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What the Bible says about Abstinence
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Abstain means to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice. We know that God specifically commands humankind to abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, drunkenness, and other sins. Acts 15:20, 29 instructs the Gentiles to abstain from idolatry, sexual immorality, consuming strangled things, and blood. I Peter 2:11 minces no words in telling us that we are to "abstain from fleshly lusts." These sins of the flesh, familiar to the unconverted person, should not be found among the practices of a Christian.

I Timothy 4:3 warns us that, in the latter times, Satan will try to influence people to abstain from everything from marriage to foods. In a broad sense, we certainly see this today. Fad diets are big business and starvation diets offer a quick but damaging solution to obesity. Some diets may work well for a short time, but can have damaging effects if followed over a longer period. Everybody seems to have an opinion about which diet is best. Repeatedly, a balanced nutritional diet using biblical principles and God's dietary laws proves to be best. However, man "knows better" and develops innumerable books, articles, and advertisements to promote the "one" diet that allows a person to eat anything and as much of it as he wants—or that allows him to eat little or nothing. This doctor competing against that doctor recommends a whole spectrum of diets. Sometimes, the promoters of these fad diets remove only the weight of money from their participants waiting for results.

Theological commentators overwhelmingly and narrowly comment on abstaining from alcohol while neglecting the abstinence from other sins. Many, being conservative Protestants, see alcoholism as one of the most obvious and detrimental sins since it is difficult to hide and noticeably destructive. To some people, drinking any amount of alcohol—no matter how little—gives an evil appearance. Those who have lived with alcoholics know firsthand of the destructive force and misery that comes with over-drinking.

On the other hand, the Bible supports temperance, the drinking of alcohol in moderation. There is no biblical injunction against the use of alcoholic beverages in manageable quantities, although there are many that condemn overindulgence. Paul even instructs Timothy, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (I Timothy 5:23). Judges 9:13 says "wine . . . cheers both God and men." God wants us to learn to use self-control in what He allows us to enjoy (Galatians 5:23), but if we cannot, it is better for us to abstain.

God requires abstinence not only from sexual immorality, drunkenness, and gluttony, but also from the appearance of evil. In I Thessalonians 5:22, the apostle Paul emphatically advises us to "abstain from every form of evil." This verse lends itself to varying interpretations. The Greek word eidous, translated as "form," is in keeping with its predominant New Testament meaning, "appearance." In addition, in accord with the obvious contrast between this and verse 21—"Test all things; hold fast what is good"—it may mean "kind" or "species."

Verse 22 may be translated, "Abstain from every appearance or kind of evil." On this verse, Matthew Henry comments, "He who is shy of the appearances of sin will not long abstain from the actual commission of sin." Adam Clarke remarks:

Sin not, and avoid even the appearance of it. Do not drive your morality so near the bounds of evil as to lead even weak persons to believe that you actually touch, taste, or handle it. Let not the "form" of it appear with or among you, much less the substance.

An important part of avoiding the appearance of evil is seen in this curious Chinese proverb: "In a cucumber field do not stop to tie your shoe, and under a plum tree do not stop to settle your cap on your head." The inference is that, if a person does either of these things, someone may think he is stealing the cucumbers or the plums.

As Christians, we abstain not only from the sinful action itself, but from that which even seems to be wrong. We know of many behaviors and thoughts that are wrong because God's law positively forbids them, yet there are also many things that God does not specifically forbid. God expects us to apply the wisdom of spiritual principles, which help us to decide what our behavior should be in cases where He has not specifically spoken. Avoiding the appearance of evil is one of these areas.

Martin G. Collins
Abstinence - Asceticism or Christian Living?

Related Topics: Abstinence



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