Insights on Moderation
To walk in moderation concerning anything means to have a spirit of self-control that avoids excess or extremes.
The problem with excess is that the person loses sight of self-control and becomes obsessed with the thing in question, which wastes his/her time & energy that could be spent on more productive pursuits. I’m not talking about things that apply to one’s occupation since your work pays the bills, but even that can become a problem if you become a workaholic. I’m talking about things like music, movies, computer games, Facebook, message boards, food, certain beverages, golf, boating/fishing, TV, sports-watching, lawn maintenance, etc.
Things like this can become a “weight” that hinders your life & productivity, as noted in Hebrews 12:1. How do you prevent this from happening?
It all comes down to:
- Learning to guard your heart as the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23 & Matthew 12:34).
- Maintaining moderation in all you do, that is, a spirit of self-control that avoids excess or extremes.
For instance, Christ didn’t completely abstain from alcohol (Matthew 11:19) and Paul instructed Timothy to drink a little wine apparently for health reasons (1 Timothy 5:23). Moreover, the LORD permitted the Israelites to drink fermented beverages at certain celebrations (Deuteronomy 14:26). Yet the Bible also instructs “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery” (Ephesians 5:18), not to mention candidly points out the negatives of drunkard-ness (Proverbs 20:1). So the problem isn’t the alcoholic beverage itself, but rather the individual who loses a proper sense of moderation.
Proverbs 25:28 stresses the importance of self-control: “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” Back when this verse was written cities required walls for defense against enemy invasion. The comparison is obvious: The individual who loses sight of moderation is like a defenseless city. The enemy can come in and misdirect his/her life anytime.
If I ever sense myself becoming obsessed with something and it’s hindering me spiritually I make a clean break from it for a determined season. Right now I’m fasting from something for 40 days and it broke the ‘spell’ that I discerned was cooling my fire for the Lord and my ministry assignment. My enthusiasm almost immediately returned and I finished my project in 21 days!
New Testament Advice on Moderation
Paul brought up the topic twice in his first letter to the believers at Corinth. Here’s the first time:
“Everything is permissible for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me” – but I will not be mastered by anything.
1 Corinthians 6:12
Paul was quoting a popular phrase of some believers at the Corinth church: “Everything is permissible for me.” This is the attitude of libertines in a nutshell. “I can do anything I want” is what they believe. Now Paul wasn’t against freedom since he preached liberty to these very same believers when he said “the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Yet Paul adds some wise framework for freedom here: Whilst people have the power of volition and can essentially do whatever they want if they decide to do it, Paul points out that “not everything is beneficial.” This is an obvious fact, of course, but he had to stress it because not everyone in Corinth realized it. Since following the deceitful desires of the sin nature is never beneficial, anything sinful is off-limits to the believer. Why? Because it’s not beneficial; it’s destructive.
Say, for example, if a married man meets a pretty woman at work and entertains the idea of committing adultery with her, would this be beneficial to his life or destructive? Even if he’s not a believer, it’s a destructive course of action because it would hurt his wife and could harm his marriage, possibly even destroy it, not to mention the domino effect of hurting his children and losing the respect of the community. No sane person respects unfaithfulness, not even unbelievers.
Paul quotes the popular phase again in the second half of the verse and then adds “but I will not be mastered by anything.” Here Paul isn’t just talking about the corrupt desires of the flesh but rather anything neutral that has the capacity to master him and put him in bondage. Today, we see people mastered by many destructive addictions, like alcohol, drugs and various forms of sexual immorality. But millions are just as mastered by things that aren’t considered bad, like food, a particular beverage, computer games, watching or playing sports, TV, “meds,” forms of recreation and even church activities. Of course none of these things are bad in and of themselves, but they can become bad if a person is mastered by them — becomes obsessed with them — in which case they become idols.
We don’t see many people in modern Western Civilization worshiping literal idols, but people can become so addicted to certain things that it becomes a form of idolatry because idolatry is the worship – the adoration – of something other than God. Christians are free, but we have to be careful to guard our hearts as the wellspring of life so that nothing takes us away from our devotion to the Lord (Proverbs 4:23).
I recently discerned that I was mastered by strong French roasted Arabic coffee: I got in the habit of drinking two K-Cups of this coffee in the morning and two in the afternoon. It got to the point where I didn’t even get a ‘perk’ from the heavy caffeine intake. What I eventually did get was a feeling of a vice gripping my heart. Now, I’m not on any medications because there are too many side effects with drugs, so I looked for natural ways to remedy the problem and too much caffeine was listed as a contributor.
Needless to say I immediately stopped and switched to decaf and maybe a little regular Maxwell House occasionally. Now when I drink a cup of regular caffeinated coffee I feel the perk. More importantly, the tightness around my heart ceased. I’m just giving an example of how easily we can become mastered by something considered normal and the negative repercussions thereof. I don’t want to be mastered by anything, especially something that’s going to hamper my health. Furthermore, I want my true ‘perk’ to originate from the Fountain of Life (Psalm 36:9), not anything of this world.
Paul brings up the popular phrase a second time shortly later in his letter:
“Everything is permissible” – but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” – but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Paul again points out the obvious: Everything is permissible because we have been blessed with freewill and therefore have the power of decision. We have the power to choose to act or not act on any impulse, whether good or bad; but Paul stresses, once again, that not everything is beneficial. This is a repeat denouncement of engaging the deceitful desires of the flesh, which are never beneficial. Christians are free in the Lord but the appetites of the sinful nature are off-limits because they are destructive. If there’s any doubt Paul cleared it up with his statement to the Roman believers: “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15).
He repeats the phrase again, “everything is permissible” and this time adds “but not everything is constructive.” This obviously refers to neutral things. The believer is free to do the neutral activity, but we have to ask ourselves if it’s constructive. He then adds that “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” For instance, if you’re blowing so much time & energy on something that it significantly subtracts from your relationship with your spouse or kids, it becomes a negative thing.
Teachers and preachers can share these principles until they’re blue in the face but some believers will never “get it” because they lack wisdom, which is the ability to distinguish difference. Anyone who wants wisdom must seek it as if it were a treasure; and God will give it to him or her (James 1:5). This is an encouragement to acquire wisdom for moderation concerning any thing that can become a weight in your life and prevent you from fulfilling your call or responsibilities.
The bottom line is this: Believers have freedom in Christ but it’s not freedom to embrace the flesh, but rather freedom from the bondages of the flesh. We have true freedom in Christ, but we must be careful to not allow anything to master us, and we must use wisdom – common sense – in what we choose to do – and how much time we spend with it – since not everything is constructive, for ourselves or others.
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