Today, I thought it fun to choose select sayings from Proverbs to learn what it means to have self-control… Self control is a major theme of wisdom. (I am choosing to use primarily the NLT). A key saying: "A person without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken down walls". (Prov. 25:28). Oh, how we need self control, the discipline of restraint…
When I was in my teen years, Jim and I spent a few Summers with dad hiking the Washington section of the Pacific Coast Trail. I remember meeting a woman named Teddy, who was walking the entire trail with her husband, a second trip for her. She told us about her first trip that she did all by herself. She described starting early in the season starting at the Canadian border and heading towards the Mexican border. The journey south was lonely, early on she met very few people. What has always stuck with me is when she summarized her experience, “It took me all the way walking through the state of Washington before I could stand myself.”
It has been said love is first on the list of the fruit of the spirit, because every other fruit of the spirit is an expression of love. That makes sense. I think it fitting the other book-end is self control, because discipline needs to be attached to every previous characteristic. Self-discipline brings moderation and common sense to everything we do and everything we think. God intended us to be people of discipline, people of a moderate temperament, self-controlled.
Think of the Fruit of the Spirit as a list of ingredients. Each can be studied in isolation, but you need all of them to be transformed into a complete godly person. I once doubled the recipe for a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I doubled everything except flour. I created that day the flat and crunchy chocolate chip cookie (I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on)! What if you put in everything but the salt. What if you leave out self control! Somehow a little bit of self-control doesn’t work.
Self-control completes the Fruit of the Spirit in you…like the salt that brings out the flavor in every other ingredient. Could you imagine a Jesus Christ without self-control ~ How about the temptations of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness __________ “don’t go to Jerusalem and die he was told by Peter” _________ The disciples wanted Jesus to bring lightning down on the heads of those who they thought were rivals. What if he did? An unrestrained Jesus would be a different person than the Jesus we know. Any person who accomplishes anything of worth has a measure of self-control, not slipping into indulgences…We must be people of self-control in order to live the freedom promised by Christ.
Let’s look to Proverbs to enlarge the meaning of Self-control. I love the variety of translations for Proverbs, I am using today primarily the New Living Translation:
This first Proverb is a contrast of the wise man and the fool: Prov. 13:16: “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t and even brag about it.” Self-control includes the practice of thinking things through and finding a balance. Think! God gave you a brain! In 1997 I went with a group of guys to Washington D.C. to a national Promise Keepers gathering of guys with a million plus showing up. We went a day or two early to see the city. Most of us stuck together, not wanting to get lost. I can still see Josh Spoelstra and Phil Toner getting lost in their own conversation and drifting behind the group, not a care in the world. “Think, Phil, think” I scolded Phil. Pay attention. That’s all I ask. Perhaps thinking is a good place to begin a life of self control. Or a simiar thought is to use common sense: Prov. 20:4: “if you are too lazy to plow in the right season, you will have no food at the harvest.” Self-control doesn’t take brilliance, but simple thinking, common sense.
I heard a recent high school graduate a few years ago that had been looking so forward to growing up lament, “I wish I was a kid again, being an adult is hard.” Growing in the Lord is the easiest thing/the hardest thing ~ brilliance is not needed, only being responsible for your behavior and doing what is needed.
Here is a clear sign of self-control ~ the discipline of personal appetites. Self control is not defined by what you think, your good ideas, or even your wishful thinking, but the true test of self control is our habits…
The classic lack of control comes in the form of alcohol. Prov. 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, liquor leads to brawls. Whoever is led astray by drink cannot be wise.” Self control is a character trait of the Christian life. Don’t think this proverb is only about alcohol, it could be anything, talking too much on the phone, the internet, video games, food …notice in the proverb “wine” is presented as a person, “wine is a mocker,” that destructive transition when what starts out what we intend to be something to entertain us, allow us to rest, instead becomes the slavemaster….
Another out of control personal appetite is luxuries: Prov. 21:17: “he who loves pleasure will be a poor man, he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.” I read a saying the other day, “there are two ways to have enough: gain more or desire less.” … Self control is the character trait of truly saying in your heart, I have enough. The person who can truly say in his heart, “I have enough,” is wealthy indeed.
Practice proper godly priorities and self control is so much easier: “If you have to choose between a good reputation and great wealth, choose a good reputation.” (Prov. 22:1 GNB) Nobody would argue with the priority of a good reputation, but many do not practice it.
And the wealth you are given, self-discipline enables you to manage it responsibly. Prov. 21:20 says it this way: “The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get.” Think credit cards… how easy they can be abused. All the adds tell me credit cards bring great freedom, but how easy for credit cards enslave us.
Another personal appetite that can spin out of control: wallowing in self-pity. Prov. 14:30: “A relaxed attitude lengthens life, jealousy rots it away.” Life is too short to be jealous of others. Learn to thank the Lord for your privileges, your blessings. Learn to make good decisions with what you do have and let go of that which you have no control. Learn to be thankful for the successes of others. Forget the green grass on the other side of the fence you don’t have, and appreciate the trampled brown grass that is underfoot. Your life is a gift.
A light-hearted spirit is a result of self-control. If there is no control there is worry… once upon a time when I was young our family was up high in the old station wagon at the parking lot to the climbing route on Mt. Baker. On the way down, the brakes got mushy ~ you could hear the metal against metal. My father put the car into low gear and creeped slowly down afraid of losing the breaks. Nobody said a thing. The nervousness. Normally a beautiful drive, but how could anyone enjoy the trip when at any moment we were threatened with no way to slow the momentum of the car. I heard about a company that manufactured brakes for cars and trucks. The motto: “Without control, there can be no freedom.” Self control is what brings freedom, through discipline we find life, abundance, the depth of joy, meaningful peace… Self control produces a light spirit…Mixing the contentment that comes with self-control into the godly spirit the Lord is creating in you it is like adding the salt that flavors the entire stew. A light hearted joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. The light-hearted person is more content, less jealous, more flexible, a person of even temperament, takes less offense.
Prov. 15:13 “A light heart makes a happy face, a broken heart crushes the spirit.”
Prov. 15:15 “for the light hearted person life is a continual feast”
The ability to take what life sends is part of self-control, finding peace and contentment in all things is the way the apostle Paul says it. Phil. 4:12-13: “I know how to live on nothing or with everything, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need.”
There is so much more to say about self-control…Just a few more thoughts:
Self-control comes to those who are open to counsel: Prov. 18:1 “a loner is self-indulgent, snarling at every sound principle of conduct.”
Self-control is gained through the wise counsel of others. I need other people. I used to have my father, but I still have many people who are almost as smart: my wife…my mother… my brother, the elders, friends, the ladies of the Clothesline, the folks in the Bible Study… I tell out of control people all the time they need a safe community of faith. I encourage them to give us a look to see if this is where they belong. I tell them that you just may find some of the wisest people on the planet to help them find a settled heart…and people to love them… We all need others to keep us focused on what is most important, to correct, to guide, to love, accept and forgive… For some people the most important job we have as a church is to help fix their brakes, so they gain a measure of control, so they can find the freedom of Christ.
Self Control is the fruit of the spirit we most resist, yet like salt in a stew, it flavors all the other ingredients of your spiritual life. Consider the song, America the Beautiful. We love the first verse as it speaks of the majesty and glory of the freedoms we enjoy: “O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain? America, America God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good, with brotherhood from sea to shiny sea.”
But without the second verse, the first verse is nothing but wishful thinking: “O beautiful, for pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress, a thoroughfare for freedom beat, across the wilderness! America, America, God mend thy every flaw, confirm thy soul, in self-control, thy liberty in law.” That’s the line we seem to forget in today’s America: liberty without self-control…With freedom comes sacrifice, self-control… oh, how we need self-control.
Self control is the last in the list of ingredients of the Fruit of the Spirit. Leave it out, and your spiritual life will suffer. Self control comes through living by common sense, putting the brakes on personal temptations that lead to excesses, adopting healthy priorities of what is most important, rejoicing in the privileges of others and truly being able to say, “Thank the good Lord I have enough.” Self control results in a light-hearted spirit combined with the strength that is embodied by the Apostle Paul’s declaration, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”