Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 14
Calvin on Moderation
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:37-39

Calvin: As it is exceedingly harsh, and is contrary to natural feelings, to make enemies of those who ought to have been in closest alliance with us, so Christ now
says that we cannot be his disciples on any other condition. He does not
indeed enjoin us to lay aside human affections, or forbid us to discharge the
duties of relationship, but only desires that all the mutual love which exists
among men should be so regulated as to assign the highest rank to piety.
Let the husband then love his wife, the father his son, and, on the other
hand, let the son love his father, provided that the reverence which is due
to Christ be not overpowered by human affection. For if even among men,
in proportion to the closeness of the tie that mutually binds us, some have
stronger claims than others, it is shameful that all should not be deemed
inferior to Christ alone. And certainly we do not consider sufficiently, or
with due gratitude, what it is to be a disciple of Christ, if the excellence of
this rank be not sufficient to subdue all the affections of the flesh. (Commentaries Table 1-89)

Calvin sees a great balance in scripture. In this commentary on what can easily be interpreted as a radical verse, Calvin softens it. Calvin had a very strong sense that scripture speaks as a whole, and thus we should interpret scripture along with other scripture passages. Thus a passage that talks about “hating father and mother” (Luke 14:25-33) is interpreted in the light of passages that tell us to love one another. His point in this commentary is that the love of other human beings not become idolatry and replace or become superior to our love for God. In another place Calvin speaks of moderation as being required in human relationships (Serm on Mt. 26:36-9). Calvin interprets the passage about turning the other cheek in a similar manner- “Jesus is not here laying down a rule for outward action but is seeking to train the minds of believers to moderation and justice, that they may not after one or two injuries fail or grow weary” (Comm. Mt. 5:39).
Ronald Wallace says of Calvin: “An essential element in the ordered Christian life is the moderation of all passion, appetite, and zeal no matter what accompanies it.” Calvin says, “Our Lord himself is a remarkable example of temperance” (Comm. Lk. 5:29). One of the signs of being a believer for Calvin is the ability to resist the temptations and excesses of the world.
How we need to hear this today! There are few (if any- maybe the credit counseling people) telling us to resist excesses. The far louder siren cry of our day is to spend, spend, spend- for the good of the country, for the good of the economy, for the happiness of the family. Moderation would allow us to put aside savings for a rainy day, and to balance our needs against our wants. Moderation would also allow us to not mock the poor by our lifestyle, but to have more to help those in desperate need.
I once knew of two teachers married to each other. They lived off of one salary in a very modest home and gave the other income to missions and benevolences. I knew of a very wealthy businessman who lived in a middle class home in a middle class neighborhood despite earning millions each year. He refused to buy extra homes, but spent much of his income helping others get homes. I had an uncle who took this to the extreme. Though he was worth millions, he drove a 1965 rambler (up until his death in 2004- it ran well) so that he could give the bulk of his estate to poor seminary students at Columbia Theological Seminary. He had a nice house. He had been around the world, but in his old age he tried to live off of his social security and a few small rental investments so that others would be helped. His moderation brought purpose in his latter years (he lived to be 93). It is important to have what we need, but it is also important to distinguish between wants and needs.

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