The Twenty-Seven-Question Exhortation Test

The 260 Journey
The 260 Journey
The Twenty-Seven-Question Exhortation Test

Day 129

Today’s Reading: Romans 12

Romans 12:9-21 is some of the most powerful exhortations of the New Testament. I use the word exhort because it’s the right word to use with these verses. Exhort is a passionate urging to do something. Passion does not leave a lot of room for wordiness. Passionate words spill out of you because it has to come out of you. Paul starts the passionate pleas, and it seems he can’t stop once he starts.

Each verse is packed with two or three exhortations that cut to the heart and that are so countercultural. Right after the challenge for us to use our gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and mercy, he goes into this long stretch of challenge for all of us. Though the gifts are limited to the gifted person, what comes next is about character traits to pursue and should be present in all of us:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)

Wow! Twenty-seven challenges he rattles off like a drill sergeant. You can’t even catch your breath and examine how you are doing with “persevering in tribulations” before “be devoted in prayer” hits you in the face. We could combine a few of these character traits and make it twenty-five. So what if we made it a twenty-five-question test in which you rate how you’re doing on each one? Let’s say each one was worth four points, which adds up to one hundred points total. What would your grade be? I’m afraid of my grade on the character test.

The Christian devotional writer Oswald Chambers gives us insight into what character really is:

Character is the whole trend of a man’s life, not isolated acts here and there. . . . Character is the sum total of a man’s actions. You cannot judge a man by the good things he does at times; you must take all the times together and if in the greater number of times he does bad things, he is a bad character; in spite of the noble things he does intermittently.

One of the first-century Greek philosophers, Plutarch, summarizes those words like this: “Character is simply long habit continued.” 

I know this will sound redundant, but I think it’s worth it to list Paul’s exhortations:

Love without hypocrisy

Abhor what is evil

Cling to what is good

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love

Give preference to one another in honor

Not lagging behind in diligence

Fervent in spirit

Serving the Lord

Rejoicing in hope

Persevering in tribulation

Devoted in prayer

Contributing to the needs of the saints

Practicing hospitality

Bless those who persecute you

Bless and curse not

Rejoice with those who rejoice

Weep with those who weep

Be of the same mind toward one another

Do not be haughty in mind

Associate with the lowly

Do not be wise in your own estimate

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone

Respect what is right in the sight of all men

Be at peace with all men (so far as it depends on you)

Never take your own revenge

Do not be overcome by evil

Overcome evil with good

These twenty-seven character traits are so important in our life, especially in a society that promotes gift over character. If you get someone with a high gift and low character, you are in for a train wreck.

In talking about the difference a strong and good character makes, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach, Tom Landry, said:

I’ve seen the difference character makes in individual football players. Give me a choice between an outstanding athlete with poor character and a lesser athlete of good character; and I’ll choose the latter every time. The athlete with good character will often perform to his fullest potential and be a successful football player; while the outstanding athlete with poor character will usually fail to play up to his potential and often won’t even achieve average performance. To stay in the sports arena, I’ll leave you with the great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s words to encourage you: “Ability will get you to the top – but it takes character to keep you there.”