Temperate in All Things

by Scarlett Stough

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: And to Knowledge Temperance.

giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance;….
(II Peter 1:5-7 KJV)

We don't hear the word "temperance" today. This Christian virtue, which is sometimes practiced by non-Christians, isn't compatible with our current consumer culture. We are urged to "follow our hearts," buy more stuff to keep our shaky economy afloat, and by no means deny ourselves anything pleasurable.

The Greek word translated "self-control" in the NIV and "temperance" in the KJV refers to the mastering of desires, cravings, passions, and especially, the sensual appetite.* Self-control seems to be a weak word compared to the meaning of "temperance" in the 1600's. Jesus instructed his followers to deny the self, not just control it. (Matthew 16: 24)

Temperance is a virtue of mastering the self so that runaway natural desires do not control our attitudes and actions. It isn't just a matter of moderation even though it can include it. Temperance has to be willing to do without something, lawful or not, that hinders living God's way.

Temperance is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-24) The Spirit-led new self being created in the likeness of Christ will say "no" to indulging in those things that hinder our spiritual responsibilities or that attempt to fill our spiritual longings with unspiritual things.

When the Apostle Paul was summoned before Felix the Governor of Judea, Paul not only spoke about faith in Christ, he also "reasoned of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come" (Acts 24:24-25 KJV) and Felix trembled with fear.

Paul considered the exercise of temperance to be extremely important:

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things….But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
(I Corinthians 9:25-27 KJV)

The NIV expresses the same thought this way:

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training….I beat my body and make it my slave….

God gave us our senses so we could enjoy the pleasures of taste, smell, sounds, sights, and touch. However, when the gratification of these senses takes over our lives to the point that we refuse to do anything inconvenient, uncomfortable, or painful, we have made pleasure and comfort the god we worship.

The willingness to suffer, if need be, is essential if we are to be capable of serving a greater cause than our own comfort. Every athlete, every soldier, and every mother and father experience this kind of suffering.

The Israelites were given seven feasts to observe throughout the year. Six of those feasts involved preparing and eating good food as well as a command to rejoice. (Leviticus 23:40) But one day a year was set aside "to deny oneself"--Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. On this day, they were commanded to refrain from all labor, including food preparation, and to "afflict" themselves (understood to be fasting.) (Leviticus 23:27-32) The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of Atonement. (Hebrews 9:11-15, 24-28)

When Christians today deny (afflict) ourselves for the sake of doing good in the service of our Lord Jesus, we are participating in his sufferings so that others might come to know him and be given life. (I Peter 4:12-16; Philippians 1:29-30)

Temperance allows us to direct our energies into a Spirit-led life. (Matthew 16:24-27; Galatians 5:25; 6:8-9) Anna, a prophetess who lived long enough to see the infant Jesus, served God in fasting and prayer. She denied herself so that she could devote her time to serving God. In her remaining years, she "spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

Temperance for a Spirit-led child of God is more than self-control over bodily desires. Temperance is a way of life.

[*Editor’s Note: See numbers 1466, 1467, & 1468 in The New Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.]

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