Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
– William Shakespeare
Nearly seven years ago we began a quest to examine, assess, and learn about the nine Fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Today we finish that journey. I don’t know why it has taken seven years to complete a project that could have easily been wrapped up in a few months, but hey…I just go with the flow folks.
We are crossing the finish line by taking a closer look at temperance. The first thing that probably comes to mind is The Temperance Movement, which dealt with promoting moderate consumption or even outright banning of alcoholic beverages, especially in early 20th century America. However, the Biblical definition of temperance is a little more comprehensive.
There are two words in the Bible that correlate with temperance. The first is enkrateia, which means “strong in a thing; strength; power; dominion; having power over; being master of.” The second word is nephalios, which has the same general meaning but more specifically refers to self-control as it relates to drunkenness.
Obviously we know that temperance is, in part, about avoiding intoxication. The Bible cautions against drunkenness on multiple occasions. Isaiah 5:11 warns “woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them.” Proverbs 20:1 says that “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Ephesians 5:18 instructs us “do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”, with dissipation being a synonym for debauchery. Proverbs 23:29-33 asks “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?” and answers “Those who linger long at the wine and go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things.” Isaiah 28:7 says that ”The priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink. They are swallowed up by wine. They are out of the way through intoxicating drink. They err in vision and stumble in judgment.” Though drinking wine seems to have been a part of normal, everyday life in Biblical times, God’s Word strongly advises against imbibing to the point of intoxication. There are two reasons for this.
First of all, when referring to drunkenness the Bible often uses the Greek word methuo, which means “to be filled”. Look at Ephesians 5:18 again. It says not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the Spirit. If we’re going to fill anything…our body, our mind, our time…it should be with the Holy Spirit or corresponding things that are edifying to and glorify God. Romans 8:5-8 says that “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Secondly, Mark 7:15-20 says that “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled. What comes out of a person is what defiles him.” Think about that in terms of intoxication. It’s not the wine, beer, or liquor that is the issue. They are merely things that we are putting into our bodies. But what often happens when we overindulge and get drunk?? We make bad decisions, say & do wrong things, and generally act immoral & ungodly. So the actions that come out of us as a result of that intoxication are what defile us in the eyes of God, not to mention tarnishing our relationships and our reputation.
This thought process can be expanded to so much more than just our use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance requires moderation in everything. It is the ability to master our desires. It is a sense of duty with regard to conduct. It is the practice of always controlling actions, thoughts, or feelings. The influence of the Holy Spirit on the heart should make a person moderate in all indulgences, teaching them to restrain passions and control evil propensities.
The opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit are the works of the flesh spoken about in Galatians 5:19-21. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” All of these things are the opposite of temperance. They indicate gluttony, wrath, & being out of control. Proverbs 16:32 teaches that “he who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city..” Self-control is mastery over passions, thoughts, emotions, & words. It is the virtue that holds our appetites in check, controlling our rational will and regulating our conduct without being duly swayed by sensuous desires.
Self-denial, self-sacrifice, & self-control are inextricably linked in Christian life, but notice the troublesome use of the word “self”. It is indicative of the stubborn human notion of trying to achieve this massive goal on our own, which is demonstrably impossible. This is another reason why temperance is a key fruit that we must exhibit. Temperance is vital to demonstrate to God that He is in control…not one’s flesh. It is the proof that Jesus is the Lord of one’s life. Controlling ourselves, denying human nature its impulse to satisfy its desire, and even sacrificing ourselves are necessary if we are to stop sinning as a way of life. With God’s Holy Spirit help we can practice temperance. Titus 2:11-14 says “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” Temperance is a necessary building block in our relationship with Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-9 instructs us to “Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. If these things are yours and abound you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.” Romans 13:12-14 says that we must “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Galatians 5:16-17 says to “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another.”
And what is the ultimate goal of this temperance (as with all the Fruits of the Spirit)?? 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 says “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I’m not very athletic and don’t know much about running races, but I am knowledgeable enough to know that one must have the proper tools & training to compete. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 lays the cards right out on the table, cautioning “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Timothy 3:8 says that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”