James 1:19-20 (KJV) “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
In 44 years of pastoral ministry, I have not interacted with anyone who regretted that they did NOT say something in anger that they had thought of saying. In fact, they were grateful they had used godly temperance (self-control) in the heat of the moment. However, I’ve interacted with many who have regretted the words they spoke in anger because they caused irreparable harm to relationships that were important to them. The saddest interactions were with those who said mean things in anger, knew their words hurt the hearer, yet said, “I don’t care! I meant what I said – they shouldn’t have hurt me and made me angry!”
Proverbs 15:1 (KJV) “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”
Gentleness will most often disarm anger. The principle of “sow and reap” is active in the lives of humanity. Kindness produces kindness, anger produces anger, and rage produces rage.
Proverbs 15:1 (NLT2) “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare” (Emphasis Added).
Let’s face it, the opportunity to be offended will exist while the world continues in its present state of fallenness. Thus, Jesus said, Matthew 18:7 (KJV) “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Emphasis Added).
Because the opportunity to be offended will come, the responsibility of promoting peace is placed upon those who claim to be disciples of Christ. Thus, Paul said, Romans 12:18 (KJV) “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Emphasis Added).
While we might not be able to enjoy a peaceful relationship with someone, this Scripture empowers, encourages, and educates us to NOT make matters less peaceful by speaking with anger and malice. We can do all things through Christ Who strengthens us in the Holy Spirit! This can only be accomplished IF we allow godly temperance to be made manifest.
“Self-control” used to be more greatly emphasized and appreciated in the past. Today, however, there seems to be an emphasis upon “being yourself,” “do what makes you feel happy,” or “your happiness is the only thing you need to be concerned with. If you do not look out for yourself, nobody else will!” This is increasingly more evident in everyday society as presented, projected, and promulgated by the local, state, and national news organizations, social media, and politicians.
Nonetheless, God has an expectation and standard of acceptable behavior relative to His children – those “called by His Name!” He demands, determines, and deserves for His children to “model” His character as produced through, and by, the power of the Holy Spirit living in each one of us! Just because most of the society does not honor His standard does not mean He will alter His expectation! We must remember that God will neither change, nor does He have to! After all, He IS God!
Now, for the sake of our discussions concerning “Temperance,” it is important that we recognize the difference between the “Natural” and the “Christian” understanding of “Temperance” or “Self-Control.”
“Natural” Understanding of Self-Control:
- Exercising personal restraint over one’s behavior.
- Exercising personal control over one’s inward and outward life.
“Christian” Understanding of Self-Control:
- Exercising restraint over one’s behavior consistent with Holy Scripture, by the grace of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Living a “Christ-controlled” life, both inwardly and outwardly.
NOTE: Both “Natural” and “Christian” self-control are possible, but natural self-control alone will not make us Christians. We will live as Christians only if we depend on God for a Christ-controlled life.
I started this discussion on “Temperance” with the emphasis upon controlling our tongues. The reason for this is because intemperate use of the tongue has contributed to the increase of anger, agony, animosity, and alienation more than the exhibition of intemperance facilitated by any other part of the human body!
One need only review James 3:1-12 to gain an appreciation for the need to be temperate with our speech! The Holy Spirit inspired James to write poignantly concerning bringing our tongues under the control of the Holy Spirit. The metaphors of placing “bits in the horses’ mouths” and ships being “turned about with a very small helm” are not just happenstance!
The inspired Word of God had a distinct purpose for using these examples…
- The phrase, “bits in the horses’ mouths” presents the ability to subdue the will and willfulness of a very powerful beast with the use of a specially designed, small item strategically placed in a most sensitive area of the beast’s body. With such an item, the mighty beast’s will is directed while NOT destroying its spirit and strength.
Such is the Power of the Holy Spirit to work the Will of God within us…
Philippians 2:13 (KJV) “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Emphasis Added).
- The phrase “turned about with a very small helm” presents the ability to control the direction and determination of a large vessel with a very small wheel attached to a specially designed, small item strategically placed near the area of the vessel most affected by its power of motion. The “very small helm” is NOT visible while in use; however, without its presence the large vessel would move aimlessly.
Such is the Power of the Holy Spirit to work the Way of God within us…
Romans 8:14 (KJV) “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Emphasis Added).
Galatians 5:16 (KJV) “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Emphasis Added).
Being “Born-Again” by the Spirit of God equips every believer with the ability to “control” the unruliest member of their body – the TONGUE. As we can see, the degree in which we live according to the “Will” and Ways” of God will depend on the level of “Temperance” we exhibit with our tongues!
Next week, we will begin our discussion of how our lives are affected when we exhibit “Temperance” with our tongues.