Question: "What does the Bible say about temperance?"

Answer: Temperance is moderation in thought, word, or action. Those who practice temperance are self-controlled and show restraint in their passions and behaviors. We often hear the word used to refer to limiting one’s alcohol consumption: the “temperance movement” was an organized effort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that attempted to limit or abolish the sale and consumption of alcohol. Temperance as a character trait is a common theme throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament.

Temperance relating to alcohol is implied in Ephesians 5:18, which says, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Unless a person moderates alcohol consumption, it will be impossible for the Holy Spirit to direct that person’s choices. Alcohol will be in control. The same is true for anything not handled with temperance. The biblical standard for Christians is that we allow nothing but the Holy Spirit to control us (Galatians 5:25). Whether it be alcohol, food, lust, or greed, any fleshly desire that is not restrained becomes our functional god.

Temperance or self-control is one of the fruits the Holy Spirit brings when He indwells believers (Galatians 5:22). It is impossible to live godly lives and please the Lord without self-control because our flesh wants only to please itself (Romans 7:21–25). Romans 13:14 warns us to “make no provision for the flesh and its lusts.” However, some people mistakenly believe that temperance means we can dabble in sin as long as we are not overcome by it. That’s not what this verse says. It implies that along with temperance we exercise caution and wisdom. When we desire to please the Lord, we will stay far away from anything that has the appearance of evil. Living temperate lives does not mean we can commit sin as long as it is only a little bit.

Paul describes biblical temperance in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Even Paul knew the power of the flesh to topple his ministry, so he refused his flesh what it craved in order to develop strength of character. Today’s news headlines often remind us of the folly of attempting Christian ministry without temperance. When a Christian leader falls, it is almost always due to a lack of self-control and personal discipline.

The opposite of temperance is self-indulgence. When we develop lazy attitudes in some areas, that laziness tends to spread to other areas as well. By contrast, when we keep ourselves under control physically, mentally, and spiritually, we are prepared for greater effectiveness in our mission to represent Christ well (Matthew 28:19–20; 1 Corinthians 10:31).