2. Motivations (Romans 12:3-17)
This is another open list, but we can’t discern any additions until we understand well enough what Paul delineates here. The list of temperaments could be translated as prophetic, servant, teacher, encourager, giver, elder, and caregiver. Again, these are temperaments, not specific gifts in the typical sense. They tell us what kind of personality we are dealing with. Of particular note is that some of these can be discerned rather well by observing reverse traits when these same people are not spiritually developed. In other words, these temperaments have signature attributes when the person is living in sin, traits that can come back to haunt them in particular temptations.
The prophetic temperament tends to see problems before they blossom fully. They can predict where things are headed. But they see what they see; they can ignore things outside their sense of calling. If they happen to miss some important aspects of what they are looking at, their prophecies can miss in specific details, but not in general trends. They need to work hard on seeing the forest and not the trees, but can be quite good at it. They tend to sound obsessive if their warnings are ignored; they can come across as insane. They can be brutal in pointing out the moral flaws of others. In sin, they tend to be depressed and whine a lot, possessed of strong emotions. They can make the most radical shifts for no apparent reason, and suicide takes an awful lot of them.
A temperament poorly received in Western society is the servant. These are people who will give of themselves, striving to accommodate the needs of others. They will overload themselves because they hate saying “no.” If they aren’t protected, they will work themselves into an early grave. Oddly, it’s not a question of caring about the people they serve, but of caring about answering that drive to fulfill human need. In sin, they tend to accommodate without any discernment, wide open to manipulation. All it takes is someone who will appreciate them, and they will carry the world on their shoulders.
The teacher temperament is focused on the truth, on reality. This person is always looking to discover and verify, and can easily get lost in the knowledge itself. The have an instinct to find or assert structure over pools of data. This one includes a shadow temperament of researcher who simply gathers and structures information, but doesn’t actually share it. However, this person tends to make truth accessible one way or another. They can easily obsess over what interests them, and forget why such knowledge matters. They tend to be satisfied only that it’s accurate insofar as it goes. They really need the fellowship of others who will broaden their perspective; they can easily forget how to care about people and become crotchety experts who pontificate too much. They tend to take themselves too seriously.
An encourager is the feel-good guy or gal. They have a pragmatic solution to just about everything. They can break it down into concrete steps; they love lists. It genuinely bothers them to see people feeling down and struggling. They can be very good at listening, but tend to forget that often that’s enough by itself. It’s reflexive for them to come up with solutions. It’s also easy for them to forget that being sorrowful can have a purpose in itself. In sin, they tend to be lazy because their instinct is to provide glib answers why they don’t do some things. Everything is easy, even when they can’t be bothered to do it themselves. They do like to celebrate, though. They benefit from the company of those who don’t forget what the mission is.
There are some people who have a natural talent for resources: the giver. This isn’t necessarily someone who has wealth — typically not — but who knows how to gain access material goods and services for the sake of the mission. It’s not about gathering and hording; they aren’t greedy because they can always get what they need. But their focus is connecting supply and need. They can catalog where different resources are found; just ask them. It’s how their mind operates. If left in sin, they make dreary accountants and bean counters. When faith awakens, they can take a lot of heat for failing to satisfy silly demands. These people benefit from a strong prayer fellowship, and make the best fellowship hosts.
Elders are the quintessential shepherds. They tend to be solitary because almost no one else can see what they see. They seldom make any genuine close friends, despite longing for it. For this reason, they tend to make a lot of people unhappy with their decisions, yet they are usually right. But it’s very easy for them to become isolated from those they serve. They tend to be reticent because of the hostility they often face. When faithful, they are sensitive to building trust within the group, and watchful for those with predatory instincts. They suffer very real pain when someone in their care is humiliated. In sin, they may be heartless and cold, simply because it’s the only way they can protect themselves. As much as they hate it, they will abandon those who resist too much. They blossom spiritually when they can learn to love their flock as their own and exercise fatherly patience.
The caregiver lives for mercy. They are instinctive empaths. You cannot deceive them about something bothering you. They tend to overdo self-denial, though, because the suffering of others looms so large to them. In sin, they tend to lose track of who they are, and just live vicariously on the feelings of others. Moral maturity for them is realizing their limits and being more selective about whom they try to help. They are suckers for a basket case; being needed feels like love to them. They benefit from a strong hand that keeps them on task and away from manipulators who simply want attention.
This passage also contains a batch of admonitions. You’ll find that different parts of that batch hit various temperaments differently. Some are hard-wired into the motivations, while others are a good counter to bad tendencies. Some people teach that you can likely discern from the passage how the temperaments in order are being admonished about their weaknesses in the same order, though that may be stretching it a bit.
It is quite possible that these motivational gifts can differ with the seasons in your life. As the Spirit carries you through different stages and contexts, one temperament can merge into another. It’s possible some may be for a time a hybrid of two. However, the underlying principles of understanding remain: The Lord grants as a gift some motivational force to drive us in serving Him.
It should seem highly improbable that this list covers the full gamut of personality types God has made. Chances are good a few readers will not see themselves in this list. Rather, Paul points out what he saw during his apostolic ministry. This is the foundation for building a model of personality types answering the demands of revelation far better than the silly models proposed by human thinkers who don’t bow the knee to Christ.