Scriptures are cited from the King James (Authorized) Version, unless stated otherwise.
“Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.”
1 Corinthians 9: 25
Temperance may be defined as the proper use of food and drink for strength so that we may discharge our duties in a God-honoring way. Literal food may be used properly or improperly. Some eat too much, others too little, and still others consume unhealthy food. The same may apply to literal drink. Wine, especially red wine, has been shown to have health benefits, so long as it is used in moderation. But if used in excess, it has detrimental effects. Food and drink may also be used in a symbolic sense, as will be seen by our examination of several Bible passages:
Proverbs 20: 1: This proverb of Solomon evidently has reference to literal wine and strong drink. Well would it be if all men would ponder and heed this wise warning against a foe so subtle and destructive to peace and righteousness.
Proverbs 23: 19-21: These passages classify drunkenness and gluttony together. Both are unworthy of true manhood and womanhood, and bring their sure reward of poverty and disgrace.
Proverbs 23: 29-35: These verses give further counsel, picturing the miserable results of intemperance, showing that the momentary pleasure at last “biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”
Isaiah 5: 11: This reference is not to literal wine, but to the intoxicating spirit of the world, so freely imbibed in by both nominal fleshly and nominal spiritual Israel. Through such intoxication nominal fleshly Israel rejected the Lord at His first advent, and nominal spiritual Israel is now stumbling over that same stumbling-stone (Isaiah 8: 14). The whole chapter was given as a warning to both fleshly and spiritual Israel against imbibing the intoxicating spirit of the world. Woe came upon nominal fleshly Israel in the end of their age of favor, in the dreadful overthrow of Jerusalem and their complete destruction as a nation. And a similar woe will come upon nominal spiritual Israel.
Isaiah 5: 22: This verse makes special mention of woe that is to come upon those who are mighty to drink this wine, and men of strength to prepare the cup for others. The prophet seems here to indicate special condemnation to those who are the public leaders and promulgators of false doctrine.
Isaiah 28: 7: This Scripture refers to the same class as last mentioned – the leaders and teachers in nominal spiritual Israel now, and in nominal fleshly Israel at the close of the Jewish age. Because of their intoxication with the wine of this world’s pleasures, etc., they are all out of the way: they err in vision; they stumble in judgment, and are unable to discern and follow the truth, much less to teach the truth, though they occupy the position of teachers.
Habakkuk 2: 15: This passage seems to have special reference to the spirit of the world, and declares woe unto such as endeavor to lead others to imbibe of this intoxicating wine. But the condemnation would apply equally to those who tempt others to use intoxicating drinks.
Romans 14: 21: While there is nothing in the Scriptures to forbid our partaking of various meats and wine, we should not use our Christian liberty to stumble a brother, or cause him to violate his conscience. For example, if a brother, not appreciating the Christian liberty which we enjoy, could not conscientiously partake of a certain meat or wine, yet because of pride or lack of courage to follow his convictions, he would be violating his conscience and thus sinning. In such a case, we should sacrifice our liberties in the interests of the brother.
Galatians 5: 19-21: Paul here classifies drunkenness among the miserable works of the flesh, contrasted with the beautiful fruits of the spirit of God among those who have become the children of God. He thus arrays himself and all others who seek an inheritance in the kingdom of God, on the side not only of temperance, but also of every good work and disposition.
Ephesians 5: 18: This verse does not refer to literal wine, but to the spirit of the world, which is thus symbolized. Christians are here counseled not to become intoxicated with the spirit of the world, but to be filled with the spirit of the Lord, the spirit of truth, so that they may bring forth its precious fruits in abundance.
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