The Fruits of the Spirit – Temperance

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
– William Shakespeare

fruitNearly 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.

 

If you’d like a refresher on what we’ve talked about previously just follow the links to see my thoughts on love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness/gentleness/goodness/meekness, and faithfulness.

 

tempWe 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 drunkoccasions. 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.”

 

drunk3Secondly, 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.

 

Glutton ElfThe opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit are the works of the flesh spoken about in Galatians anger5:19-21. “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.

 

Jesus2Self-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 Jesus3Lord 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 heavenknow 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.”

Blessed Are They Who Mourn

For those who don’t know me personally, a significant thing to note is that I am a paraplegic, having been born with a condition called spina bifida. I JesusDoves_mediummention that fact only to lay the foundation for a bit of fatherly wisdom imparted to me long ago by…well, my Dad. He told me many times as a small child, that even though someone might come up to me, pat me on the head (people do that to handicapped kids long past what is typically regarded as an appropriate age), and express sympathy for my plight, they likely haven’t gotten out of sight before they’ve forgotten all about me because they have their own issues and problems and don’t have time to worry about me and mine. That lesson taught me much…a healthy cynicism, a sense of self reliance (because sometimes no one else can be counted on to truly give a darn), the realization that the world owes me nothing, and…for the purposes of this adventure in blogging…the understanding that sincerity can be quite shallow and not always all that sincere.

 

Jesus tells us that to be happy we must mourn, which doesn’t sound like much fun. Mourning is what we do at funerals, and really…who wants to do that all the time?? But let’s put aside preconceived notions and approach things from another perspective. Just as being poor in spirit means that we must be humble enough to realize we need God and should not try to live life on our own terms without His guidance, so does this passage require us to shun our prideful nature and submit ourselves to God’s grace. Allow me to reference James 4:1-10, which says:

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”


This is where sincerity…and our lack of it…comes into the picture. Let’s be honest…we’re human beings, every last one of us…which means we’re not perfect and we’re occasionally going to royally screw things up. And even though God is just and we will all eventually face judgment, God’s grace is a free gift available to us right now. He desires a relationship with us and wants us to turn to Him in times of joy, times of tumult, and everything in between. However, along with being screw-ups we’re also pretty stubborn and prideful. How many times have we wronged someone and apologized, but done so only half-heartedly and for selfish, specious reasons?? God knows when we’re not really sorry, and that kind of lackadaisical faith is not what He seeks. When we go against the will of God we need to sincerely seek forgiveness, not with a prideful heart but with a heart full of genuine sadness, a heart in mourning because of the sin we have committed. God will not accept a flippant, disingenuous apology. It is only when we ask for God’s mercy in an authentic fashion that He will give us true comfort.

 

I won’t even pretend to be a religious scholar and know all the idiosyncratic differences between every major religion or especially every denomination within those religions. But I do have a basic yet growing understanding of The Bible and the ways of God. I have difficulty believing that doing a few hand gestures or ducking into a booth and glibly telling another human being about one’s mistakes is a ticket to Heaven. I mean no disrespect to anyone’s religion, but on the other hand I think “religion” is sometimes the problem instead of the solution. We get too caught up in meaningless rituals and just go through the motions. When we sin we brush it off and try to work our way out of it. That may work in a health & fitness situation, where a brisk jog around the neighborhood or an intense workout at the gym can legitimately offset that hot fudge sundae we had for lunch, but God requires more. He wants intense anguish to pierce our hearts when we go against His will. Does that mean God wants us to be in a constant state of misery?? Of course not. But there’s an easy way to avoid that misery – don’t sin!! Easier said than done?? Sure. Believe me, I know all too well. Does that mean we just give up and quit trying?? No. And when we do mess up, forget the hand gestures or telling some fellow human being that isn’t any more special than you just because he wears some fancy duds. Get on your knees (or not…not even THAT is a necessary rule) and cry out to the Lord in prayer, asking for His forgiveness expressing true repentance.

 

 

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

The first edict Jesus gives in The Sermon on the Mount is be poor in spirit. Now this is a little confusing. Why would anyone want to have a poor spirit as opposed to a wonderful, great, fantastic spirit?? How is having a poor spirit supposed to make us happy??

 

Well okay…a poor spirit, by that definition, does not make us happy. But let’s look at it from a different angle. Think about it monetarily. We all probably know psfolks on nearly every level of the economic scale…extremely poor, lower middle class, well-to-do, rich, and super wealthy (those are not officially sanctioned terms, just my spin on things…I’m confident you get the idea). At any rate, those on the upper end of the scale are doing just fine. They don’t need any help from anyone. It doesn’t really matter where their wealth comes from…the point is that they have it. They also tend to have more stuff…bigger houses, fancier cars, more toys. That’s not a criticism just an observation. On the flip side, the lower down on the scale you go the less stuff people tend to have and the more help they need. Our world tends to put wealth on a pedestal and look at the poor with a mix of pity, disgust, and disregard, so that frame of reference also makes this particular directive somewhat difficult to accept. None of us desires to be poor.

 

Jesus’ point though doesn’t really have as much to do with money directly as it does our tendency to put money (among other things) higher on the priority list than a relationship with Him. He is trying to tell us that no matter what we do for a living, how strong we are mentally and physically, or how much stuff we have, we are nothing without God and we are to always, always, always rely on Him. Those who never lose sight of the fact that God is to be the foundation of our lives will ultimately be happy…if not in this life then most certainly in the next one. Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. This statement follows the Parable of the Rich Young Ruler, a story in which a man was willing to do whatever it took to have eternal life…except give away his earthly possessions, status, and influence. Jesus goes on to teach that “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (i.e wealth, riches, worldly gain).”  1 Timothy states “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, Godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

 

When it comes to our relationship with God we need to always be as humble as the underprivileged masses who can’t allow themselves to be too proud to ask for help. They need help to survive, so they must swallow their pride and accept assistance. In the same way we must put aside vanity and ego and enter into a relationship with Christ with humility and submission to His will.

 

 

Let’s Talk About God – Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus Christ

Jesus is the way, the truth, the life

I used to hate memorization exercises, not because I couldn’t memorize something but because usually the final mission almost always involved reciting what one had memorized in front of a group. I don’t mind so much now the task of public speaking, but as a child it scared the daylights out of me, even though more often than not I’d work myself up into a frenzy in the days and hours leading up to the event but then be perfectly fine in actually doing what needed to be done.

One such memorization exercise has been tossing about in my noggin for about a week now, and I’m not sure why. I don’t remember the particulars, but I do recall attending some sort of Vacation Bible School (I’m almost sure the one in question was not at my home church, but at my maternal grandmother’s – she was a “soldier” in The Salvation Army) and being asked to learn Matthew 7:7, which says “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”. This was probably 30 years ago, and I still remember it. For current purposes we are going to also throw into the mix verse 8, which goes on to say “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

A few things need to be said about this passage. First of all, it may seem clear, but for clarification purposes let’s point out that we’re obviously talking about prayer. Ask, seek, knock. The Lord doesn’t play offense. He gave that up after Adam and Eve ate a certain fruit He’d told them was off limits. This brought about free will, which means we make our own decisions, both good and bad. But He’s there, and He’s not going anywhere. It’s up to us to seek Him out, to knock on His door, to ask Him for help. Why do we find this so difficult?? Is it pride? Is it a culture that values self reliance, the old “I can do it on my own” attitude? Does seeking out assistance from God make us feel weak? Has The Lord made it seem too simple for our suspicious, cynical, “what’s the catch?” mentality to grasp? It’s probably all these and a lot more.

Secondly, the question arises…..what is “it”?? “It will be given…you will find (it)…it will be opened to you…”. I’m quite certain “it” doesn’t encompass anything and everything we ask God for or ask Him to do. I’m sure many have asked Him for lots of stuff…a cool car, a great job, a new house, to win the lottery, for that cute gal or guy to notice how awesome we are. But intellectually we know it’s not that easy. Even on a television game show one has to do something to earn a prize, it’s just not handed out freely. So what is “it”?? What does God promise us if we ask, seek, and knock? I think “it” boils down to two things: peace and salvation, i.e. eternal life.

Which leads to the third point. Look at this passage again. Ask, seek, knock. This is not a lazy, effortless, sedentary, passive project. However, neither is it that complicated. God wants to be more than just our ICE contact…..He wants to be on our speed dial. He wants us to call on Him often…every day, every hour, every minute. He wants to share everything with us in a reciprocal way. In other words, He’s given us, well, the entire world…so He’d like to be the main attraction in our life. I personally don’t think it’s too much to ask, even though I claim to be no better at actually letting Him be those things than anyone else. That’s a topic for another time though.