A Westerner attending a wedding or funeral party in Lagos, Nigeria might experience cultural shock seeing so many people in sameness of attire. It’s called “aso ebi”. It means you’re regarded as “family” for donning that “aso ebi” attire hence the name. There’s a consanguinity with the celebrating or bereaved family. These are not small parties. Not by any standard. These are huge parties. Guests can number a thousand. Wave after wave they come, one batch making way for another in endless feasting and merriment, with music supplied by two or more live bands.
For the women in particular there’s a conscious effort to stand out from the crowd. And so you have different tailoring styles and different fashion expressions though same attire. Those fashion expressions are of course dependent on exposure, level of sophistry, education and cultural intake. But under the sea of “uniform” are diverse personalities. Everyone belongs to the group yet everyone is distinct. There’s uniformity of attire but no uniformity of personality.
How very much like the phenomenon of aso ebi in Nigerian parties is the Christian faith. We all don the robe of righteousness but we’re different people. We’re from disparate backgrounds, have different exposures and different expressions. God never alters personality, he only alters status. He never altered the personalities of the apostles. They remained themselves. An altered Christian personality is a self-adventure.
The apostles clearly had different personalities. Some were the quiet type. After initial introduction we hardly heard about them again. Didn’t mean these apostles weren’t working for God, they were just the quiet type. Some people want to serve God quietly and apparently God respects that. For example we don’t hear much about Bartholomew in scriptures or outside scriptures. Tradition has it he preached in India and even translated the Gospel of Matthew. By one account Bartholomew was beaten up by idolaters and crucified. By another account he was skinned alive and then beheaded. Whichever way, it was gruesome death like almost all the apostles. He did his work quietly. Scriptures respected that.
We don’t hear much about Simon the Zealot too. Which is surprising because Zealots were incendiary. They sought to incite people against the Roman Empire. They would be called terrorists today, or freedom fighters depending on who is doing the talking. Surely Simon the Zealot would know a thing or two about propaganda, and yet he was rather quiet in his work. The brilliance of Jesus is the fact he could get Simon the Zealot who was sworn to the overthrow of Roman government to work with Matthew, a tax collection agent of the Roman government. They occupy ideological extremities. It is believed Simon the Zealot preached in West Africa, and then went to England, where he was crucified in 74 AD.
Jude wrote one of the books in the Bible but he doesn’t come across as having a gregarious personality. He’s also one of the quieter ones. He was crucified in either Turkey or Greece in 72 AD.
Thomas is better known as the empiricist. He demanded proof of the crucifixion of Jesus, but beyond that infamous incident, not much is known of him. He was one of the quiet apostles. He was martyred in India. He was said to have angered local authorities who ran a spear through him.
Peter on the other hand had a domineering personality. He was a natural born leader who sometimes did stuff without thinking. And yet he would tell us to be holy. 1 Peter 1:14-16. He couldn’t be referring to being unadventurous and unenterprising. He was!
There are two notable instances Peter displayed impulsiveness. The first instance was when he jumped into the sea, to walk on water like Jesus. We call it faith today but it also qualifies as presumptuousness in the natural. Peter was forward. Matthew 14: 22-33.
When Peter jumped out of that boat into the water the wind was boisterous. His behaviour is not the natural reaction of a man who just minutes before was afraid of ghosts and tempest. But Peter was Peter. He was competitive and acted many times on impulse. One translation says Peter JUMPED out of the boat. He was like a small boy about to try Ferris wheel for the first time. And in the midst of crisis! Call him an adrenaline junkie: “Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus.” Matthew 14:29-30 MSG. He soon came to his senses on the water. And then he realised his impulsiveness. Fear came on him. The Bible says Peter started to sink. You don’t start to sink on tempestuous water, you plunge, gulping gallons in a hurry. So what happened?
What God did was turn the water viscous in material composition to prevent his immediate demise; or time slowed down as the gravity field was altered. Peter would go on to cry out in terror, “Lord, save me!” – “But when he saw the strong wind he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:30 NET.
The second notable instance of Peter’s impulsiveness was when he slashed off the ear of Magnus the High Priest’s servant. That was when they came to arrest Jesus. That would have led to a blood bath. The lighting was poor and the goons were trained killers. How does a fisherman pull a sword on a battalion of Roman soldiers and temple police? Surely he must have a death wish. That’s our Peter. Impulsive. “Then the Roman soldiers under their commander, joined by the Jewish police, seized Jesus and tied him up.” John 18:12-14 MSG.
Peter was a braggadocio. Remember how he told Jesus he’d never betray him? “Peter protested, “Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you.” And he kept insisting. Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31. He was a bombastic sort of fellow, though in fairness all the other disciples said the same. They took their cue from Peter. Well, before the rooster crowed Peter was swearing by African deities he didn’t know Jesus! He said he’d never even met him. He denied Jesus thrice in a space of 60 minutes, an average of one denial every 20 minutes. Luke 22:54-62.
One lesson from Peter is, never say “I can never!” Who’d have thought Peter would deny Jesus. When he came to terms with his own failing, the Bible says, he cried and cried and cried. Luke 22:62 MSG. But the fact remains Jesus never sought to alter Peter’s personality. Peter remained Peter. God worked with his personality.
But character is not the same as personality. Peter was a humble man. He didn’t understand everything Paul wrote and he humbly acknowledged: “Some things Paul writes are difficult to understand. Irresponsible people who don’t know what they are talking about twist them every which way. They do it to the rest of the scriptures, too, destroying themselves as they do it.” 2 Peter 3:14-16 MSG. In other words, that impulsive personality dwelt side by side with humility in Peter. He was the sincere type. Even when he was wrong he was sincerely wrong.
And so there were boisterous personalities like Peter in the Jesus management team, but there were quieter ones like Bartholomew. Both were disciples. There was also the very direct James the brother of our Lord. Unlike Paul, James’ letter barely had introduction. He wasn’t the diplomatic type. He would say a terse hello, then dive into his discourse: “I, James, am a slave of God and the Master Jesus, writing to the twelve tribes scattered to Kingdom Come: Hello!” James 1:1 MSG.
Then there were the sons of Zebedee – the sons of thunder! “…These are the Twelve: Simon (Jesus later named him Peter, meaning “Rock”) James, son of Zebedee, John, brother of James (Jesus nicknamed the Zebedee brothers Boanerges, meaning “Sons of Thunder”)” Mark 3:13-19 MSG.
James and John were the earliest examples of Christians who call down fire on their enemies. When Jesus was refused hospitality in a Samaritan village, James and John had matter-of-factly responded: “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?” Luke 9:51-54 MSG.
And so the disciples had diverse personalities and Jesus was accommodative of those personalities. He never tried to change their personalities. He worked with them, used them.
The mistake we make is that we think there’s a “holy personality.” From indications it seems to be a mellifluous and euphonious disposition, like someone afraid to touch the ground.
Not everyone can be like Moses. Moses is described as “very humble, gentle, kind, devoid of self-righteousness…” Numbers 12:3 AMP. That simplicity is why his sister Miriam pulled rank on him. Numbers 12. Moses was her kid brother, a baby she saved. It was her fast thinking that landed Moses in Pharaoh’s palace with his mother deployed as wet nurse. Exodus 2:7-9. But even Moses lost his cool sometimes. It was rare but it did happen. The Israelites pushed him to the limit. Numbers 20:13. Those guys are like us. Peter was not like Moses. Neither was Elijah or Elisha like Moses. They all had different personalities. Yet they were all servants of God. God respects personality.
David was in a league of his own. He was a rap artiste, poet, dancer, composer, and musician. He was a celebrity, had the personality of an artiste. Probably dressed like one. That young man had the temerity to defy his oldest brother to take on Goliath. His brother alluded to his personality type when he stated: “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!” 1 Samuel 17:28 NLT.
We could go on and on. But the point being made is that there’s no “holy personality.” The servants of God were diverse personality types. When we empty ourselves of our personality to be “holy,” or to be like our pastor or spiritual mentor, we miss God’s purport and teleological design. God uses personality types. He needs your personality to reach certain people.
When we evacuate our personality in pursuit of a false definition of holiness we become hollow, lacking in confidence. Such an adventure over time drums down intelligence. Because it’s false humility we’ll always need to dial down our capacities lest we be seen to be “proud.” Over time we become obsequious. This is common in certain religious circles. It’s how Christians become sycophantic. The sense of self is gone, a servile mentality takes over. That can’t be God’s intendment when he said you should be holy. It’s a false definition of holiness. It’s how group think develops. The personality of the people is totally evacuated in pursuit of “holiness”. The people become a vision of George Orwell’s “1984”. That is NOT God’s vision for his church or his children.
We are ALREADY holy. We are a “holy nation”. 1 Peter 2:9. That’s a descriptive and conceptual epithet. We are holy because God set us apart. Holiness is about consecration, being set apart. We’re set apart. Peter says we need to live in conformity with that fact: “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves in all your conduct – be set apart from the world by your godly character and moral courage; because it is written, “You shall be holy – set apart, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 AMP. In that passage, Peter was actually quoting Leviticus 11:44 and Leviticus 19:2. In Leviticus 11:44, God asked the Israelites to be consecrated through dietary laws, to be different from others around them through diet.
In Leviticus 19:2, the terms of holiness were much broader than In Leviticus 11:44. It entailed respect for parents, observance of the day of worship and repudiation of idol worship: “Say to all the congregation of the children of Israel, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. ‘Each of you shall respect his mother and his father, and you shall keep My Sabbaths; I am the Lord your God. ‘Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods – images cast in metal; I am the Lord your God.’” Leviticus 19:2-4 AMP.
The essential definition of holiness is thus differentiation. It’s why Peter tells us not to be like the world, by having godly character and moral courage. But we’ve mistaken the definition of holiness for evacuation of personality, the loss of self-esteem and confidence, the drumming down of intellect. It ought not to be so. We’re not holy because we’re a shadow of ourselves. A colloquial interpretation of 1 Peter 1:13-16 will be, “Because God is in a class of his own, be in a class of your own, like God. It’s evidence you’re God’s child. Stay in your class.”
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org.God uses personality types. He needs your personality to reach certain people. Click To Tweet Character is not the same as personality. Click To Tweet God never alters personality, he only alters status. Click To Tweet