Character is built by transformation in the situation not by information. We cannot talk ourselves into character development or intellectually learn our way into integrity. It happens in the small, hidden decisions of every day life.
In Daniel 1-4, we are introduced to four young men who give us a model for character development and we see how it’s built in a couple of different scenarios. First, there was the issue of food. As participants in the Babylonian Young Executives Development program, Daniel and his three friends were given the best wine and food from the king’s table. But there was a slight problem in that the food clashed with Jewish dietary laws, so Daniel and his friends offered an alternative solution. When they were found to be in better shape and sharper wit than the other candidates in their class, the cafeteria changed their menu for good. Goodbye to the pulled pork and ham sandwiches. The other issue occurred over the 90-foot statue incident. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down, which got them sent to the hot place. In his grace, God saved them. And his sovereignty placed the four men in positions of significant influence in a foreign empire.
What can we learn from them? First, you cannot drift into character. Daniel 1:8 says that “Daniel resolved in his heart.” He made pre-decisions that laid a solid foundation for future significant decisions. Integrity is built on pre-decisions in which we acknowledge that we do not have a price, that what God thinks is more important than what people think, and that offending the Holy Spirit is far worse than offending people. Secondly, we find that character is built in community. Ecclesiastes 4 tells us that two are better than one and that a three-fold cord is not easily broken. Community strengthens our resolve and builds our character. We need others asking us hard questions and encouraging us in the decisions we have made. Finally, they followed well. In both situations, these men made decisions that defied the commands of kings. But they did it in a way that was respectful and mature. They could have gossiped about the king’s insanity or complained to their superiors or talked with the king in a way that was dishonoring. While they made decisions to disobey their superiors, they maintained a posture of humility while remaining firmly rooted in conviction. They followed well while simultaneously defying well.
What is one small thing we can do today that will alter the course of our character development. What is one pre-decision we can make that will lay a solid foundation for the construction of our character? Who is one person we can relate to in a more intentional and accountable way to ensure that our integrity is built?