Temperament, Character, and Spiritual Gifts: Part 3


It is useful to think of Personality as having two major components – temperament and character. Temperament is morally neutral. Character is that part of our personality which deals with moral matters. Bad character may choose to misuse the tools of Temperament in morally bad ways, but the tools themselves remain morally neutral. The following comments and chart are adapted from David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me II.

  • Toward things (tools), temperament preferences will either be “cooperative” or “utilitarian.” Toward words and terminology, preferences will be for either “concrete” or “abstract.” Most things in our world can be considered tools. Civilization is created and maintained by tools. 
  • “Utilitarian” implies finding the most effective and efficient way to accomplish a task even if it involves unorthodox or an improvised use of tools. Example: Using a wrench as a hammer, a knife as a screw driver. Utilitarians tend to pursue their goals using the most effective way possible. Methods and tools are chosen to achieve maximum success with minimum effort. Good moral character is essential to set limits on the methods and tools which will be used.  
  • “Cooperative” implies following customary socially acceptable use of tools. Example: Using a hair brush to brush your hair, cutting carrots with a knife, writing with a pencil. Cooperators seek to achieve their goals through good relationships with others, by being law abiding and accommodating, working within agreed-upon rules.
  • Concrete word use means describing things and events with words signifying things that can be measured and observed. Example: Spoon, desk, shovel, book, toy. Concrete words take a variety of forms – detailed, factual, elemental, empirical, indicative, literal, specific. 
  • Abstract word use means describing things with words signifying things not readily observable by the 5 senses. Example: Good and bad, bravery and cowardice, love and hate, success and failure. Abstract words can be used to convey analogy or category or used in fictional, figurative, general, schematic, symbolic, and theoretical ways. 
  • Character directs the choice of things to think about, talk about, and do. Temperament determines the way we prefer to accomplish those things. 
  • Example: ISTP preferences incline a person to desire to try new experiences.  Having Christian Character dramatically influences which “things” are morally acceptable to try.

Temperament in Children

  • God’s gift of temperament becomes apparent soon after birth.  Some healthy new-born children are “active”, some “fretful”, some “alert”, some “calm”. 
  • From early in life, some children are outgoing around strangers, others are shy and reserved.
  • As they begin to be able to pursue their own goals, other preferences are made manifest.  
  • Some children go straight for what they want, plunging ahead, ignoring obstacles and rules.  If forced to obey rules, they are visibly and vocally frustrated and will repeatedly test limits.
  • Yet, other children easily comply with rules, even happily, seeming most comfortable when they are pleasing the adults in their life.
  • As children mature, their temperament becomes more distinctive and new preferences are made manifest and become observable. At first parents typically assume their children are pretty much the same as they are. They see their children as extensions of their own personality who will naturally follow in their footsteps – and sometimes it is true. That boy is just like his father. But, more often, children are significantly different from one or both parents. 
  • This is an issue if parents insist their children have interests and behavior matching their own.
  • It is sometimes difficult for a parent to accept the fact that their child may have a normal temperament different from their own and just doesn’t enjoy doing the things the parent likes best. Communicating can be bewildering. Mutual activities seem like an exercise in futility. 
  • A father who loves hunting and fishing will likely have great difficulty being patient with a son who shows more interest in finding out why the sky is blue and why when water freezes and becomes solid, it floats to the top of a lake instead of going to the bottom.

Two Different Personality Issues

In raising children parents are confronted by two very different personality issues – character development and temperament development.

  • Character development requires guidance, training, and discipline. 
  • Temperament development requires discernment, understanding, patience, encouragement.  
  • Unfortunately, most parents don’t recognize the two different categories of personality issues to be dealt with, each needing a different approach.

Character Development

First, there is the issue of developing good moral character. Good character is not “built-into” DNA. It must be developed from scratch.

  • Good moral character development requires knowledge, observation, quick response to evidence of elements of bad character, guidance, training, and discipline.
  • Good character can be expressed through any temperament, so can bad character. The specifics of the way in which character is manifested are determined by temperament.   
  • It is essential that children be trained to use their particular temperament to express good moral character and to avoid bad moral choices.
  • Christian character development cannot take place without God’s enabling intervention.

Developing Good Civil Character

Good civil character can be humanly developed, but is not a “natural growth”.

  • The development of good civil character is part of a parent’s covenant obligation in preparing a child to know Christ.
  • Given the fallen state in which every child is born, the act of leaving character to develop on its own, almost inevitably leads to bad character.
  • Parents are responsible for guiding their child’s character development. Christian parents are to bring them up to glorify and please God in all that they do.

Good Moral Character

Shortly, we will examine in detail what is meant by “good moral character. For now briefly,” good moral character consists of knowing what to do and not do, feeling good about right and bad about wrong, and actually doing what is right and not doing what is wrong.

  • Parents have an indispensable role in the process by which children develop good character.
  • Rigorous training for the child. Encouragement, practice, and experience for the child. Constant attention to detail by the parents. Parents should be good role models. They should practice self-discipline for themselves and use discipline appropriately with their children. Developing and maintaining good moral character is neither simple nor easy.  
  • Scripture describes good moral character and also gives examples of different temperaments. God provides models of each temperaments, but only one model of good moral character. 

Temperament Development

Temperament is “built-into” DNA. For that reason, unfolding a child’s temperament requires a different approach from developing good character. Temperament needs to be discerned, accepted, understood, and encouraged.

  • Unlike character, temperament is morally neutral. God has provided a variety of temperaments to meet His purposes. For example, the 4 Gospels are each written by men with different temperaments. Matthew – SJ, Mark – SP, Luke – NT, and John – NF.
  • A child’s God-given, morally neutral temperament appears fixed from birth. It differentiates, expands, unfolds, branches, but does not seem to fundamentally change direction. 
  • At birth and in early childhood, many details of temperament are at that point latent and not observable, yet some temperament effects can be seen even in the cradle.
  • Although temperament preferences effects develop at different stages of maturity, the basic temperament orientation remains about the same through life.  
  • Attempting to change a child’s temperament to one preferred by the parents always ultimately fails and often with disastrous consequences. A child’s temperament needs to be understood and nurtured. Appreciate and love them as they are. 
  • Good character is based on prescribed do’s and don’ts of behavior with roughly the same prescription for everyone. It is to be dealt with on that basis. Understanding and nurturing temperament in a child can be a difficult challenge when the parent and child are very different. No temperament is an excuse for bad character. All temperaments are equally “good.”

Use of Tools

The temperament preferences most easily observed in early childhood are those having to do with the either “utilitarian” or “cooperative” use of “tools”.

  • Tools are things used to accomplish goals. Tools for young children are things like implements for feeding, sleeping, car seats, toys, clothes. 
  • “Utilitarian” signifies finding the most effective and efficient way to accomplish a task even if it involves unorthodox uses of tools.
  • “Cooperative” means using tools in the customary socially acceptable manner.


Give an infant a bowl of food and a spoon.  Start training the child the accepted “right” way to eat food from the bowl with a spoon.

  • A child with “cooperative” preferences (SJ’s & NF’s) will be inclined please you by following your example, and are not likely to test your limits or use the spoon as a hammer or projectile.
  • A child with “utilitarian” inclinations (SP’s & NT’s) may test to see what else they can do with a spoon, as well as experiment with bowl, spoon, and fingers in very unorthodox ways to see if there isn’t a better way to get the food from the bowl into the mouth
  • The utilitarian child seeks effectiveness. If the fingers work better than the spoon in getting food from the bowl to the mouth, then they use the fingers.
  • The cooperative child seeks to please their adults and want to use the spoon and bowl in a way that pleases them.
  • SJ’s and NF’s are alike in preferring a cooperative attitude toward tools.  
  • SP’s and NT’s are alike in preferring a “whatever works best” attitude toward tools.

Use of Words and Terminology

As children begin to use words (and eventually terminology), SJ’s and SP’s are alike in preferring concrete words and terminology, while NT’s and NF’s are alike in preferring abstract words and terminology.

  • SJ and SP children prefer to talk to other children about specific real things, toys and other items. They ask many “what” and “when” questions. They prefer stories about familiar factual situations and things they can identify. They like stories with lots of action and realistic details.
  • NF and NT children prefer to listen and talk to adults about imaginative and conceptual things.  They ask a lot of “who” and “why” questions. They enjoy stories of fantasy and far-flung imagination – fables, myths, talking-animals, and strange imaginative worlds.


Temperament is determined by DNA. Character is not determined by DNA. Proper development of temperament and character require different approaches by parents.

  • Good moral character must be modeled by parents and directed and shaped in the child by the parents through intervention in the form of training and discipline.
  • Moral character development is vital and requires constant parental attention. 
  • As with many other features of a mature adult, most temperament preferences are latent in a newborn child and will develop with time. Temperament preferences in a child need to be discerned, understood, accepted, and nurtured. Attempts to train a child to have different temperament preferences are doomed to failure and often with very bad consequences. A child’s temperament is what it is. There is no “best or better” temperament. 
  • Good moral character can be expressed through every temperament type.  Moral character can be good or bad. There are degrees of goodness and badness. 
  • Temperament preferences are morally neutral, inborn, and very resistant to change.
  • Temperament preferences are never an acceptable excuse for bad, rude, or improper behavior. Bad behavior arises from character issues.
  • Temperament preferences make a lot of difference in what activities a child (and adult) enjoys, the kind of stories they like, the music that appeals to them, whether or not they enjoy team sports, individual sports, or no sports, and the details of how they react in different situations.
  • Knowing that your mate or your child’s temperament is different from yours (and you “like” yours better) must never be the basis of attempting to change their temperament to be more like yours (we always are sure our temperament is best, and why can’t everyone be like us?). 

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