“STEWARDS OF OUR CHARACTER”

2 PETER 1:3-11

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            Since we celebrate Veterans’ Day on Thursday, I want to share a Veteran’s Day memory.   Years ago, on Veterans’ Day an elderly man walked into my office.  I was on the phone, but I waved him in, and he waved back, and placed a card on my desk, and without saying a word, he left.  On the front of the card was a picture of a soldier, a pack on his back, a rifle over his shoulder, kneeling on one leg, his head bowed.  The back of the card read, “The Marine’s Prayer.”  Given the fact that my father was a Marine, I read the prayer with great interest.  Although not a man of prayer, I wondered if my father ever prayed this prayer, given the fact he loved being a Marine?  A portion of it goes as follows ...

 

            Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose love never fails, make me aware of your presence and obedient to your will.  Keep me true to my best self, guarding me against dishonesty in purpose and deed and helping me to live so that I can face my fellow Marines, my loved ones and you without shame or fear.  Protect my family.  Give me the will to do the work of a Marine and to accept my share of responsibilities with vigor and enthusiasm.  Grant me the courage to be proficient in my daily performance.  Keep me faithful and loyal to my superiors and to the duties of my country and the Marine Corps.  Make me considerate of those committed to my leadership.  Help me to wear my uniform with dignity and let it remind me of the traditions which I must uphold.

 

            The essence of this prayer -- let me be worthy of the uniform I am wearing - is the essence of what the Apostle Peter encourages us to do this morning.  Look with me once again at verse 10 ...

 

            Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election.

 

            In other words, the mantle of Christ, the uniform of Christ has been placed upon you and may your life be worthy of it.

            This morning we continue our stewardship sermon series.  Thus far we have looked at our being good stewards of the earth, good stewards of our bodies, good stewards of our gifts, and good stewards of our time.  Today we turn our attention to being good stewards of our character. 

            The Apostle Peter has a lot to teach us about this matter.  Remember the catchy phrase?  It goes,

 

            Stretch a truth and it is ruined

            Stretch a person and he or she is proven.

 

            At one time in Peter’s life he was stretched and he came up short.  He came up short when Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan.”  He came up short on the Mount of Transfiguration when he wanted to stay up there rather than going back down into the valley.  He came up short when he denied Jesus three times.  Later, however, when he was stretched he came up big.  He came up big preaching that Pentecost sermon when 3,000 people came to Christ.  He came up big when he stood before the Jewish authorities who told him to stop preaching Christ, and he said, “Sorry, boys I can’t accommodate you on that one.”  Then he came up big at the end of his life when he refused to be crucified in the manner of his Lord.  He asked, instead, if he could be crucified upside down, because he was not worthy to be crucified in the same way Christ was crucified.  And in this passage, Peter encourages us to come up big. He encourages us to be good stewards of our character, that when stretched we will be proven and not ruined.  He wants our lives to confirm our call and our election.

            I’m reminded of the shabbily dressed boy who walked into the park one day and saw a balloon vendor.  Though he didn’t have any money, the boy picked out in his mind the best balloon, the one he liked best, the blue one, and mentally thought about what it would be like to own that balloon.  With no money he tried to put it out of his mind and went to play in the park.  Not long after a well-dressed boy walked up to the balloon vendor, paid for the blue balloon and started to play with it.  He played with it for five minutes, then got bored and simply let it go.

            The poor boy watched heartbroken as the balloon sailed higher and higher into the sky.  After watching it disappear, he walked over to the vendor and said, “Which of these balloons is your cheapest balloon?”  The vendor, seeing that there was more behind this mere balloons, kneeled down and told him it was the gray one, in fact, he told the boy he could have it for free.

            Before taking it, the boy asked the vendor, “Mister, will this balloon go just as high as the blue one, if I let it go?”

            The vendor smiled and said, “Yes, it will.”  He went on to say, “You see, it isn’t what is on the outside of the balloon that determines how high it will go, but what is on the inside.”

            That’s what interests Peter this morning.  He is concerned about our insides, our character.  He wants to make sure our insides enable us to soar.  Furthermore, he tells us that we are responsible for our character development.  Listen to what he wants to see in our insides, verse 5,

 

            For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness ...

 

            Note the wording here.  We are to make every effort to support our faith.  Biblical scholars tell us that the word “support” here in the Greek was used in the performance of a drama.  It meant adding an orchestra or a chorus to a performance.  To us it would be like adding a musical score to a movie.  That score makes the movie complete.  In fact, can you image the movie “Star Wars” without its great musical score?  What Peter says here is “Make your faith complete.  Fill it out.  Make it resound!”  And how do we do that?   Well, he’s kind enough to give us a list of things to add to our faith. 

            First, we are to add goodness to our faith.  Our pew bible reads “virtue” instead of “goodness.”  In other words, we are to add moral excellence to our faith.  A good person, a virtuous person, is the sort of person with whom we could play checkers over the phone.

            Note, what come next ... and goodness with knowledge.  Our faith is not be blind.  We need to have knowledge of what we believe.  When Trudy was pregnant with our first child, we were in seminary in Southern California, and she was having difficulty falling asleep.  Being a huge Los Angeles Dodger baseball fan, in fact, our first date was to a Dodger game, I taught her the Dodger lineup and key pinch hitters, pitching rotation, and who came out of the bullpen when.  Within two weeks, while trying to fall asleep, she learned the 1973 Dodger baseball team, and it worked.  Learning about the Dodgers literally put her to sleep, but when she watched them play, she was an informed fan.  She would say things like, “They need to get Doug Rau up in bullpen.  Messerschimdt looks like he’s losing it.”  Ah, what a woman!!!  Likewise, we are to fill our head with the knowledge of God, who God is, what Jesus taught, how we are to live. 

            Let’s continue ... and knowledge with self-control.  The ancient Greeks thought so highly of this virtue, of self-control, that they had four words for it, four different states of self-control.  One state was Mr. Spock from Star Trek self-control.  In this state passion has been entirely subjected to reason.  Then there is another word which described the polar opposite of Mr Spock self-control.  This is next to nothing self-control where reason is subjected to passion.  This is “if it feels good do it” type of self-control.  So there are these two extremes with two different words to describe them.  Then, in between these two extremes, were to other states of self-control with a word each to describe them.  In one of these states of self-control one starts a diet in the morning and ends it at night with mega-size bowl of rocky road ice cream.  In other words, reason puts up a fight, but passion prevails.  The other word for self-control, and the word that Apostle Peter uses here, describes the state where reason fights passion and reason prevails.  It’s like the little girl who falls and scrapes her knee, and it hurt, but she did not cry.  When asked how she managed not to cry she answered, “Oh, I just said to myself, ‘Stop that!’ and made myself mind me.”

            In other words, the state of self-control Peter has in mind is not Mr. Spock, oblivious to emotions prevails, or “if it feels good do it” self-control, or even the type of self-control where passion and reason battle, but passion wins out, but the type of self-control where passion and reason battle, but reason wins out.  He envisions our our emotions and desires becoming our servants and not our masters.

            We continue on ... and self-control with endurance. 

            Other translations use the word “perseverance.”  In 1968, the nation of Tanzania selected John Stephen Akhwari to represent it in the Mexico City Olympics.  Along the marathon race course Akhwari stumbled, fell, and severely injured both his knee and ankle.  A couple of hours after the runner from Ethiopia had won the race, Akhwari came limping into the stadium, his leg wrapped in a bloody bandage.

            Later a reporter asked Akhwari the question which was on everyone’s mind, “Why did you continue the race after you were so badly injured?”

            He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to begin a race.  They sent me 7,000 miles to finish a race.”

            That’s perseverance or endurance.  It’s what kept Jesus on the cross.

            But we are not done ... and endurance with godliness.

            Charles William Eliot, former president of Harvard University, had a birthmark on his face that bothered him greatly.  As a young man, back in the 1850’s, he was told that surgeons could do nothing to remove it.  The news devastated him.

            Eliot’s mother, however, said to him, “My son, it is not possible for you to get rid of that hardship, but it is possible for you, with God’s help, to grow a soul so big that people will forget to look at your face.”

            That’s godliness.  It’s soul so big, they do not see us, they see Christ in us.

            And godliness with mutual affection.

            This is the word “philadelphia” in the Greek and the city of Philadelphia is nicknamed ... the city of brotherly love.  Sisterly, too, I suppose.  I like to think of it as Dick Skelley huggable warmth toward one another.

            And then one last rung on the ladder ... and mutual affection with love.

            The word here is much more expansive than the word “philadelphia.”  That is to say, we are to love one another as God loves us.  It’s sort of “in spite” love.  In spite of what you’ve done, I love you.

            Let’s finish with verse 8 & 9 & 10,

 

            For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election.

 

            In other words, be a good steward of your character so that you will be an effective witness to Jesus Christ.

            Listen to these final words from two individuals.  Financier J.P. Morgan was once asked, “What is the best collateral that someone could give you?”  He answered, “Character.”  Then the words of the premier 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon.  He said, “A good character is the best tombstone.  Those who loved and were helped by you will remember you.  So carve your name on people’s hearts and not on marble.”

            Let’s stand and sing and prepare to come to our Lord’s Table.