Monday, January 08, 2018

True Diversity

We’re all about diversity these days. Multiculturalism and immigration policies in North America are bringing us into contact with different cultures, backgrounds and assumptions that were not on the radar of our parents and grandparents unless they were world travelers.

Paul notes that in the body of Christ, diversity in the type, use and context of spiritual gift is both acceptable, anticipated and actively empowered by God:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”

So in our roles and service in the church, Christians are indeed diverse. But in other ways, don’t all believers have to be more or less the same?

Christians are intended — destined, in fact — to have a single character type, that being the character of the Lord himself. Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” These character qualities should be evident in all mature Christians. To that extent an onlooker could say, “All these people are alike.”

What is ‘Me’?

But character, even fully-developed Christian character, is only one aspect of who we are. The soul, or self, to my mind, is a combination of character and personality. Personality is, I suspect, part genetic, part real world experience, part intelligence, part family upbringing, part who-knows-what; I’m not an expert. But any observer of human behaviour will quickly see what I’m getting at: Some Christians are assertive; others are mild. Some are shy; others gregarious. Some are humorous while others are a little acerbic. Some are more intellectual; others more practical and rooted in the physical world. Some are melancholic; others are perpetually cheery. Some have calm dispositions; others are balls of energy.

Character can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Personality, in my estimation, is not good or bad; it just is. It’s a predisposition; a starting point. It’s an inclination or tendency that may or may not result in bad behavior depending on the liberty you give it.

Rubbing Off the Hard Edges

So differences in personality from Christian to Christian are hardly a problem; in fact, I suspect one reason the Lord made us all different was in order to rub the hard edges off each other. But another was to enable us to communicate with one another more effectively and convey his truth to each other in a way that we can easily understand.

The ‘me’ package I’m working with — and working on — doesn’t appeal to everybody; I’ve lived long enough to work that out. Yours may not appeal to me, for that matter. Because we each have the life of Christ in us, I’m going to get past that and you should too. And if the character of Christ is constantly growing in us, as the fruit of the Spirit becomes increasingly evident in your life and mine, I suspect the fact that I’m a little too acerbic or plain-spoken for you will bother you less, just as the fact that you’re a little too cheery for my taste will cease to rub me the wrong way.

Character vs. Personality

We’ve all heard people say, “I can’t help it, it’s just the way I am”, or “I have to be true to myself”. In our individualistic society, these are unsurprising sentiments.

But personality, for the Christian, ought to be subordinated to character. As a Christian, my ‘self’ is no longer the package I was born with modified by my life experience. It’s a combination of that and the package I was given by the Holy Spirit when I was born anew by trusting Christ. Many times there is no inconsistency or conflict between character and personality, but when they come into conflict, character needs to win every time.

If my natural enthusiasm leads to inappropriate outbursts, self-control dictates that I need to dial it back a notch or two. If my natural melancholy leads me into chronic negativity or complaining, I need to remember that “the joy of the Lord is my strength”. If my natural gregarious nature leads me to become a gossip, then I need to remember that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking”. If exuberance causes me to lose focus and bounce from one activity to another and leave my responsibilities incomplete, I need to be reminded that the fruit of the spirit is faithfulness.

Diversities of Reward

Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that there are diversities of reward too:
“Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each one’s work will become manifest.”
It’s not simply important that we work for the Lord in this life; it’s important how we work. It strikes me that the images of the building materials used in this passage are increasingly ‘worked over’, if you like. Straw is something you can pick up off the ground. Not much work involved there. Hay must be reaped and bundled, which requires a little more labour. Wood must be chopped down and cut to size, involving more work and skill. Precious stones are not only mined but carefully and symmetrically cut to reveal the glory of the stone. Gold and silver are not only harder to find than the others (requiring more effort), but are smelted, purified and cast.

We can serve the Lord according to our natural inclinations; our untempered personalities, if you like. That’s building with wood, hay and straw, depending on the extent to which we allow the fruit of the Spirit, our Christian character, to control our actions.

Or we can serve the Lord with our personalities and natural inclinations in check, with self firmly planted in the back seat and Christian character driving, with the fruit of the Spirit fully evident in our lives and work. That’s building with gold, silver and precious stones, I’d like to think.

It’s really up to us.


  1. You write: "So differences in personality from Christian to Christian are hardly a problem; in fact, I suspect one reason the Lord made us all different was in order to rub the hard edges off each other. But another was to enable us to communicate with one another more effectively and convey his truth to each other in a way that we can easily understand."

    I think this is true and I'd add a third reason that you may already have considered and simply not included in your post:

    God doesn't repeat Himself in creation - no two snowflakes, really no two ANYTHING are perfectly alike. In the same way there are only unique Christians each of whom express the character of Christ in subtly different ways - His humour, His empathy, His diligence, His devotion, His wisdom and so forth - none of those attributes can be captured in a single Christian life with any accuracy. The church universal - across both time and space - is the only vehicle that can possibly begin to fully display Christ's character in all its richness. I think that's what Ephesians 1:23 is getting at:

    "And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself."

    I suspect that the gifts each believer has been given allow us - when fully developed - to express Christ uniquely to others.

  2. Nope, hadn't considered it, but I think you're spot-on.