Mastering Self (Part 5) Temperance

By Donnie V. Rader

Temperance is essential to .. .

Becoming a Christian Basic happiness


Living pure

A happy marriage

Temperance is needed in .. .

Our temper Our pride

Our words

Our thoughts Our reactions Our will

Our opinions

Our buying and spending

Anything that might be a hindrance to us

General self-discipline (self-help)

God’s word instructs us to be temperate. It is one of the “Christian graces” that is to be added as we grow in grace and in knowledge.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance . . . (2 Peter 1:5-6).

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things (1 Cor. 9:25).

That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience (Titus 2:2).

Temperance is self-control. In fact, some translations use that expression in the above passages. A.T. Robertson suggests that it comes from a word describing one “holding him-self in” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, en-line edition).

Passages like the above tell us that we can (and we must) control our-selves. Furthermore, they tell us that we can make ourselves do what we know we need to do. Temperance is a general principle that applies in many areas. Let’s see the things that temperance is essential to and some areas wherein we need to apply it.

Temperance Is Essential To .. .

1. Becoming a Christian (Acts 24:25). One cannot even obey the gospel unless and until he denies his own will and yields to the will of God. That involves controlling self. Repentance involving ceasing things that are contrary to God. That involves self-control.

2. Basic happiness (Matt. 5:5). Those who are truly happy are those who place restraints on themselves. Sometimes young people think that if they can ever get out from under their parent’s rule they will be able to really enjoy life. They think that if they can live without any control, life would be fun. Not so. True happiness comes only when we learn to master ourselves.

3. Unity (Eph. 4:1-3). In this text Paul lays down several attitudes that are essential to have unity. He says, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one an-other in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” These cannot be attained with-out self-control.

4. Living pure (Titus 2:12). God’s grace teaches us to “deny ungodliness and worldly lust”. We must say “NO!” to these in order to live pure. That re-quires self-control. Do you realize that every sin involves a lack of self-control? Thus, temperance is essential to living pure.

5. A happy marriage. Self-denial is essential to harmony in the home. I can’t think of a marriage problem that doesn’t involve a lack of self denial or self-control. Immorality, nagging, lack of communication, lack of love, being inconsiderate and not understanding one another are all due to a lack of self-control.

Several years ago I saw a book about solving marital problems. I haven’t seen a copy of it since. I’ve wished several times I had bought a copy of it then. Throughout the book various problems in marriage were listed and explained. Then below that the answer to the problem was given. As I thumbed through a copy, I noticed that every problem was given the same basic answer: Mark 8:34. That passage deals with self-denial. At the time I thought the approach was quiet simple so I didn’t buy a copy. However, I have thought about that simple approach many times. The more I think about it the more I realize how much self-denial is a factor in a happy marriage. As I see people with marriage problems I can quickly identify that either one or both are not denying themselves.

Temperance Is Needed In .. .

Temperance must be applied in all areas of life. I wonder if we don’t limit the idea of temperance to our temper or our tongue. Certainly, these must be con-trolled. However, there are many areas wherein we must apply self-control.

1. Our temper. The Proverb writer said, “A quick-tempered man acts foolishly” (14:17). Just twelve verses later he said, “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly” (v. 29). The same books states, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (16:32). Again, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (25:28).

2. Our pride. We must control what we think about ourselves. Paul urged all not to think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Rom. 12:3).

3. Our words. While the tongue is hard to control, it is not impossible to handle. We must be slow to speak (James 1:19). If we do not bridle our tongue, our religion is empty and vain (v. 26). The fact that Paul accused some of “saying things which they ought not” (1 Tim. 5:13) suggests that we must control the tongue. In the Proverbs we read, “He who has knowledge spares his words …” (Prov. 17:27).

4. Our Thoughts. Not only our words, but even our thoughts must be put into subjection to the Lord (2 Cor. 10:5). While some say, “I can’t help what I think,” we can and must control our thoughts. Controlling our thoughts means we must: (a) cease lust and immoral fantasies (Matt. 5:28; 2 Tim. 2:22), (b) fight bitterness (James 3:14), (c) be forgiving (Eph. 4:32) and (d) be optimistic (Phil. 4:8, 13).

5. Our reactions. We cannot retaliate when we have been wronged. We must treat others right whether or not they do so to us. Jesus set us an example of controlling our reactions, ” when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:23). Remember what Jesus said about those who put him on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

6. Our will. We have previously noted that we must yield our will to the will of God in order to become Christians (Acts 24:25). Paul exemplified temperance in his will, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

7. Our opinions. While we may be entitled to hold to our own opinions, we must not bind that which is not a part of divine revelation on others (Rom. 14:22). Thus, we must exercise self-control.

8. Our buying and spending. Many live in debt and struggle with financial difficulties simply because they do not curb their desire to buy and spend. We must be careful about how much we owe. We cannot afford to get to the point that we cannot pay our debts (Rom. 13:8). The impulsive buyer does not exercise temperance.

9. Anything that might be a hindrance to us. That applies even to things right within themselves (1 Cor. 6:12). Whether it be sports, a romance, or a job that could little by little lead me away from my diligent service to the Lord, I must be in control.

10. General self-discipline (self-help). Temperance (self-control) means that I make myself do what I know I need to do. If not, then how could we be practicing self-control? Thus, it includes (a) making myself study the Bible without being forced to prepare lest I be embarrassed in class, (b) working without a boss or time-clock, (c) taking care of my body (using some will power), and (d) con-trolling my time and not wasting it.

Without Temperance .. .

Can you image what life would be like if we threw temperance out the window? We would follow our own de-sires and pleasures. But, then so would others, which might cause harm to us. We would be selfish. We would live like beasts. Unhappiness would fill our lives. Our relationships would turn sour. Our spirituality, our health, our finances, our self-esteem, and our jobs would suffer. Satan would take over and reign in our lives (cf. 1 Cor. 7:5).

Misconceptions About Temperance

It is not unusual for someone to do something like letting their temper flare and then justifying it on the basis of “That’s just my nature” or “I just can’t help it, that’s just the way I am.” A lack of self-control may be your “nature” in the sense that it is something you have developed and learned. However, it is not something beyond your ability to control. Since the Bible demands self-control, we can help what we think, say, and do.

Quite often we hear someone say, “I just don’t have any will-power.” This sounds as if I can’t help it. It suggests that some have will-power and others don’t, just like some are tall and some are short. Thus, if we don’t have any will-power, it is because we haven’t tried to develop and use it.


We can and must control ourselves. Real self-control will not just say “We should . . .” but, “We will . . .” In the last article in this series we will consider how to develop self-discipline.

Guardian of Truth XL: 9 p. 6-7
May 2, 1996