Week 23 : Chapter 16- The Doctrine of Self-Sacrifice
Abstinence or Temperance….which is Better?
Matt 19:1-26; Mark 10:1-27; Luke 18:15-27
In this chapter, Jesus has returned to end His ministry near the place where He began it; to the place where He was baptized (John 10:40). As He walks, He continues to minister in order to finish all that His Father gave Him to do. He uses the various situations He finds Himself in, as well as the interviews with the Pharisees and the rich young ruler, to begin to teach about sacrifice specifically for the sake of the Kingdom.
Jesus talked about two types of sacrifice, one being the sacrifice of pleasure, by practicing abstinence; and the other, renunciation of property. While both types of sacrifice enhance the spiritual life, Jesus strangely did not order His disciples to do it. It was only a suggestion.
Why would that be? Well for one thing, Jesus knew that man, being self-centered, would pervert the whole concept, and use it for his own glory instead of for God. We can see that in the way the Pharisees acted about holiness, and their other religious practices. The practice itself, and the Pharisees doing it, became the central focus. The Pharisees were always trying to “trip up” Jesus by asking silly questions about marriage, husbands, and heaven. They did this to prove to each other that they were right. Again, it was self-serving and petty.
Secondly, it was often only an outward expression of a bad heart. Jesus often spoke about how “outside forces” never corrupted a man, but rather “out of the heart of man” came evil. Man’s outward behavior reveals the inward motivation. The Pharisees, as well as the rich young ruler, were always trying to show each other that they were holy, right, or perfect. Too bad they could not see how ridiculous they looked to God, and how bad it made them look in the perspective of others.
Dr. Bruce tells us that there are four errors in placing abstinence over temperance. The first error is that Abstinence is somehow more virtuous than temperance. This is just not true. “Abstinence is the virtue of the weak, temperance is the virtue of the strong.” (Bruce, p. 257) The second is that neither celibacy, or voluntary poverty is intrinsically superior to the opposing conditions. Christ does not tell us that they are. He only tells us that under certain conditions they may be preferable. The third error is that of logic. Thinking that abstinence is a higher value, Christ would not have made it optional. Finally, if carried to its natural conclusion, asceticism eventually destroys the human race.
As Jesus set about teaching the benefits and consequences of sacrifice, he used the feelings and thinking of those around Him to show the true meaning of self-sacrifice for the Kingdom.
Using the Pharisees’ argument about marriage, Jesus talked about celibacy. Unlike the popular understanding of celibacy as a command for a higher spiritual life, Jesus taught that celibacy was a gift. It was not that marriage was wrong, quite the contrary, for without it the race would die out. The gift of celibacy was only for those who felt the need to be that way. It was a choice to use the gift God gave them to serve. The “gift” of celibacy allows one to concentrate on the things of God, without the distraction of worldly pleasures like a spouse, children, and family. While celibacy is a good thing, it is the easy way. It is much harder to serve with distractions.
The second type of sacrifice, the abstinence from possessions and personal property, also contains an easy way out. Similar to celibacy, the easy way out is to avoid all worldly things. We see this happen with people, who avoid movies or books that they think will corrupt their minds. However, the harder thing to do is to be able to appreciate those things in the culture and understand them. This way, you have a Biblical understanding of the issue. In turn, you will be able to speak intelligently when asked what you think about something….like a movie or a book.
An example would be the big “Harry Potter” scare. Many Christians were paranoid that their children might become wizards, sorcerers, or witches by reading those books. Instead of reading the book and being able to speak to their children about the differences in worldview, these parents opted out of that responsibility by having their kids avoid the whole thing. The problem is that eventually they are sending sheep to the wolves. Their kids can later become victims of all kinds of bad stuff because they never understood how to combat it. Could be that is why more than 50% of Christian kids lose their faith in college. Their parents had their heads in the sand for their entire childhood.
That is not faith, its cowardice.
As He did with celibacy, Jesus did not command that we avoid culture. He told us to be in it, but not of it. The easy way out is to just avoid it altogether. Abstinence in this case, is not good; however, temperance, and understanding are more appropriate, but more difficult.
Jesus was all about self-sacrifice. He just did not want it abused. The sacrifice He made was for the love of the Father and of us. Our sacrifice needs to be the same way. So check your hearts. Is the sacrifice you are making one that is motivated for the love of God and others, or are you assuaging your own ego? If it is the latter, do not do it. It only makes you look foolish. If you cannot sacrifice because of your love for God, without a benefit to yourself, it is a waste of time. The sacrifice you make should be out of a heart of love. Don’t take the easy way out…get in the game and win.
See Ya Next Time