Practicing Self-Control
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"But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Tim Thomassen

Pastor Russell wrote, "There is a touching tenderness in the epistle of the aged Apostle Peter to the household of faith, showing that, while he realized that the time of his departure was drawing nigh, his solicitude for the growth and development of the Church was increasing. Accordingly, he wrote two general epistles, not so much to advance new truth, as to call to remembrance truths already learned and fully received, and to counsel all to faithfulness and to growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (Reprint 3215:1).

Peter wrote "to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1, partly from NASB). He stressed the importance of grace and peace and the knowledge of God and Jesus. He stated that God’s divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, "through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence" (2 Peter 1:3 NASB).

God’s precious promises are alluded to in the fourth verse. Peter informed his readers that it is by those promises that we are enabled to become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

He then counseled his audience to apply all diligence in several different areas. In this article attention will be focused upon "self-control," as mentioned in the sixth verse (NASB). In the King James Version, the word is translated as "temperance."

Peter emphasized the importance of all of the qualities by saying that if these increase in our lives, then we would not be "useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse eight, NASB). In verse 10 (NASB), Peter assured us that as long as we practice these things, then we would never stumble and the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would be abundantly supplied to us (verse 11, NASB).

With these points in mind, let us examine why it is important to practice "self-control." Why did Peter list this quality as one that must be fully developed in order to enter into the eternal kingdom? In his first epistle, Peter spoke of "an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4, NASB). Where does "self-control" fit into this bigger picture?

Self-Control Defined

Self-control involves mastering one’s moods, rather than being controlled by them. The false teachers, whose views Peter was preparing to expose, believed that knowledge freed them from the need to control their passions. Peter taught that submission to Christ means that evil or even merely distracting habits should be rejected and Christian character exhibited instead.

Some have suggested that self-control is synonymous with self-restraint, self-management or self-regulation. Self-control has to do with all of our sentiments, thoughts, tastes, appetites, labors, pleasures, sorrows and hopes. Its cultivation, therefore, means a high order of character development. Self-control, accompanied by faith, implies increased zeal and activity in divine matters. The knowledge we gain of God through His word should lead us to greater moderation — in thought, word and action (Harvest Gleanings, page 447:3).

We are not to be hasty and hot tempered, or rash and thoughtless, but evenly balanced, thoughtful and considerate. Three passages from Proverbs teach us the wisdom of controlling anger:

"He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly" (Proverbs 14:29 RSV).

"A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient" (Proverbs 14:17 RSV).

"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man quietly holds it back" (Proverbs 29:11 RSV).

Self-control, accompanied by kindness and gentleness, should be practiced and demonstrated everywhere. This applies to the office, supermarket, department store, bank, classroom, factory, farm, auditorium, hospital, automobile, air plane, bus, train, in visiting, at home, with the various members of the family, electronically, on the telephone, and above all, in the church. Self-control is one of the most important elements of good character, no matter where we are.

"We should be examples of wisdom and moderation to all and extremists only along the same lines that Jesus and the apostles were counted extremists" (Harvest Gleanings, page 447:4). We are instructed in 1 John 3:2-3 (RSV) that "we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure" (Reprint 2032). The follower of Jesus must control himself and purge out more and more of the old leaven.

We are told in Proverbs 16:32 (NASB): "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city." We are to rule our appetites and affections, particularly our passions and anger, keeping them under check. "The conquest of ourselves, and our own unruly passions, requires more true wisdom, and a more steady, constant, and regular management, than the obtaining of a victory over the forces of an enemy" (Matthew Henry’s Commentary).

We must bring our own mind or will into full subordination. We can do this by changing the allegiance of our own will to doing God’s will. The Psalmist wrote, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart (Psalms 40:8)." And it was written of Jesus: "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me), to do thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10:7). Perhaps the greatest power in the universe is the power of the will.

Suggestions for Improving Self-Control

(1) In order to build self-control, one must deny self. He or she needs to listen to his or her conscience and model the Apostle Paul, who wrote: "So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men (Acts 24:16 RSV). This indeed requires practice on our part.

(2) Make self-denial a habit and not just a trend. If an individual intends to truly change his or her ways, he or she must take positive action continually.

(3) Self-control cannot be compartmentalized. One should not think that he or she can be self-controlled in use of the computer and not in TV watching. An individual needs to practice discipline in all areas of life.

(4) Do not neglect to provide sufficient time for rest. Sleeping will result in better mental health and, with the next day, opportunities will enable the Christian to act on the new things over which self-control is possible.

(5) Practicing these suggestions may not bring instant change. There is a need to have patience and stay calm. However, one must not procrastinate.

Self-control is not necessarily a pleasant concept. It means controlling ourselves to do things we do not want to do and to not do things that we do want to do. There may be some areas in our life where many of us do not want to think about the need to control ourselves.

Paul raised this question in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (RSV): "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." The context is talking about fornication, but the principle applies to more than just that.

Another set of familiar, yet very relevant scriptures, is found in Romans 12:1-2 (RSV): There Paul wrote these important words: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." By doing this, we will of necessity practice self-control.

We are not to just do what feels good to our bodies. We are to use our bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God. What we do with our bodies matters. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 (RSV): "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything."

Here Paul is speaking about food, but the principle applies to anything. We must not be enslaved to anyone or anything except God. "No one can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24)."

Self-control is not easy, or it would not be called "self-control." It is essential to pleasing God. We must not let ourselves become slaves to physical stimulants, food, or any other thing that does not glorify God in our bodies. Let us be careful to be slaves to God and use our bodies in His service.

Challenging Ourselves

Self-control and time management go hand in hand. We are admonished by Paul in Ephesians 5:15-17 (RSV): "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

Let each of us ask ourselves the following: Am I studying the scriptures daily? Do I spend more time reading the Bible and other sanctifying materials than in reading secular literature, be it the printed type or electronic versions? Am I attending meetings and conventions as often as possible? Do I enjoy and appreciate fellow believers more than my neighbors, worldly associates or even my own flesh and blood? Am I seeking first the kingdom of God? Am I setting my affections on things above, and not on earthly matters?

Do I have a great desire to tell others about God’s love and his plan of salvation? Do I feel as Paul did when he said in 1 Corinthians 9:16: "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (RSV)

Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27: "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel" (RSV). This is a prayer for all who are striving to practice self-control.

Many have probably heard the adage from a teacher or parent, "Practice makes perfect." This author heard it as a youngster on many occasions. However, it may be more accurate to say, "Practice makes permanent." Whatever we practice will become the norm. If we practice incorrectly, the result will be perfectly wrong.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the author of a popular saying that is often attributed to others: "Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny." The Apostle Paul put it this way, as found in Galatians 6:7-9 (RSV): "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart."

Commitment a Must

In 2010, the girls of Eastdale Little League in Albuquerque, New Mexico, set a goal: win the Little League Softball World Series in 2012. On August 15, 2012, Eastdale’s dream became a reality, as the Southwest Region champions dominated in the World Series final in Portland, Oregon. The New Mexicans outscored their opponents 67-5 in six World Series games and 28-2 in the final two contests.

When Eastdale won the state championship in the minor (9- and 10-year old) division in 2010, manager Reno Sanchez told his players they could someday play on ESPN2. "I’m not sure I believed it at the time," Sanchez said. "But the girls did, and they worked their tails off to get here." "Hopefully there are a lot of life lessons here," he added. "Never sell yourself short and always set your goals high. Anything’s obtainable if you put enough work into it." The manager of another team remarked: "I’ve witnessed these girls practicing day and night. Three hours in the morning, and then come back in the evening and practice another three hours. All the tournaments we didn’t want to wake up early and go to, it all pays off in the end," said shortstop Desiree Madrid. "We worked so hard for two years, and we finally reached our goal."

The Apostle Paul also used a sports metaphor. We find his famous words in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27: "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."

In Philippians 3:14 (Rotherham), the Apostle Paul wrote: "With the goal in view, I press on for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus." The word "press" carries with it the thought of running swiftly to reach the goal. It also means to seek after eagerly, and to earnestly endeavor to acquire. Our goal is Christ, and Christ alone. To reach that goal, we must practice self-control in all of life’s affairs if we are to be victorious in the end.