We are under a solemn obligation to God to maintain a pure spirit and healthy body so that we can benefit others and render God a perfect service. The apostle Paul tells us: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1) and “…every man that striveth for the master is temperate in all things…” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Basis for Temperance
In the introductory scripture God gives us the principle of abstemiousness upon which the right to enjoy eternal life is based. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and had no disposition toward selfish self-gratification and so would naturally practice self-control or temperance. They had no tendencies toward the extremes. They were to practice moderation in their free eating of every tree in the garden. But they were not to eat from one certain tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God wanted them to experience only good. Satan suggested that they ought to find out what a little evil would be like, too. They distrusted God and ate of the forbidden fruit. They broke the health principle of abstemiousness and decided to go beyond the moderate use of those things that are good and also throw in a little of the bad. Their disregard caused a change to take place in their very natures. Once giving in to a selfish desire, they had now opened the floodgate of intemperance and eventual death. God had warned them, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
If God in His great love and mercy had not intervened, their situation would have been hopeless. God had a plan already in store just in case such an emergency should arise. This plan to save not only Adam and Eve from eternal death, but also all their descendants as well, is the main theme of the entire Bible. It is God’s way to restore to the human race perfect self-control, just as Adam and Eve had in the beginning. That way is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John 5:11-12. The evidence that a person has received the Spirit of God in Christ is described in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
We can summarize what has been said up to this point as follows:
1. Abstemiousness is the moderate use of those things that are good, while abstaining from those things that are harmful.
2. This abstention requires self-control or temperance.
3. Temperance is a gift from God that comes to us only as we receive Christ.
Temperance, then, is required in order to build a lifestyle that is in balance physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. After all, without self-control we could not put into practice the knowledge that we have. Unless we have the power to carry out all our good intentions, they are not of much use.
Once we have the power of God working in us, we can practice moderation in those things that are good. We will avoid extremes—the “over/unders.”
Overeating leads to stomach-upset and/or obesity. Undereating leads to malnutrition or starvation.
Overwork leads to exhaustion or injury. Underwork leads to atrophy and weakness.
Over-rest leads to weakness and laziness. Under-rest breeds mental confusion and exhaustion.
We also need a balanced intake of air, water, and sunlight-not too much and not too little.
Mental and Social Aspects
Abstemiousness should regulate not only our physical health habits, but the mental and social aspects of life as well. Too much reading, too much talking, too much thinking, too much entertainment, too much sports, too much television, materialism, and fashion—all of these things, if not properly regulated, can overtax the mental powers and even lead to physical breakdown somewhere in the body. It could even be said that they are, in a way, intoxicating when carried to excess. We’re familiar with the expressions “glued to the TV” or “sports fan” (short for fanatic). These examples serve to illustrate how one’s entire life can become unbalanced and the mind somewhat intoxicated or warped by overstimulation. The Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8. This antidote would certainly be effective for many of society’s mental and social ills.
Learning Good Habits
One of the differences between people and animals is the way that they acquire behavior patterns. Most of the things animals do, they do because of instinct. This knowledge and behavior is inherited by the animal. The capacity to learn or be taught anything varies considerably, depending on the type of animal.
In contrast, man has very few instincts, although tendencies are inherited. Most of what we do, we do because we learned it somewhere. Through various learning processes we acquire habits. Habits are convenient, since once we have them, we don’t have to deliberate about every little thing we do. They can also be a nuisance if we don’t like them or try to change them. Some habits are hard to get rid of. It is easier to learn good habits than to unlearn bad ones.
Every time we do or think something, a specific nerve pathway is activated in the brain. These pathways become permanent fixtures in the brain and are strengthened the more they are activated. In breaking a habit we need to deactivate the nerve pathway. This is done in two ways. By saying “NO” to the habit, inhibitory nerve fibers begin to form on the old pathway which tend to weaken the strength of the habit. Then by substituting something else in place of the old habit, a new pathway is formed which acts as kind of an alternative route over which the strength of the old habit can be directed. Even though it may be deactivated, the old pathway is still there, making it easy to reactivate if we revert back to it even once.
To break a habit, then, one must be decisive. Don’t be ambivalent or indecisive. This tends only to excite both the inhibitory and excitatory nerves at the same time. Instead, be firm. Starve that old habit and begin feeding a new one. Concentrate on a positive substitute, and you won’t have to expend as much energy fighting the negative one. For example, substitute deep breathing or water drinking for smoking. Every time you have an urge to smoke, do some deep breathing or get a drink of water instead. But the most important thing is to make up your mind. Strengthening any positive lifestyle habit always tends to weaken the negative ones. For example: a good exercise program is one of the best antidotes to smoking. Good habits tend to foster more good habits, and bad habits to promulgate more bad habits. “Birds of a feather…”
When attempting to eliminate a habit, anticipate trouble spots. Be prepared for the time when you are likely to experience that old habit clamoring for attention. Plan ahead. Rehearse in your mind how you will successfully overcome it. Try to avoid situations where the habit will be aroused. Don’t make exceptions. Remember, one exception reactivates that dormant habit. Be honest about your weaknesses. Acknowledge them, but do not dwell on them. Dwell on the positive and practice the good habits you wish to keep and strengthen often.
Self-control a Gift From God
It must be remembered that genuine self-control is a gift from God that we can receive only in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” John 15:5. We often in this life find ourselves at the end of our rope. But in God we have an infinite store of resources. So much so that the apostle Paul could say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13