Moderation by definition is not about obeying a law, but using restraint where there is no law. It applies to matters of personal conscience and choice. This is easy to illustrate. There is no moderate position on abortion. You either believe it is wrong to kill people or you don’t. In that case, moderation is an illusion. You could no more be moderate on this than you could be moderate on rape, theft or taking God’s name in vain. Again, moderation is only necessary where there is freedom
Matthew Poole defines moderation as “exercising an even temper of mind, in governing the sensual appetite, with modesty, patience, and gentleness, in opposition to all impetuousness and inordinate affections, yea, to all excess and exorbitance in words and actions.”
If Poole is correct—and most other translations and commentaries seem to agree—the emphasis is on the requirement to exercise self-control in one’s passions and appetites. In fact, the Bible does warn about excess in what we put in our mouths (though there is a lot more about what comes out of our mouths!).
Proverbs 25:27 It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.
Proverbs 20:20f Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.
These warnings to use self-control, like many others in Scripture, apply in only one direction. In the first case above, God takes what is self-evident (eating too much honey is bad) to illustrate what may not be so evident (seeking your own glory too much is bad). But a warning about eating too little honey—let alone seeking your own glory too little—is not even contemplated, for none seeks his own glory too little! (or too little honey, for that matter.)
The second Scripture is not an illustration but a direct warning against excess in two areas. First, in the intemperate use of intoxicating liquors; second in the excess use of food. “Wine” and “flesh” (or “meat”) are synecdoches, where an example from a category is given for the whole category. The passage is not speaking against drinking alcohol or eating, but punctuates the warning with an example of what excess in either case can cause: sleepiness or laziness leading to poverty. And, of course, there is no positive encouragement here to drink or eat certain things.
Other foods could be used as examples. Eating only powdered-sugar donuts is probably excess. Eating no powdered sugar donuts is not (though it might prove personally almost as difficult as eating only one). While I don’t suggest that the Bible provides menus for our daily meals, it is hard to imagine a blanket or general prohibition against milk, eggs, red meat, fish, bread, fruit or vegetables as being unhealthy, since the Bible commends all of these at one time or another.
Even in our eating habits, moderation is about self-control, not Biblical law. Does the Bible give us the authority to proffer gluttony charges over how much and what kinds of foods our brothers and sisters consume? How much is too much? Who decides? As Christians, we have no warrant to ban or use the government to discourage the eating of salt, sugar, Happy Meals, Twinkies, or Cheeseburgers. Your mother may make you eat your vegetables, but Uncle Sam should mind his own business.
Moderation applies to our attitudes about food more than the actual food itself. Like the proverbial former cigarette smoker who can’t resist telling others what to puff on, we are sometimes obsessed with forcing our newly discovered diets upon others, without any consideration to what moderation really means: controlling ourselves and not letting food, politics, or any other thing cause us to be impatient or unkind with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Nor should we lose our focus on Him.
A Mother and Her Two Sons
A lady has two grown sons. Each loves their mother and decides to visit her twice a week, though she lives 140 miles away. Gasoline is $4 a gallon.
The environmentally-conscious son drives his fuel-efficient car (which gets 40 mpg) at 40 MPH (the legal minimum), saving about 20% in fuel efficiency or about 1.5 gallons of gasoline and $6 for the round trip vs. the cost of driving the same car @ 70 MPH (the legal maximum). His trip takes 3.5 hours each way.
The time-conscious son drives his old beater (20 mpg) at 70 MPH, costing him 20% more, or about 3 gallons of extra gas ($12) since he did not travel the lower speed limit. His trip takes 2 hours each way.
Which of these two sons is the conservationist? It depends on what they are trying to conserve. Son #1 has saved gas and money (about 4.5 gallons of fuel or $18) over Son #2. The second son saved 3 hours over Son #1.
A series of questions comes to mind. What does moderation require, here? Must both sons drive 55 MPH? Must both drive cars that get 30 MPH? Moderation has nothing to do with requiring people to split the difference between two positions, always taking the middle path.
These two sons have the freedom on US highways to travel at either speed1. But which of these two sons wants to impose his definition of moderation on the other? Mostly, it is the first son. First, he wants to limit the kind of car Son #2 can drive. Obama’s Cash for Clunkers deal destroyed well over a half a million perfectly fine running cars in the name of better gas-mileage (and the environment), even though this nearly paralyzed the used car market for lower income buyers with large families. Second, Son #1 also has a long record of coercing or bribing states into setting speed limits and tying those limits to federal funds. In other ways, governments at every level sometimes manipulate the laws to encourage reliance on public transportation rather than private ownership.
I tried to simplify the difference between the two sons in terms of time vs. money. But the issues are much too complicated to judge based upon the facts given. Perhaps Son #1 does spend the extra time in the car listening to Scriptures on tape or spending time with his wife who has come along. But other factors must be considered. Son #2 may believe that redeeming the time means spending more time with his mother or his family at home.
What kind of vehicle should a man with 10 children drive? That is a legitimate question. But really it is only a question for the man with 10 kids, not his neighbors.
40 MPH may be safer in a small car than 70 MPH if everybody else is driving 40 MPH, but if almost everybody about you is driving twice as fast—including those in 18-wheelers and SUVs—you may have become a road hazard.
The point here is that judging others on these matters (See Romans 14:1-4) or exercising control over others in these areas is a perilous adventure indeed. Instead, heeding the biblical warnings against immoderate behavior would produce the kind of moderate even a staunch conservative could get along with.
1 Maximum and minimum speeds were not originally set for environmental or convenience purposes, but rather safety, hence the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) has some jurisdiction on this issue.
David Shedlock has written a book on the Biblical role of government called With Christ in the Voting Booth which features a Foreword by Governor Mike Huckabee.