October 8, 2014.
As we continue our journey through the Christian virtues, today we land at what I think is perhaps the hardest one to take and apply it to our lives. To recap, we have discussed how we much have a base of faith and a diligent commitment to begin with if we are going to have any success in adding these virtues to our lives. Then we talked about the first virtue, moral excellence, and the second, knowledge, with which moral excellence should be supplemented. Today we are on to the forth virtue, which is self control.
“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. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(II Peter 1:5-8)
This is a hard one. I think this is where most of the diligence that we have to have goes into. Self control is being able to tell yourself “no” when the opportunity and temptation to sin arise and the will power to say “yes” to what you know to be good. We often only think of self control in the first instance, and I will admit that this is where the majority of our issues with self control come from. But I believe the second way of looking at it, or saying “yes” to the things you should do (also known as discipline) is just as important. James relates an omission of good works to sin:
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
The concept of self control has been around for a long time. The wise man says in Proverbs, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Prov. 25:28) Lack of self control is not looked at fondly, both culturally and spiritually. People inside the church and out have a higher respect for someone who has a lot of self control than one who does not, even if they don’t explicitly express this respect. Thus, even from a non-biblcaion viewpoint, self control is highly esteemed (though you could argue that this is because of the moral standard laid out by God). I would also like to note here that self control is one of the virtues that is also listed as a fruit of the Spirit.
Why do we need self control?
I suppose the ultimate answer is so that we receive the eternal prize, companionship with the Almighty in the resurrection. Paul makes a comparison of spiritual discipline and physical discipline by contrasting the eternal prize to one that an athlete would win that is perishable:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(I Corinthians 9:24-27)
Take note of the end of this statement, “lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Remember that this is Paul speaking. Paul the apostle, who dedicated his life after being converted to spreading the gospel, having much success though the Lord’s hand. Yet this same Paul still had to discipline himself and practice self control so as to not be disqualified. If Paul had to do this, how could we be exempt? Too often have I told myself that I don’t really need to focus on self control because I have confidence in myself to say no when the time comes. Then the time comes and I am unable to stand against the fiery darts of the adversary. Peter gives this warning:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
(I Peter 5:8)
Thus, exercising self control will help us defend agains the devil as he tries to devour us. We are not ignorant of his schemes, as Paul writes to the Corinthians (ref. II Cor. 2:11), so we must not act like we are. Self control is hard, but only through hard work can we produce something that is worthwhile. As the saying goes, if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it.
How do we obtain self control?
The first thing I think we need to remember when it comes to self control is the fact that God is on our side.
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
(I Corinthians 10:13)
We are not going to be put through something that we cannot handle. In other words, we are never going to be put in a situation where it is impossible not to sin. God is always going to give us an escape route. Now, that escape route will probably not be fun, nor one we want to take. I know many times in my life where I have given into sin I have seen the way out. Usually I just ignore it or play it off as something else because I want to do what I’m about to do. This way out does not guarantee escape. We have to make the decision to take it. There is effort on our part. This is self control. So, the first way to get more self control is to start actively looking for the escape that God provides when temptation comes. Then take it.
Secondly, there’s no easy way to get self control. If we want to build it into our character, we are going to have to do just that. We are going to have to be disciplined about it and make an effort to work on our self control. Since different people need more self control in different areas of their lives, there is no “one size fits all” answer to gaining self control. But this does not excuse us from making a plan to build our self control and following that plan. This is commitment that we must all make individually.
Along with the commitment that we have to make ourselves, one of the best ways of starting something or working towards a goal is to have someone to keep you acceptable. In terms of practicality, this would be a very good route to implementing any one of the Christian virtues into our lives. Specifically on the topic of self control, it is good to have someone you can go to when you are feeling tempted. Someone who is not there to judge you, but there to lift you up in times of trouble. Usually, this works in both directions. I would suggest finding someone you are close to, such as your spouse, close friend or family member, and asking them to keep you accountable to being disciplined. Perhaps you can find someone who wants to do the same, and each of you can help the other out. Accountability partners aren’t always fun, but they do often work.
Apart from what we can do ourselves, we also need to be aware that we can grown in self control through God. As I mentioned above, self control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. We have the Spirit dwelling within us producing this moral character that should flow outwardly. Through the hand of God, self control is a very obtainable goal. Prayer is vital to any one of these virtues as it is God who causes the growth inside of us (ref. I Cor. 3:7). To Him ever be the glory.
I hope that you are continuing on applying each of these to your lives daily. If not, there’s no time like the present to start! If you have tried to incorporate them but have stumbled, I encourage you to get back up. These are not easy, but they are worthwhile. The Christian virtues give us a good reference to how God wants us to live our lives, as holy and consecrated to Him. Through Him and for Him we live.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Suggested Daily Reading: I Samuel 24, Daniel 1, Matthew 4, Luke 4.
Hallelujah to the King!