In contrast to the works of the flesh described by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21, the fruit of the spirit in verses 22-23 stands out as character traits all Christians must have. It is these things that Paul said, "against such there is no law." In other words, there is nothing to condemn such a one who practices the virtues mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. Contrasted here, are the works of verses 19-21 which would and do condemn men, and which are characteristics that ought not be in anyone's life. Paul's style of writing often uses such means of teaching, i.e., the contrasting of two opposing lifestyles, and showing which one the Christian ought to possess. He often tells men what not to do, and then will follow that with what God expects of them. We find this in Colossians 3:5-14. It is also apparent in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (4:22-32). It is fascinating to consider Paul's style of teaching. As we consider what Paul (by the power of the Holy Spirit, 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 7:40b, 14:37) had to say concerning the fruit of the spirit, let us consider the characteristic of temperance, or self-control.
Many times, people think of the word "temperance" only in connection with alcohol. One might remember the "temperance" movement of the 20th Century, where this nation succeeded in outlawing all alcohol from legal consumption for a time. (Note: I said "legal consumption." It is clear there were many who illegally brewed and sold their alcohol.) In fact, in the town near where I grew up, the main street through town is named "Temperance Street." It was called such because originally in that town, there were no establishments allowed on that street which sold alcohol. (This rule has since changed dramatically over the years.)
Regardless of what men today think about the term "temperance," what did the word "temperance" mean in the first century? The word "temperance" literally means "self-control" (Strong's Hebrew/Greek Lexicon). In other word studies and commentaries, we find similar definitions. J. H. Thayer says the word "temperance" means, "the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites" (New Greek-English Lexicon, p. 166-167). Mike Willis, in his commentary on Galatians 5:23, defines temperance as: "the dominion which one has over oneself or something.... the dominion that one has over his thoughts, words, and actions." (Truth Commentaries, The Book of Galatians, p. 271). Other writers have expressed similar thoughts as well. Therefore, to combine what we have learned, we see that temperance has to do with the self-control of the mind, or will, and that all words and actions are also kept under control. Specifically, the control of the mind, mouth, and body must be held by God through His word.
Therefore, while "temperance" can have reference to one not drinking alcohol (1 Peter 4:3-4), we see that the definition of temperance encompasses much more than not drinking. The term "temperance" has an effect on all aspects of our lives as we learn to control our thoughts, words, and actions. As Paul said, "...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). That is temperance!
Of course, the best way to determine the meaning of a Bible word is to examine it in a Biblical context and see how God used this word. The word "temperance" (as well as it's various forms and tenses) is found six times in the King James Bible. We find it's definition "self-control" (and it's various tenses) found eight times in the New King James Bible and New American Standard. The word "temperate" is found four times in the NKJ, and three times in the NAS. Let us look at some of the times temperance, or self-control is used in the Bible and make some applications to ourselves.
We find the first mention of the word "temperance" (self-control) found in Acts 24:25. In context, we read of Paul preaching to Felix and his wife Drusilla (Acts 24:24). Paul was in the custody of Felix because he was preaching the gospel, and in order to keep from being killed by the Jews, he appealed to Caesar. In the process, more than forty Jews took an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul (Acts 23:13-14). When the chief captain heard of this plot, he sent Paul on to Felix the governor with 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen, and sent a letter to Felix telling him why Paul was being sent there (Acts 23:17-30). It is at this time that Paul had the opportunity to speak to Felix (Acts 24:24). In the process, the Bible says Felix "heard him concerning the faith in Christ." What did he hear? "He (Paul, JJ) reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come" (Acts 24:25). Paul obviously knew what this man needed to hear, and thus spoke to him concerning righteousness, i.e., God's will (Psalm 119:172; Romans 1:16-17), as well as self-control! In the Roman world, self-control (temperance) was almost unheard of. Yet, they needed to control themselves in thought, word, and deed, as much as anyone today. Paul reasoned concerning the judgment as well, because "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." We will one day stand before Him to "receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Felix's response was to tremble and send Paul away until he had a "convenient season." So far as we know, that season never arrived. Are we guilty of the same thing? Let us not put off the most important decision -- saving our soul (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38)!
Another occasion where we read about temperance (self-control) is in 1 Timothy 2:15 in a discussion of the godly woman. Paul writes to Timothy concerning women, stating, "that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control" (1 Timothy 2:9-15, NKJ). Here again, we see the need for self-control on the part of the godly woman. Not only is self-control stressed, but she is also to be an example of one who continues in faith, love, and holiness. Her actions, her demeanor, and dress, all reflect a godly woman capable of controlling her desires, her thoughts, words, and deeds, and be in subjection to God. Sadly, we have many women today who are not interested in being what God wants them to be. They wish to be what society says they can be. They have fallen for the lie which says that women are being downtrodden, held-back, and oppressed if they are what God wants them to be. That is false! When women will once again take up the Bible and become what God wants them to be, keeping control of themselves, "professing godliness" in all aspects of life, God will bless them. They will never regret the decision they made to serve God.
In thinking about other occasions in which the Bible speaks of temperance (self-control) let us not forget that self-control is something which needs to be added to our faith. Looking to 2 Peter 1:5-8, we read, "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." This passage states the need for continued growth in the life of a Christian. His faith must increase, or grow, as he continues on his journey as a Christian. Peter stresses the point of adding qualities to one's faith as he matures. Here, I hope we can understand the need for adding temperance (self-control) to one's life. Without this control, how can we fight off temptations that come our way? How can we "resist the devil" (Jas. 4:7)? It cannot be done without self-control, and the willingness to fight Satan as he tries to advance.
We read of another occasion calling for self-control when Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He wrote to encourage them in their service to the Lord. He said, "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. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 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, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Here, Paul compares the life of the Christian to one competing in a sport (boxing v. 26, running v. 24); and the fact that in such sports, it requires patience, dedication, and control (being "temperate"). If we understand this when considering competing in athletics, how much more ought we to be self-controlled when it comes to obtaining the "incorruptible crown"? Paul made it clear that even he was not exempt from the admonition to be self-controlled. He said that he had to "keep under" (buffet, NAS; discipline, NKJ) his body lest he should be a castaway (disqualified). It was possible for Paul to lose in this race, just as it is possible for any other Christian. Therefore, he stresses the importance of self-control, to hold fast, and see Heaven at the end of this life. Yes friends, without self-control (temperance) we will not see Heaven!
As we can tell, the New Testament stresses the importance of self-control (temperance) on several occasions. However, what can I do to bring about that type of control in my life? No, it will not happen overnight, but there are some key things we can do to obtain the kind of control God wants us to have.
First, let us guard our thoughts and desires. We need to remember that the mind is the source, or origin of all we do and say. If I am going to control my words and actions, it must begin with my mind. Many people get this reversed, thinking that if they change their actions, then the right thoughts will come. That is wrong. We see many people today who try to make some change in their life. However, many attempts at change are merely "superficial." This is because the change was merely an outward change without changing the mind of the person. In such cases, we see that their change is short-lived. We see this in those who are involved with "yo-yo dieting," or those who repeatedly quit smoking, or drinking, or those who start serving the Lord, only to quit after a few weeks and revert to their old habits, etc. If there is a part of our life over which we have no control, the control begins with the mindset, or attitude. We must make a conscious decision to do what is right, and the body (in actions and speech) will follow. This principle is found time and again in the Bible. Solomon said, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). Jesus told His disciples that "Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man..." (Matthew 15:18-20). In fact, as Paul wrote to the Colossians, he told them, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23). The word "heartily" carries the idea of "from the heart," or soul of a man. It is similar to the thought expressed by Solomon in the first part of Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Therefore, we must guard our hearts (minds) from things which would lend itself to our meditating upon sinful things. Paul said we need to think on things that are pure (Philippians 4:8). In thinking on pure, noble things, it demands that we need to turn off the TV from time to time that we might not allow ourselves, or our children to be inundated with filthy language, and actions which are portrayed so often there. There may be some magazines in your house that you need to get rid of, and cancel the subscription. There may be some songs on the radio that you cannot sing. There may be some places that you can no longer frequent if you are going to have the self-control God wants us to have. The Bible tell us, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (Matthew 12:34). Friend, what are you putting "in your heart"? Are you "keeping" or guarding it as you should (Proverbs 4:23)? This question demands an answer from all, including the author, if our goal is to maintain that self-control before God that He wants His people to have.
Once I bring "into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5), then my words and actions will follow. This is the point of temperance, or self-control. I need to make sure that all that I am is under the control of Christ Jesus, the Lord. He has all authority (Matthew 28:18), and I have none. Therefore, my responsibility in life is to Him, and to controlling my thoughts, speech, and actions to reflect His will and not my own (Colossians 3:17).
Dear reader, how are you at self-control? Are there some areas in your life which need improvement? Why not decide today that you will make the necessary changes. Don't just go through the motions, nor merely say you wish you could change. Make the right decision today, and bring all of your being under the authority of our Lord. Bring every thought into captivity, that you might serve Christ and live for Him all the days of your life. It is the one who has control of his thoughts, speech, and actions that can properly resist Satan and His temptations. Therefore, it is the one who has control of his thoughts, speech, and actions that will one day see Heaven. Remember, it is self-control that enables us to add the other aspects of the fruit of the spirit to our lives.