As a child I had a deep affinity and great appetite for a particular food item.
I no longer eat that particular food item.
I’m not sure how it started, but I sure know how it ended and it ended up with me staring at the evacuated contents of my stomach.
It was bean sprouts, smattered in Thousand Island dressing, and consumed in large quantities.
During family outings to Bonanza (or whatever steak and salad bar restaurant franchise existed during my childhood) I would go to the salad bar and load up on bean sprouts and my favorite dressing.
Not sure the specifics, it might have a touch of the flu or food poisoning, maybe I just plain overdid it, but whatever the case I completely lost my appetite for the half growths and have avoided the sprouts ever since.
That experience taught me a lesson about over-indulgence. Too much of even a good thing can quickly become a bad thing. My mom would remind us children ‘everything in moderation’ and I will add that this means even moderation should be kept in moderation.
The tendency of the over-indulgent is to go to an equal and opposite extreme. This was the case with Augustine of Hippo who’s youthful debauchery gave way to his teaching of complete abstinence later in life. He said:
“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”
Augustine went as far as to even recommend chastity within marriage, but easier isn’t necessarily better and frowning on sexual pleasure within marriage is an unnecessary extreme. Augustine’s extreme abstinence teaching seems an overreaction to his own lustful over-indulgence—It promotes an unhealthy view of sexuality and creates false guilt.
Just because a little is good does not mean more is better. Many people make the mistake of thinking that if a little of something is good then more of it is always better. They have the same mentality as Peter:
“He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’ ‘Then, Lord,’ Simon Peter replied, ‘not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!'” (John 13:6-9)
Peter, after first completely refusing to have his feet washed because he considered it below Jesus, goes to a ridiculous opposite extreme.
“Jesus answered, ‘Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean…'” (John 13:10)
In other words, it was a practical matter to clean feet after people journeyed on the dusty road in their sandals, but it was completely silly to wash the whole body of a guest and Jesus dismissed it as unnecessary.
Peter’s over-exuberance came into play elsewhere. He promised Jesus he would never betray him, even took a sword to the ear of a man sent to arrest Jesus, and then went on to betray Jesus three times as was predicted.
Peter had a problem with going from one extreme to the other. Peter lacked in good judgement and moderation. Don’t be like Peter. Learn about temperance.
What is temperance?
Temperance is an old word and a word found in older translations Scripture. It is something that is a sign of our sincere faith:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 KJV)
Temperance is not going to one extreme or the other, but practicing self-control, learning just how far to go and going no further. Temperance is perfect moderation.
Lack of temperance makes a person unstable, they go from extreme to extreme, over-indulgence to complete abstinence and often back again. Temperance is not being ruled by our emotions.
“None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions.” (Pythagoras)
It is good to have passions, but only by practicing temperance are we assured that we are not blinded and ruled by our passions. Temperance is answer to the wild pendulum swings of emotional overreaction.
Temperance is not teetotalism. We are told in Galatians that we can practice temperance in extreme. However, extreme temperance is not teetolalism:
“Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance’, it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion.” (C.S. Lewis)
Augustine argued teetolalism rather than temperance and many religious fundamentalists (including some in my own conservative Mennonite culture) go to this opposite extreme from over-indulgence to onerous regulation. But temperance is not prohibition or imposed standards, it is having self-control and learning to restrain passions.
Practice temperance. We will not stop the wild swings from extreme to extreme with rules. Rules only teach compliance and never address the heart issue. Temperance is the higher standard that cannot be forced and is only possible with a transformed mind:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Paul tells us that true non-conformity is a product of a transformed mind and not through external means.
It is the world that tries to manipulate behavior through threats and external controls. But those with the Spirit dwelling in them will develop beyond what could be imposed by rules or artificial non-conformity, they practice the perfect moderation called temperance.
So, enjoy your bean sprouts in appropriate moderation and practice temperance. That said, I will abstain.