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Health by Numbers

1 Corinthians 7:32-40

          32 I want you to be free from concerns. A man who isn’t married is concerned about the Lord’s concerns—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the world’s concerns—how he can please his wife. 34 His attention is divided. A woman who isn’t married or who is a virgin is concerned about the Lord’s concerns so that she can be dedicated to God in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the world’s concerns—how she can please her husband. 35 I’m saying this for your own advantage. It’s not to restrict you but rather to promote effective and consistent service to the Lord without distraction.

36 If someone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward an unmarried woman whom he knows, and if he has strong feelings and it seems like the right thing to do, he should do what he wants—he’s not sinning—they should get married. 37 But if a man stands firm in his decision, and doesn’t feel the pressure, but has his own will under control, he does right if he decides in his own heart not to marry the woman. 38 Therefore, the one who marries the unmarried woman does right, and the one who doesn’t get married will do even better. 39 A woman is obligated to stay in her marriage as long as her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry whomever she wants, only it should be a believer in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion, she will be happier if she stays the way she is. And I think that I have God’s Spirit too.


This morning, we’re going to take a quick break from looking at each of the 9 different personality types on the Enneagram, so that we can talk about levels of health.  Already I’ve had several conversations with a few different individuals where a comment has come up to the effect of: ‘Jeremy, I’m glad we’re learning about the enneagram –now I understand why I’m not getting along with my co-workers: it’s because I’m working with a bunch of 3’s!’ And one person even told me that they just don’t like a whole number-category of people.  Which immediately made me go: ‘Oh great, I’m teaching people a whole new way to be prejudiced!’ And that is the total opposite of what I set out to do.  My whole hope with this series had been to equip all of you with some useful tools to grow in on our compassion –for our neighbors, and also for ourselves.

            So today we’re going to take a step back and talk about an additional aspect of the Enneagram, which is to talk about the levels of development.  In addition to the nine different personality types, there is also a developmental scale that goes along with the Enneagram, which can help us assess our own spiritual health, according to our personality type.  In their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, authors Riso and Hudson explain it this way:

Clearly, some people are high-functioning, open, balanced, stable, and able to handle stress well, while others are more troubled, reactive, emotionally stuck, and cannot handle stress effectively. Further, most of us have experienced a wide range of states over the course of our lives, from free, life-affirming ones, to painful, dark, neurotic ones. (p. 75).

Basically, the developmental scale of the Enneagram draws us a map for our own spiritual or mental health, according to our number.  All numbers can absolutely be healthy, happy, resilient, and a total blessing to be around.  And at the same time, all personality types are susceptible to what might be called in the clinical world as ‘psychotic breaks.’  So if you’ve ever met, say, an 8 who seemed like a total train-wreck –it is not because all 8s are awful. Far from it.  Instead, it’s probably because the person you encountered wasn’t in a healthy place of development.  And all people who are spiritually unhealthy, or insecure, can be difficult to be around. It’s only that their severe unhealth will become more apparent sooner and more forcefully if the person happens to be an 8, because 8s have a way of broadcasting how things stand in their world at any given moment (we’ll learn more about 8’s in two weeks).  

            Now, the way the scale of development works is to picture a peg-board, with 9 vertical holes on it, labeled 1-9.  1, at the top, is our healthiest, most resilient self; while 9, at the bottom, is the point where we have become a serious threat to ourselves and to others.  All of us have our peg situated somewhere on that scale.  And if we typically function at an average rate of health, our peg is situated somewhere on the middle of the scale (in holes 4-6). But on top of the fixed scale, we have our emotions.  And our emotions are like a rubber-band strung from our health-peg, which can stretch to meet the circumstances we’re facing.  So if our peg is firmly fixed in hole 4, but we have a really bad day –say your spouse tries to murder you in your sleep with a pillow- then our emotional rubber-band can stretch down and we will feel and function like we are operating down a level 7 or an 8 for a while.  Or on the contrary, say our peg is plugged into 4, but we have a great day –maybe we get promoted or fall in love, then our rubber-band can stretch up to a 1 for a bit. But we won’t stay there.  As circumstances change and we resume our ‘normal operating procedures,’ and we will eventually return to the default-setting of our emotional health, at level 4.  Does that make sense?

            This is why some people have a very hard time experiencing intense joy and consistently maintaining high-levels of performance in their social role –because they are held back by the fixture of their developmental health, and their emotional rubber-band simply won’t stretch that far. And it certainly can’t stay up there for long.  According to the system of the Enneagram, the only way to become more sustainably happy and more consistently productive and to serve as a more firmly-reliable blessing to those around you is to grow in your development.  It’s not enough to keep trying to stretch the rubber band through the stimulus of circumstance or environmental factors –but you have to actually take the peg out of the board and move it to the next level. 

            But of course the million-dollar question becomes: how do I do that?  How do we actually make the long-term move to becoming healthier, happier, more thoroughly-developed human beings?  What can we do to become our highest selves?

            Both the Enneagram and the apostle Paul agree on the answer: in order to become more fully and faithfully ourselves, we must grow in a very particular kind of freedom.   

            Paul tells the Church in Corinth: “I want you to be free from concerns” –but perhaps a sharper way to translate that line into English would be to say: ‘I want you to be free from anxiety.’  This is a climactic line in the text, because Paul had just spent the last three chapters talking very explicitly about the kinds of relationships people in the church should –and should not- have with one another.  All of these different interests and cravings have been pulling their community in different directions, and it’s threatened to pull them apart.  There’s political tension: tension between leaders and ideologies and cults of personality. There were ethical tensions, which led to public legal disputes. There were sexual and moral tensions –the kinds of tensions that come from having bodies that have all sorts of needs and desires. And everybody was responding to those tensions in different ways.  More simply put, the members of the community were all moving in different directions.

But Paul is writing to tell the Church: I want you to be free from all of that –free from worry, and confusion, and all the tensions that would tear you apart.  I want you to be free from everything that might divide you. (By the way, that’s the literal root of the Greek word he uses: it’s undivided.) So that you can be whole in your devotion the Lord.

That’s why he goes on to talk more about marriage.   A married man has to devote himself to his wife and the Lord –so there is tension in his devotion.  Then Paul goes on to explain: “a woman who isn’t married or who is a virgin is concerned about the Lord’s concerns so that she can be dedicated to God in both body and spirit.”  Reading this makes me wonder what kind of interactions Paul had had with young or otherwise unwed women to get this impression –because in all my years of youth ministry, I don’t think I have ever met a single virgin past the age of 13 –female or otherwise- who’s full attention was always on the Lord.  I mean if you want to know what the single-ladies are feelin’ Paul, just add Beyonce to your Spotify.  

In any case, that’s Paul’s whole message at this point in his letter: believers need to be free from anxiety (which the ancients understood as ‘soul-tension’ or a division in the soul) so that they can fully and wholly devote themselves to Christ.  Freedom, for the sake of wholeness.  And this is why Paul makes such a big deal out of sin: because Paul understands sin to be bondage.  Sin is our  unhealthy or unrighteous attachments that cause our service and our lives to be divided or fragmented. 

And the Enneagram has a very similar message, but one that’s articulated with a very different vocabulary.  According to the developmental scale we talked about earlier, the way to become healthy is to actively pursue integration.  Rather than use the vocabulary of ‘sin’ the enneagram talks more about ‘fixations.’  And to be healthy, we need to find freedom from the fixations and preoccupations of our personality.  Every personality type has a kind of home-base it will return to when the person feels insecure or overwhelmed.  It’s only that ‘home-base’ looks different for each personality-type. 

For instance in moments of stress, 1’s –the Reformers- will try to critique and improve things to feel better about themselves; 2s –the Helpers- will run to serve people they care about to feel loved; and 3s –the Achievers- will try to make a show of doing something important to feel valuable, and on down the line. Every personality has a habit for what it’s comfortable doing in order to feel better.  But what the developmental scale tells us is that if we want to be healthy and whole human beings, then we have to escape the traps of our personality-typing.  We can’t just run back to the home base of our familiar habits over and over again to fix our stress –instead to be truly healthy, we have to get in touch with the other aspects of our selves and our personalities.  

In short, the call here is to grow out of our type. Recognize your starting-place, and the desires and fears that drive it.  But don’t let those define you.  Instead, you have to confront your needs and fears.  Stare them in the face so they’ll lose the power they hold over you.  Because once you can name the fears that drive you, you’ll start to see the way they hold you captive.  And the more you let your fears and your desires drive the actions and the choices of your lives, the smaller, and less healthy you’ll become.

This morning I wanted to quickly share with all of you a list of ‘Wake-up Calls’ according to each type.  These are warning-lights that let you know the autopilot of your personality type is on.  These are signals, according to each type, that you are not living in your highest stages of health.  (So, for this to be helpful, you’ll have to know your number).


  1. Feeling a sense of personal obligation to fix everything themselves
  2. Believing that they must go out to others to win them over
  3. Beginning to drive themselves for status and attention
  4. Holding on to and intensifying feelings through the imagination
  5. Withdrawing from reality into concepts and mental worlds
  6. Becoming dependent on something outside the self for guidance
  7. Feeling that something better is available somewhere else
  8. Feeling that they must push and struggle to make things happen
  9. Outwardly accommodating themselves to others

So if you know your type, and you have noticed these tendencies creeping into your actions and decisions –that is not Jesus at the wheel, my friends.  That is your default personality –your ego- reacting to fear.  And it can be for you a call to ‘wake up’  -pay attention to yourself and the tensions that are quietly pulling you apart and leaving you scattered.   Don’t let either your worries or your needs make a slave out of you –but instead find your freedom in Christ to be whole.  Whole with yourself.  Whole with your community and your neighbors.  Whole with God, by confronting and embracing everything that you are, and everything that you can be, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us turn to the One who calls us to unity, in prayer.