One of the most interesting definitions I have seen of Self Control is:” Knowing you can but deciding you won’t.” I can probably add to that, “not feeling like doing it but doing it anyway!”
Robert E Lee, Commander of the Confederate States Army in the 1800s said: “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.”
Ask any person who excels in their field, be it sport, academics, music or business – the key to success is discipline. Discipline and self-control are brothers. While we seem to equate self-control more with disciplining our emotions and self-discipline with disciplining our bodies, they are in essence both based on denying your immediate wants in order to achieve a higher goal. Because I am cultivating a good relationship with my spouse, child, friend, boss or colleague, I do not vent my anger or disappointment, but rather submit to the Holy Spirit in an attitude of forgiveness and love. In this way, self-control helps me to not become a victim of other’s bad behaviour. Instead, I decide how I will act and speak to best be a reflection of Christ – for the sake of my own growth and maturity and for the sake of building other people’s faith.
This is probably why Paul gave Titus very clear instructions on how to choose leaders in the church and it is interesting that one of the main requirements for men and women to lead is the ability to control themselves. Self-control has to be practised in order to become the default reaction in your life. It is entirely possible for us as believers to apply self-control, as Paul reminded Timothy in 2 Timothy 1: 7. (TPT) “ For God will never give you the spirit of fear, but the Holy Spirit who gives you mighty power, love, and self-control.
Although God’s spirit is given to us, we have the option to obey and act according to the principles of the Word of God, prompted by His Spirit living within us. Alternatively, we can indulge in our own selfishness and let our words and emotions erupt at our slightest discomfort. We do not become Christian puppets the moment we accept Christ into our lives – instead, we choose to become more and more like Him, as we submit our previous patterns of behaviour, speech, thoughts and actions to His Lordship.
The Bible gives the example of how athletes train and discipline their bodies, and it encourages us to apply the same self-control when it comes to laying down bad habits which hold us back from living a meaningful life. These range from eating habits to substance dependence to procrastination to verbally abusing people around you, to negative thinking patterns, gossip, greed, ungratefulness and a host of other negative influences in your life. Name it – the bottom line of it is most probably a lack of self-control.
Let us explore some of these verses:
Galatians 5:22-23 (TPT) “But the fruit, produced by the Holy Spirit within you, is divine love in all its varied expressions: joy that overflows, peace that subdues, patience that endures, kindness in action, a life full of virtue, faith that prevails, gentleness of heart, and strength of spirit. Never set the law above these qualities, for they are meant to be limitless.”
Strength of Spirit: Although the word self is not found in this verse, most translations render this as “self-control.” The word is actually “lordship,” or by implication “spirit-strength.”
This implicates that we submit ourselves to the Spirit of God within us, and instead of exploding at the first sign of something that is not to our expectation, we submit to the Spirit of God and respond in humility and love. This also implies that performing religious activities should never be a higher priority than to obey the spirit of God and being changed to become Christ-like in our conduct, speech and thought.
Proverbs 25:28 (ESV) “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. “ The Passion Translation describes it beautifully: “If you live without restraint and are unable to control your temper, you’re as helpless as a city with broken-down defences, open to attack.”
2 Peter 1:5-7 (ESV) “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
Proverbs 16:32 (ESV) “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
Titus 2:2 (ESV) “Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.”
Titus 2:11-12 (ESV) “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…
Titus 2:6 (ESV) “Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.”
Self-control is very closely linked to being considerate to others. Dr Hendrik Vorster defines Consideration as follows: “Consideration is the Kingdom value of acting thoughtfully and with care, beforehand, as to how your preferences, actions, responses and presence at certain places, might impact others. Being considerate is being thoughtful, mindful, and careful about how one’s actions and words might negatively impact others.”
“In everything you do, be careful to treat others in the same way you’d want them to treat you, for that is the essence of all the teachings of the Law and the Prophets.” Matt 7:12 (TPT)
The message is clear: we shouldn’t kid ourselves – the proof is in the pudding – the way we treat people is a direct reflection of how much we submit to God. Self-control is not optional for a Christian, it is part and parcel of the testimony of how God can change and heal the human heart. How are you doing in this area?