As a boy, growing up in the 1940s, I remember hearing about the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I didn’t understand what they were for or against, but I did get the feeling they were rather strict about personal behavior, especially drinking alcohol. Then, later on, I was taught about the fruit of the spirit, and one of them was “temperance.[1] When I started reading the Bible in different English versions, it was translated as “self-control.” But it all goes back to the Latin root word tempesta, meaning “restraint,” thus our English word temperance.

The dictionary defines temperance as marked by moderation: such as

a: keeping or held within limitsnot extreme or excessive

b: moderate in indulgence of appetite or desire

c: moderate in the use of alcoholic beverages

d: marked by an absence or avoidance of extravagance, violence, or extreme partisanship

In the Dictionary of Psychology, temperance is described as any form of positive self-restraint, manifested as self-regulation in monitoring and managing one’s emotions, motivation, and behavior and as self-control in attaining desired goals. So, we can see that it is much larger in scope than calling for restraint in drinking alcohol.

In Psychology Today, Psychologist Mark Travers finds that temperance refers to the capacity to manage habits and protect against excess and is composed of forgiveness, humility, and patience, specifically when examining the current state-of-the-science in the conceptualization of temperance, the effectiveness of temperance interventions, and what the future may hold in this research.

Then, Everett L. Worthington Jr., Commonwealth Professor Emeritus working in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Llewellyn E. van Zyl, a positive psychologist specializing in the development, implementation, and evaluation of positive psychological interventions that aim to enhance mental health and performance, report that classified temperance is one of the six universal virtues identified as being cross-culturally valued, leading to a genuinely good character. It is also a fundamental component of leading a happy, healthy, and flourishing life. This virtue reflects an inherent capacity to moderate or control one’s thoughts, feelings, habits, and desires that protects against excess or deficiency.

In addition, temperance may encompass many related behaviors, such as prudence, conscientiousness, caution, and self-restraint, that could tame impulses of anger, resentment, selfishness, over-indulgence, and rigidity. Accordingly, as a virtue of good character, temperance can be exerted through four signature strengths: forgiveness and mercyhumilityprudence/self-regulation, and (we would add) patience, including far-sighted/self-control as their last two characteristics making up the virtue of temperance.

Finally, Lesly Lyle, a Positive Psychologist in Clinical Hypnotherapy, also ties temperance to Forgiveness and Mercy, Humility, Modesty, Wise-Thinking, and Self-Control. She says that temperance involves Forgiveness and Mercy by forgiving those who have wronged or offended us.

Forgiveness entails accepting the shortcomings of others, giving people a second chance, and putting aside the temptation to hold a grudge or behave vengefully. Forgiveness allows one to put aside the self-destructive negativity associated with anger and to extend mercy toward a transgressor.

Temperance affecting Humility and Modesty involves letting one’s strengths and accomplishments speak for themselves. Individuals with this strength do not need to have low self-esteem, but merely avoid seeking the spotlight and regard themselves as better than others. Humble people are honest with themselves about their limitations and the fallibility of their opinions, and are open to advice and assistance from others.

When temperance utilizes Wise-Thinking (Prudence) it provides a practical orientation toward future goals. It entails being careful about one’s choices, not taking undue risks, and keeping long-term goals in mind when making short-term decisions. Prudent individuals monitor and control their impulsive behavior and anticipate the consequences of their actions. This strength is not synonymous with stinginess or timidity, but instead involves an intelligent and efficient perspective toward achieving major goals in life

And finally, the core of temperance, Self-regulation, is the process of exerting control over oneself to achieve goals or meet standards. Self-regulating individuals can control instinctive responses such as aggression and impulsivity, responding instead according to pre-conceived standards of behavior. This strength can apply both to resisting temptations, such as when a dieter avoids sugary foods, and initiating actions, such as when someone gets up early to exercise.

Also, psychologist Valeria Sabater, a psychologist and emotional intelligence trainer in secondary schools who offers psycho-pedagogical support to children with development and learning problems, says that temperance is a fundamental human virtue. It allows you to stay calm and focused on stormy days. It means you carry out your life in a measured, thoughtful, and controlled manner, whatever your circumstances. Furthermore, it also serves as an internal compass that guides you to find calm in the middle of a storm – the psychological ability to manage stress, fear, or anguish.

But what does the Bible say about temperance?

Wise King Solomon gave this warning about the lack of temperance: “If you like honey, don’t eat too much of it, or it will make you sick!”[2]

Then the Apostle Paul mentioned to Bishop Titus that church leaders should be ready to help people by welcoming them into their home. They must love what is good, must be wise, must live right, must be devoted to God and pleasing to Him. And they must be able to practice temperance.[1]

He also instructs Titus that the gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone; and along with this gift comes the realization that God wants us to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures and to live temperant, God-fearing lives day after day, looking forward to that wonderful time we’ve been expecting, when His glory will be seen – the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus the Anointed One.[2]

And the Apostle Peter explains that God’s power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowing the One who called us to His glory and goodness. By these, He has given us valuable and superlatively great promises so that through them, you might come to share in God’s nature and escape the corruption that the lack of temperance has brought into the world.[3]

[1] Galatians 5:23 (KJV)

[2] Proverbs 25:16

[3] Titus 1:8

[4] Ibid. 2:11-13

[5] 2 Peter 1:3-4

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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