Self-Control - Week of October 11th

By Judy Nichols

October 11, 2015

What do you think of when you hear the term "self-control?" At the risk of seeming redundant, I think of it as keeping myself under control, that is, keeping my thoughts and emotions in check, keeping my words restrained, keeping my spending within limits, keeping my appetites curbed. It all seems to be centered around containment – not letting things escape or get out of hand.

We live in an age that does not value self-control. Our slogans say it all. "You deserve a break today." "You can have it all." "Let it all hang out!" "No limits!" Our society tells us that we are entitled to express our emotions any way we like, regardless of how it may affect others. It says we can spend, spend, spend without letting us know that there will be a day of reckoning when the bills will come due. It asserts that all appetites should be fulfilled, no matter how lofty and benevolent, or how degrading and detrimental.

Proverbs 25:28 says, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control." This seems to fit quite well into my thinking, until I realize that the purpose of a wall around a city is not to keep the inhabitants in, but to keep invaders out. The goal of self-control, then, is not restriction, but protection.

God created our appetites, and they are good. The problem with unbridled indulgence of my appetites is that they can turn into addictions, enslaving me. Peter warned the readers of his second letter against the enticements of the flesh, saying, "by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19). It was for freedom that Christ has set us free (see Gal. 5:1). Controlling my appetites is a means of protecting that freedom Christ died to give me.

God has identified Himself as Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord our Provider. The Scripture is replete with statements that God provides for our needs. David begins his most famous Psalm with the words, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want" (Ps. 23:1). And Paul assures us that "God will supply all [our] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). Yet Jesus taught that we should not be storing up treasures here on earth, but in heaven, because "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (see Matt. 6:19-21). Reining in my materialistic bent keeps my heart focused less on the gifts and more on the Giver.

Paul also warned Timothy about those who want to get rich (or by extension, live beyond their means, as though they were rich). They "fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction . . . and by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Tim. 6:9-10). Limiting my spending and acquisition is a way of guarding against ruin and destruction and the pain of possibly wandering from the faith.

The Scripture has much to say about the power of our words. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 18:21, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." James affirms the power of the tongue to change the course of our lives. He likens it to the way a bit in a horse’s mouth directs the animal, and how a very small rudder directs a huge ship (James 3:3-4). Though the tongue is small, it is very powerful, both for evil and for good. Solomon also wrote, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (Prov. 12:18), and "He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles" (Prov. 21:23). The old carpenter’s rule, "Measure twice; cut once," is appropriate here. Thinking twice before speaking protects me from wounding others and causing troubles for myself.

Emotions also are created by God, as is our capacity to think. But letting our emotions and thoughts run wild is a recipe for disaster. We have an enemy, the devil, who is also called the father of lies (see John 8:44) and the deceiver (see Rev. 12:9). If we do not keep our thoughts and emotions under control, he is more than willing to come in and wreak havoc there. This is why Paul admonishes us to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (see 2 Cor. 10:5), and to think on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8). Solomon would call this "guarding your heart, which is the wellspring of life" (see Prov. 4:23). Keeping my thought life and emotions in check protects my very life.

It would seem that being eternally vigilant on so many fronts would be a task far too large for mere humans. And, indeed, it is. To attempt all this in my own strength would mean certain failure. But Jesus, in sending the Holy Spirit to indwell us, gives us the power to exercise self-control. In fact, it is less an exercise than it is the natural result, the "fruit" if you will, of living by the spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is, among other things, self-control.

© J.H.Nichols 2006

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