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Publish date: Jun 24, 2009
Summary: Temperance means more than just moderation.
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To most people, the word “temperance” means either “abstinence from alcohol,” or “moderation in all things.” Temperance has changed in meaning, as C. S. Lewis points out:
Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened 'Temperance', it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.i
In the 18th century, writers and orators such as Patrick Henry made a distinction between “moderation” and “temperance.”ii The original meaning was more than abstaining from alcohol (teetotalism) or moderation. Moderation implies that we can do anything we want as long as we don’t do it too often—but we cannot "moderately" break any of the Ten Commandments.
Some Bible translations use “self control” for “temperance,” but it is more than self control. Temperance is a God-given sense to use all He has given us, only as He directs. All of our appetites and desires come under the control of true temperance. This is the real challenge.
Temperance can include moderation and abstinence, but it is more than either one. As Francis E. Willard wrote, “Temperance is moderation in the things that are good and total abstinence from the things that are foul.”iii It is God-given because it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). God leads us to develop this fruit. Peter tells us to give all diligence to add it to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8). The result will be a godly balance in all areas of our lives.
Our culture is out of balance. For example, many eat until they can barely get up from the table. The adult stomach will comfortably accommodate only one quart of food and drink. Eat more than this, and it will stretch abnormally large. Blood supplying the needs of the body, especially the brain, will divert to the stomach for a prolonged period. This results in a sleepy feeling after a big meal. This also leads to becoming cranky, tired, or not able to think clearly. Temperance would prevent all this.
More than our physical appetites, temperance deals with our minds and morals. Many believe trying everything once is practicing temperance—but many things are a sin to try even once, such as brain-destroying drugs or promiscuous sex. Practicing temperance rewards us with mental and moral vigor.
For healthy living, we must abstain from everything God says is harmful, using what is beneficial only as far as God instructs. Ellen White pointed out that the Christian must practice temperance “in eating, in drinking, in dress, and in every phase of life.”iv
As Paul said, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:14 NKJV). This must be a “fruit of the Spirit” and we must seek God for it.
Read about the next law of health, Trust in God
Updated September 2009.
i. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3 Chapter 2.
ii. http://thinkexist.com/quotes/patrick_henry/ “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” (Patrick Henry).
iii. http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1080.html Note: Francis E. Willard was the world president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1891.
iv. Ellen White said this:
The Christian will be temperate in all things,—in eating, in drinking, in dress, and in every phase of life. "Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." 1 Cor. 9:25. We have no right to indulge in anything that will result in a condition of mind that hinders the Spirit of God from impressing us with the sense of our duty” (Counsels on Health, 432).
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