17 October 2013

What is Temperance? (Habits for Day 17)

Many of us think of the word "balance" when we hear the word "temperance".  While balance is important, it's only a partial concept of what temperance is really all about.

Think of it this way.  There are many healthy things for me to enjoy, but if the only vegetable I eat is carrots, will that really be the most balanced or temperate thing for my body?

Of course not!  I need other kinds of nutrients that carrots, amazing as they are, cannot provide by themselves.  Carrots are good for me, but they can't be my all in all.  I should eat them, but I need to balance them with other things.  Applying that balance to my diet would be one form of temperance.

There are other things I could put in my body--some people call them food and drink, when I'm not really sure they are at all--that are actually harmful to me.  Would it be good for me to use them in moderation, or at all, if I know they're dangerously harming my body with every use?

Of course not!  In that case, the path of temperance would lead me to avoid harmful substances completely, not touching them at all.

Before I get to a list of what those harmful substances are, let's take a look at Daniel's life as a new captive in Babylon.  At first, it looks like he'll be treated well.  He'll get a free education, he'll be housed, and he'll be fed.  In a world of high college costs, it sounds like a dream, right?

Well, the difficulty is that the king doesn't eat or drink things God recommends we eat or drink.  Nebuchadnezzar's diet may still be the fair of choice for most college students today, but Daniel takes one look at the menu and realizes if he partakes, he's sunk.  Both by the standard of God's law and the standard of healthful living--which are really the same thing anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar provides his captive students with two main categories of nourishment:  food including all manner of meats, and wine.  We can tell by Daniel's determination not to partake of these things that the meats are unclean by the Scriptural standard, and that the wine is alcoholic (the kind the Scriptures call "a mocker" in Proverbs 20:1).

There are two things at stake here:  obedience to the law and word of God, and health.

Daniel and his friends choose to be faithful to both, in direct opposition to the king and the college crowd of their peers.  Their story has a lot to teach us today about temperance.

They count the cost, realizing they may lose their lives over the simple choice to eat vegetables and drink water.  They make their deitary request to the master of the eunuchs, which sheds some light on their situation as prisoners.  

They have in all probability lost their chance at ever getting married and having families, yet the book of Daniel says nothing about this loss.  In our culture of sexual excess, it should mean something to us to have this detail almost entirely passed over by the Bible, except to identify the person in command over them as the master of the eunuchs.

The writer (Daniel himself) focuses rather on the decision these four young men made to be faithful in the small things in spite of the great wrongs already committed against them.

I still believe, like Daniel and his friends did, that the Bible's standard of clean foods found in Leviticus 11 is a binding standard for all Christians.  There are many solid biblical reasons for this (and I'd be happy to answer any questions you have about them).  For now, though, I want to direct your attention to the physical results of the diet, because these alone give ample common-sense reasons to follow the diet God gave His people then and now.

Their master hesitates to grant their request to eat the diet they want because he's convinced King Nebuchadnezzar already knows what will be the best benefit to his servants.  He doesn't want to lose his life by neglecting to take care of the king's valuable assets (in the person of his prisoner-students).

The boys challenge the master to a test:  ten days of eating their way, then a comparison.

 And wonder of wonders, ten days of refraining from Biblically unclean foods and alcohol puts them--even visibly--in way better health than all the other students of any nationality.  Not bad for some humble pulse, with water to drink.

Remember, Daniel and his friends had eaten this way their entire lives.  So had all the other Israeli captives.  Ten days of breaking God's law put the Hebrews in visibly worse condition, just as ten days of keeping God's law put the four friends in visibly better condition.  At the end of their course of study in Babylon, God had blessed them with so much wisdom and knowledge that they came out of exams ten times better than all the other students and all the other wise men.

Faithfulness in diet was the spring board from which these four men went on to be faithful to God in the face of the fiery furnace and the den of lions.  They feared nothing, because they could put total trust in the God they served throughout their lives at all costs.

I don't know about you, but facing trials fearlessly with total trust in the Lord sounds pretty appealing.  Don't you think it's worth finding out more about what God says is safe to eat and drink?  

I'm not going to say that diet is the entire equation, but faithfulness here will likewise prepare us for greater faithfulness in other areas of our lives, in addition to keeping our minds and bodies healthy, clear, and alert to God's leading.

To be temperate in our diets, we should start by completely avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and cigars, caffeine (coffee and tea), drugs, and foods the Bible calls unclean.  

We should also use the good things in moderation, learning to eat and drink a proper balance of nutrients to give our bodies what they need to be healthy.

I believe we'll be excited about the results.

For more about temperance, visit this great introduction to the subject.

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1 comment:

  1. What a great post. You really have a talent and a way of bringing out different perspectives. About 2 months ago - I totally gave up caffinee(sp)and have given up soda's mostly. Ever so often I drink maybe 8 oz of rootbeer or sprite- but mostly I don't. Anyway I drink mostly water now and I feel SO much better! Thanks for such a great post. Lisa :O)


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