Temperance is a call for balance. It is a reminder to us that we need to do everything with a measure of moderation.
Just as the concept of tithing was considered under the larger subject of stewardship, so healthful living must always be addressed under the broad heading of temperance. By its very definition, temperance is a call for balance. It is a reminder to us that we need to do everything with a measure of moderation, and to put one aspect of Christian living into perspective with all others.
There are many extremes on this planet, many of them related to some evil, even if they initially appear delightful. People in their search for God have pursued many paths. Some have sought refuge in self-denial. Some starve themselves or beat themselves in an attempt to earn their way into heaven, or to achieve some state divorced from the so-called “carnal.”
Some have pursued a very different path, seeking every excess in trying to find some pleasure that would make everything worth it, that would make them stop wanting to seek God. God shows us in the Bible that neither of these things are His will. In Eden He gave Adam and Eve “ ‘every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food’ ” (Gen. 1:29, NKJV). He obviously meant for us to enjoy what He gave us.
When Jesus was here on earth, eating and drinking with the people, He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard by those who adhered strictly to a healthful Jewish diet. (Matt. 11:19). We know that He was not truly a glutton or drunkard, since both are denounced in Proverbs (23:2, 21; 26:9). We can, however, extrapolate from this passage that He did feast. He was not an ascetic. And it is also obvious that some in the religious community of His day found His “moderation” offensive.
The truth is, the same pattern applies today in our lives. Clearly God’s will for us is temperance and moderation. This means avoiding the more damaging substances we can put into our bodies, which can cause permanent damage, death, or birth defects. Any of these would be a very high price to pay for one experience of euphoria. Drunkenness can lead to other situations as well, such as inappropriate sexual contact and unnecessary risks that can result in death. These are things that must be considered. If we plunge into them without thinking, the results could be more than we bargain for.
There are some forms of intemperance, though, that are very acceptable in our society, and even in our churches—and about which even the most passionate advocates for healthful living rarely take the time to comment. Overwork, overeating, overindulgence in various forms of entertainment—all these things are included in this biblical injunction against intemperance. When you’re on the couch in front of the TV, a big bag of chips beside you and the remote in your hand, you are still the temple of the Holy Spirit.
What God asks of us is to bring to every aspect of life a temperate manner, rejecting extremes on all sides and choosing a path that makes us the most effective witnesses of His grace.*