I love doing character studies. Some of the most valuable and personal life lessons I’ve learned came as I read the Word and studied closely, meditating on the lives of Jesus, John, Moses, Joseph, and Jeremiah (to name my personal favorites). Studying Jeremiah’s life taught me that success is not defined by results, outcomes, numbers, people’s approval, and all the outward things the world uses to measure success. Success in God’s eyes is simply when we live in obedience to Him, and many times that might actually mean disapproval from the world around us or not seeing any tangible, immediate, or favorable results. From John I learned that I am Christ’s Beloved. Not because of what I do or don’t do, not because of my own faithfulness or lack there of. He loves me simply because it is in His nature to love me, I’m His favorite… and you are too. John helped me place my identity in being the “Beloved” alone. By meditating on Jesus’ life I came to know and relate to Him more intimately as I realized that He identifies with all of my hurts and struggles in life. I learned that I am called first and foremost to BE with him, that ministry flows out of being rooted in God’s acceptance and love— it is never meant to be done for acceptance or love. I’ve learned that I am to lay aside my own agenda to serve others and to listen for what the Father is saying and doing and to be about that instead of my own plans. To walk and live, to parent, pray, and serve, as the Spirit leads. I’ve learned that I am to give others the benefit of the doubt and call out who they really are— as God sees them— instead of focusing on their shortcomings. I’ve learned that my role in life is simply to pour myself out for the benefit of and to build up others. From Moses I learned what a selfless leader looks like… willing to pour oneself out in prayer, identifying with and caring for the people in your care so much that you’re willing to die in their place. I learn from Moses that we are not to use opportunities or authority to make ourselves more powerful or to lord it over/dominate others. A good leader is a humble leader who cares more about others than him/herself. I found comfort as I studied Joseph. Life was not fair to him but he never complained and always trusted that God was working and sovereign and good… in the midst of so much uncertainty and wrong that had been done to him.
All these things I’ve learned and I so ask and depend on God daily… that He would work in me and enable me to live out these truths.
Character studies can be powerful.
When doing a character study, we zoom in on a particular person, and piece together a more complete picture of who they were, why they made certain choices, what their consequences were, and what we can learn from their lives.
Here are some ideas for how to do a character study:
- First, you’ll want to find all of the passages and verses where the character is found. You can either do this as you’re reading through a book— (if you do it this way it might be helpful to have a special color-code to mark wherever the person is mentioned), or you can use a concordance to get a list of all the places the person is found (just look up their name in a concordance and it will have the list).
- Read all of the verses.
- Write down what you know about them (based on the verses you read): where they were from, when they lived, what their name meant, what you know about their family, culture, country, or any other contextual information.
- Look them up in a Bible dictionary to help fill in any missing pieces about their background.
- Go back through and read all of the passages where the character is found. Make any observations (use the list in the observation post), and also look for any of the following additional things (you can come up with a color code for each of these to help you track them). (Remember, observing is simply noticing what is stated in the text.)
- Any information about their calling
- What they do/don’t do
- What happens to them
- How do they respond or what choices do they make
- What results from their choices and actions
- Their attitude towards people
- Their attitude towards God
- What do others say about them
- Observe their spiritual life:
- What is their prayer life like?
- Obedience or disobedience to God?
- Their attitude toward Scripture/God’s word?
- What kinds of tests does the character face (physical conflict, relational conflict, moral test/conflict, mental conflict (inner struggle), test of faith/trust in God?
- What kind of transformation takes place in their life? How does it happen?
- Write down these observations as you read, and next to each observation move into interpretation. Remember, interpretation is where you ask questions like: Why is this significant? What does this reveal about God? What does this reveal about the character being studied? Why/how did this happen? What is implied?
- Meditate on your observations and interpretations. Keep asking questions and thinking through the stories of the character’s life from different angles.
- The goal of bible study is always application: what did you learn from studying their life that you can apply to your life? What is God saying to you/showing you? What are the timeless truths?
Here is an example of what part of a character study might look like. To do a complete character study you’d do this with all of your passages:
Passage: Ruth 1:19-21
Context: Takes place during the days of the Judges (dark days in Israel’s history). Naomi and Ruth have just returned to Bethlehem after the death of their husbands.
Observations and interpretations:
- Observation: There is a Question/Answer in verses 19-20.
- Who is asking the question? “The women of Bethlehem” (verse 19).
- Naomi’s answer: “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara” (verse 20).
- Observation: There is a Connective in verse 20, the word “for”.
- What is being connected? Naomi’s new name “Mara” with the Almighty dealing bitterly with her (verse 20).
- Interpretation: Why is Naomi changing her name? Because she is changing her identity. No longer do any of the things that formerly made her identity exist.
- Interpretation: What is significant about Naomi expressing her anger against God? Because everything that Naomi and her husband did— moving to Moab, giving their sons to Moabite wives— was against God’s orders (it was sin against him), so the consequences were brought on themselves.
- What does this all reveal about Naomi? She didn’t understand the character of God.
- Interpretation: Why doesn’t the author change her name in the rest of the book? Perhaps because in the end, Naomi is redeemed so there is no need because she is no longer bitter.
Summary: Naomi is bitter about how her life turned out and doesn’t recognize that her disobedience affected her life and situation. She wants to change her name and thus change her identity. God redeems the situation in the end.
- Our choices have consequences— for good or bad. It is always in our best interest to obey God.
- Even when we make mistakes or when circumstances are hard, God is at work in our lives. We can choose to worship and trust him or choose to be bitter and angry. Either way, he is good and is about working out redemption.
Hope that helps! If you decide to do a character study I’d love to hear who you are studying and what God teaches you along the way. Or if you’ve done one before, I’d love to hear what you learned.