— By THE REV. LOU TISCIONE
The Christian faith is a step into the light, not a leap into the darkness. We who are Christians don’t possess a blind faith. We trust in what we have “learned, firmly believed and been convinced of.” 2 Timothy 3:14
It is difficult to live life denying the truth. It is not reasonable to assume that people willingly ignore the truth. Likewise, it is unreasonable to think that people don’t consider the character of leaders to be unimportant. We all face the challenge of discerning a person’s genuine character when called upon to select leaders.
The means of discerning a person’s character is not beyond our ability. The Bible gives the means by which character can be known. Past actions help to predict future behavior. Of course, there are no guarantees. We are not omniscient as God is. Yet, we can make reasonable decisions concerning a person’s character.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a universal principle that will allow us to recognize a person’s character. Jesus’ principle concerns connecting past actions called fruits to assessments of character. The entire sermon was a teaching that Jesus gave to His disciples. Matthew sets the context on a mountainside. Jesus saw the crowds that were following Him, and He went up on the mountain and then He sat down. Matthew 5:2, “And he opened his mouth and taught them (his disciples)…”
This sermon was given by Jesus not as another Law but to describe His ethic or practice. In other words, Jesus laid out the standard of life in His Kingdom. He lived out what He preached. The purpose of His Sermon is to drive those who have been born again to their knees. We who profess the name of Christ do so by the sovereign grace of God who has raised us from death to life. We read the sermon and realize that it presents an impossible life-style. We are compelled to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit of God in order to live the Christian life. Jesus was the only one who actually lived in accordance with His sermon.
The verse concerning a person’s “fruits” is near the close of Jesus’ sermon. He said that there will be false prophets. He said that these false prophets will look and dress like sheep but will actually be wolves. These wolves will seek to devour the sheep. The sheep represent the people of God. The wolves are those who are opposed to God and seek to destroy God’s people.
The Bible is God’s word to His children. But, it is absolutely and universally true for all men. What the Bible says, God says. What God has said is binding on all people whether or not they believe it. Jesus declared a universal truth concerning discerning another’s character and genuineness. He said it is recognizable no matter what the circumstance or context. The character of an individual is not found in eloquence or erudition, real or imagined. It is not found in appearance or popularity. Character can be assessed by looking at past behavior. In order to recognize a man or woman of character it is necessary to study his or her past behavior. A man’s past actions are his “fruits” in accordance with Jesus’ words.
False people have “rotten fruit” produced by their past actions. Sometimes these false people actually say things that might be true. They may be lifted up by those who have ulterior motives. Jesus said look at what they have produced before determining their genuineness.
We need leaders who are genuine. We need to look back on a man or woman’s life before we pledge our support. This principle of looking at a person’s fruits applies not only to our civil government but to all areas of life in which we must select leaders. This is so simple yet it seems absent from some of the most important decisions we make.
We can complain about those in leadership who display little or no character. We can try to outdo the experts who continue to put forth “made-up” leaders designed to attract the uninformed. Or, we can demand honesty from our leaders. Look for outlets that are willing to give accurate information about a prospective leader’s past. As Jesus instructed His disciples, look to their fruits. “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
The Rev. Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church.