“I think you may judge of a man’s character by the persons whose affection he seeks. If you find a man seeking only the affection of those who are great, depend upon it he is ambitious and self-seeking; but when you observe that a man seeks the affection of those who can do nothing for him, but for whom he must do everything, you know that he is not seeking himself, but that pure benevolence sways his heart.” – Charles Spurgeon, 1876
Understanding the character of those around you profoundly shapes your view of the world. This is intimately connected to understanding your own character as well. One cannot look at someone else’s failings or accomplishments without seeing themselves in regard to that. I truly believe this. When I encounter a man of low character, I usually do not think myself higher than him. I often find myself first asking, “Where is that weakness in me, and what should I do about it?” I don’t always follow through with actionable items, but sometimes I do. I think Character is one of the easiest things to fake, and hardest things to prove.
In the Western Evangelical church we often assume church membership equates to character, but sadly it does not. The church is nothing if not filled with broken sinful people. In some senses, that’s ok. Christ did not come to call the righteous, but instead the sinners (Mark 2:17). In other senses though, it can lead to a lot of pitfalls for those who are not wary.
In my experience, working with people seems to be one of the easiest ways to learn about their character. I have often found myself finishing an interesting spiritual conversation with a religious coworker only to turn around and be treated badly by them. It leaves me a little boggled, and confused. Though I do know, that once this happens I now have a quick and firm response for the next time they wish to give me moral or spiritual advice:
“I do not wish to discuss moral or spiritual matters with you, as you have shown through your character that any advice on the above from you will either be false or toxic.”
While this does well to protect me from fools, it is only the first step. From there I must then ask myself about my character, and where my shortcomings are, in hopes that I may avoid hearing this same thing from another. Worse yet, that I may avoid failing my God.