You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial. Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.
So you may eat any meat that is sold in the marketplace without raising questions of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
If someone who isn’t a believer asks you home for dinner, accept the invitation if you want to. Eat whatever is offered to you without raising questions of conscience. (But suppose someone tells you, “This meat was offered to an idol.” Don’t eat it, out of consideration for the conscience of the one who told you. It might not be a matter of conscience for you, but it is for the other person.) For why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it?
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:23–31 NLT)
C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity is his attempt to get at the heart of what Christians believe about God. Along the way, Lewis often dips his toe, or even fully submerges, into the waters of ethics, Christian behavior, and even the nature of the world and all of us who walk around in it. Yet when he’s talking about human nature or ethics, it is still only another means of getting at an aspect of God’s character and his heart for humanity.
When Lewis writes about self-control, what he calls “temperance,” he does so under the pretext that it is one of four cardinal virtues, those virtues that all people, regardless of their faith or non-faith, understand to be good and right. Lewis, writing in the mid-twentieth century when “temperance” was a word more closely associated with the prohibition of alcohol, says it does not refer “specifically to drink, but to all pleasures; and it [means] not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.”
To put that another way, self-control is not simply about inaction in the face of temptation, it is measured action in all things. For the addict – those whose relationship with alcohol, video games, or any other activity or substance is fundamentally flawed and one-sided – this might mean absolute abstention, but for others it might mean it is perfectly acceptable to drink a glass or two of wine with dinner or play Xbox on a free afternoon.
Paul touches on this variability when he writes to the church in Corinth. Some of the believers understood the meat offered to idols was no more or less unclean from a spiritual standpoint than any other and was thereby okay for them to consume. Others believed this meat to be off limits for followers of Jesus. Rather than take one side or another, Paul indicates the greater consideration is being mindful of our brothers and sisters: “Don’t be concerned for your own good but for the good of others.” In other words, he urged the Corinthian church to practice self-control, tempering their own appetites as an act of love toward others and to glorify God.
When understood in this way, self-control then becomes about more than simply ourselves.
In what areas of your life are you lacking in self-control? Consider how this deficit affects others and how your relationships or interactions would be different if you were able to, in the words of Christopher J. H. Wright, invite the Holy Spirit “to control us so that we learn to control ourselves.”