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On Personalities

by Doy Moyer
via Mind Your Faith

One of the many concepts that come through Scripture is how God can use different personalities to accomplish His work. Paul was not Peter, and John was not Matthew, and these differences in personalities, vocabularies, and ways of phrasing ideas are obvious just in surface reading. That God did not make them into robots is clear; that he used them for their personalities to accomplish great good is also clear. God used a man who had been a tax collector, and He also used a man who had been a zealot — two men on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but coming together in Christ for the same spiritual goals. 

We should learn from this. How often do we hear about congregational divisions based not on doctrine, but on personality differences? Or how often do we hear criticisms of others based on differing personalities? Christians need to be very careful here. 

I’m no psychologist, but I have been a student of people for a long time; and I also know myself. There are those who tend toward introversion and those who tend toward extroversion. There are the inhibited and the uninhibited. There are conversationalists, and there are those who quietly observe. Christians, as with any group of people, are comprised of the whole range of personalities. Take care that we do not judge one another just for that, for while the Scripture speak of sins and attitudes, it does not marginalize personalities — that one is more of a sinner or more righteous because he is more or less outgoing and more or less quiet or talkative. 

This is not to say that we all shouldn’t strive to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in every way possible. This is not to argue that we are excused from trying to be an example and from reaching out with the Gospel. Nor is it to argue that we should, to the best of our abilities, make adjustments to become all things to all people within the boundaries of truth. All of us must strive to improve. But even within these efforts there is room for varying personality traits. Andrew was not expected to be Paul, and John was not told to change his personality to become Peter. They all had their place in the work of God. So do we all. 

Just because someone doesn’t say something the way I would does not mean there is a problem. I may even deem something a little harsher or a little too soft for my personal tastes, but this is nothing the apostles didn’t face (see, e.g., the criticisms of Paul in II Corinthians 10-11). When we criticize someone just because that person didn’t approach an issue exactly like we do, or because we prefer say it another way, we may be manifesting a bit of pettiness and discouraging others in the process. If they really are abusing truth or teaching error, then that’s what needs to be addressed. If the attitude is obviously out of place, then address that with the person. 

The other factor here has to do with the way personality differences also receive or hear teaching. What works for one may not work for another. I might need to be dealt with bluntly while you might need a very gentle reminder (note the differences in the way Paul wrote to the Corinthians vs. the way he approached Philemon). One preacher might reach one group, while another reaches a completely different target group because they respond differently to personality types. This doesn’t mean that the one they didn’t respond as well to was mean-spirited or making terrible arguments or trying to turn people off. Sometimes it’s just a personal difference in perception, and when we have multiple preachers and teachers who are reaching out, one may succeed where another won’t. It has always been this way, and thank God for it!

I was impressed with all of this when, as a teenager, I heard two very different preachers who were working together in a gospel effort. They were both effective in their own ways, though they were far from clones of each other. And in the end, they were more effective together to reach more people. I wonder sometimes if we ought to be more conscious of using different personalities for that reason. 

Thank the Lord that He can still make us one even though we are each individuals with very different ways of communicating and interacting with others. I am thankful for preachers, teachers, and all servants of God who serve Him through their own unique personalities.