Summary: Paul invites us to follow the character of Godly Christians. It is allabout CHARACTER
Sermon: Character building
In this the second Sunday of Lent, I would like to focus on our Epistle reading from the epistle to the Philippians
Because it is all about CHARACTER
Story: Some years ago, I attended called a conference called “Spring Harvest at Work” in Sheffield (in November 1998).
And what was memorable for me was that the conference organisers sprang a surprise interviewee on us – Jim Bakker- a pariah in the Evangelical community.
Indeed he was such an outcast that they didn’t even dare advertise that he was going to be interviewed until the day itself.
Let me just give you a little of the background to Jim Bakker’s story:
From 1987 to 1990, the ministry of television evangelists (popularly referred to in the press as “televangelists) was brought into disrepute by the revelation of a string of frauds, mismanagement of funds and infidelities.
The first scandal to break and probably the most infamous - was that of Jim and Tammy Bakker followed by the fall of Jimmy Swaggart.
In 1986, the income of Baaker’s ministry was $129 million.
But then Jim Bakker had an affair with the church secretary Jessica Hahn in 1980 and resigned in 1987, when it came to light that he had paid her about $265,000 in blackmail money over the affair.
With his resignation, Bakker asked Jerry Falwell to take over and, when Falwell began examining the accounts, he discovered that the Bakkers had been illegally taking large amounts of money from the ministry fund.
Falwell called the US Inland Revenue Service in and when they investigated the accounts they discovered that the couple had diverted $4.8 million for personal use.
Jim Bakker was indicted for fraud in 1988, was given a 45 year prison sentence and fined $500,000.
When the scandal broke, Bakker's Christian friends quickly deserted him.
He became an outcast in the Christian world.
And when he was sentenced, his wife Tammy Faye left him too and then divorced him.
That evening at “Spring Harvest at Work”, Jim Bakker told us a little known story of his time in prison:
Six months into his sentence, he was surprised one afternoon when the prison governor called him into his office. Bakker had a visitor: Billy Graham.
When Graham came in, Bakker asked him why he had come to visit because he knew that any association with Bakker would tarnish Graham's reputation.
Billy Graham replied that Bakker was his friend in good and in bad times and now when things were bad, he would stand by his side.
And Billy Graham was true to his word.
Bakker's sentence was eventually reduced, on appeal, to ten years and when he came out of prison on parole, he had nowhere to stay.
So the Grahams invited him to stay with them.
On the Sunday following Baaker's release, Ruth Graham took him to church with her.
Disregarding what people would think about her, she stood up in church and introduced Jim Bakker to the congregation as her friend, Jim Bakker.
It is that sort of Christian character that Paul is calling us to follow when he said in Phil 3:17
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.
We need to follow Christian leaders with good Character.
I have been reading a book by Bill Hybels called Courageous Leadership.
Bill Hybels runs the very successful denomination: the Willow Creek Association
His recipe for good leadership is to find people with the following characteristics
ii) competence, and
In that order.
If you don’t have the character, it doesn’t matter how competent you are – you won’t make it as a good Christian leader.
Come to think of it, if character is wanting, you won’t make a good Christian – full stop.
St Paul said to the Christians in Corinth that:
“If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
And that should IMPACT the WAY we live
Being a NEW CREATION must result in living a NEW LIFESTYLE.
When God’s Holy Spirit lives in us – he starts to touch areas of our lives that need changing.
St Paul in Gal 5:22 and 23 says;
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Please note it is not the fruits but the fruit – a single noun.
As Christians we should be growing in all the FRUIT
Let me repeat them again: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Why should we be different?
St Paul explained it like this: