Self-control. If you’re anything like me, you probably hear that word and think, “oh boy.. are you going to start talking about my eating habits? My sleeping habits? My habit of getting defensive when somebody mentions self-control?”
Well, isn’t that interesting? In any discussion about self-control we often just think about our poor habits. Our inability to say no to just one more cookie or the seemingly supernatural power of that snooze button in the morning. But I wonder if we have ever thought about just how all-encompassing self-control really is.
I mean, consider this: you get bored reading an article that you really don’t want to read, but know that you should (I’m not talking about this one… unless…). How is it that you can power through and finish? What does it take to stay up until 2:00am and finish reading the assigned texts for your 8:30am class? Or the budgets for your staff meeting at 7:00? Well, you can probably guess it: self-control.
Not only do we need self-control to not hit the snooze button in the morning, but we need self-control to actually get out of bed.
How about this. You failed to stay up until 2:00am and you didn’t finish your reading for that class you have. Then your professor asks you to raise your hand if you were able to complete it. Or worse, your boss asks if everyone was able to review the budget material. What is it that you need in order to keep your hand down and confess that the desire to sleep outweighed your desire to be prepared? Yep, self-control.
But here’s where I think our natural understanding of self-control falls short. We often simply think of it as the ability to refrain from doing something that we know we shouldn’t (i.e. ordering a grande frappuccino instead of a tall). Yet, with just a little deeper thought, I think we could come up with a slightly better definition. Self-control isn’t simply the ability to refrain from doing what we shouldn’t, but it’s also the ability to do what we know we should.
Not only do we need self-control to not hit the snooze button in the morning, but we need self-control to actually get out of bed. More importantly, and particularly as Christians, we not only need self-control to stop sinning, but we need it in order to live God-honouring lives.
Just think of the energy it takes to go to church sometimes, or to get on our knees and spend some time in prayer. Think of how hard it can be to share the gospel with somebody who’s asked you why you’re so joyful all of the time, or how difficult it can be to actually be joyful all of the time!
What does it take? It takes self-control.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I used to think that self-control was a little out of place in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. I mean, its next to things like love, patience, gentleness… How does self-control really fit? But when you think it about it, self-control is the necessary ingredient for any measure of godliness.
You can’t be loving unless you’ve got the strength to choose love when you really don’t want to. You can’t be patient without being able stop yourself from lashing out. You can’t be gentle, kind, joyful, peaceful, faithful without the self-control to actually do it!
We have such a small view of self-control and unfortunately that keeps us from praying for more of it. But self-control is critical for godly living. We need it for more than getting out of bed in the morning or staying the course on a difficult diet, we need it to put off the old self and put on the new self.
You can’t be gentle, kind, joyful, peaceful, faithful without the self-control to actually do it!
So how do we get it? Well the fact that it’s in the list of the fruits of the spirit ought to tell us that real and powerful self-control comes from the Lord. But there’s no missing the fact that self-control is also something we learn. Paul speaks of it as something that we’re being trained to have (Titus 2:12), and something we ought to urge each other to display (Titus 2:6). So though the Spirit of God produces it within us, we need to work alongside Him to see it develop.
There’s a whole world of application to talk about here, but I think the first thing we need to be convinced of is the fact that self-control is crucial for our ability to live God-honouring lives. If we’re actually convinced of that, then we’ve got a good step forward on developing godly self-control. And unfortunately, most people never seem to take that step.