In every winter’s heart there is a quivering spring, and behind the veil of the night there is a smiling dawn.—Khalil Gibran
Strength of character cannot be had without a knowledge of our weakness and ultimate mastery of it. “My power,” wrote Paul, “works best in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).1 The storm reveals the weakness in the roof: but the part of it that was damaged and repaired is apt, later, to be the strongest. Scar tissue is the strongest skin of all. Kites and airplanes rise against the wind, not with it. Earth does not reveal its harvest without plowing, nor the minds their treasure without study, nor nature its secrets without investigation. The defect overcome becomes the greatest strength.
Sanctification is not a place at which one arrives, but a way one travels. It is a basic fact that no Christian ever found it easy to be good; to believe differently is the great mistake most people make in judging them. The law running through heaven and earth is that “athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5).
The Meekest of the Meek
The virtues of Christians are the opposites of the natural weaknesses they had to overcome. The special quality of soul that might have made someone else a devil gives the Christian their greatest opportunity for growth. The moral quality always associated with Moses is meekness—but Moses was not born meek; he was probably hotheaded, quick-tempered, and irascible. Remember, Moses killed an Egyptian—and that is not the mark of a meek man. He was the first one to “break” the Ten Commandments. Coming down from Mount Sinai, where he had conversed with God, he found his people adoring a golden calf, and in a fit of anger he smashed the tablets of the law. Anger is not meek; the weak spot in Moses was his hotheadedness. But this man turned the worst in himself into the best, so that later on—in his attitude toward the ingratitude and waywardness of those whom he delivered, in his bearing toward his family, in his final disappointment at not entering the Promised Land—he maintained such an even temper that Scripture describes him as “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3, KJV). Moses acquired meekness by fighting against an evil temper. He rooted out the worst in himself; and then, with God’s help, he became one of humanity’s remarkable people. It is true that “what human power can do divine power is not summoned to do. God does not dispense with man’s aid. He strengthens him, cooperating with him as he uses the powers and capabilities given him.”2
Thundering Love
In the New Testament the character most often praised for love is John. Toward the end of his life (and evidenced in his letters) he preached incessantly on the theme “Love one another.” John describes the Savior on the night of the Last Supper when He reminds the disciples of the love command. But John had not always been so selfless and loving. He once tried to play politics through his mother, getting her to ask Jesus to give him and his brother the most honored seats when the Master would finally establish His kingdom (Matt. 20:20-28). Love does not try to dominate or rule. On another occasion, when a Samaritan city rejected Jesus, John and his brother, James, implored Jesus to rain down fire from heaven to destroy the city. Love does not seek vengeance. In truth, there must have been a tendency toward hatred in John, for his Master called him a son of thunder. But at some time or other in John’s life, he seized upon the weak spot in his character—upon his want of kindness to his fellow man—and through cooperation with divine grace he became the greatest apostle of love, the virtue he had lacked before.
No More Taxes
Matthew, the author of the first Gospel in the New Testament, is another example of the way that character can be made strongest at its weakest point. If there is any one quality that stands out predominantly in his Gospel, it is Matthew’s love of Israel; he was one of the greatest patriots who ever lived. But do not think that he came by patriotism easily; the weak spot in his nature was his want of this very love of country. Matthew was the first quisling of Christian history: he sold out his own people to the Romans, collected exorbitant taxes from his fellow citizens for their overlords, becoming rich as a collaborator with the invader. One day when he was collecting Roman taxes, Jesus said to him, “Come, follow Me”—and Matthew left his customs house and followed the Lord, and became one of the greatest of all patriots. In his Gospel Matthew goes back numerous times to recall the glories of his people, quoting from David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and at the end he seems to exalt: “Israel! This is your glory! This is your crown! From our own law and our people has come the Lord and Savior of the world.” Matthew discovered his love for his people when he truly found his God. By overcoming his weak spot with the aid of God’s strength, he became strong; power is made strong in infirmity.
Stumbling Victory
The temptations of Christians are seen as opportunities for self-discovery. These unlikely heroes of Scripture allowed temptations to show them the breaches in the fortress of their souls that needed to be fortified until they became their strongest points. This explains the curious fact that they often became the opposite of what they once seemed to be. When we hear of the holiness of some people, our first reaction is: I knew them when . . . Between the “then” and the “now” has intervened a battle in which selfishness lost and faith won out. They followed the advice of Paul: “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up” (Heb. 12:1). They became what they were not.
Because the development of character requires constant vigilance, our occasional failures must not be mistaken for the desertion of God. There are two attitudes we could adopt when we face our lapses into sin: we can fall down and get up; or we can fall down and stay there. The fact of having fallen once should not discourage us. Just because a child falls does not mean they give up trying to walk. Very often a mother gives the most attention to the child who falls the most. In a similar vein, we need to consider our stumbling and failures as an opportunity to cry out to God, who is most attentive in our greatest weakness. Indeed, “amid the anthems of the celestial choir, God hears the cries of the weakest human being.”3
No character or temperament is fixed. To say “I am what I am, and that I must always be” is to ignore freedom, God’s action in our hearts, and the reversibility of our lives to make them the opposite of what they are. In baptizing the duke of the Franks, the bishop reminded him of how he could reverse his past: “Bend your proud head, Sicambre; abhor that which thou hast burned and burn that which thou hast adored.” No character, regardless of the depths of its vice or its intemperance, is incapable of being transformed through cooperation of divine and human action. Drunkards, alcoholics, dope fiends, materialists, skeptics, sensualists, gluttons, thieves—all can make that area of life in which they are defeated the area of their greatest victory. People are like those ancient palimpsests or parchments on which a second writing covered the first; the original gloss of sin and selfishness has to be scraped off before we can be illuminated and transformed by God’s good news. So be assured that “when in faith we take hold of His strength, He will change, wonderfully change, the most hopeless, discouraging outlook.”4
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations have been taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 535.
3 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 174.
4 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 260.

Rex D. Edwards recently retired as vice president of religious studies for Griggs University. He is now a volunteer research assistant at the Biblical Research Institute. This article was published December 22, 2011.

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