We’ve all seen movies and TV shows portraying sour old women in dowdy clothes representing the local Temperance Union. Most of the time, these women represent some form of Christianity, purposefully implying that Christians oppose any form of enjoyment and work hard to make sure that everyone shares our life of misery. Thanks to the media, the very word “temperance” sends shudders down our spines.
Yet Scripture demands temperance from Christians.
Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. ~~Titus 2:2 (NASB95)
Since Titus 2:3 states that older women must likewise exhibit the qualities and behaviors expected of older men (with an apparent emphasis on moderation in drinking), we ought to make sure we understand the meanings of the words Paul uses. Therefore we need to think about temperance. What did Paul mean then and how should older women in the 21st Century apply those meanings? Discussing temperance is important in understanding how an older woman can live in a way that brings honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek word here translated as “temperate” usually does denote moderation, if not abstinence, from alcohol consumption. This interpretation finds support in Titus 1:7 and Titus 2:3. Because the word has such a strong association with the avoidance of drunkenness, we would be remiss if we skipped over that obvious implication. First and foremost, we’ve got to acknowledge that the overuse or abuse alcohol (or any intoxicating substance) does not become a godly woman. If we read Titus 2:2-3 without dealing with this fact, we violate the text.
Once we accept the primary meaning Paul wanted to convey, however, we also find that most Biblical scholars agree that Paul intended a secondary implication. In addition to physical sobriety, many commentators and translators also allow for the idea of sober mindedness. in other words, Paul wanted Titus to instruct older men — and likewise older women — to think clearly and rationally in accordance with the sound doctrine that Titus was to teach them (Titus 2:1).
The Greek word Paul uses is related to other Greek words denoting the idea of being sensible or having sound judgment. Of course, drunkenness impairs sound judgment, leading me to conclude that Paul’s encouragement toward sobriety encompasses more than just the avoidance of alcohol. Rather, he wanted the older men and women under Titus’ care to model spiritual alertness in their battle against sin and the devil.
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ~~1 Peter 4:8 (NASB95)
Paul’s letter to the church at Rome includes a passage that sheds light on the critical importance of temperance in how we live. It actually mentions literal drunkenness, as well as a few other sinful behaviors that dull our sensitivity to the Lord. Although none of the cross-references or commentaries I consulted pointed to this passage, I believe it provides an excellent illustration of temperate living.
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. ~~Romans 13:11-14 (NASB95)
Absolutely, temperance includes a moderate use of alcohol, and total abstinence in many cases. But it extends to sobriety in all respects, so that we might honor the Lord without any impediment. As older women, we must follow older men in temperance, so that we might honor the Lord by our example to the younger women we teach.