But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law. – Gal. 5:22-23
We have been studying one after the other, the fruit of the Spirit. Our meditations bring us now to SELF-CONTROL, the closing member of the nine-part fruit of the Spirit. Here again we will be dependent on the Spirit Himself to grant us light as we consider this virtue.
WHAT IS SELF-CONTROL?
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines self-control as restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires. It is important that we understand the meaning of the key words in that definition. An impulse is a sudden strong desire to do something. An emotion is a strong feeling (such as love, anger, joy, hate or fear). The word desire is an interesting one. It means to want or wish for (something); to want to have sex with (someone); to express a wish for (something).
We all have sudden and strong desires from time to time to do something, and they are not always positive. All of us can be triggered and have strong feelings that could be for love or hate, joy or anger or fear. Those are quite contrasting feelings. Who doesn’t want or wish for something, including the feeling of wanting to have sex? The ability to rein in, to control, to direct, to manage, to command, to dominate and to restrain yourself when these impulses, emotions or desires arise, is what self-control is. Many like to exercise authority over others: husbands their wives, wives their husbands, parents their children, and bosses their subordinates. Man has been able to dominate even the wildest of animals. We are excited about scriptures that give us dominion over the devil and his cohorts. As pleasurable as those are, they are not the fruit of the Spirit. What self-control is is the ability to control yourself by yourself. Many control everything except themselves. What we call our weaknesses are actually manifestations of our inability to exercise dominion over those aspects of our lives. The New Life Version of the Bible describes self-control as “being the boss over our own desires”; the Message says it is being “able to marshal and direct our energies wisely”. What we are dealing with is not just the power to restrain your negative impulses but also the ability to be in charge of and direct even your positive energies properly.
WHEN SELF-CONTROL IS LACKING
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. – Prov. 25:28
What happens when self-control is lacking? In one word: chaos! The walls of a city are meant to control traffic across its borders, offering defence in the process. When the walls are broken down, that layer of control and security is lost and chaos follows naturally. When a person loses self-control, they are now at the mercy of their varying impulses, emotions and desires. What scares me is that this can happen to the best of us. In fact the Bible prophesies that in the last days “people will be without … self-control” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Ask Eve. When she “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it” (Gen. 3:6). Chaos followed. Abraham lost control when he agreed to go in to Hagar following his wife’s suggestion. Chaos followed. It was a lack of self-control when he saw the red stew that made Esau to trade his birthright as the first son of Jacob. When Moses saw the admittedly offensive calf the Israelites were worshiping, he lost control of his emotions and broke the tablets written by the finger of God. Why did Samson lose his eyes, his calling and his life? He couldn’t be the boss over his own desires. Why did David kill Uriah? He saw Bathsheba’s naked body and lost control of his emotions. A cascade of events followed, leading to Uriah’s murder. How is it that Solomon ended up with a thousand women in his life? The answer is this same matter: he had wild desires that he couldn’t tame. The list of Biblical examples is long. What about you and I? Why are you over-weight or obese? A lack of control over your food cravings may be the answer. The last time you were tipsy or drunk and betrayed yourself, what was the cause? Choose your chaos: that unwanted pregnancy, that positive HIV test result, those debts you incurred to buy stuff you really didn’t need, the scuffles you were involved in the other day and the like. Aren’t you in that hole because you had impulses, emotions or desires you failed to control? Paul, writing in 1 Cor. 7:5 said: “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (My emphasis). In addressing the matter of sexual relations between couples the Apostle here revealed why sexual temptations may arise: a lack of self-control. It is as if a deficiency of self-control predisposes to, or calls temptation to the deficient person. Right from our first parents Adam and Eve, the failure to exercise control over oneself has plagued man. When the Spirit comes into the believer’s life, is there any wonder why self-control would be part of the gifts he brings into their lives, like fruit in an orchard?
SELF-CONTROL: THE CHARACTER OF GOD
The LORD’s kindness never fails! If he had not been merciful, we would have been destroyed. – Lam. 3:23 (CEV).
The Israelites, like the rest of us, were a hard-hearted lot. Not once did they get the Lord angry. The scripture above talks about His mercy and kindness as the reason they were not destroyed. Another way to look at that verse, in the light of our meditations would be that of self-control. Had God not controlled His anger whenever they provoked Him, that whole nation would have been wiped out. It is for the same reason that you and I are still alive today. Our merciful and kind Father controls his emotions of displeasure with our failings. Self-control is the character of God. Isaiah speaking about Jesus said: “he was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isa. 53:7). This was someone who could call and immediately receive twelve legions of angels, yet he was struck in the face but remained silent. What a model of self-control! After fasting for forty days and nights He was hungry, yet He didn’t lose control of his appetite and do the devil’s bidding. He was unmarried and had women among His close followers, yet he didn’t fiddle with any of them. Don’t forget that He was fully human. He couldn’t have been less and qualify to be our savior. Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world but He would not yield. Even though He came to establish a Kingdom, He knew how to control that desire and marshal it wisely. Possessing the gift of self-control therefore, is a participation in the divine nature.
GROWING IN SELF-CONTROL
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control … for if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 2 Pet. 1: 5-8.
The first beneficiary of your God-given self-control is you yourself. It spares you the chaos we highlighted earlier. It is so vital that the Bible lists it among the qualities that should be possessed by the servant of God: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). Christian men and women in general, whether serving as ministers of the gospel or not, are admonished to be self-controlled (Titus 2).
How then can the believer possess and grow in this gift of the Spirit. That it is a gift already answers the question. Self-control is given to the believer by the resident Holy Spirit. Where He indwells, self-control is part of the package of fruit He brings. That scripture says to possess these qualities in increasing measure. That means growth. When Titus 2:2 says “Teach the older men to be … self-controlled”, it means that the correct topical teaching of the word of God is God’s way of growing this part of the fruit in the believer’s life. As you learn from the example of Christ and yield to the Spirit’s guidance in the circumstances of life that He leads you into, you will find yourself increasing in this area. Our problems many times arise because we cherish certain things and allow the desire for them to rule over us. Self-control is you ruling over your impulses, desires and emotions. Like patience, the Lord will expose you to well-arranged practical life lessons that will provide the opportunity for you to exercise this muscle and grow. You need to pray for grace to be conscious of such lessons and maximize them. Like Christ didn’t see the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, shown to Him by the devil as an opportunity to expand His Kingdom but controlled himself in the circumstance, do likewise. Never see the things that appeal to your emotions and desires as opportunities. With the Spirit’s help you will be able to restrain yourself and marshal and direct your energies wisely.