‘Life Workings’ Meditations No.28: Self Control
Prov 10:13 “Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning.”
We’ve just been considering the potential for letting relationships deteriorate with word or deed but again, something very obvious here is that we can choose to bite back an angry response to a negative word, we can choose to not let the conversation deteriorate. As Solomon said, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” (Prov 15:1) or as the Amplified version helpfully expands it, “A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, but harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger.”
The word ‘lips’ occurs 37 times in Proverbs. Solomon clearly thought speech was so important. He was right. Further considering our individual uniqueness, you learn much about a person, what they are like, by their speech, each person different. Our words, says Solomon, reveals our wisdom – or lack of it (Prov 14:3) Our words reveal us, and our words have consequences, good (Prov 12:14) or bad (Prov 16:27). Jesus said, “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.” (Mt 15:18) i.e. what we’re like on the inside is revealed through the mouth. What do you and I reveal I wonder?
But there is something else here to be taken hold of, the idea of self-control. We may think this is easy to understand but a dictionary describes it as, “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behaviour, especially in difficult situations.” Another one adds to that, “in the face of temptations and impulses.” Interesting. Difficult situations… temptations and impulses. The natural impulse on being verbally attacked, say, is to retaliate with equally hostile words but Solomon said that hostile words only go to stir up even more the anger that caused that offence to you. When I look back on my life, I think some of my greatest failures have been to just not have the right words to calm people down, or the right words to restrain them. Perhaps I lacked the wisdom or grace or simply self-control to walk away. Or maybe the words, “I’m sorry,” might be appropriate either to express our own shortcoming whether it was by expressing ourselves badly or not being able to help them. It seems that sometimes Jesus just went silent. Maybe on occasion that might be our best path until the other person has had time to calm down and reflect on their bad responses. To ponder on Prov 16:32 & 25:28 is a little mind stretching. Intriguingly Paul spoke about it in the context of salvation (Acts 24:25) and of course it is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) AND a requirement for leadership (1 Tim 3:2), for older men (Titus 2:2), for wives (2:5), & young men (2:6), all of us (2:12)! Wow!