The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, April 13 2023

Can you pass the Marshmallow Test?

Having the character to resist a desire on the basis of principle or for greater reward is something we can develop at any age, and it always pays.

by David Treybig

The little boy had an interesting choice. He'd been given a marshmallow, and told he could eat it right away or, if he would refrain from eating it, he would be given an extra one to enjoy. To receive a second marshmallow, all he had to do was wait a few minutes. As preposterous as it may sound, some aspects of life are like marshmallow tests. The longer we wait, the better our reward. Delaying personal gratification can be beneficial in many ways.

One of the first real-life marshmallow tests comes when we start maturing and notice the opposite sex. As Agur said, "There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a virgin" (Proverbs 30:18-19).

The principle of the marshmallow test comes into play by delaying sexual intercourse until marriage. God Himself made us sexual beings with a natural attraction to the opposite sex, and He described His entire creation as being "very good" (Genesis 1:27, 31). We are also told sex between a husband and wife is "honorable" (Hebrews 13:4). But God also says that we shouldn't commit fornication—that is, have sex prior to marriage (1 Corinthians 6:18). God expects us to wait until we are married.

Unfortunately, many today have sexual relations prior to marriage. Those who practice fornication unfortunately choose the pleasure of the moment over the better rewards that could have been theirs later on. There are at least three rewards for waiting to have sex until you are married.

Firstly you will be obeying God—who rewards such behavior (Proverbs 13:13). God knows everything that we do and as Job acknowledged, God "repays man according to his work, and makes man to find a reward according to his way" (Job 34:11). Of course, if we sin, we can repent (stop sinning) and God respects this, too (Luke 15:7; James 4:8-10).

The next two advantages of avoiding fornication are physical rewards documented by research. Sociologists report that those who wait to have sex until they are married are more likely to have marriages that last. God intended sexual relations to be a special bond between a husband and wife, and when two people save themselves as virgins for each other, they have demonstrated character and respect for their future mate and for the institution of marriage that will add to the stability of their marriage.

In addition to the likelihood of a long-lasting marriage, those who maintain their virginity until married avoid the more than 25 sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) plaguing our modern societies. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, "In the United States, more than 65 million people are currently living with an incurable sexually transmitted disease (STD). An additional 15 million people become infected with one or more STDs each year, roughly half of whom contract life-long infections."

Delayed gratification is also an important factor in money management. Understanding how the marshmallow test applies in the financial world is easy once we learn how interest works. Let's assume you are in your first year in college and have received your first credit card. You want to buy a Sony Walkman which costs about $100 to listen to your favorite CDs. Now you must make a decision. Will you buy the CD player with your credit card with an interest rate of 18 percent per year or will you wait until you have saved up your money? If you put the CD player on your credit card and only make minimal payments, you'll pay for the CD player plus interest that could amount to an additional $20 or more, depending on how long you take to pay.

The same principle of receiving greater reward for delayed gratification holds true for cars, appliances, food, etc.—anything we buy on credit. Over the course of a lifetime, all these small amounts paid as interest can make a sizable impact on your financial standing.

The marshmallow test described at the beginning of this article was an actual research study conducted on 4-year-olds by Walter Mischel at Stanford University in the 1960s. The results of those tests on 4-year-olds showed that those who were able to wait for the second marshmallow, were in later life "more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life... And, more than a decade later, they were still able to delay gratification in pursuit of their goals" (Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, pp. 81-82).

Those who didn't wait for the second marshmallow were by adolescence more likely "to be stubborn and indecisive; to be easily upset by frustrations...immobilized by stress...prone to jealousy and envy; to overreact to irritations with a sharp temper, so provoking arguments and fights. And, after all those years, they still were unable to put off gratification" (ibid., p. 82).