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MB #027: Alcohol, Gnostics, and Temperance

community discipleship faith Jul 23, 2023

Read Time: ~5 Minutes

Hey friends,

Welcome back to The Mission Briefing.

It pains me to admit that one of the biggest issues I often face as a Christian man is my lack of temperance. Now before you jump to conclusions, it's worth calling out that I don't mean what you probably think I mean when I say "temperance". In fact, on average, I only consume alcohol once or twice per month.

Let's take a peek at this quote from C.S. Lewis for context and then unpack how this is relevant to health and fitness as a Christian man:

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened “Temperance,” it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers…. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christiain way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning...One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the questions of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as “intemperate” as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-maina do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.

You see, health is multi-faceted. To be a healthy believing man encompasses all of life. To be truly healthy, you have to be temperate. If you want to be healthy you can't be a workaholic. If you want to be healthy you can't be a drunk. If you want to be healthy you can't be addicted to gossip. If you want to be healthy you can't have an unhealthy relationship with social media, or TV.

I was just on a call today with a new acquaintance and we were noting our vast experience working with churches that have overweight pastors. Can someone have real health issues affecting their weight? Sure. The challenge is that it's more common than it is uncommon to see this condition and it's statistically unlikely that each of these overweight Christian leaders has a disease affecting their weight.

(If you're overweight, this isn't to shame or demean you. As C.S. Lewis called out, being overweight is just a visible display of something that every human will at some point wrestle with. We're all in need of transformation, and this issue isn't targeted solely at the topic of body fat.)

The more likely reality is that the ideologies of the gnostics long ago have been subconsciously carried on by the Western Church. We believe that the "spiritual life" is more valuable than the "physical life". That it's OK if people continue to make personal choices that negatively impact their bodies, so long as their walking with the Lord in spirit. Remember, you will know them by their fruit. The fruit (or lack of) is always the compass pointing us to what we most deeply believe.

The problem with this gnostic-influenced thinking is that we're called to walk in spirit and in truth.

The truth is, God in his infinite and perfect creativity, chose to create the human body and designed a world where it could flourish. Then after Genesis 3 when everything goes awry, God in his infinite knowledge and perfect good chooses that the final scene of this story would be one where the human body is ushered back into eternity in his presence, fully restored, living on a new earth.

God cares about the human body in ways we couldn't possibly wrap our minds around.

Our call as Christians is to continually go to the Lord for His help in aligning all of our behavior with his will. To exercise temperance in every area. To have a Holy Spirit-supported effort to be self-controlled and disciplined.

This should play by having some version of an ordered life. We should pursue healthy sleep, exercise regularly, and develop spiritual disciplines, and morning routines. We should exercise Biblical temperance with alcohol, food, media, gossip, and humor. We should be taking negative and plaguing thoughts captive, rejecting lies then repenting and believing the truth, and much more.

This is the foundation of what true Biblical masculinity is built on. To partner with God to be transformed into the image of his son Jesus and then walk out life with our own unique personality and in our unique role in the Kingdom.