“Temperance is moderation in the things that are good and total abstinence from the things that are foul,” wrote, Frances E. Willard, a 19th-century American educator and president of the Women’s Temperance Union.
In Willard’s time, the concept of temperance was often linked to the total abstinence of alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol was a vital and accepted part of colonial America. It was used as a beverage and for medicinal purposes. However, attitudes began to change by the late 19 century. And physicians like Benjamin Rush warned against the dangers of drinking alcohol that lead to a lack of self-control. He observed a correlation that drunkenness had with disease, death, suicide, and crime.
Temperance was among the 13 virtues that Benjamin Franklin identified and believed were necessary for success in life. He worked to cultivate temperance and the other virtues by means of a daily checklist to evaluate his progress.
C. S. Lewis wrote that temperance was not just practicing abstinence, but “going the right length and no further.”
Charles Kingsley connected temperance with work when he wrote, “Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know.”
Unless you still use the King James Version of the Bible, you don’t often read or hear the word “temperance. In its noun, verb and adjective forms that word is used 7 times in the KJV. It’s one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:23). One of the virtues that must be added to our faith that allows us to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:6). A necessary characteristic of a man to serve as a Shepherd in the church. And a critical quality for spiritual training, just like the physical conditioning of an athlete (1 Cor. 9:25).
Joseph Thayer says temperance is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.”
William Barclay writes that temperance is “the spirit which has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure. Plato used the word to describe “self-mastery.” In secular Greek, Barclay claims that temperance described “the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interests influence the government of his people. It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others.” Temperance, he succinctly says is, “the ability to take a grip of oneself.”
W. E. Vine writes that “self-control is the preferable rendering.”
Consider these applications of temperance or self-control in your daily life.
#1 The Mind–What we think.
All attitudes, thoughts, and feelings have their origin in our thoughts. James A. Allen wrote that “man is made or unmade by himself. He then compares man’s mind to a garden which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild. We must tend the mind by weeding out insidious, impertinent, and impure thoughts.
Exercising temperance allows us to apply Paul’s admonition to think on things that are true. Noble. Right. Pure. Lovely. And admirable.
#2 The Mouth–What we say.
While James admits the tongue is difficult to control, we are called upon to exercise self-control in connection with our speech. “Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas. 1:19) is wise advice in all our relationships.
Temperance of the tongue eliminates evil speaking. Curbs idle words. Muzzles gossip. Censures cursing. Restricts rash statements. Prohibits profanity. And eradicates lying.
#3 Our Morals–What we do.
What we do is culminated in what we think, and often what we say. Thinking leads to feeling. Feeling expresses itself in words. And words, either audibly spoken or silently said, issues itself in actions.
Peter warns to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
Aristotle taught that there are four states of man in relation to self-control.
(1) Passion subjugated to reason.
(2) Unbridled lust.
(3) Reason fights, but passion prevails.
(4) Passion fights, but reason prevails.
In a world gone mad with lust and license, Christians are called upon to exercise self-control of their passions.
The words of the 19th-century editor and author William George Jordan should give us all pause for serious consideration and self-evaluation. “At each moment of man’s life, he is either a King or a slave.”
Jordan explains. “As he surrenders to a wrong appetite, to any human weakness; as he falls prostrate in hopeless subjection to any condition, to any environment, to any failure, he is a slave. As he day by day crushes out human weakness, masters opposing elements within him, and day by day re-creates a new self from the sin and folly of his past,—then he is a King.”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman