John was probably a cousin of Jesus. He worked with his father Zebedee and his brother James in the family fishing business. They were partners of Andrew and Peter, and both sets of brothers were called about the same time (Matthew 4:21-22).
John was a Choleric Melancholic and, by studying John, we can learn about this temperament mix. Who was he, what did he need, and how did Jesus shape his character?
John appears to be full of contradictions. He had great drive and ambition and was intolerant - and yet he was an aesthetic man, emotionally and spiritually sensitive. How can you handle such a range of emotions all in one person?
Misplaced zeal – Luke 9:46-56 Luke records two incidents that give us an insight into how this man thought and worked.
The disciples had seen a man driving out demons in Jesus’ name and they tried to stop him ‘because he is not one of us.’ It was John who reported this.
Luke then tells us of another situation that demonstrates the same attributes in John. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, probably with a large group of disciples. Because of the size of the party, it was necessary to send word ahead to provide preparation for hospitality. This was not unusual and, despite the fact that there was ill-feeling between the Jews and Samaritans, these groups were still catered for. It was Jesus they objected to, and this is why John was so indignant. John was a passionate man - he really loved the Lord - but he had a lot to learn about the Lord’s heart. John’s Melancholic heart was being channelled out through the narrow-visioned Choleric. Any attempt to represent Jesus would have been distorted as it came out through the Choleric. There was a jealousy for Jesus, but it missed the point. Jesus’ mission was to conquer hearts with love - John was all for sorting these Samaritans out! The way that Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42) and the blessing that followed stands in stark contrast to John’s misplaced zeal. We often talk about the Choleric Melancholic as being like the fighter jet that needs an experienced pilot. If the plane isn’t properly understood and used well, it will soon crash and burn.
Needing a role – Mark 10:35-45
The role that John would occupy in the coming kingdom mattered too much (Mark 10:35-45). A Choleric Melancholic feels the need for a role because the Choleric has to be the best and the Melancholic feels himself to be the worst. Having a role has the effect to a Choleric Melancholic of making their value definite and recognised.
A ‘Son of Thunder’ – Mark 3:17
When God gives a new name, it is an improvement. For example, Abram (exalted father) became Abraham (father of nations, Genesis 17:5). Jesus was saying something positive about Simon when he added the name Peter. Would Jesus have given James and John a negative name? Could ‘Sons of Thunder’ mean something positive? There is good reason to believe that the name means, ‘Sons of God’s Word’ or ‘Sons of My Word.’ If so, Jesus would have been saying that they would speak out, and represent, God’s word in this world.
To enable this to happen, some changes needed to take place in John. God’s word would never be heard until that strong ‘black and white’ approach was tempered with humility, and his unbridled passion was harnessed by wisdom. He needed a broad base to get the feel of the message. He needed his Melancholic to get the feel of the heart of Jesus.
John would have to learn to live in the whole of his two temperaments, and not swing between the two or occupy a central ‘third room’ position. For John to be effective, he would have to walk and talk with Jesus, in the company of the other disciples. John would go on to use his Choleric mind, coupled with all the depth of his Melancholic, to communicate God’s Word clearly and powerfully.
How did Jesus bring this about?
Jesus showed him complete acceptance. It mattered to John that he could call himself ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’ (John 13:23). This would be important because within the Choleric Melancholic is that continuous loop of self-condemnation. John’s intolerance had its roots in an intolerance of himself. Jesus’ love for him taught him that he could be comfortable with himself. Even when the request was made by Salome, the mother of James and John, that her sons are granted prominence in the coming kingdom, Jesus dealt gently with them. He recognised that their request sprang from faith. The other disciples were furious, but Jesus wasn’t – he knew they were mistaken but at least he knew they trusted him. So, Jesus used the situation to teach them all (Matthew 20:20-28). John was always completely accepted.
Jesus wasn’t interested in religious niceties. These rough and ready fishermen were no threat to him, and he was secure enough to be straight with them (Luke 9:55). He expected his disciples to live to their potential. He rebuked them for their lack of faith (Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 16:14). He expected them to trust him, not to use their extroverts as a cover for what went on in their hearts. He asked questions, challenged their thinking and made them think things through for themselves (e.g. Matthew 13:51; Mark 9:33). The disciples saw the way Jesus went to the heart of the matter with the people he met. John records Jesus’ encounters with Nicodemus (John 3:1-10) and the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26). Jesus went for the introvert, without neglecting the extrovert.
John was safe
In that mix of acceptance and standards, John felt secure. Jesus created the context in which John could discover himself and use all of who he was for his Master. John’s zeal for Jesus never abated but Jesus opened his heart to a deeper and fuller understanding of what love is. No longer was love a narrow jet of intense emotion but a deep and passionate devotion. His heart was settled and strong, and from that broad base he could use all his abilities to serve his Lord.
Jesus didn’t change who John was, but he did change how John used who he was. John was still ‘black and white’ in his communication of truth (1 John 5:2) but he had understanding and a heart for those who struggled (1 John 3:19,20). Now he could really be a ‘Son of God’s Word’ because he felt and knew that Word. He truly expressed the heart of God.
John never lost his passion. In his letters there are references to love at least 25 times. There are stories of his great love for his Master right through into old age. It is Jerome who tells the story of the last words of John. When John was dying, his disciples asked him if he had any last message to leave them. ‘Little children’ he said, ‘Love one another.’ Again and again, he repeated it, and they asked him if that was all he had to say. ‘It is enough,’ he said, ‘for it is the Lord's command.’
Hope for all
John would have been educated as any Jewish lad was but not specifically in rabbinical training. He had an enquiring mind and a heart of love for Jesus and used them both to serve the church. Jesus knew that Peter, James and John were leaders, and friends. He wanted them with him when faith was essential (Mark 5:37), when prayer and companionship were required (Matthew 26:37). He wanted them to see his glory (Matthew 17:1). It was John who was closest to Jesus at the last supper (John 13:23-25). In John’s gospel, he majors on the fact that we are ‘children of God’ (John 1:12-13). In his first letter he revels in knowing that, through faith in Christ, we are all God’s ‘dear children’ (1 John 2:28-3:3). There is no interest in position or special role. When we study John, we know there is hope for us all if we take and use all that we are for our Lord.
Helpful Bible passages Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 3:17; Luke 9:46-56; Mark 10:35-45; John 13:21-25; Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 5:37; Matthew 17:1; Matthew 26:37; 1 John 2-3:3; 1 John 3:18-20; 1 John 5:2
Return to Bible study page Click here for more information about the temperaments - and here to read about the Choleric Melancholic temperament in more detail.