“Lord, help me be more patient.” “Help me to be organized.” “Please help me have kind words instead of losing my temper.” Have you ever prayed such prayers? In reality, these are prayers for more self-control, and who couldn’t use a little more of it? I know I need help to tackle issues in my life, but often overlook the fact that help comes in the gift of self-control.
Often we treat self-control like an unwanted gift that isn’t the right color, size or style, so we hope there is a gift receipt enclosed. Through my life experiences and personal study I have learned that it is a precious gift from our gracious Heavenly Father who knows exactly what is needed for life and godliness…we all need self-control. It will be our friend and ally if we learn to exercise it.
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
In Old Testament times, a city and its people were kept safe by the exterior walls. The walls were their defense against danger. Self-control for the believer serves as a guard and shield against temptations that threaten to overpower us. Without self-control we can give way to our passions, ignoring clear commands from Scripture.
“What is self-control? It is a governance or prudent control of one’s desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions…It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful.” Jerry Bridges1
“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
All areas of life would benefit from more self-control. As stated above, even Paul was concerned about how a lack of self-control could affect his ministry; we would do well to consider this too. Does a lack of self-control affect your marriage, work or personal life adversely? Do you restrain your thoughts and emotions or are they allowed free reign? Do personal habits like sleeping, eating, and computer use, TV watching, or shopping keep you from having a quiet time, fulfilling your role at home or serving at church? These examples are all areas where the spirit and the flesh are in opposition and need continuous monitoring.
“Self-control is the ability to do the important thing rather than the urgent thing.” Timothy Keller2
“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:3-4).
Every day we all are faced with choices that require self-control because they threaten a God-honoring life. From what is read, listened to, watched, consumed, said, or done, all of these decisions require one to be sensible, having sound judgment and inner strength, and are evidence of wise or foolish living. Your conviction concerning these decisions needs to be based on God’s word and acted on out of obedience to Him.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
What good news! It is not about mustering willpower on your own. It is about relying on the Holy Spirit to aid and guide you on your quest for self-control. We are given the “Helper” at salvation, and His job is to teach you all things and help you remember all that Christ said. Since a manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, it is included on the list of things to be taught to us by the Holy Spirit. And God never askes something of us that is unattainable or that He expects us to do on our own. So, self-control can be learned, and must be, in order to battle our fleshly desires.
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).
More good news! What is needed has already been given. But, like a weak muscle, it needs to be exercised to grow in strength and power. Even though we’ve already been give self-control and we have the Holy Spirit to help us with it, we have to do our part to gain mastery over it. I can’t expect my muscles to get stronger simply because I own some weights. I have to use them!
“But the fruit of the Spirit is ….self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The fruit of the Spirit is an outward manifestation of an inward reality. Our culture is absorbed with itself and pleasing self. But the Christian who is marked by self-control will point to Jesus Christ, the only One who can give us victory over our natural tendencies. Living a self-controlled life will bring God glory because you will be doing His will, not your own, and your life will reflect the gospel.
To grow in self-control we have to grow in knowledge of God through His word and prayer. Then we will know what is expected of us. This knowledge will direct us as we make decisions showing the fruit of self-control in us. Keep in mind, what is hard now gets easier with diligent work and practice, and you will learn that God knew your size, color and style when He gave you the perfect gift of self-control.
1 Jerry Bridges, Respectable Sins, (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress 2007) 110
2Timothy Keller, from his Facebook page: July 8, 2014