“AND the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17.
“Abstemiousness” is a rather strange word which the dictionary defines as being sparing or moderate in eating and drinking. We have all heard the motto, “Moderation in all things.” Usually it is understood that this refers only to “good things.” Surely we cannot endorse the moderate use of heroin, moderation in adultery, or being moderately disposed to negative attitudes like hate, bigotry or deceit. A precise definition of abstemiousness would be “moderation (avoiding extremes) in those things that are good, and avoiding or totally abstaining from those things that are harmful.”
In the introductory scripture God gives us the principle of abstemiousness upon which the right to enjoy eternal life is based. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God and had no disposition toward selfishness or self-gratification and so would naturally practice self-control or temperance. They had no tendencies toward the extremes. They were to practice moderation in their free eating of every tree in the garden. However, they were not to eat from one certain tree-the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God wanted them to experience only good.
Satan suggested that they ought to find out what a little evil would be like too. Tragically, they distrusted God and ate of the forbidden fruit. They broke the health principle of abstemiousness and decided to go beyond the moderate use of those things that are good and also to throw in a little of the bad. Their disregard caused a change to take place in their very natures. Once giving in to a selfish desire, they then opened the floodgate of intemperance and eventual death. God had warned them, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
If God in His great love and mercy had not intervened, their situation would have been hopeless. God had a plan already in store just in case such an emergency should arise. This plan to save not only Adam and Eve from eternal death but all their descendants as well, is the main theme of the entire Bible. It is God's way to restore to the human race perfect self-control, just as Adam and Eve had in the beginning. That way is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John 5:11-12. The evidence that a person has received the Spirit of God in Christ is described in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
We can summarize what has been said up to this point as follows:
- Abstemiousness is the moderate use of those things that are good, while abstaining from those things that are harmful.
- This abstention requires self-control or temperance.
- Temperance is a gift from God that comes to us only as we receive Christ.
Temperance, then, is required in order to build a lifestyle that is in balance physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. After all, without self-control we could not put into practice the knowledge that we have. Unless we have the power to carry out all our good intentions, they are not of much use.
Once we have the power of God working in us, we can practice moderation in those things that are good. We will avoid extremes-the “over/unders.”
- Overeating leads to stomach-upset and/or obesity. Undereating leads to malnutrition or starvation.
- Overworking leads to exhaustion or injury. Underworking leads to atrophy and weakness.
- Over-resting leads to weakness and laziness. Under-resting breeds mental confusion and exhaustion.
- We also need a balanced intake of air, water, and sunlight-not too much and not too little.
Abstemiousness should regulate not only our physical health habits, but the mental and social aspects of life as well. Too much reading, too much talking, too much thinking, too much entertainment, too much sports, too much television, materialism, and fashion-all of these things, if not properly regulated, can overtax the mental powers and even lead to physical breakdown somewhere in the body. It could even be said that they are, in a way, intoxicating when carried to excess. We are familiar with the expressions “glued to the TV” or “sports fan” (short for fanatic). These examples serve to illustrate how one’s entire life can become unbalanced and the mind somewhat intoxicated or warped by overstimulation. The Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8. This antidote would certainly be effective for many of society's mental and social ills.
Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, as commonly used (excluding rare medicinal usages), do no good whatsoever and have been proved to trigger many harmful side effects, depending on the pattern of use. Each one has its place to some degree in the lineup of prime suspects contributing to the epidemic of the degenerative diseases-atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and so on. They also play a role in violent behavior, accidents and fires. There is almost always some degree of dependence involved in their use. Aside from the physical harm done, this dependency is detrimental mentally and socially, as the user is subconsciously conditioned to use them as crutches. The development of important problem-solving skills and everyday coping skills is retarded to the extent that the chemical crutch is used as a substitute. All that the user needs to do to discover the extent of their dependency is to stop their use.
Illegal drugs should be rejected for the same reasons, besides which they carry the additional drawback of moral guilt and possible civil punishment. Even over-the-counter and prescription drugs should be avoided, for there are always side effects from them. Many times they do not work as they should, and usually there are safer alternative remedies that could be used instead. Yet, sometimes strong medications are the lesser of two evils, and in such cases their use is justified. Until something better is found, their use may be necessary.
While we need to practice moderation in the eating of any food, we need to be more moderate in the use of some foods than in others. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1977 issued these recommendations to all Americans:
- Eat less sugars and sweets.
- Eat less fat and cholesterol.
- Eat less salt.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and starches.
- Keep your weight normal.
In practical, everyday language these guidelines mean that we need to eat less refined, processed foods, and less animal products of all kinds. A basically vegetarian diet composed mostly of natural, simple foods eaten in quantities to maintain a healthy body weight is ideal.
Some food additives, irritating spices, condiments, vinegar, baking powder and soda should also be avoided, as they are upsetting to the stomach and/or the nervous system.
Temperance and abstemiousness foster safety as well. Most accidents are caused by either law-breaking, human error (miscalculation), or unsafe conditions. Almost all automobile accidents and injuries could be prevented if alcohol were eliminated, seat belts worn, laws obeyed, and vehicles maintained.
Around the home the main danger areas are gardens, paths, steps, roads, machinery, and water. Inside the home consider toys, flammable clothing, fires, electricity, medicine, chemicals, and kitchen appliances and implements as potential threats. The old adage certainly is true, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
One of the differences between people and animals is the way that they acquire behavior patterns. Most of the things animals do, they do because of instinct. This knowledge and behavior is inherited by the animal. The capacity to learn or be taught anything varies considerably, depending on the type of animal.
In contrast, man has very few instincts, although tendencies are inherited. Most of what we do, we do because we learned it somewhere. Through various learning processes we acquire habits. Habits are convenient, since once we have them, we no longer have to deliberate about every little thing we do. They can also be a nuisance if we do not like them or try to change them. Some habits are hard to get rid of. It is easier to learn good habits in the beginning than to unlearn bad ones.
Every time we do or think something, a specific nerve pathway is activated in the brain. These pathways become permanent fixtures in the brain and are strengthened the more they are activated. In breaking a habit we need to deactivate the nerve pathway. This is done in two ways: by saying “NO” to the habit, causing inhibitory nerve fibers to begin to form on the old pathway which tend to weaken the strength of the habit; And then by substituting something else in place of the old habit, a new pathway is formed which acts as kind of an alternative route over which the strength of the old habit can be directed. Even though it may be deactivated, the old pathway is still there, making it easy to reactivate if we revert back to it even once.
To break a habit, then, one must be decisive. Do not be ambivalent or indecisive. This tends only to excite both the inhibitory and excitatory nerves at the same time. Instead, be firm. Starve that old habit and begin feeding a new one. Concentrate on a positive substitute, and you will not have to expend as much energy fighting the negative one. For example, substitute deep breathing or water drinking for smoking. Every time you have an urge to smoke, do some deep breathing or get a drink of water instead. But the most important thing is to make up your mind. Strengthening any positive lifestyle habit always tends to weaken the negative ones. For example, a good exercise program is one of the best antidotes to smoking. Good habits tend to foster more good habits, and bad habits to promulgate more bad habits. As they say, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
When attempting to eliminate a habit, anticipate trouble spots. Be prepared for the time when you are likely to experience that old habit clamoring for attention. Plan ahead. Rehearse in your mind how you will successfully overcome it. Try to avoid situations in which the habit will be aroused. Do not make exceptions. Remember, one exception reactivates that dormant habit. Be honest about your weaknesses. Acknowledge them, but do not dwell on them. Dwell on the positive and practice the good habits you wish to keep and strengthen often.
It must be remembered that genuine self-control is a gift from God that we can receive only in Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” John 15:5. Often in this life we find ourselves at the end of our rope. But in God we have an infinite store of resources - so much so that the apostle Paul could say, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13.
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