Bible Study or Sunday School Lesson 3

Free ItemThe Life Of A Disciple In The World
The Virtues & Fruits of the Spirit
Session 3: Justice and Temperance

Core Teaching: Goodness is made real through virtue.  Justice is our consistent decision to do what is good toward God and our neighbor.  Temperance is the virtue of good balance and moderation, the mastery of our good will over our urges.

Session Goals: To help students understand and begin to live with the virtues of Justice and Temperance.

Supplies: Bibles, Whiteboard/Newsprint, Markers, Masking Tape, a copy of the Student Leader Help Sheet for each discussion/small group leader

Memory Verse: Leviticus 19:2b NRSV

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

(Write on the Board and encourage Youth to memorize this week.)


Jeremiah 31:33-34 NRSV
1 John 3:16-18 NRSV
2 Peter 1:5-8 NRSV
Galatians 5:22-25 NRSV


Class Session

Opening Prayer- Student

Announcements, Attendance, and Offering- Teacher


Introduction to the Lesson- Teacher

Today, we will be looking at the third and fourth Cardinal Virtues: Justice and Temperance.  While many have heard the word “Justice” used, “Temperance” may be unfamiliar and may even sound old fashioned with some negative connotations.

Let’s look at what the dictionary says these words mean:

justice– n. 1) The quality of being just; fairness.

2) Conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude;


temperance– n. 1) Moderation and self-restraint, as in behavior or


2) Restraint in the use of or abstinence from alcoholic


When we respect the rights of others we do Justice.  When we find harmony in a society it is a good sign that Justice prevails.  When peace does not exist in a society it is a sure sign that Justice does not prevail.  There are no rights without obligations.   Justice is our consistent decision to do what is good toward God and our neighbor.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12 NRSV

One of the best expressions of Justice is the “Golden Rule.” This rule says that we are to do to others as we would have things done to us.  This rule emphasizes that because we are all created in the image of the same God, we should treat each person as an equal.  My best interest is very much tied to your best interest.  To offend someone is to offend God, to mistreat someone is to mistreat God….but it is also to do damage to ourselves.

Another sense of Justice (besides justice between equals) is the concept tied to our historical understanding that power is not equally distributed.  Once there were kings and lords, now there are CEOs and senators.  From a Christian viewpoint, those who hold more power or higher office are expected to be even more Just in their relationships with those with less power, influence, education, or wealth.  Maybe you have heard the saying: “From those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Historically, the exercise of an idea like democracy is very new to the scene.  In times of kings and dictators, even the absence of overt conflict was not considered peace.  There could never be peace (especially God’s Shalom) without justice.  Suffering is always considered violence perpetrated on those who suffer by those who did not insure Justice. A modern slogan stating the age old problem goes like this: “No Justice, No Peace.  Know Justice, Know Peace.”

“There are problems of ‘human rights,’ of a ‘just war’ and war crimes, or responsibility in the face of unjust commands; the right of opposition against unlawful authority; capital punishment, dueling, political strikes, equality of rights for women.  Every one of these issues as we know is controversial.  And each one has an immediate connection with the notion of justice.”

Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Notre Dame Press, 1954, 1955, 1959, p. 43.

In our Postmodern world, Temperance may just be the least popular and the most ridiculed of the virtues.  Thomas Aquinas called temperance the virtue that governs the passions.  It is the virtue of moderation in all things.  It is a virtue of balance.  It highlights the struggle between our good will and our urges.

Often temperance is associated with abstinence.  While today abstinence is most often discussed in relation to restraint from sexual activity, just a couple of generations ago it primarily meant restraint from drinking alcohol.

“When we are excited by the passions to do something we know to be unreasonable and we know that those passions should be curbed and restrained, then the practice, the habit, of temperance becomes the means by which we moderate those passions so that they do not control us, but we them.  The reason temperance became so intimately associated with drink is that drink, as a stimulant, loosens our natural inhibitions.  The very reason people drink, as the temperance people so often put it, is the very reason they should not.  We drink to loosen our defenses, we drink to escape our familiar restraints, we drink in order to become more agreeable to others, whom we might ignore when sober.”

Peter J. Gomes, The Good Life, Harper San Francisco, 2002, pp. 224-225

The Greek ideal of Temperance is the well-ordered soul, the well-balanced self, the well-proportioned life.  Plato said that temperance was the rational ordering of the soul that kept it free.  Aristotle was the champion of the golden mean- moderation in everything.  The ancient maxim was “Nothing overmuch.”  In the Bible gluttony and drunkenness are the dual enemies of Temperance.

Moderation even in Temperance itself is an important part of the understanding of this virtue.  Prideful abstinence or joyless asceticism are sign of the extremism that Temperance seeks to avoid.  Temperance is not the elimination of all of our natural inclinations or appetites, it is simply a proper ordering of what is good within our natures.

Small Group Discussions- Student Leaders

Key Questions (These should be answered during the discussion below)

  1. What is Justice?
  2. What is Temperance?
  3. Where is God’s law written?
  4. What does it mean to be righteous?
  5. Why should our lives have balance?

Big Issue

The third Cardinal Virtue is Justice.

“When may justice be said to prevail in a nation? For the place of justice is in communal life; in an inquiry concerning the realization of justice, we have to direct out attention to the life of the community- to the family, the industrial organization, to the nation organized as a state. One might almost say that the subject of justice is the “community,” although of course it is only the person, and, therefore, the individual, who can be just in the strict sense of the word.”

Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Notre Dame Press, 1954, 1955, 1959, p. 70.

Justice has to do with what we feel, how we relate to one another, what we value, the priorities we set.  Justice is tied closely with our faith.  The center of Justice is Love.  In classic philosophy, justice is simply giving each person his or her due.  It is a civic virtue that a civil society depends upon.

History shows this to be a difficult virtue to put into practice.  War, Poverty, Hitler, Stalin, Rwanda, Terrorism, Greed, Corruption, Wealth, Violence, even Religion whether crusades or jihads stand as testaments to the breakdown of true Justice.

As Christians, our duty to act justly is derived from the requirement to be just because justice is an attribute of God.  When we fail to give each woman and man their due, we are ignoring the calls of those suffering injustice and by this we are ignoring the cry and supplication of God.

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8 NRSV

The forth Cardinal Virtue is Temperance.  All of our choices are important.  They paint of picture of who we are at any given time.  They also show “whose” we are; are we God’s people or are we enslaved by culture.  Choices, even small ones, are always matters of faith.  The nature of our faith will determine the choices we make.  Our faith determines our commitments.  There are always people who will say we only have one choice.  But is this ever actually true?  We can choose God, or, we can choose not-god.  Even choosing slightly less than God is really choosing not-god.

Our culture offers us some extreme choices:

  1. If you want it, you have to sacrifice everything to get it
  2. You can have it all

But Christian faith says these are false choices.  While it is true you can’t do everything without making some sacrifices, it is a fiction that any one person can truly have everything they want, despite advertising slogans to the contrary.

When we apply the virtue of Temperance to life we begin to understand a concept that sometimes things are “good enough.”  There is nothing wrong with trying to be as good as you can.  Excellence is truly noble.  But it can be damaging in the extreme.  If we lose balance, we lose out on the abundant life Jesus promised.

Workaholism and alcoholism are different symptoms of the same problem: lack of moderation.  Gluttony and spending 24/7 at the gym for the perfect body also show lack of moderation.  Spiritual sloth and pious ascetism both show a lack of understanding of the abundant life.

God is just; therefore we are to seek justice.  God cares and provides for all equally; therefore we are to live with balance.  To be just and to be temperate are to be God’s.

Faith Link

God’s Law Within Us– Read Jeremiah 31:33-34 to the group.

  • Are you familiar with this passage?
  • What would it feel like to have God’s law written on our hearts?

q  One aspect of God’s grace is that we all have a sense of justice.  God gives this gift to all people from the least to the greatest.

q  God’s law within us is not yet fully realized though.  Even though God’s moral compass is written on our hearts, we often go in the wrong direction, away from the God-way.

  • How do you know when something is fair?
  • What makes it fair?
  • Our ability to be fair is messed up.  It is messed up by Sin.  Sometimes, when somebody is treated unfairly (even right before our eyes) we don’t even see it.
  • When have you seen somebody treated unfairly?  What did you do?
  • Have you ever realized long after the fact that you saw someone mis-treated?  How did you feel?
  • How can we bring out God’s law written on our hearts?

Righteousness– Read 1 John 3:16-18 to the group.

  • What is this passage actually saying?  Who is it addressed to?  Ancient people?  Us?
  • Do you agree or disagree with what it says?  Why?

q  The core of righteousness (right relationship with God and Others) is love.  This is a very basic Christian understanding.  Love expands our hearts.  When we exercise our love, our heart grows stronger for both God and Others.

q  The more we strengthen righteousness in ourselves, the more we do Justice in the world.  When we simply respond to God’s love for us by loving each other, Justice will reign in God’s new order.

  • How is this passage connected to the last one?  What do they have in common?  How are they different?
  • What have you done recently that showed love for God?  What have you done recently that showed love for someone else?  How were they alike?  How were they different?

q  The foundation of social righteousness, social justice, is personal righteousness.  BUT, personal righteousness does NOT mean private righteousness.  The values that we commit ourselves to privately MUST be lived out in God’s world.

q  Love is not feelings, words, or good thoughts.  A Christian understanding of Love, true love, it love that shows itself in action.  When love is made real (more than just a nice idea) in action then Justice can be said to prevail.

  • “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  Amos 5:24 NRSV
  • What are some ways Justice can be made real through social righteousness?
  • Sometimes, we forget that some short term solutions are only a small step toward justice:

v  A bonus at Christmas is not a substitute for a living wage

v  A homeless shelter is not a replacement for affordable housing

v  Sending money for disaster relief is not a replacement for investing in communities of poverty

v  Having a friend from another race, religion, or country is not the same as seeing the image of God in ALL people

v  Planting a tree is good, only using what we need and not destroying the environment brings justice to all

  • Personal and social justice (Holiness of heart and life) have 3 important marks:
  1. Truth-Telling
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Promise-Keeping
  • How can telling the truth lead to righteousness?
  • How can forgiving ourselves and others lead to justice?
  • How can keeping our promises help us to be God-like, Christ-like in our lives?

Balance in the Force- Read 2 Peter 1:5-8 to the group.

  • What might this passage have to do with the idea of balance (temperance)?
  • What does it mean to have self-control?

q  Temperance is considered a prerequisite for all the other virtues.  For instance, courage is a balance between cowardice and rashness.

q  The opposite of temperance is a lack of balance.

  • What in your life is out of balance?
  • Do you eat, drink, work, study, play, etc. too much?  Do you have Sabbath?

q  Sometimes our ambition, our drives put us out of balance.  The drive to be a success, to live up to somebody else’s expectations, having too many commitments, etc. puts us at odds with our desire and need for fulfillment, satisfaction, rest, time with family, time to play and relax.

  • Name one thing you do the most of?  Why is this thing out of balance?

q  We fragment ourselves when we do too much.  God desires that we be whole, not fragmented.  When we do not truly know ourselves, we can allow ourselves to be pulled in too many directions at one time.  When our lives are filled with too many competing demands we become trapped by intemperance.  We can not find balance because we can not find a center.

q  God should be the center of our lives.

  • How close is God to the center of your life?
  • What thing(s) would you have to give up to move God closer to the center of your life?

q  If our lives are not organized around God being at the center, they are organized around something that is not-god.

  • What is your life organized around?  Can you change it?  Would this bring balance to your life?

Life Application

Read Galatians 5:22-25 out loud to everyone-

q    Each person produces fruit in their lives.  Some is good fruit, some is rotten fruit.  What would be in your fruit basket?

  • Do you live by the Spirit?  Why?  How?  Why not?
  • How would self control bring Justice to your life, the lives of others?
  • How would self control bring balance to your life, the lives of others?

q  Our lives are to be well ordered.  Toward God and toward other people.

  • What would help you love God more?
  • What would help you love neighbors more?

q  How we use our time says a lot about who we are.

  • What do you spend the most time on?
  • Who do you spend the most time with?
  • How would you readjust you time use if you could?


Joys and Concerns- Teacher: Write these on a piece of butcher paper.

Closing Prayer- Students: A Youth should pray this historic Christian prayer:

Fix thou our steps, O Lord,

That we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world,

But go steadily on our way,

Neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet,

Nor the turning aside for anything that may befall us.


John Austin, English Catholic, 17th Century


  1. Wow, there’s a ton of meat in there. I think I could almost make 3 lessons for my students out of this one lesson. Don’t get me wrong it’s an awesome teaching, but my students couldn’t digest all of this in one sitting… No way.

    • Vini,

      You are completely on target, that is actually the idea. This curriculum has been field tested in both Sunday school with 11 graders and also in a camp setting with both Jr. High and Sr. High groups.

      The 3 components are actually 3 lessons that potentially could be led by 3 different senior high youth. If the teacher is the person who learns the most in the room, a potential pedagogical goal is to get all of the Youth to be teachers.

      But sometimes for youth, there needs to be more options, etc. It is always better to have more curriculum than can be accomplished in an hour than to have curriculum that runs out of content 15 minutes in.

      I would love to hear how you plan to split this up and how well it all worked. Thanks for the feedback!

      Charles Harrison

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