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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30am service, 2004-02-22

Text: 2 Peter 1:6-10

Over the last three Sundays we have been studying a passage of Scripture that teaches us about spiritual growth. Here the apostle Peter names 8 qualities that indicate how far we have progressed toward the image of Christ. We have seen that spiritual growth can be likened to constructing an 8-storey building that begins with faith and ends with charity or love. This morning we want to move up to the construction of the 4th level of this imaginary building. And here we learn of our need to add on the quality known as temperance.

What is temperance? Temperance means self-control, particularly with regard to one's passions and desires. The Greek word for temperance is egkrateia. This word is found altogether five times in the Bible (only in the NT) and it literally means 'inner strength' Other than the two occurrences of the word in our text, there are three other occurences of the word elsewhere that will help us to learn more about temperance. 

I. Our Race of Life Makes Temperance Needful

The first is found in 1 Corinthians 9:24,25 where it is used in the context of running a race 'Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.' The term to be temperate is the verb form of temperance. This verse explains to us why we need temperance (inner strength) - because we are all running a spiritual race. We must have the discipline of self-control to be fit enough to run the race well.

This should be familiar to those who have taken part in sporting events In the realm of sports, athletes who are really serious about winning the race prepare for it by going on a strict diet and a regime of exercises, waking up early in the morning to jog or run in the park or stadium. They have to spend hours doing workouts in a gym. They have to carefully regulate their sleep and mealtimes, and refrain from doing many things that they used to enjoy doing like eating snacks between meals. To do all of this they need to have the quality of disciplined self-control or temperance.

We who are in Christ also need to have that same quality of self-control or temperance because we are running a race. A race that demands our utmost efforts to win. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24,25, 'So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.'

Let us have this attitude in our race of the Christian life. If we have the ardent desire to strive hard for mastery in this race, then we would be stirred up to cultivate temperance or self-control. Let us go on now to read the next verse where temperance is mentioned:

II. The Sinful Nature Makes Temperance Difficult to Attain

Acts 24:25 'And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.' In this verse, we are told that one of the things that Paul preached about in his interview with Felix who was the Roman governor at that time, was the subject of temperance. And this preaching made Felix feel very uncomfortable, especially when Paul also mentioned the judgment to come. 

Now why did Felix feel so uncomfortable at the mention of this subject? History reveals that this Roman governor had an intemperate lifestyle. At the time of this interview, he had already divorced and remarried twice. He married Drusila, the daughter of Herod Agrippa, because he lusted after her great beauty. Thus, Paul's mention of temperance hit a very raw nerve and made Felix tremble with fear.

This verse teaches us something significant: That temperance is a virtue that is often lacking among sinners, even those in high positions of power, like Felix. Temperance is alien to the sinful nature of man, although man recognises it as a good virtue to have. Felix, like many sinners in the world today, realise that they need temperance but lack it. The lack of temperance in man was perhaps brought out most fully in the ancient Greek philosophy called Hedonism. The hedonists believed that life is meant to be enjoyed to the fullest, and they taught that one should totally abandon all self control and give oneself entirely to a life of pleasure, drunkenness, gluttony, indulgence of the flesh and all its lusts. 

Today hedonism is on the rise once more, because of the growing permissiveness in the world today and the prevailing emphasis on freedom of expression, and on 'doing your own thing'. The relaxed censorship of the media in the name of artistic espression, and increasing vivid portrayals of violence and immorality on the small screen at home and on the big screen are all evidences of this trend. Man's sinful nature causes him to be intemperate in two ways: Firstly it causes people to indulge in sinful pleasures, like pornography, vice, and alcoholism. Secondly it causes people to overdo their pursuit of legitimate pleasures, like eating and sleeping. 

Whenever there are no limits imposed on them, people tend to really overdo things that they enjoy. There are some people who should never step into an 'eat-all-you-can' type of restaurant, because they are liable to go on an endless binge. During the last Chinese New Year season there was a report of a group of people who played mahjong non-stop for a few days. Their health suffered and they had to be hospitalized! A few years ago, the newspaper reported that one woman in Australia saw the film Titanic more than 100 times, and was still going to watch it many more times! Have you ever taken a packet of tasty, crispy snack and you were so taken by it that you just could not stop? Yes, when there are no limits, the tendency is to keep on goingand going without stopping. It's like driving a car which has no brakes! One is bound to get hurt.

And so we realize that there is a sinful nature in man that makes it very difficult to be temperate. It causes people to overdo things, so that they end up abusing all the good things that God has allowed us to enjoy.

III. Salvation from Sin Makes Temperance Possible

And this is true because they are controlled by their passions, the lusts of their flesh and the lust of their eyes. If not for the wonderful grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in saving us from sin, and giving us new regenerated hearts, we too would never be able to be temperate in our conduct. The Bible states this in Galatians 5:24 which says, 'And they that are Christ's have crucified [i.e. put to death] the flesh with the affections and lusts.' It is the power of God alone that now enables born again Christians to crucify the flesh, i.e. to overcome their passions and lusts that used to enslave them before.

One brother in Christ I know testified that before he became a Christian, he tried to give up smoking several times, but could never succeed. But after he came to know Christ, he prayed that the Lord would stop his smoking habit, and he found that he now had unusual power to give up smoking! And he did not have to resort to using any special programme or method to do this! It is only because in Christ, his flesh had been crucified. Another brother in our church testified that at one time, he could never walk past a place where there are slot machines without going in an spending much time and money there. It was only after he came to know the Lord Jesus that he could walk right through such a place without the urge to play on the machines.

There are also similar testimonies from drug addicts who could not give up their addiction no matter what they tried. They could give it up only after they came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The power of Christ alone is able to deliver sinners from their slavery to sin and give them the temperance that they need in order to give up that bad habits and lusts that have controlled them for years. 

There are several halfway houses for drug addicts being run in Singapore now. Do you know that the ones that have seen the best success rates are the Christian halfway houses (e.g. the Helping Hand, and Breakthrough ministries). Why? It should not surprise us, because they offer something which the other halfway houses do not offer - the transforming power of the Gospel! We must thank God that this power is ours if we are truly born again Christians. 

IV. The Spirit-Filled Life Makes Temperance Real

However, this does not mean that all Christians will automatically have temperance and have no struggle at all with these sinful habits. The Bible tells us that we need to walk in the Spirit. This is brought out by the next verse where the word 'temperance' is found the third time in the scriptures. Here in Galatians 5:22,23, we are given a list of nine virtues that make up what is known as 'the fruit of the Spirit.' Let us turn our Bibles to this passage: Gal 5:19-23 'But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.'

According to this, the fruit of the spirit includes the quality called temperance. And how are we to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives? The answer is found in v.16 'This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.' Therefore, the way to develop temperance or any other part of the fruit of the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit, which we had learnt more about in a message several weeks ago. This is an important spiritual discipline that we must carry out continually and repeatedly. As you walk in the Spirit more and more consistently, you will find the power you need to resist the irresistible urge to indulge in any sinful or harmful pleasures. You will also have the power to exercise moderation and not go to excesses in enjoying the legitimate pleasures that God has graciously given to you. This means that you will not tend to overdo things but have the inner strength of the Holy Spirit to stop when we should stop.

Now that we have traced the Bible's teaching of temperance by looking at all the occurrences of the word in our Bible, let us consider some important areas in our life where we need it. 

V. Areas in Your Life Where Temperance Is Needed

a. The Eyes

You may be familiar with a little children's chorus that goes like this: 'O be careful little eyes what you see' Why do we need to be careful with what we see? Because Christ said that sin may be committed simply by what we see! In Matthew 5:27-28 He said that to look at a person lustfully is already committing adultery with that person in the heart. 'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.'

This can happen even to the most spiritual and godly Christians in an unguarded moment. Even King David, the man after God's own heart, was unable to resist the powerful lust that he allowed to develop in himself when he saw Bathsheba. He committed the sin of adultery with her and this brought awful judgment upon him from the Lord. 

What should we do? Use the temperance that comes from walking in the Spirit to keep yourself away from anything that stirs up sexual thoughts and feelings. Do not give that 'second look.' Be like Job, who said, 'I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?'(Job 31:1) By deliberately taking your eyes away from these things, you will nip the temptation in the bud. 

b. The Body

Another area in which we need to exercise temperance is in the use of the body. In 1 Cor 9:26-27, the apostle Paul describes this, 'I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others,kI myself should be a castaway.'

The Bible teaches us that we should not neglect the body like ascetic monks do, depriving themselves of the body's basic needs, but take good care of it, since it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. However, among Singaporeans the common tendency is not for deprivation of the body, but of overindulging or pampering their bodies. They give more and do more for their bodies than is really necessary. This is why spas, beauty treatments, figure enhancement and body massage services have become so popular lately.

E.g. some of us go to great lengths just for the sake of indulging our appetite for food. We travel all the way up to Jalan Kayu to savour the roti prata there, or make a special trip to Cuppage road for the famous Hokkien mee or plan a visit to Serangoon Gardens to queue up for fried kuay teow! And some Singaporeans are also known to live to eat rather than eat to live: The9 order lots of food and then leave a lot of uneaten food behind. This is really a waste.

Now, I am not saying that it is wrong to savour delicious food. I am only saying that if we do not exercise temperance in our eating habits, this can become a hindrance to us - we become so overly concerned about what we shall eat that even our conversation with other Christians during fellowship time all centres on food! Eating is important and good, but please let us not overdo it - exercise temperance.

Besides food, our bodies also require sufficient sleep. And this too may be one area where we need temperance. We need enough sleep to be healthy and alert (about 7 hours). But there are some people really sleep too much. Proverbs 6:10,11 tells us 'Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.' When I was teaching in Sunday School in the Senior department, one of the excuses that I heard most often in for absences by students is 'I am so sorry but I just could not wake up!'

This is also probably the most common excuse heard for Christians who fail to keep their Quiet time -- Let us not allow sleep or tiredness to prevent us from spending time in prayer and the Word of God. Now we proceed to:

c. The Tongue

Temperance is especially needed over our tongue. The third chapter of the book of James teaches us not to underestimate what the tongue can do. James compares this little organ of speech to two things: the small metal bit that is placed in a horse's mouth to direct its movements, and the rudder of large ship, which can turn it around, exerting power that is way out of proportion to its size! 

The point in these illustrations is that we often underestimate the importance of our speech. Listen to what James says in vv.5,6 'Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.' What we say that either do a lot of good, or a lot of damage. Let us not underestimate the power of the tongue. 

Seeing how important our speech can be, how should we control it? Psalm 141:3 tells us 'Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.' And the important guideline for all that we say is: truthfulness. We measure the quality of our speech by the amount of truth in it. Everything that we say should either be true, or based on the truth, or a true reflection of our intentions and motives.

One common situation in which Christians fall easily is when they indulge in gossiping. A person who gossips is also known as a tale-bearer. And the Bible explicitly prohibits God�s people from being talebearers (Lev 19:16 - 'Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.'). The one who gossips often claims that he has good intentions but his motives are actually malicious, and so he distorts the truth to his own advantage. He puts a false interpretation upon the actions and intentions of the target person, in order to turn others against him.

Let us be very careful not to indulge in gossip especially when we sit together for informal fellowship or meals or when we talk over the telephone or share prayer items concerning friends. A good rule to follow is, 'if you have nothing good to talk about a person, don't talk about him.' Let us always seek to edify and encourage, rather than to deceive, defame or discourage with our words. Colossians 4:6 says 'Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.'

d. The Temper

Related to the control of the tongue is the control we need over our temper. Some people have the problem of getting angry too quickly. We say that they are short-tempered or that they have a short fuse. Do you know that many acts of violence and even killing have been the result of a person losing his or her temper? This cannot be taken lightly. As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:22 'Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.' 

According to these statements by our Lord the heart attitude of anger against a person can lead to hatred and even murder if left unchecked. There is however, such a thing as righteous anger, which is directed against sin rather than against people. Anger becomes sinful when it is for the wrong reason or results in wrong action. Therefore, Paul tells us: 'Be ye angry and sin not' (Eph 4:26). The same verse reminds us not to allow our anger against someone keep on burning: 'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.'

If you have this problem you need to read James 1:19 'Wherefore my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.' You can overcome your short-temper through learning how to be slow to anger. Remember that our God Himself has this quality, since He is described as being longsuffering and slow to anger. This morning we have learned what the Bible tea#hes on the subject of temperance. We have also considered how to exercise temperance in four areas: The eyes, the body, the tongue and the temper. I trust that we will now seek with all our hearts to make this quality called temperance real in our own lives.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25