The apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12 NKJV). If I need that particular thing every single day, or if I can’t get through my day without it, then something is wrong. That is coming under the power of something else.
Question 3: Do I have an uneasy conscience about it? This one can be tricky. The Bible says, “If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning” (Romans 14:23 NLT). There might be someone who does a certain thing, but it isn’t bringing them down spiritually. Yet if you were to do it, it would be a violation of your conscience.
Question 4: Could it cause someone else to stumble? Don’t have an attitude that says, “I don’t care what someone else says about me. I will do whatever I want.” Realize that your decisions affect others. You need to factor that in.
Every day we are faced with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of decisions of doing either the right thing or the wrong thing. We are laying a foundation and building on it, and we will be tested in life, as were Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and Daniel. We will be pressured to compromise, to cave in, to conform, to shut up, to do what everyone else says we ought to be doing. There will be a way to get there faster, to take the shortcut – the easy path – instead of doing what is right and honorable before God.
It has been put this way: Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.
I love what the Bible says about Daniel’s resolve: “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies” (Daniel 1:8 NKJV). Daniel purposed in his heart. … That is what we need today: more men and women of purpose.