Leave it to the Lord to save the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) for last. Yes, today, we’re talking about temperance—another word whose usage has been lost over the centuries. However, if we pinpoint the beginning of the word, we’ll see something we’re all painfully familiar with—temper.
In its simplest definition, temperance means self-control or restraint. It carries with it the idea of keeping a tight rein on our words, actions, attitudes, and desires. This is not a popular principle in this day and age where people live to “get what they deserve.” Between all-you-can-eat buffets, credit cards, and social media, our self-control is tested every day. Should I go back for another plate, or is three enough? Should I go ahead and spend the money on that new furniture even though I don’t have the money to spend? And don’t even get me started on the rants that take place on social media. Of course, this is only a few areas where our temperance is put to the test.
First Corinthians 13:5 tells us love is “not easily provoked.” Jason and I joked about this on the way to the grocery store this morning. He was in one of his playful moods (which translates into seeing how much he can annoy me) and was making this terrible clicking sound with his mouth. After about ten seconds, I looked over at him, and I guess the expression on my face was comical because he burst out laughing. “I was wondering how long you’d let me do that before giving me that look.” I laughed too and told him how my devotion today was on temperance. I don’t think his clicking truly provoked me but had he continued, I may have become a bit irritable. So much for self-control, right?
As if that phrase doesn’t make us squirm enough, Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on in verse 7 to remind us that love bears all things. The word “bear” in this verse implies a covering, as in love covers all sin. It’s not that we excuse the sins of those we love but instead, we choose to overlook their faults and focus on their strengths, and let me tell you, that takes a lot of self-control. So many times, it’s easier to see the bad than the good. Dwelling on the negative leads to bitterness which then leads to hateful words and harsh actions. From there, the downward spiral continues until marriages are ended, friendships are ruined, and other relationships are destroyed.
As I was praying about and considering my word for 2019, one that ranked high on the list was the word “choose.” Had I decided to use it as my daily motto, it would have served as a reminder that I have a choice in how I think, act, and feel. Each day, I choose to dwell on the positive or the negative. I decide whether or not to surrender my will to God fully. I determine how I act and what my attitude is like. Each day is full of choices. I can choose to let my temper get the best of me—to be easily provoked—or I can choose not to sweat the small stuff. So what if Jason left his socks in the middle of the floor again? In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? Isn’t it more important that I focus on the fact that he took time out of his day off to help me with the grocery shopping so the task wouldn’t be too much for me? Absolutely!
One phrase we carelessly use in our everyday language is the phrase: “make me.” For example, “he makes me so angry” or “she made me feel bad.” Dear one, if we’re allowing others to dictate how we act or feel, we’re giving them far too much control over our lives. No one can “make us” angry or emotional. We choose to give in to those feelings, and that’s where temperance comes in. I’m not saying it’s easy. When someone says something unkind, my first reaction is to take the comment as a personal insult and give into the painful emotions that accompany that choice. Instead, I should shrug my shoulders and hold fast to the truth found in God’s Word. If someone doesn’t like it, oh well! As long as I’m doing right, that’s all I need to worry about. It’s not my job to please everyone in the process, and the sooner I get that through my thick skull, the better off I’ll be.
Temperance. Self-control. Restraint. How are you doing today? Are you easily provoked by someone’s annoying habits or quirky personality? Do you find it difficult to look past the negative to focus on the positive? Do you blame others for how you feel, speak, or act? If so, you may want to talk with the Lord about helping you work on your temperance. After all, if we—as Christians—lack self-control, how can we adequately portray the love of Christ?
The next trait of love we will look at is meekness. This is another word we use little in today’s language, and as such, its meaning has become both watered-down and uncertain. To some, it’s synonymous with weakness, but since the Bible declares Jesus was meek, we know that cannot be the case.
As I studied out the word this morning, I learned a lot. To me, the word “meekness” carried with it the idea of humility or quiet strength, and to a degree, that’s correct, but there’s much more to it. If you’ll bear with the word nerd inside me, I’ll fill you in on what I discovered.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, to be meek is to be “quiet, gentle, and not willing to argue or express your opinions in a forceful way.” Wow! We don’t see much of that in the world today, do we? No, it seems our current culture wants to shove their opinions down our throats, and if we dare to disagree, we’re haters. Seriously? But to be honest, even we—as Christians—tend to become forceful in our beliefs. It’s one thing to stand up for what we know to be true; it’s quite another to be rude and argumentative. So, there’s that, but meekness goes even further.
In reading the Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, I discovered meekness defined as “an active and deliberate acceptance of undesirable circumstances that are wisely seen by the individual as only part of a larger picture.” Whoa!!! No wonder Jesus was described as being meek. His life on earth was full of undesirable circumstances, but He knew they were all part of the larger picture of salvation, so He actively and deliberately accepted them. Jesus didn’t whine and complain about how hard life was or how unfair it was that He had to suffer. And not once, to my knowledge, did He turn His head toward Heaven and utter, “God, I’m too good for this. I don’t deserve to be treated this way. I’m special. I’m somebody. I’m your Son.”
His attitude is a picture of how meekness is spelled out in I Corinthians 13. Naturally, we can link meekness and longsuffering (one of the traits we discussed earlier in this study), but we also see meekness spelled out in another powerful statement.
Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up (vs. 4). Love isn’t proud. It doesn’t arrogantly demand to have its way. In light of the first definition of meekness, we see the connection between pride and forcefully arguing our opinions. The person who knows he’s right and demands everyone else accept that knowledge is one who is puffed up and vaunts himself above others. He thinks he’s better than everyone else. He’s a know-it-all and proud of it! Such is not a meek person.
The proud are also those who feel they deserve the best. They’re too good to suffer illness or disease. They’re entitled to the best life has to offer, and woe unto any who stand in their way. The proud are unlikely to view undesirable circumstances as a piece of a larger puzzle because their focus is on one thing and one thing only—themselves. When life doesn’t treat them the way they expect, they pout and complain and pitch a fit. (Is anyone else squirming in their seat right about now? No? Just me?)
Jesus is the ultimate example of meekness born of love. Though He never strayed from the truth or sugar-coated it to make it more palatable, He was kind, compassionate, and patient. Our Savior never tried to force His opinions (which are the truth) upon anyone. He offered it and left it to the recipient to accept it (much like salvation). Additionally, He lived a life of poverty, not even having a home of His own, yet He never lost His joy because His focus was on the bigger picture. Even as He hung in agony on the cross, He could cry the victorious words, “It is finished!” because He saw the future He had just purchased. A future where we can all be together with Him. A future He knew was worth dying for. I can’t help but wonder if He died with a smile on His face as He looked forward to that day where we’ll be united with Him forever in Heaven. That, my friend, is not weakness. It’s meekness!