The Fruit of the Spirit: Temperance

Christians can learn temperance from the example of Olympic athletes. By observing the athletes Christians can learn not only what temperance is, but why it is important. Rev. Smit writes, “If temperance is vital for the success of a worldly athlete for the prize of an Olympic gold medal, should it not be regarded by us as more than vital for the prize for which we press forward by faith? That it ought to be highly valued by the believer is emphasized by Paul when he writes, ‘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.’”

Rev. Smit uses the examples of a boxer and a marathon runner to illustrate the virtue of temperance. Perhaps he wrote the sermon that serves as the basis for this chapter during the summer months so that summer Olympic events came to his mind. Winter Olympic events also require temperance. The snowboarders, skiers, and skaters all have finely honed bodies as a result of the self-control or discipline they exercised in preparation for the games. I happened to see a clip on NBC that explained how hard snowboarder Kelly Clark worked to reach peak condition. This is necessary because Clark is considered old for her sport. Her disciplined use of time for strenuous exercise and self-controlled diet helped her win the bronze medal in the women's half-pipe.

What do we learn from these Olympic athletes? Rev. Smit writes, these “athletes do everything necessary, governing all aspects of their life, mind, and body meticulously, in order to obtain the sole objective of [winning the prize].” So temperance for Christians is “that spiritual ability to bring themselves under control for godly and faithful lives unto the Lord.” Temperance is then a broad subject–it requires governing all of one’s life. 

Rev. Smit helpfully provides specific applications of temperance to use of time, use of food, use of our bodies in single life and married life, and other areas of life.

But is Christian temperance merely self-control in these areas of life? Olympic athletes practice strict control over what they eat. Does this mean they are practicing the Christian virtue of temperance? Driven business men practice strict control over how they use time and spend money. Are they practicing the Christian virtue of temperance? 

Rev. Smit warns against the danger using the words self-government, self-control, and self-discipline in an inappropriate way. He writes, “He who is truly temperate does not wish to be governed by his self.” Christian temperance is a work of God’s grace that puts Christians “under the regulation of Christ and his word.” Thus in Gal. 5:21 the Apostle Paul is speaking of temperance as a fruit of the Spirit in which “the Spirit of Christ teaches us to be willing and ready to live in submission to him.” Here Rev. Smit teaches us, I believe, the key to temperance that is very important practically—to be temperate is to be Christ-controlled!

This means that there is application here to more than only those who overindulge. Yes, those who overindulge in food or alcohol or in other things need to learn temperance. They need to learn say no to their own desires to please themselves and submit to the Lord. But there is application also to those who are able to practice strict control over their lives.  If that strict control is not exercised in loving obedience to Christ, it is not Christian temperance, it is sin. The use of alcohol comes to mind here because the movement to outlaw alcohol is often referred to as the Temperance Movement. Those who refuse alcohol are called temperate. But if we apply Rev. Smit’s explanation of temperance to teetotalers we must conclude that those who refuse alcohol for purely carnal reasons (that have nothing to do with Jesus Christ) are not truly temperate. Their refusal of alcohol is sinful. Another example of sinful self-control is the case of an anorexic. Anorexics practice strict control over their food intake.  But they are motivate by purely selfish reasons for restricting their diets. To them comes the call to Christian temperance in which they must give up self-control and place their food intake under Christ’s control.    

Other applications could be made. But the point is that the call to Christian temperance comes to every one of us. I recommend that you take the time to read chapter 10 of The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ and examine yourself.  

Other articles by Rev. Spronk on The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ:

The Fruit of the Spirit: An Introduction

The Fruit of the Spirit: Love

The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

The Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

The Fruit of the Spirit: Longsuffering

The Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

The Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness

The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness

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This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk blogs for us several times a month, taking us first through a brief study of Richard Smit's newly released book, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

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