Are You a Character Actor?

A message for Akron Alliance Fellowship Church, Akron OH, Sunday, March 12, 2023.

For the “Live in Church” audio presented Sunday, March 19, 2023, click here.

Every now and then, my lovely bride and I have conversations about what it is to leave a legacy.  For the sake of this discussion, leaving a meaningful legacy is very important.  When you discover the purpose of your life and your very existence, your legacy should be all about family and lasting impacts far beyond your lifetime.  A legacy is to make a lasting impact from how you live your life.

During one of my conversations with my wife, the subject of “one-hit wonders” has come up.  A one-hit wonder is a song by a recording artist or group where it is a huge, memorable hit, while other recordings were decent but not as notable or memorable.  That one song would establish a legacy for that artist.  Suffice it to say that if your greatest hit song as a crooner is “What You Won’t Do for Love” by Bobby Caldwell, then you did all right for yourself.  In my opinion, the song “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul is NOT the legacy that I would want for my career.  Both of these artists had a decent category of music, but what defines you is what people will regard as your legacy.

When you consider character actors, for example, there are fateful moments where their legacy is formed and established as that one memorable, generational character in television history.  One such actor was Whitman Mayo.  If you don’t know who Whitman Mayo is, many of you might remember the character Grady from Sanford and Son.  Mr. Mayo had actively pursued an acting career early on but started out like most of us.  He was born in Harlem in 1930, raised in Queens, NY and at age 17 moved to Southern California with his family.  He served in the army from 1951-53, and studied at Chaffey College, Los Angeles City College, and UCLA.  He began doing a little acting at this time, but had to earn a living with various jobs, including working as a probation officer, counseling young people, picking grapes, waiting tables, and other odd jobs.  He went back to New York in the late 1960s and joined the New Lafayette Theater repertory company to begin settling into an acting career.  His call to Sanford & Son came shortly thereafter when a friend from the New Lafayette group, who was a writer for Norman Lear, recommended Mayo for a part in a single episode.  Grady caught on and he lasted through the entire duration of the show, even filling in for Redd Foxx when Foxx was on leave during the series.  Mayo viewed his continuing success on the series as fleeting, so he took on other trades to keep his finances in order.  In 1975, he opened a travel agency in Inglewood, California.  In 1994, he was “burned out” on Los Angeles, so he moved to Fayetteville, Georgia.  He became a drama instructor at Clark Atlanta University until his death in 2001. 

Mr. Mayo relished his role of Grady as it was in line with his style of portraying characters much older than he was.  To quote him, “I’ve always played older parts.  When I was 19, I played 60.  When I was a kid, I got pleasure out of studying old people.  I took joy in their idiosyncrasies.  Older folk are like children.  They can do and say what they want and get away with it.”1

Of course, Mr. Mayo’s lasting legacy is his character of Grady.  He was, in my opinion, the quintessential character actor.  Not a bad way to go if your desire is to be an actor.  There are, of course, thousands of character actors throughout television history and in movies that had great, fulfilling careers in the business.  You don’t have to be the biggest or the best to establish a legacy.  Just being good will serve you well.

Character actors are great for drama or acting.  They’re not so great when it comes to real life situations.

My question for you today is this:  In your life approach, are you a character actor?  Do you live publicly portraying someone who really isn’t at all like who you really are?  Is your public persona different from your private behavior?

In the body of Christ, we really need people who are genuine and sincere about who they are.  We need people with self-respect, humility and authenticity.  People who are genuine about their character. (This is a different use of the word than the one we used about Mr. Mayo.)  Your character involves your mental and moral qualities.  It is the way you think, feel and behave.2  It can either come from our living in our flesh or directly from the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 12:1-2 NLT

1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Paul, in his letter, is urging us as believers in Jesus, to not be copycats, or actors, in looking at the lives of others, and that includes those who are even within the church.

Are we character actors when we step out of our homes and into the midst of others in the church?  And not just in the church, but anywhere that you face members of the public?  Are we acting in character publicly for attention?  For accolades?  For approval by men and women?

Is there any consideration about being approved by God?  Are we actually hypocrites?

Hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace’) is the Greek word for actor or stage player.3  Actors play roles.  It stands to reason that those who live publicly as role-players project a false view of who they really are.  They are hypocrites (in the worst sense of its meaning).

Matthew 15:7-8 NLT

7 (Jesus is speaking) You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you (Pharisees and religious leaders), for he wrote, 8 ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'”

Matthew 6:1 ESV

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

The reward from Jesus in heaven is the prize for pursuing a relationship with Him.  Those who live for themselves will not receive anything more than what they have.

1 Corinthians 13:3 NLT

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

There are a number of warnings that come from this behavior to watch out for.  The proverbial smiling in your face and stabbing you in the back.  Yikes!

The world relies upon what it deems to be correct, but most often the world’s approach is far from what God prescribes for you.

Look at what Paul says about why we are to live differently than the way that the world would have us to live.  It is all about coming clean and being honest before God:

Romans 12:3-5 NLT

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

Do you see how it is not about just you?  Those who prefer to be selfish and self-centered always make it about themselves.  In the body of Christ, we are all for unity within the body.  So, for those of us who are actors, we need to drop any efforts to pretend to get along with people and be honest about who we are.  In the Spirit, we can and will go along and get along with everyone we meet.  Without the Spirit, it’s all an act.

Shakespeare has a line in his play ‘As You Like It.’  It is “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women (are) merely players.”4  Well, that may be the case from a worldly viewpoint, but believers are not to live as character actors.  We are to live with authenticity.  The world is full of fakeness and untrustworthy people.  We are to live authentically in the power of Jesus Christ.

Being authentic before others is really simple because it is rooted in truth.  It all begins with Jesus.  Living in truth is a positive legacy-builder.

1 John 5:20 ESV

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life.

And in this truth, our actions speak louder than words.

1 John 3:18 NLT

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

In today’s world, truth and real talk is often met with skepticism or outright rejection because it represents the presence of Jesus.  It’s too bad that some reject Jesus and His loving presence, but please understand that those who reject Him are likely following the leader of this world.

1 John 1:6 ESV

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Some character actors are so good, they even convince themselves that they are in truth when, in actuality, they are false.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, our ongoing mission is to establish truth and maintain it—especially within the church.  The church is not the place for “tickling the ears” of those who only want to hear half-truths and teachings that are not in God’s will.  The church does not need character actors for preachers.  We need Bible-fearing ministers who love the truth and stand for the truth.  The moment that a preacher strives for a popularity contest with the people, it’s game over.

Jesus is calling on every believer to be one of true character.  He wants people to live in the character of Jesus Christ.  I’m thankful that Jesus provides those that He loves with the gift of His character in the power of the Holy Spirit.  It is the best legacy that one can live in the present and for future generations.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 ESV

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us to the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

The character of Christ involves love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  This is how we are to live in authenticity.  The Spirit gives us what we need to do this.

Galatians 5:22-25 NLT

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

God provides us with His authenticity to enable us to be authentic before others.  We must humble ourselves before Him for others to see how genuine we truly are AND how loving and caring He truly is.

Colossians 3:12-15 NLT

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.  For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.  And always be thankful.

Notice how Paul gives instruction here by clothing ourselves.  We have to put on and take off clothing each day, but we’re not doing so as if we are pretending to be someone other than ourselves.  We’re putting on the character of Jesus Christ wherever we go. 

Jesus is authentic.  He is the real deal.  He is truth.  And we are to emulate Christ everywhere we go.

Let the people who are pursuing their own agenda go their own way.  There are plenty of character actors out there.  May we be the genuine people of God.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15), and we will do so authentically.  This is our legacy for the kingdom of God.

Copyright © 2023 Melvin Gaines

1 King, P. (n.d.). Whitman Mayo. IMDb. Retrieved March 8, 2023, from

2 Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Character definition. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from,that%20few%20people%20have%20seen.

3 Hupokrites meaning in Bible – new testament greek lexicon – king james version. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2023, from

4 William Shakespeare quotes about acting: A-Z quotes. AZ Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2023, from

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