In my last post, I discussed the book “Personality Plus” and what I was learning about the four different temperaments. As I said, being aware of and understanding the temperaments has really helped me to accept the way God created me. There’s a scripture in which the author states that he’s been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” I believe that’s also true in my life. No one has the same blend of character traits that I have. There’s only one of me and God has handcrafted me just the way he wants me to be. However, I can learn much from others who have similar personalities as well as from those who have different personalities.
When I first learned about the different temperaments, the friend who gave us the teaching used animals to describe the different characteristics. Sanguines were tigers, melancholies were owls , cholerics were bulls and phlegmatics were lambs. I immediately recognized the tiger aspects to my personality and became fascinated by the possibility of attempting to discern the personalities of various characters in the Bible. Of course, I’ll never know for sure but I do still have fun trying to figure it all out.
I soon understood why I was always so attracted to the apostle Peter. Being the most vocal member of the group, he was often putting his foot in his mouth which is something I can definitely relate to. Peter was also the most impetuous. He acted first and thought later. He was the only apostle who jumped out of the boat and walked on water. Of course, after he started to think about it, he immediately decided he had made a mistake and stopped believing it was possible. As a result, he started to sink and had to be rescued by Jesus. So, in my opinion, Peter is a classic sanguine with typical sanguine weaknesses but what an exciting person he was to be around and how much he was loved by Jesus.
In the Old Testament, Jephthah also comes to mind. He was a mighty warrior and, in a battle against the Ammonites, he promised God that if he was given victory he would sacrifice the first thing that came out to greet him when he arrived home. When he arrived home his only child, a daughter, was the first to come out to greet him. Jephthah, whatever were you thinking? Talk about having a problem with speaking without thinking first. Only a sanguine would make such a foolish promise without thinking about the possible consequences.
David, with his poetic gifting is, in my opinion, the best example of a melancholy. While he wrote some beautiful psalms of praise to God, others were dark and showed his depressed state. Only a melancholy could be joyous one minute and deeply depressed the next. That personality experiences the highs and lows of emotions and David, in my opinion, displayed those traits in the psalms that he wrote.
I believe Old Testament Joseph was also a melancholy. He was a dreamer and very introspective as are melancholies. Wherever he served, he excelled because he followed the melancholy motto, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Even as a slave, he refused to lower his standard of excellence. He would not budge even if it meant further imprisonment or death. A melancholy can never be satisfied with inferior work.
Nehemiah in the Old Testament, in my opinion, is the perfect example of a choleric. He had amazing organizational and leadership skills. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he spent some time examining the broken down walls, came up with a plan of action and immediately began implementing it. He organized everyone into work teams and motivated them to work. They had all been living there for some time and no one had been moved to repair the walls but when Nehemiah showed up, he immediately inspired them with his vision and they all began working. As the work proceeded, enemies came against them to stop the re-building of the wall but, like all cholerics, Nehemiah was fueled by opposition. There’s nothing like opposition to get a choleric going and no one was going to stop Nehemiah from achieving his goal. Throw obstacles in a choleric’s path and he or she will plow right through them without even slowing down and that's exactly what Nehemiah did.
Although circumstances had made Moses into an insecure and indecisive person, out in the wilderness, his true nature was being developed and he began to show the strong leadership abilities of a choleric. Who else could have organized several million people and held them together during a 40 year trek in the desert? After the people made a golden calf to worship, Moses came down from the mountain furious and the people knew they were in trouble. No one wanted to face the wrath of Moses so Aaron immediately began making excuses to try to protect himself. In choleric fashion, Moses sent the Levites out among the people and they killed 3000 of those who had sinned against God. To top it all off, he took the golden calf, ground it up into powder, scattered it on the water and made the people drink it. Only a choleric could intimidate several million people and make them drink contaminated water.
As an example of a phlegmatic, I think Andrew would be a good choice. He was eclipsed by his brother and was always hidden in the background and that’s exactly where phlegmatics prefer to be. Yet, in spite of the fact that he was never as up front, tradition tells us that he did some amazing things in his role as an apostle. When motivated, phlegmatics can rise to the occasion and show great strength and leadership ability.
Queen Esther also stands out in my mind as a phlegmatic. She was quiet and did what she was told. She didn’t like to make waves and her guardian Mordecai, a choleric, had to really push her to do something about the plot against her people. If he hadn’t, Esther would probably have just sat by and let it happen. It takes a lot to motivate phlegmatics. They’d much rather avoid action whenever possible. Her sweet gentle spirit, also characteristics of a phlegmatic, are what won her favor with the king and with his court.
In any group of people we’ll see the different personality traits manifested. Some will be upfront and talkative, others will be quiet and gentle, others will be forceful and take over and others will brood but create great beauty. The truth is to be whole people we need all of the personalities functioning. They all have their strengths and are best suited for specific jobs. I hope as you look at the various Bible characters that I’ve described you’ll see how God gifted each one to do the job they were called to do. Even though they all had weaknesses, they were given strengths that were needed to do the job they were given to do.
Sometimes we compare ourselves to others and wish we were like that person but God has put in each one of us the blend of characteristics to do whatever it is he’s laid out before us to do. I believe when we understand the four basic temperaments, we’ll live the life that God created us to live as we learn to enjoy the person that he created us to be.