This is probably my least favorite time of year as it applies to it being an election year, campaigners flinging insults fast and furious. The sheer intensity of media attacks through TV commercials, slogans plastered on billboards on every street corner, and the interrupting phone calls at all hours begging for our vote just gets a little overwhelming. As I had dinner with my son and his wife this week, my daughter-in-law asked him if they were going to vote this year. Now, this made my ears perk up - somehow the question got my attention more than all the campaign slogans and the mumble-jumble of media blitzes! "Are WE going to vote this year?" Not an earth-shaking question, but the discussion which came out of it was a little revealing. We came to the conclusion, in order to vote, we'd have to vote for the "lesser of two evils". Now, I bet that idea doesn't bring warm feelings to your heart anymore than it brings one to mine!
Moral character makes for smooth traveling; an evil life is a hard life. (Proverbs 11:5 MSG)
Somehow, in all these media attacks on one another, the candidates for office (both local and national) have brought us to the place of questioning the moral character of our various candidates. I made mention of the idea of trying to select one candidate who more closely represented the values we'd like to see displayed in office. When both candidates spend so much time tearing each other apart, it may honestly be difficult to see the "moral integrity" of one or the other!
The same is true in our lives - if we spend more time tearing down the moral integrity of the other person than we do anything else, it will eventually cause our "moral integrity" to be questioned just as much! Our writer reminds us of the importance of maintaining moral character - making for an easier path in life. Mind you, it doesn't say the "appearance" of having moral character smooths our path - it says the actual character does! We can dress the part, but if we don't walk the walk, it really is not character at all - it is a facade!
The idea behind "moral character" is conduct which adheres to principles (rules) which strongly adhere to the pursuit of right and the avoidance of wrong. It is more than legalism - the pursuit of rules for the sake of keeping the rules, or the keeping of customs which have been handed down for generations. In fact, "moral character" is something gained through the kind of learning which comes through experience. Take a wrong step and you learn the value of remaining on the path. Take a right step and you realize the benefits of obedience. In each step, we learn - we call this wisdom - the application of knowledge into the actions of our lives.
One of the synonyms for "moral" is "straightforward". I think this may be the idea reflected in our passage. Moral character - straightforward living - makes for smooth traveling. Being who we are, honest about our imperfections, but also aware of the areas of steadfastness Jesus is working into our lives, is the most "straightforward" living we can display. The message is in what is displayed, more than in what is said. Yes, our words give evidence of what is in our hearts, but our actions reveal the "roots of faith" anchored deep within the grace of Christ!
A man or woman of "moral character" is almost always someone we'd refer to as an "open book". There is a certain "vulnerability" revealed in their lives - giving access to their heart. A person of "moral character" is not so focused on "keeping the edges neat". In fact, when they begin to "fray" a bit, they are willing to ask for help in "hemming them up"! When I have "frayed" a little, the most comforting thing I can do is to reach out - to be vulnerably honest about these "frayed areas". We cannot stop the "fraying" until we put focus on the area. Keeping it hidden, masking it with actions contrary to our true character, will only keep the area "out of view" - it will not fix it!
We are given two opposing paths to consider today in our passage - one is smooth, the other is hard. You would be right to consider the smooth path as one free of projections or obstacles. The way I like to think about it is a path with uniform consistency. The man or woman with "moral character" has a uniform consistency displayed in their words, actions, and thoughts. Sure, they vary once in a while, but in general, there is a consistency which comes through. On the other hand, the hard path of the one who lacks "moral character" is quite different. The "hard" path of the one without "moral character" is pretty unyielding and impenetrable. There is a "rock-hardness" to their character.
If you have ever walked on a hard path for a long while, you will find it much more fatiguing than walking on a yielding surface. The pressure exerted by the hard path actually wears you down. The differences in the path become evident in the ability to finish well! Just sayin!