When we practice self-control, we do so by limiting and restraining those things which are in opposition to what God requires.
Self-control in a person can take many forms. In other words, self-control will be shown in different ways for each individual person. For example:
1. If someone does something bad to you – some people may want to get even with that person by abusing them or hitting them. The person needs to exercise self-control by restraining themselves.
2. If you like beer – you may be tempted to drink a lot of it and become drunk. By exercising self-control you will only drink alcohol in moderation.
3. If you enjoy food – some people will keep on eating it beyond what is healthy. These people need to show restraint in the amount of food they eat – they need self-control.
4. You are alone with your boyfriend or girlfriend – the temptation to have sex together is very real for some people. Self-control of their desires is important to avoid any unwise decisions being made.
Paul’s advice on self-control
Paul thought that self-control was important and so he wrote a lot of advice about it. This can be seen in a letter he wrote to Titus. He stated that the elders must be self-controlled.
Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. Titus Ch.1:7-8 NIV
He told Titus to teach self-control to the older men.
Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Titus Ch.2:2 NIV
The older women were to teach self-control to the younger women.
Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Titus Ch.2:3-5
The young men were also encouraged to have self-control.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. Titus Ch.2:6
So from these writings of Paul we can see that everybody needs to learn to be self-controlled. Paul made this such a big point because he knew that self-control does not come naturally.
Self-control and sin (disobedience to God)
Self-control is a challenge to everybody. Each person has some area in thought or action where they find self-control difficult. However, if we don’t exercise self-control then it can lead to sin (disobedience to God).
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians Ch.6:9-10
All of these sins listed in these verses come about because of poor self-control.
Praise of self-control
Self-mastery is the greatest of all victories.
Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city. Proverbs Ch.16:32 NIV
Men who have subdued entire kingdoms have been defeated in the efforts to control themselves! For example, lack of self-control of a bad temper can be evidence of pride and impatience. There are many examples of those who did control their temper. David stayed calm when he was cursed. Nehemiah also showed that he could control his spirit even when the enemy sneered at him and attempted to destroy him. However Samson and Uzziah are examples of people who could not control themselves:
Lack of self control: Example 1 – Samson
Samson is a case of a man who couldn’t exercise self control.
Samson’s birth was promised by an angel to the childless wife of Manoah of the tribe of Dan. The angel announced “…for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb to the day of his death”. Such a vow required the person to separate or devote himself entirely to God’s service for a fixed period of time. The central part of the vow therefore was in its devotion and separateness. And of course this same vow applies to all people who are called by the Gospel – we are to be separate.
Samson was not like most of the other judges. He was not appointed to lead an army, but rather with his great physical strength, coupled with bravery, he was to do the work of the army himself. His work was to begin to deliver Israel from the Philistine oppression.
We know then, that Samson’s special gift from God was supernatural strength. His strength was such that at a place called Ramath-lehi he found the new jawbone of an ass and with it killed one thousand of the Philistines. His strength was so great that he carried away the gates of a city.
But despite all these great conquerings, he didn’t have the strength to rule his own lustful passions. The physical strength that Samson had, seems to have produced in Samson self-confidence rather than dependence on God. As a result he broke the Nazarite vow because he couldn’t resist the Philistine women. As a result he ended up grinding corn in a Philistine grist mill with his eyes bored out.
As the second part of verse thirty-two (of Proverbs chapter 16) says
a man who controls his temper [is better] than one who takes a city.
Samson, despite all his victories, couldn’t win the greatest victory of them all and that is self-control.
Lack of self control: Example 2 – Uzziah
Uzziah fell into a similar trap. Uzziah took many cities of the Arabs and the Philistines, but this led to his downfall because he became proud and attempted to offer incense.
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 2 Chronicles Ch.26:16 NIV
So when Uzziah was rebuked, he could not rule his spirit anymore and was struck down with leprosy as a result.
So we have seen a couple examples of people who sinned because of lack of self control. Why did they have no self control? Because they had allowed the selfishness of their nature to control the way they behaved. They put themselves and their own motives before their fellow man and even more importantly before God.
Self-control is like building a city wall
Any good achievements we have had now or in the past may be overshadowed by us sinning because of lack of self-control.
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. Proverbs Ch.25:28 NIV
Just as a city with broken down walls could be easily conquered at the time of Hezekiah, so a man who has no control over his spirit (or emotions) is easily conquered.
Solomon was another example of someone with self-control problems. He had no control over his spirit when it came to women. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines! They turned his heart to idolatry and so began the slow but unstoppable destruction of the city of Jerusalem.
Another example of lack of self-control are the people of Lachish. Because the people of Lachish couldn’t control themselves in relation to idolatry, the Assyrians were able to destroy a seemingly impregnable fortress:
O inhabitant of Lachish,…she was the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion, for the transgressions of Israel were found in you. Micah Ch.1:13
Example of self-control: Joseph
In Egypt, Joseph was purchased by a wealthy man called Potiphar. For good service, Potiphar who was an officer of Pharaoh, made him controller of his house. It was a difficult, responsible position. Joseph was given full power because he was faithful and under his influence Potiphar’s house was blessed and prospered.
Amidst all his prosperity, however, Joseph was called upon to endure bitter slander. He stood apart, separate from the idolatry and sin that surrounded him. The wicked, designing wife of Potiphar, tempted Joseph, who remained upright and refused to sin against God and his master.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he refused. "With me in charge," he told her, "my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. Genesis Ch.39: 8 - 12
Despite the numerous attempts for Potiphar’s wife to sleep with Joseph, he exercised self-control and refused to do it. The temptation was not from within Joseph’s heart. He honoured God who protected him in the midst of evil. We also can resist the severest temptation if we cultivate pure thoughts and place our trust in God.
So too we need to show self-control in all the things we do. If we don’t show proper self-control then we can expect to be disciplined.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? Hebrews Ch.12: 5-7
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews Ch.12:11
So it is obvious from these verses that God allows some things to happen to us in order to train us.
Think about it, who loves his child more – the father who allows the child to do what will harm him, or the one who corrects, trains, and even punishes the child to help him learn what is right ?
It’s never pleasant to be corrected and disciplined by God, but his discipline is a sign of his deep love for us. When God corrects you, see it as proof of his love and ask him what he is trying to teach you.
God encourages each one of us to exercise self-control in all things we do. It is so important that it is one of nine fruits of the spirit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians Ch.5:22-23 NIV
All people must show self-control but especially the elder who others look to as an example:
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 1 Timothy Ch.3:2-3 NIV
Let us all develop the characteristic of self-control.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 1 Peter Ch.1:5-6 NIV