Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Holiness Has to Do with My Temperament

A few weeks ago I started reading J. I. Packer’s book A Passion for Holiness (Crossway, 1992) and was struck by the section titled "Holiness has to do with my temperament" (pp. 24-26).

Packer notes that the pre-Christian Greek philosophers came up with four categories of human temperament:

1. The sanguine (warm, jolly, outgoing, relaxed, optimistic);
2. The phlegmatic (cool, low-key, detached, unemotional, apathetic);
3. The choleric (quick, abusive, bustling, impatient, with a relatively short fuse); and
4. The melancholic (somber, pessimistic, inward-looking, inclined to cynicism and depression).

The Greeks also said that some people were of mixed types (i.e., phlegmatic-choleric, etc.). Packer notes that the ancient idea that these types came from body fluids has been dispelled, "but the classification, itself remains pastorally helpful" (p. 25).

Think for just a second of which category fits your temperament. Though at moments parts of all four might fit, I immediately see parts of myself in the choleric and sanguine types. Those who know me can tell me later if you think I am off base or on target here.

Now, on to Packer’s point for holiness. He says, "I am not to become (or remain) a victim of my temperament" (p. 25). He proceeds to note that "holy humanity, as I see it in Christ, combines in itself the strengths of all four temperaments without any of the weaknesses. Therefore I must try to be like him in this, and not indulge the particular behavioral flaws to which my temperament tempts me" (pp. 25-26).

Consider also Packer’s conclusions:

"Holiness for a person of sanguine temperament, then, will involve learning to look before one leaps, to think things through responsibly, and to speak wisely rather than wildly."

"Holiness for a person of phlegmatic temperament will involve a willingness to be open to people, to feel with them and for them, to be forthcoming in relationships, and to be vulnerable, in the sense of risking being hurt."

"Holiness for a choleric person will involve practicing patience and self-control. It will mean re-directing one’s anger and hostility toward Satan and sin, rather than toward fellow human beings who are obstructing what one regards as the way forward."

"Finally, holiness for a melancholic person will involve learning to rejoice in God, to give up self-pity and proud pessimism, and to believe, with the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, that through sovereign divine grace, ‘All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" (p. 26).

How is God sanctifying your temperament to His glory?


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