Unrestrained Moderation

In Book Four section 26 of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, he states:

You’ve seen that. Now look at this.

Don’t be disturbed. Uncomplicate yourself.

Someone has done wrong… to himself.

Something happens to you. Good. It was meant for you by nature, woven into the pattern from the beginning.

Life is short. That’s all there is to say. Get what you can from the present–thoughtfully, justly.

Unrestrained moderation.

Aurelius was, of course, the famous philosopher-emperor of the Roman Empire. He adhered to the philosophy of Stoicism, meaning (to butcher with over-simplification) that he held to a deterministic view of the world being governed by nature or by the logos.

As such, he repeatedly emphasized that we cannot change the people or circumstances around us, so why waste time worrying and trying to do so. Instead, we can only control ourselves; let us, therefore, do just that. From this reasoning, Stoics placed a tremendous weight upon the need for self-control and discipline.

As Christians, we can applaud (and even learn from) Stoicism’s thoughts on discipline and self-control, while Aurelius’ certainty that life will unfold as nature intended causes me to consider how much more I ought to trust the One who authored the laws of nature.

Christians will find many of Aurelius’ insights to be in line with wisdom, while disagreeing adamantly about others. He was, after all, not a Christian by any means.

Yet I could not help pausing at the phrasing of Aurelius’ thought above, “unrestrained moderation.” These seems to perfectly capture the aim of Stoic philosophy, and (because nearly everything believed has, at least, an element of truth to it), I think this also reflects well the Christian’s view of worldly, yet God-given, pleasures.

For us, the problem with pleasures is not about the pleasures themselves. Food and sex, for example, are natural gifts, designed by the Creator for our enjoyment. Food and sex only become sinful whenever we treat them as ultimate, whenever we abuse them. The reactionary tendency then becomes two extremes, either to forbid abused pleasures entirely (i.e. religious dietary restrictions or clerical celibacy) or to indulge ever more (trusting the grace of God to cover a multitude of our continuous sins or a simple denial that the body is of any importance whatsoever). Both of these responses are wicked, legalism and antinomianism alike.

The proper response for the Christian, who is no longer under the burden of the law in Christ, is certainly one of unrestrained moderation. We freely and gladly delight in the full array of flavors that God brought into existence for the benefit of our taste buds, but we will not be mastered by those delights. We rejoice in the marital bliss of intimacy between husband and wife, yet we guard and honor the marriage bed, refusing to let such a gift exceed its proper boundaries.

Or as Paul said to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 6:12 | “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

In Christ, we are unrestrained to enjoy the gifts of God, but we do so in moderation, knowing how easily they might become gods instead.

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Don’t Have the Sex Talk With Your Kids

My first child is yet to be born, and I’m already dreading THE talk.

Which is why my wife and I have decided not to have the sex talk with our children; instead, we want to have many talks with our kids, often including sex in the discussion.

Easier said than done!, you might say. I know that parenting is touchy subject, but allow me to describe a vision of a better way of having difficult conversations with children.

Through books, magazines, blogs, music, television, YouTube, films, and others, we consume more mass media today than any other people in history. As media, each of these is a form of communication, a medium for delivering a message.

And everything does have a message.

Each song we hear communicates a message. Everything on television is a delivery vehicle for an idea of some form. Even the intentional lack of a message is itself a message.

As Christians, it is crucial that we understand this truth.

Veggie Tales is not unique in teaching children a lesson.

Cinderella teaches a lesson.

Harry Potter teaches a lesson.

The Avengers teaches a lesson.

Taylor Swift songs teach lessons.

As we consume media, we should constantly be asking ourselves what is being taught. What message and worldview is each song, film, book, and television series conveying?

These are conversations that we should also have with our spouse and children, constantly analyzing messages and comparing them to the truth of Scripture. As families, we should develop one another into critical thinkers and wise media consumers.

It is truly lamentable that sexual messages are so prevalent within even “child-friendly” media, but we can also use these as launching pads for conversations about how the Bible’s teachings contrast with the world’s concept of truth.

Our children will be exposed to much more media than we desire; therefore, doesn’t it make sense to be proactive by teaching them how to engage it? We will never be able to fully shelter them, so let us WISELY teach them how to compare everything to the Word of God.

Whenever we watch Aladdin, Cinderella, or The Little Mermaid, we can use them to discuss what God expects a biblical romance to look like. Whenever we read of or watch a wedding, we can discuss why God values marriage so highly. Whenever we are presented with scantily-clad persons, we can discuss the harm of disconnecting nakedness from marriage.

All of this requires us to know the Scriptures well, to think critically about everything, to be constantly intentional with our children’s media consumption,  and to make thoughtful conversations a normal occurrence. It is a daunting task, but isn’t that the nature of parenting?

After all, the Bible commands us to have Scripture continuously on our lips, particularly with our children:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)

Make a habit of dissecting media and turning yourself back to Scripture.

Make a habit of dissecting media and turning your spouse back to Scripture.

Make a habit of dissecting media and turning your children back to Scripture.

In this world, we are always consuming. Let us, therefore, teach our children how not to be consumed by the world.