Cultivating Character

Accountability, Integrity, Character, Reputation

Living in a small community has its benefits and its drawbacks. The benefits include the fact that everyone knows you, they care about what’s going on in your life, and they look out for each other. The drawbacks include the fact that everyone knows you, they care about what’s going on in your life, and that they look out for each other! In a small community like ours, news of impropriety spreads quickly, whether the news is true or not. Unfortunately for those who become the subject of such news, it takes a long time to rebuild your reputation, whether there was any truth to the story or not.

The Apostle Paul faced a similar situation in Corinth. Apparently there was a contingent of the Corinthian church that had leveled all sorts of charges against Paul. Paul was innocent of those things, but he was forced to defend himself and prove it to the Corinthian believers. It seems that one of the charges leveled against Paul was that he was more concerned about his own financial gain than he was about the gospel. The charges weren’t true, but Paul knew that there were many people who would view everything he did with suspicion.

Last week we looked at the first part of 2 Corinthians 8, where Paul urged the church in Corinth to be generous in giving to the church in Jerusalem, which needed help because there was a great famine. Paul knew some people would be hesitant to give any money to help the church in Jerusalem because they didn’t trust him. He knew that their suspicion of him would hinder them giving to God.

As we turn our attention to verses 16-24 this morning, we are going to look at how Paul responded to this situation. He took precautions to ensure that even though some of the people didn’t trust him, they could still give to church in Jerusalem and have every confidence that their money was being handled with integrity, and would be used to honor the Lord. He sought to demonstrate his integrity to those who doubted him, helping them see that he was serious about honoring the Lord with their money—not trying to enrich himself.

Ensuring Integrity

Verses 16-19 and verse 22 give us a sense of Paul’s solution. He explains to the Corinthians that he will be sending a group to come and collect and handle the money.

16 But thank God! He has given Titus the same enthusiasm for you that I have. 17 Titus welcomed our request that he visit you again. In fact, he himself was very eager to go and see you. 18 We are also sending another brother with Titus. All the churches praise him as a preacher of the Good News. 19 He was appointed by the churches to accompany us as we take the offering to Jerusalem—a service that glorifies the Lord and shows our eagerness to help….22 We are also sending with them another of our brothers who has proven himself many times and has shown on many occasions how eager he is. He is now even more enthusiastic because of his great confidence in you. (2 Cor 8:16-19, 22, NLT)

Paul told the church in Corinth that he was sending a group of trustworthy men to come and handle the collection and transportation of the offering. We are told that Paul asked Titus to return to Corinth (he had apparently visited once before between the writing of 1st and 2nd Corinthians), and that Titus was eager to do so. Paul also talks about two others who would be coming with Titus. He describes the first man in verses 18 and 19, and the second man is described in verse 22.

There are three things we see about Paul’s approach that can be instructive to us. First, was that Paul placed the responsibility on a group, rather than on an individual. All of the men who were selected were trustworthy, but Paul knew that there is an additional layer of security that comes from shared responsibility, because each member of the group is able to hold every other member responsible. It’s kind of like a system of checks and balances.

When I helped as a Boy Scout leader, this kind of accountability was built into their culture because they had been burned in the past. They called it two-deep leadership. The idea was that there should always be at least two adults present with the kids, because together, those adults would be able to make better decisions than if they were on their own. If one adult had an idea to do something that might be dangerous or foolish, the other adult could help rein things in. Always having another adult around helped to share the load and to protect the kids. Paul used the same approach when it came to the money given to the church in Jerusalem. Sending a team helped to create accountability and strength.

Second, we see the kind of people who were chosen for the team. The people who were selected to be part of this team weren’t just whoever was available—they were chosen because they were people of character. Paul appointed Titus for this task because he had worked side by side with Titus for a long time. Through their many shared experiences, Titus had shown that he could be trusted, and that his primary desire was to please the Lord. Paul knew that when deciding who to entrust with responsibility, a person’s character is of utmost importance.

The two men chosen to accompany Titus were also seen as having impeccable character. We don’t know the names of these other two men (though there has been plenty of speculation through the years), but we do know that they had been approved for the task by others in the church. Verses 18 and 19 tell us about the first man who would accompany Titus. We are told that all the churches praised him as a preacher of the gospel. In other words, the way this man lived showed that his primary concern was to honor the Lord. Because of this, he had a good reputation among the other believers. Verse 19 says that he was appointed (literally, elected) by the churches for this task. Everyone in the church thought that this man had the right kind of character for the job.

Verse 22 tells us about the other man who would accompany Titus. We have even fewer details about him, but we do know that he had proven himself to be trustworthy as well and that he was eager to serve the Lord.

These men were selected because of their character, not necessarily because of any other skills. We aren’t told that they were businessmen or accountants or anything else. All we are told was that they loved the Lord and had shown themselves trustworthy by the way they lived their lives. These men were consistent in how they served God, and that made them the best choice for the job.

We should apply the same principle in our churches today. Before we give someone responsibility within the Christian community, we need to be confident that they are a person of character. We need to know that their primary focus is on honoring the Lord, and not on some other selfish or sinful motive. The way we examine a person’s character is to examine their lives. If they don’t consistently live with integrity outside of the church, we shouldn’t expect them to have integrity inside of it. If Christ isn’t a priority in other areas of their life, we shouldn’t expect that to be different simply because they have responsibilities in the church. But if a person has consistently shown that they live with character, then (and only then) we can consider giving them responsibility in the church.

We talk about this often when filling vacancies in our church. Just because someone teaches school, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be a Sunday School teacher. Their character is far more important than the skills they bring to the table. Just because someone is a businessman, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should make decisions about how we handle money in the church. The church isn’t a business. Our goal is not to make money; it is to bring people to Jesus. If a person doesn’t have that mindset, they shouldn’t be helping to lead the church, regardless of how much success they have had in business. In every area of the church we are looking for people of character to serve the Lord—it is the most important trait you can have. We should not only look for people of character, but we should strive to be people of character.

Third, the group was not selected by Paul alone. Paul chose Titus to be his representative, but the church was involved in the selection of the other two men. If Paul had sent a group of people whom he had hand-selected, people could claim that these men’s were really serving Paul rather than the Lord. Paul anticipated those accusations and sought to prevent them. He selected Titus, and asked the church to choose other men who would be a good fit. They chose people they would stand behind, which helped Paul’s critics see he wasn’t trying to manipulate the situation for his own benefit.

Corporations do the same thing today. They appoint a CEO, but also appoint a board of directors who oversee things. The CEO isn’t involved in the appointment of these directors, because it helps ensure (and show the stockholders) that the best interests of the company are most important—not the whims of the CEO.

Preventing one person from having all the power is a wise decision in a church setting as well (even when that person is the pastor). There is a trend in many churches today where the pastor insists that people must submit to his authority. These pastors claim that God has given them the responsibility of leading the church, and so people should do what they say. That style of leadership is dangerous—and it isn’t how our church is set up. The pastors in this church are members of every board, but we don’t have a vote—we are simply there as advisors. Our pastors don’t choose who will serve on our boards and committees. This helps to prevent one person from having all the power—and the shared leadership responsibilities hopefully help us keep the Lord at the forefront of everything we do.

Paul’s Motivation

So far we have looked at what Paul did, but in verses 20 and 21, he also explains why he did it.

20 We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. 21 We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable. (2 Cor. 8:20-21, NLT)

Paul’s concern was not only to ensure that the money was handled properly, but also to ensure that no one could level any criticism against how it was handled.

In verse 21 he says that he wanted to be honorable before the Lord, but he also wanted everyone else to be able to see that he was honorable. The way it is worded makes it sound like Paul was more concerned about how others viewed him than about how God did!

It isn’t that Paul desired the approval of men more than the approval of God, but he did understand that God sees what is truly in our hearts—He understands our motivation—while people cannot. All people can do is see our actions and make assumptions about our motivations. Paul wanted to make his motivations abundantly clear, so he went out of his way to make sure that things were handled properly. Even his harshest critics could not argue that somehow Paul was trying to enrich himself.

But Paul’s concern went beyond just how people viewed his handling of the money for the Jerusalem church. He knew that how people viewed him impacted how they viewed the gospel. If they viewed Paul as untrustworthy or selfishly motivated, they would be inclined to dismiss the gospel message he preached. Paul’s concern wasn’t primarily for his reputation; he was concerned about what his reputation told people about the Lord.

As Christians we must remember that God sees our hearts and understands our motivations, but others are left to infer our motivations from the actions they can see. So we must to live in such a way that people can see that we are living above reproach.

Billy Graham has been a consistent example of this principle as he has ministered throughout the years. As his crusades began to bring in greater and greater amounts of money, he knew that if people believed he was only trying to enrich himself they would not be willing to hear what he had to say about the gospel (which was and is most important to Dr. Graham). So his organization selected a group of Christian businessmen with strong character to handle to finances of the ministry. Not only did these men make the financial decisions for the ministry, but then they made all of their records public, so that no one could claim that they were doing something inappropriate.

As a church, we try to take a similar approach. No one person is in charge of the money at the church. Two people count the offering each week and deposit it. The person who writes the checks for the church can’t sign those checks, and the people who sign checks can’t write them. The pastors aren’t involved in counting the money—we don’t know who gives what. Our church council (whose members are elected by the church) strives to put together a wise budget each year, and then the whole budget is presented to the congregation for their approval. We have regular audits by an outside source to make sure we aren’t overlooking anything. It isn’t that we don’t trust people, but that we want to ensure that there is no question about how we are handling our money. We do our best to be open and transparent about everything, because we don’t want accusations about how we handle our money to distract people from our true purpose—to draw people closer to the Lord.

Applications

Though this passage has focused primarily on money, I believe the principle we see has a much wider application. And though we’ve primarily talked about how these principles apply to churches, they apply to us as individuals as well. As Christians, we should strive to live in such a way that there isn’t room for accusation. We can do that by building some accountability into our lives, just like Paul and the churches did when they took up the collection for Jerusalem.

Here are some methods of accountability that you might consider building into your life to help you not only avoid falling into sin, but also to ensure that others have no grounds on which to accuse you.

  • Refuse to be alone with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse. Billy Graham implemented this principle into his life as well—he pointed out that it is exceedingly difficult to be unfaithful to your wife when you are never alone with a woman who isn’t her. Through the years I cannot count how many people have been accused of being unfaithful because people have seen them alone with members of the opposite sex. Many times what was actually happening was harmless—unfortunately at other times it wasn’t. It seems prudent, then, to ensure that if we do spend time with a member of the opposite sex, we are in a public place where there are others around.
    • This principle is prudent even if you aren’t married. It is far more difficult to allow an inappropriate relationship to happen when you don’t spend time alone in private with a member of the opposite sex. Obviously a serious dating relationship that is moving toward marriage will require some alone time, but be careful about where you allow yourself to be alone. If you choose a place where others can see what is going on, you build in a layer of accountability that will help keep you from danger and keep others from drawing the wrong conclusions.
  • Give someone else the passwords to your computer, social media accounts, and/or phone. Then give them permission to see what you’ve been doing on those things. Or maybe you can put your computer in a place where your screen is visible to people walking by. One of the greatest temptations of our day is the notion of anonymity that comes with our online interactions. We feel that we can get away with things online that we can’t do in “real” life. The problem is that our online interactions are real life—so we would be well-served to engage someone else to help keep us accountable. We are far less likely to engage in behaviors we shouldn’t if we know that someone else is going to know about them.
  • Keep track of your finances using a budget so you actually know what you’re spending your money on. Be intentional about how you use the money God has given you.
  • Keep track of how you spend your time each week. It may give you a glimpse into what your priorities really are.

These principles can apply to any area of life. If there is an area of life in which you struggle, find a friend (or a group of friends) you can trust and ask them to keep you accountable. Meet with them regularly and ask each other about how you’re doing in certain areas. Ask about how well you’re keeping up with your Bible reading or prayer times. Ask about how you’re balancing your time or your money. Ask about whether your speech has been God-honoring or not. Whatever area you struggle in, make it a regular topic of discussion. Knowing that you will have to give an account for your actions will help you to think carefully about the actions you do take.

Our goal shouldn’t be to create a legalistic set of rules to follow. Our goal should be to ensure our motives are pure (and show others that fact as well) by building a degree of accountability into our lives. People assume our motives by how we live. When we act secretively, they assume we have something to hide and that we aren’t trustworthy. But when people can see that we are trying to honor the Lord in everything we do, they see us as people of character.

Paul understood that the primary goal for a Christian is to point people toward Jesus and to serve our Lord in every area of our lives. He knew that when people are unsure of our motives, they aren’t interested in listening to the message we have to proclaim.

I suspect that if you talk to the people who have fallen into sin or have been the subject of false accusations, most of them would tell you that they wished they had safeguards that would have prevented them from getting into that situation. The Apostle Paul gives us the blueprint for doing that—we must live with integrity and build accountability into our lives. So as you leave this place, consider what you might do to ensure that you are living beyond reproach.

Scripture:

2 Corinthians 8:16-24