June 16, 2013 - Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
“Wouldn’t it be neat
to live there?” said my daughter. We were driving up the McKenzie River Thursday morning to go fishing. She pointed to a For Sale sign that proclaimed
“Riverfront Property” in front of a nice little place overlooking the water.
Then she said, “But Mommy would worry about floods.” And I answered, “So would
A river is a beautiful
and wonderful thing. We stood by it and cast our lines and reeled in several
fish and had a fine outing on the river. But if it had been flooding, there
would have been no place to stand. It might have been impossible even to drive
to the place where we fished. A river is a beautiful and wonderful thing… as
long as it stays in its banks.
As we turn to the
third cardinal virtue today, what we are looking at is the banks of human life.
Temperance is the habit of keeping all the good gifts which God has given us
from overflowing their boundaries. Temperance in and of itself is not the goal of
life, but it’s what keeps us flowing toward the goal, keeps us from letting
beautiful and wonderful gifts turn evil and destructive.
Unlike justice, and
like prudence, “temperance” or “temperate” is not a word we use very often,
unless we’re talking about the weather. You may not find it at all in English
Bible translations. Here in Titus 2:2 it might go almost unnoticed unless we
stop and make some connections. When we do, you will see that temperance is
actually a pretty frequent theme in Scripture and it is one of the main themes
of our text this morning.
One problem we have
with the idea of temperance is that we typically hear it as an historical word.
That’s the way the translators of both the NRSV and the NIV have used it here.
You may remember from middle school history class that the Temperance Movement
was a women’s political force in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that eventually led to Prohibition of alcohol sales in the United States between 1920 and 1933.
There’s more to say
about the American temperance movement, such as that it’s primary motivation
was to alleviate domestic abuse of women and children by drunken men. And that
it was supported and encouraged alongside the whole movement for women’s rights
by people like Susan B. Anthony. It wasn’t just about a bunch of killjoy church
women spoiling people’s fun. It was about what we now separate into family
values and feminism, both the protection of marriage and family and equality for women.
For right now, though,
notice that temperance came to mean only the kind of word translated here in
verse 2. When Paul asks Titus to “Tell the older men to be temperate,” he’s
using a word primarily meaning to avoid drunkenness. And if that were all that
temperance meant, you would be listening to a sermon that was all and only
about abstinence or moderation in relation to alcohol. But, while temperance
definitely has something to do with how you drink, it’s also about a whole lot
In verses 5, 6 and 12
Paul uses a word that’s translated “self-control.” It’s not just being in
control of oneself. In classical Greek thought it’s the idea of doing nothing
to excess, of moderation, of letting a sound mind govern all your actions. In
other words, this is temperance in all its aspects. Moderation not just
in drink, but in all things.
Paul is writing to a
fellow missionary he left in Crete to put the Christian church in order there.
Back in chapter 1 he gives instructions for appointing church leaders in each
town. But he also warns that Titus will be dealing with false teaching and with
Cretan tendencies toward sin. So in verse 12 of chapter 1 he quotes as a
prophet an ancient philosopher from Crete, Epimenides, who said, “Cretans are
always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.”
The philosopher didn’t
draw a flattering portrait of his own people. They were lying, mean animals,
speaking falsehood and eating too much. It’s easy to understand why Paul would
touch on temperance four times in just a short space as he directed Titus what
to teach to such people.
Maybe the fact that we
hardly ever use the word is a clue. If Paul were writing to a Titus based in
the United States, maybe in Oregon, would he talk about temperance? Later this
summer we will come back to the specific sins of gluttony and greed and lust
which are addressed by the virtue of temperance, but for now it might be good
to think about where excess runs amok in our own lives.
My wife was fascinated
by last year’s documentary film “The Queen of Versailles.” It chronicles the
bad fortune of the David and Jackie Siegel family who own Westgate Resorts, a
huge timeshare operation. A few years ago they set out to build the largest
single-family home in America, 90,000 square feet, patterning it after King
Louis IX’s luxurious palace of Versailles in France. The original Versailles bankrupted France and helped lead to the French Revolution.
Excess might seem to
be the particular temptation of the rich and powerful. In our Old Testament
lesson we found King Ahab, with all his money and big house, feeling like he
just had to have the little vineyard of the man next door, Naboth. It doesn’t
matter how much he already has, Ahab wants more.
You don’t have to be
rich in order to want too much and to live to excess. Notice that Paul
addresses his concern for temperance to all ages, to older men in verse 2, to
older women in regard to drink in verse 3, to younger women in verse 5 and to
young men in verse 6. In verse 12 the first quality he names for the Christian
life in this world is self-control, temperance.
A couple of months ago
I mentioned my favorite novel, The River Why, by David James Duncan.
Part of that story is how the protagonist, Gus, sets out to create the “Ideal
Schedule.” For him, fishing is the ultimate satisfaction in life, so he tries
to get as much of it as he can. He fantasized a perfect routine for every day:
1. sleep: 6 hrs.
2. food consumption: 30 min. (between casts)
3. school: 0 hours
4. bathroom, etc.: 15 min. (unavoidable)
5. housework: 30 min.
6. nonangling conversation: 0 hours
7. transportation: 45 min.
8. gear maintenance: 1.5 hours
9. fishing time: 14.5 hours per day!
Then Gus said goodbye
to his parents and brother, quit school, and moved into a cabin on a river to
live his dream. It only took him about two weeks of truly trying to live that
way for him to discover that his ideal schedule was actually pretty dismal
rather than satisfying. He couldn’t sleep, his dreams were filled with fish,
and he was miserable because “There was fishing. There was nothing else.”
Paul wrote to Titus
about how to teach people to live lives which look beyond whatever we’re doing
right now. The virtue of temperance in this passage, in verse 12, is part of a
spirit expressed by verse 13, “while we wait for the blessed hope and the
appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” We don’t have to try and get too
much of things in this life because we have hope for a life to come.
temperance is not a way to take the joy out of life. It’s God’s way for us to
grow into lives that are truly joyful. As Gus found out excess doesn’t make you
happy. It often makes you miserable. Just ask anyone suffering from a hangover
or from eating too much or from watching television for hours.
lets us truly enjoy our pleasures. Cable and satellite companies, Netflix and
Hulu and all the rest keep telling you that you will enjoy television more if
you only have enough choices. But have you ever surfed past a couple hundred
channels or movies and found absolutely nothing you wanted to watch? More is
not always better. It’s often a total disaster for happiness… and for spiritual
Temperance might seem
boring. That person who only has a drink or two, who shuts the television off
and goes to bed after watching one program, who puts money in the bank instead
of buying another pair of shoes, might seem like a pretty dull customer. But
that temperate person is less bored than the one who is staying up all night
drinking or playing video games. It’s excess that’s boring, not temperance.
Of course there’s a
spirit that looks like temperance, but is just another kind of excess.
Temperance is balance, moderation, in both directions. A temperate climate is
one that has no extremes, it’s not too hot or too cold. A temperate life is one
that avoids extremes in any direction. So you can be intemperate by using too
much of a good thing, but also by using too little. Overeating and anorexia are both failures of temperance. The control freak who has to have
everything just right is as immoderate and excessive as the person who just
doesn’t care what he does.
Pause for a moment and
think about all the different areas of our lives where we are tempted to
excess. All the seven deadly sins we will talk about this summer are in some
way failures of temperance. We’ve mentioned gluttony and touched on greed and
lust, but pride and anger and envy and sloth are also ways in which we go to
excess. Temperance is the virtue which moves our souls away from all sorts of
sin and toward the good lives God want us to have.
There’s a good reason
for calling this temperance rather than self-control as most Bible translators
do. “Self-control” sounds like something you do for yourself. You get your
desires in check. You curb your appetites. You bring your mind and actions into
balance. But the truth is you can’t do it by yourself.
The “Queen of
Versailles” picked up the Siegels’ story in 2008 as the bottom dropped out of
the timeshare business and they suddenly had to live on much less than they
used to. Construction stopped and the family had a rude entry into ordinary
life. For Beth and many viewers, Jackie Siegel seemed to emerge as the heroine
of the story as she managed to remain cheerful through setbacks like having to
eat at McDonalds and fly economy class on a commercial airline. It looked like
she might be learning temperance.
But it didn’t stick.
At the end of April Jackie Siegel appeared on a Bravo interview after the film
was shown. She told viewers that their business had recovered and that construction
had resumed. They are doing well in a 26,000 square-foot house on a private
island while waiting for Versailles to be finished. She was dressed in a
leopard-skin blouse wearing a thick gold necklace. It looks like she didn’t
Paul says, “the grace
of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety
and worldly passions…” We’re only going to find real temperance, real
moderation of all our wants and passions, when we turn to the grace of God
which appeared to us in Jesus Christ.
Our Gospel lesson show
us that happening for a woman who really did turn away from her old life of sin
and excess. She took that alabaster jar of ointment, an expensive luxury she
may have earned as a prostitute, and devoted it to Jesus. And because of her
love for Jesus, she received grace. Her sins were forgiven. Jesus told her,
“Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
That’s the salvation
which Paul says Jesus brings to all, to anyone who will set aside all the other
stuff we think we want and accept His grace. He saves us and sends us out to go
in His peace, in His simple, good life in which we don’t live by excess, but by
Temperance is a
balanced life. And to be balanced you need a point on which to balance. Once in
our old home the sliding glass door fell off its track. I took a deep breath
and lifted it back into place. But it fell off again. I took it down and saw
that the rollers were jammed and broken. It couldn’t stay balanced, stay on
track. It fell to one side or the other because it had nothing to support it.
Jesus Christ is the
balance point for a temperate life. Jesus Christ can strengthen the banks on
the river of all those feelings and wants and needs that run through us. Jesus
Christ is the place to turn if you want to have the virtue of temperance, if
you want a life that doesn’t keep falling off the tracks or running over the
I can’t say exactly
how it will look for you. But in Christ your life will grow more balanced. You
will find the right balance of work and play, the proper amounts for you to eat
or drink, a good proportion between what you spend on yourself and what you
give away, a healthy distribution of time between home and family and friends
and being alone. It will start to fit together, to run straight, to roll where
At the center of that
balanced life, however, will be your relationship to Jesus. You will find time
to give yourself to Jesus like the woman in Luke. You will worship and pray and
read about Him in the Bible. You will sing His praises and hope for His coming
and serve others in His name.
As Josef Pieper says,
temperance is not the river. It’s not in itself the final good which God wants
for us. But temperance let’s the good flow where and how it should. It accomplishes
what Paul talks about here in verse 14, that Jesus “gave himself for us that he
might redeem us from all iniquity,” all our imbalance, “and purify for himself
a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” That pure life of good
deeds is the point of temperance. It’s the life our Lord made us for. It’s the
life He gave Himself to give us.
One last word. People
around us will still think temperance is boring and even stupid. Why cut back
on a pleasure when you can have more? Why not a few more drinks? Why not
another sexual partner if you can get away with it? Why not more clothes or
tools or shoes or fishing gear or golf clubs? If you can have it, why not?
Paul has already given
us his answer to that. It’s not the life God means for us, because those things
are not where our hope is. And so he says to Titus, “Declare these things,
exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one look down on you.”
Let no one look down
on you. It’s not boring or stupid to be temperate because you love Jesus. It’s
the most blessed and beautiful way to live. Let no one look down on that.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj