The Sacredness of Personality
James Johnston, Belfast
In these days of strain and stress it is more than ever important that we should all have a clear grasp of the significance and relevance of the subject of personality, which has such an important bearing on our own lives and our contacts with our fellows. All around us we can see some of the unhappy results of what we sometimes call " clashes of personalities "—these may be major upheavals like disputes and divisions in the assembly, or perhaps those minor upsets which cause so much personal unhappiness and may even lead to greater evils. All these things remind us of the solemn words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 17. 1. " It is impossible but that offences will come : but woe unto him, through whom they come!"
What is personality ? A well-known dictionary says that personality is " that which constitutes individuality "—in other words each person, whether in the old or the new creation, is unique. We need not be surprised that this is so, for God is a God of infinite variety and, even in the world of nature, He does not repeat Himself. For example, of all the millions of oak leaves in the world, no two are exactly alike, and a whole branch of the science of crime detection depends on the fact that no two human beings have identical fingerprints.
It is relatively easy to understand that intelligence varies from one human being to another and it is important to understand that variation, for, if one does not allow for it, many of one's efforts will, to a great extent, be made in vain. Differences in personality are not so easily nor so quickly recognized as differences in intelligence are and it, therefore, behoves us all to be very much aware that such differences do exist.
According to a modern definition, personality manifests itself in " the total quality of an individual's behaviour as it is revealed in his habits of thought and expression, his attitudes and interests, his manner of acting and his personal philosophy of life." In each personality a number of traits combine with each other in an infinite variety of ways, with the result that each human being is unique. To give just a few examples : some people are easy going and generous, whilst others are inclined to worries and fears; some are adventurous, whilst others are extremely cautious ; some are friendly and trustful, whilst others are suspicious and reserved.
Introverts and Extraverts. A simple two-fold division of human beings can be made into (1) Introverts and (2) Extraverts. The introvert is a person who tends to turn inwards; he is the thoughtful person, a dreamer and planner. The extravert is the person who is interested in things outside of himself; he is the man of action ; he gets work done—a practical person. Perhaps the best Scriptural illustration of this division is seen in the two Bethany sisters, Mary and Martha. As we read their story once again in Luke, chapter 10, and John, chapter 11, we see Mary sitting quietly at Jesus' feet and Martha cumbered about much serving "—Mary’s going out to meet Jesus, while Mary sits "still in the house." An introvert is likely to have weaknesses like undue sensitivity, but, on the other hand, he is more likely to be able to see the invisible (2 Cor. 4. 18). Very few individuals can be classified as either complete introverts or extraverts, for, as a general rule, most of us show some of the traits of each type to varying degrees and only the more extreme cases can be easily so identified.
Strong personalities. Some persons have a great influence over others, what might be termed a personal magnetism ; these are the possessors of strong personalities and the people who need to exercise the utmost caution in their dealings with others. Many a young Christian, instead of developing his own God-given personality, has allowed himself so to come under the influence of some older Christian that the very diction of his prayers and other public utterances is easily recognized. In some cases, too, the very mannerisms are copied.
If we want to be effective Christians, we must be ourselves, not mere copies or imitations of others. Each individual believer must seek the power of the Holy Spirit to help him develop his own personality.
Integrated personalities. It is a pity that some well-meaning brethren seem to want to reduce us all, as someone has said, " to one dreary level of uniformity." The differences in personality are sacred and must be carefully preserved.
Perhaps the most important feature of personality is that it must be integrated, for only integrated personalities will exert a full force for God in this dark world of sin. An integrated personality shows in a man who is the same on Sunday as on Monday, who is the same in the social and business world as he is in his own house. What is known today as the " split personality " is becoming too lamentably common—that is, a person becoming, for all practical purposes, two people instead of one. Bunyan in his day understood this, as his reference to the man who was " a saint abroad and a devil at home " shows. We must be sincere, not like the hypocrite, who is an actor, one who is merely playing a part. We must be ourselves, not models of others, no matter how much we admire them. A study of Paul's life shows us how a personality can become truly integrated by an overmastering, all-absorbing life's purpose. " For to me to live is Christ," he says in Phil. 1. 21, and again, in chapter 3. 8, " I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."
Respect others' personalities. As well as having our own personalities truly integrated, we must learn to respect the personalities of others, because in doing so we are acknowledging the handiwork of God Himself: " We are His workmanship " (Eph. 2. 10). We must never try to force our fellow-believers along a path just because, to us, it seems the only one to travel. In 1 Cor. 16. 12 and Philemon 8, 9 we see Paul's attitude to Apollos, " f greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren, but his will was not at all to come at this time " and to Philemon, " Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee."
God needs every type of personality, for each of us, by virtue of our uniqueness in this respect, can do something that no other person can do. Eph. 4. 7 states that every one has a distinct gift—if not an evangelist, pastor or teacher (verse 11), he is a joint (verse 16). Let us then yield ourselves fully to God that we may become all He wants us to be, and let us likewise be very careful in our relationships with others.
A man of very strong personality can do untold harm to a sensitive introspective person, almost to the point of driving him insane. The Scriptures abound in exhortations along this line, in fact, Romans, eh. 14, deals with the subject in considerable detail, whilst in 1 Thess. 5. 14 (R.V.) we are told to " encourage the fainthearted, support the weak." In 1 Thess. 2. 7 we see Paul's attitude, " We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children." It follows, therefore, that we must exercise the utmost care in dealing with others and, above all, never make, the serious mistake of treating our fellows as though they were all alike.
In this, as in everything else, the Lord Jesus is our perfect example. It was written of Him in prophetic vision, " A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench " (Isa. 42. 3), and how truly this was fulfilled in His wonderful life. His manner of dealing with all those who met Him is a study in itself. His attitude to each was perfectly adjusted to that person's disposition and needs, and we rejoice to think that, though glorified, He is still the same, knowing and understanding each member of His church and leading us all on to that place of perfect fulfilment, where we shall know even as we are known.