Why Do Character Studies?

Recently while sitting in my home office, I glanced over at the bookshelf and noticed several dozen journals that I’ve kept over the years. In those journals are prayers for my husband and children, details of both joyful and difficult life experiences, my successes and failures, and God’s faithfulness and redemption through it all. As I looked over those recorded volumes of my life, I wondered, “What will my kids think when I am gone and those pages are in their hands? Will they learn from my mistakes? Will they be encouraged by the kind of person I was?” And more importantly, “Will they encounter God in those pages?” My relatively insignificant life-story matters. It matters to my family because my story is woven into theirs. And this reality holds true throughout history, from generation to generation. We each have unique stories, and God is weaving every one into a far grander story for us all.

While the pages of my life will (hopefully!) be limited to the readership of my children and grandchildren, other real-life stories are written for anyone to read. And for good reason—genuine, human stories are powerful. They have the ability to motivate us, challenge us, inform our decisions, move us to tears, and even point us to God. This is especially true of the storied characters of the Bible. Despite the great distance in time and culture, these men and women have a great capacity to guide and teach us. These were real, everyday folks with problems, joys, fears, temptations, hope, and despair—just like us. And God chose to include their stories in the Bible for our benefit.

Why Do Character Studies?

Our sermon series this summer will highlight character studies from the New Testament. Chuck Swindoll writes the following about the value of this kind of study:

“The Bible places before us a spiritual “Hall of Fame”— raw, uncensored, gritty stories of men and women sometimes soaring, often stumbling through the incredible life of faith. They wrestled with sin, experienced God’s grace, struggled with weakness, and overcame by faith. Their inspiring biographies have been memorialized in Scripture, not simply because of their faith in God but because of God’s faithfulness to them.”

Studying the lives of the early followers of God will challenge us to examine our lives and commitment to faithfully follow God, even when life gets messy and hard. As we see these real people face temptations, triumphs and disappointments, we will surely find bits and pieces of ourselves too. In these honest human stories of Scripture, we will see our brokenness, our inner struggles, our ambitions—whether noble or not.

More importantly, they will give us an ever-clearer view of the character of God and who we are in light of Him. The God “full of grace and truth,” comes alive to us as we study someone like Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus at His most grievous hour. We can be encouraged by God’s grace as He later made this very same Peter a foundational leader in the early church. Through the lives of those who have gone before us, it is comforting to be reminded of God’s longsuffering patience with His beloved, rebellious, obstinate, children—never excusing their sin and compromising truth, but always graciously understanding that they were “in process.” These stories offer fresh perspective of God’s goodness and faithfulness—and all He longs to give the children He loves so mightily.

How to Approach Character Studies?

While there are many different ways to approach doing a Biblical character study, below are some general suggestions for getting started. Good “tools” are helpful, such as a comprehensive study Bible with study notes, cross-references and an extensive topical index. There are also many online resources to increase our understanding of the Bible. These resources include Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and concordances. A few user-friendly websites are BibleGateway.com, BibleHub.com, and Bible.org.

Here’s one way to get started:

1. Choose a Biblical character to study, of special interest to you.

2. Locate, list, and review all of the passages in the Bible that reference that person, using an index or concordance.

3. Use study resources that include insights from Biblical scholars, teachers, and pastors. Make notes of what is significant to you and is helpful in gaining a broader picture of this character’s life.

4. Begin to ask and find answers to questions such as:

How would you describe the personality of this person?
What are the significant events of this person’s life? What culture prevailed during this person’s life, and how did he/she relate to it? What were the major problems that this person faced? What kind of choices did this person make, and what were the consequences? What are the major character traits of this person?
What are this person’s major strengths and weaknesses? How would you describe this person’s relationship with God? What can we learn about God through this person’s life?

5. Where do you see your own experiences aligning with this person’s story? What similarities/differences can you draw between this person and yourself? Identify strengths, weaknesses, temptations, challenges, fears, failures, etc. that you have in common with this person.

6. Identify ways that you would like to change based on your study of this person, and prayerfully develop a practical strategy to begin that process of change.

Biblical character studies open a way for the “Living Word” to speak clearly into our lives, as we relate to those who have gone before us. God nurtures our faith in confirming that He is able to powerfully work within the reality of our circumstances, as well as our individual strengths and weaknesses, as He did for the real people we meet in the stories of the Bible. This summer’s sermon series on New Testament Characters will certainly challenge us and also comfort us with God’s amazing grace. It will undoubtedly reveal His character to us, as He invites us to examine our own.

-Virginia Griffin, Pelham Campus