Why do we teach about the temperaments when they are not in the Bible?
Many of us are confused as to why we think and feel the way we do. How can we feel two opposite sets of emotions at the same time? I might appear calm on the outside but what do I do with this anxiety that won’t go away? For those of us who are Christians, those questions become important because we want God’s Spirit to help us make good choices about what we do with what we feel – but if we don’t even understand what we feel, it is very difficult to know what to do with those feelings. Are they telling us something important we need to act on or are they a ‘push from the past’ that we need to leave behind? We cannot dismiss emotions as unimportant – they are vital in the business of connecting with other people and essential if we are going to experience life in its fullness.
How are we going to understand ourselves? The Bible gives us the essentials. It tells us about God, ourselves, love and freedom. It gives us the framework – and the means – by which life can be lived. It tells us about how we can walk with God and how our minds and hearts can be filled with his thoughts and feelings. These are the irreducible truths that are essential to relationships and to life – but clearly that is not the same as saying that there is nothing useful outside the Bible. Indeed, the world is full of useful things that help us to live out the qualities that we find in the Bible. Let’s take a very basic issue. The Bible tells us to be orderly and disciplined in our lives – but I don’t recall any verses about having a diary or a wall-planner to help us to be orderly. In other words, God points the way and expects us to use our sense as to how we implement what he says.
There is little specific guidance in the Bible on helping prepare a couple for marriage, marriage itself, bringing up children, or living the single life. All those issues are present but not elaborated on. Does that mean we cannot use experience and insight to help and support each other? Would that make a marriage preparation course wrong because it is not in the Bible? Likewise, when someone rightly observes patterns of temperaments and those observations stand the test of time – because they are accurate and helpful - would it not be wrong to ignore them because they are not in the Bible? Just because something isn’t in the Bible doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea to use it if it helps us towards what the Bible asks of us and doesn’t violate the principles of the Bible. The Bible tells us again and again to love one another. Now we know that it is God’s Spirit within that enables us to do that. If I discover something that helps me to be better at loving, could it not be God’s Spirit who led me to that knowledge?
Love always seeks to understand. Why? Because if I understand the one I love then I will know what they need rather than imposing who I am onto that person. If I understand myself I will recognise more quickly when I am being selfish and missing it.
Understanding the temperaments is a very effective way to understand who we are (the blueprints) and how those raw materials have been shaped in our childhood (the imprints). Because each of us has at least two temperaments it provides an important understanding as to how we can feel such opposite emotions at the same time – and they can both be right! We don’t have to condemn ourselves for our contradictions or make ourselves feel guilty by trying to put both sets of feelings together. Understanding how our two (or three) temperaments interact gives us real insights into how we feel about ourselves and how we respond to others.
If we understand ourselves we will learn to make the distinction between the impulses of God’s Spirit and our own desires. This can prevent many pitfalls and divisions. If we know ourselves well we are more likely to have a humble and open attitude.
We know that God’s truth needs to be in our hearts – not just our heads. An understanding of the temperaments helps us to see what this looks like in practice as we allow God’s Spirit to take the truth we know in our extroverts and drop it into our introverts. We are not about temperaments but about relationships. It is because we are about relationships that we talk about temperaments. They are just so useful. Without God, all the understanding in the world won’t change us – but with God, we will get all the understanding we can so we can better live for him.