By Don R Hastings
The word “self-control” is translated from a Greek word which literally means, “one who holds himself in.” It is a better rendering than “temperance,” since today the word “temperance” is usually limited in the meaning to one form of self-control, i.e., abstaining from alcohol. Self-control is the bringing of all our appetites, desires and passions into harmony with the will of God. It is self-restraint, self-discipline. The ability to restrain ourself. What if the diabetic did not control his appetite for sweets, or if the person with high blood pressure did not control his intake of salt, or if the person who needs to study for a test let his mind wander off, etc.? We all know there are consequences to be suffered when we do not maintain self-control. Self-control is mastering the whole person. This may be the hardest task each of us has (Matt. 16:24).
There is a great need for self-control since the powers bestowed upon man by God are capable of abuse and are often abused (2 Tim. 3:1-4; Acts 24:25). The philosophy of “doing your own thing” is opposed to the exercising of self-control. Let us notice some areas in which self-control is especially needed and some of the sins often committed when we fail to exercise self control. We all fail, at times, to exercise self-control. Divine requirements of self control are:
Control Of The Body (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
God intended our bodies to be our servants, not our masters; hence, we must control our bodies with all of their appetites if we are to grow to spiritual maturity (Rom. 6:12,13; 8:13; Col. 3:5; Gal. 5:24). We are to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20).
Hunger is a very strong desire of man but, if not properly controlled, man may become a glutton. We can become compulsive eaters (Prov. 25:16). We can become lazy and sleep too much. Of course, a certain amount of sleep is necessary for a healthy body, but we are talking of the person who falls into a lazy way of life and sleeps most of his life away (Pro. 26:14,15; 6:9-11).
God has given us certain sexual desires, which are just as pure as the desire for food when properly controlled (Heb. 13:4; Gen. 39:9). A failure to exercise self-control here often results in the sins of adultery, fornication, and lasciviousness (1 Cor. 6:9,10). Lasciviousness is “absence of restraint, indecency, wantonness … the prominent idea is shameless conduct.” (Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine). Lasciviousness is defined by Webster as, “tending to excite lustful desires.” Lasciviousness is the opposite of self-control and is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:19).
Control of Temper, Mind And Thoughts (Prov. 16:32; Eph. 4:32,32; Jas. 1:19,20; Mt. 12:34,35;
Mk. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 10:5)
When you lose your temper with others, you have lost self-control at the moment. We are, also, to be in control of our mind and thoughts. We are taught to think of things divine (Phil 4:8; Col. 3:2). Proverbs 23:7 shows why right thinking is so important, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . .”
Control Of Our Desire For Money (1 Tim. 6:9,10; Heb. 13:5; 2 Tim. 3:2)
The word of God does not condemn man for having a desire for money if it is regulated by another desire – the good he can do with his wealth (1 Tim. 5:8; Eph. 4:28). The reason it is so difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven is that he puts his trust in the uncertainty of riches rather than in the living God (1 Tim. 6:17). The control we are to have of ourselves includes the control of covetousness, which is idolatry (Eph. 5:3-5). Covetousness is the love of money out of control. Jesus admonishes us to take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth (Lk. 12:15).
Control Of Our Tongue (Jas. 1:26; Psa. 39:1; Jas. 3:2,8)
We should not swear or speak words of contempt (Jas. 3:9, 10; Mt. 5:22). We should not listen to or tell filthy jokes (Eph. 4:29; 5:4). We should not gossip (1 Thess. 4:11,12; 1 Pet. 4:15). We must not lie (Rev. 21:8; Prov. 6:16-19). We must not teach false doctrine (Jas. 3:1). When our emotions begin to build, we should realize that we are in grave danger of losing our self-control!
How Can The Christian Exercise Self-Control?
(1) Abstaining From Every Form Of Evil (1 Thess. 5.12). Some think that if you sin in moderation it is okay (for example, a little drinking, a little shoplifting, a little lie, a little swearing, etc.).Such thinking is wrong!
(2) Abstaining From That Which Is Lawful If It Causes Others to Stumble. (1 Cor. 10:23, 24, 31, 32; 8:13).
(3) Being Moderate In Those Things That Are Lawful. Fishing, boating, camping, ball games, Atari, etc., are not wrong unless we are spending so much time pursuing these pleasures that our duties to God and family are neglected (2 Tim. 3:4). Proverbs 25:16 shows the importance of not overindulging in things allowable, “Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.” Honey is a good thing, but we can have too much of a good thing.
We do not possess self-control when we are bound by a habit (1 Cor. 6:12). Do not be one who must have that first cup of coffee in the morning before you can talk to anyone decently. We could cite many habits people form, but the point is not to lose the ability to control any situation.
Self-Control Is A Personal Responsibility
We may teach others the necessity of practicing self-control and show the advantages of so doing, but the practice must be left to the individual. God furnishes the means and the incentives, but the fight is with the individual. Self-control is necessary in the development of the Christian to manhood and womanhood, to maturity. The lack of self-control is the primary reason many a promising Christian never amounts to much!
We cannot practice pure religion without self-control (Jas. 1:27). The most expensive and most luxurious automobile would be worthless without a means of controlling it. A ship would be useless without a means of controlling it. How awful the tragedy when a ship, out of control, hit the Skyway Bridge in Florida and vehicles on the bridge became as toys dropping into the water. Many people plunged to their deaths. Such may illustrate, to some extent, how men and women who do not use the power of self-control, soon prove themselves unfit for places of usefulness and honor in the church.
Self-control is something you can do. God does not require the impossible. Knowledge, which is not accompanied by self-control, is worthless. We may know that something is wrong, and may wish not to do it, but do it anyway. This proves that we have failed to possess the “fruit” of self-control (Gal. 5:23).
We need to discipline ourselves to the point that we do that which we know is right in the sight of God. Too many worry about what people think instead of what God thinks! Self-control is essential to our salvation. We should remember always that we are going to give an account for the deeds we have done (2 Cor. 5: 10). Those of us who belong to Christ “have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts thereof” (Gal. 5:24). You can possess the self-control that will make you fit, useful, and a great asset to the Lord’s church.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 22, pp. 684-685
November 15, 1984