What exactly is temperance?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as moderation or self-restraint, especially in relation to eating and drinking but also in advocating abstinence. Temperance covers virtually every aspect of human life, relating to moderation in necessary functions such as eating and our interactions with others, and in abstinence in areas like smoking, alcohol and drug use. Ellen White likens temperance to athletic training:
“The runners put aside every indulgence that would tend to weaken the physical powers, and by severe and continuous discipline trained their muscles to strength and endurance, that when the day of the contest should arrive, they might put the heaviest tax upon their powers. How much more important that the Christian, whose eternal interests are at stake, bring appetite and passion under subjection to reason and the will of God!” Acts of the Apostles, 311.
We know from the Word that temperance is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galations 5:22–26.
Temperance is a word more commonly used a century ago, and it and its concept have become unfashionable today. Pop psychology, media, and entertainment have encouraged people to give in to their impulses and whims with the justification that self-restraint might lead to emotional distress and damage. For example, the idea is suggested that anger must be released or else it will be suppressed which is destructive to self. No hint is given regarding other options, such as to exercising self-control, letting the anger dissolve, and creating a character that is not quick to anger. Let’s examine other areas where temperance should be employed.
It does not take a genius to know that food is required for life, yet many people go way beyond the need for nutrients and a satisfied appetite. More than 50 percent of Americans are overweight, men more than women, according to reported height and weight.1 Excess weight is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant and is the most widespread drug abuse problem in the United States.2 Besides causing severe and often fatal health problems, including liver disease and cancer, it is a leading precipitating factor in domestic and non-domestic violence and in traffic fatalities. There is no safe alcohol level when operating a vehicle or other machinery.3 Chronic alcohol use or periodic binge drinking also causes central nervous system damage, impotence, malnutrition, and memory loss. In 1997, 39 percent of all United States traffic fatalities were related to alcohol, and each year there are over 120 million episodes of impaired driving.4 , 5 Alcohol–related accidents cost $45 billion in the United States in 1994 alone.6
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers tobacco use “the single most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.” 7 It is estimated that cigarette smoking is responsible for one of every five deaths in the United States.8 Nicotine is the addictive, poisonous drug in cigarettes, cigars, pipe and chewing tobaccos and is known to be a contributing factor in causing cancer, lung disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke, among many other health problems. Cigarettes contain 4,000 other chemicals that also interfere with health,9 and tobacco is usually the first drug used by young people who use alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs.10
Other drugs from which people need to abstain include marijuana, steroids and depressants (such as Valium and Quaaludes), stimulants (such as cocaine and amphetamines), hallucinogens (like LSD and PCP), and narcotics (including heroin and morphine). All are highly addictive and cause a wide range of health and social problems ranging from heart disease, impotence, mental illness and stroke, to inability to cope with activities of daily living and responsibilities to self and family. Certain drugs, such as narcotics and steroids, may be prescribed by doctors for short-term treatment of certain disorders, but they cause harm when misused.
Those who continue to indulge in their baser appetites will receive the consequences, and it is presumptuous for them to call on God for healing when they are not willing to change. “Those who will gratify their appetite, and then suffer because of their intemperance, and take drugs to relieve them, may be assured that God will not interpose to save health and life which are so recklessly periled. The cause has produced the effect. Many, as their last resort, follow the directions in the Word of God, and request the prayers of the elders of the church for their restoration to health. God does not see fit to answer prayers offered in behalf of such, for He knows that if they should be restored to health, they would again sacrifice it upon the altar of unhealthy appetite.” Medical Ministry, 14.
Whatever the vice, whether using drugs, anger, or overeating, people do not exercise self-restraint for many reasons. Reasons may include the desire to escape reality by having a few moments of perceived pleasure that they believe will help them relax, reduce depression and stress. Others engage in self-destructive behavior to forget about physical or emotional traumas and numb feelings of guilt, shame, or loneliness. These are false hopes, for intemperance not only is a pseudo-solution but in turn causes its own, often catastrophic, effects. Only in God is there found true escape from the stresses and nightmares of life.
“By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life.” Proverbs 22:4
- Overweight Among Adults, Chronic Diseases and Their Risk Factors, CDC Report 1999.
- Substance Abuse, Andrea S. King, Reviewed by Mickey Ask, MD, American Medical Association, 1999.
- Traffic Safety Facts 1997: Alcohol, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Washington, DC, 1998.
- Liu S, et al, JAMA 1997, 277:122-5.
- The Economic Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes: 1994, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Washington, DC, 1996 July.
- Cigarette Smoking Among Adults, Chronic Diseases and Their Risk Factors, CDC Report, 1999.
- Substance Abuse, Ibid.
- Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People, Surgeon General’s Report, February 24, 1994.