6. Aspiring to Self-Control

Aspiring Meditations: 6.  Aspiring to Self-Control

Prov 25:28  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

2 Pet 1:5,6    For this very reason, make every effort to add….  to knowledge, self-control

Gal 5:22,23  the fruit of the Spirit is…. self-control

Goodness is something that is easy to put on the list of things to which we should aspire, but ‘self-control’ sounds a bit like hard work. In fact until you start looking up references to ‘self-control’ you might not think it features very highly in apostolic teaching. Think again. So why should we aspire to ‘self-control’? First, because the apostolic teaching clearly says so. Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy and Titus and also Peter, are big on self control.

First a warning: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will …..without self-control(2 Tim 3:1-3) At the time I write this, the Western world is almost reeling under a deluge of propaganda about ‘sexual diversity’. Now I have no problem in accepting that here and there in the vast population of the world there are people who struggle with which gender they are but, I would suggest, until recent years they have been few and far between. The talk today is of choosing what gender you want to be, and this talk of freedom to choose is alarming wise people from journalists to doctors to social workers, but it is a tidal wave that is rushing through western society, often with strange results – and this flows over into the whole area of sexuality where the words of Paul in Romans 1 are so clearly seen at work.

The concept of Gay marriage is a hot potato in many western countries, and I heard only recently of three (!!!) men who have been afforded legal status in a South American country to be seen as ‘married’ to each other. The boundaries are falling and anything goes in the godless world around us. Self-control is falling everywhere and so in the sexual realm anything and everything is being declared as acceptable. Not in God’s kingdom!  We must learn to be discerning and wise when the rest of the world, having abandoned God, have thus abandoned any concept of right and wrong, and anyone who challenges a particular lifestyle is branded a bigot. Discern between a tendency (e.g. homosexual orientation) and practice (e.g. sodomy). Observe also this is no worse in God’s eyes that rejection of marriage for cohabitation and that after ‘sex-on-the-first-date’ activity that is so common today and clearly portrayed on the media. This, more than most things, suggests to me that we are clearly in the ‘last days’ but whether that is equated with the End Time may be something different. But it certainly motivates me to pray that God will send revival to save us if He is not coming back yet.

So a second reason why I should be aspiring to self-control is to ensure I conform to God’s word, God’s standards and God’s will. Giving way to temptation is always a relinquishing of self control, and Paul warns us of it in the time we live. Hence he exhorts us, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,” (1 Thess 5:6) and then goes on to add, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thess 5:8)

Self-control is one of the standards for a spiritual leader: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled.” (1 Tim 3:2  -also Titus 1:8). Having said that when he instructed Titus what to teach his flock we find, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance,” (Titus 2:2) and then, “train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure” (Titus 2:4,5) and then, “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2;6) That seems to cover everyone except older women, although if he lived today I suspect he would include them.

Paul contrasts two lifestyles: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say (1) “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and (2) to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:11,12) Again he warns us to be ready for when Jesus returns: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:13) and “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) I suspect the implication there is that if self-control falls, sin follows, then guilt follows, and subsequently you stop praying. He also sees it as something Satan will seek to undermine: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”(1 Pet 5:8)

So I think the importance of self-control appears quite clear, but what is it and how can I aspire to it and develop it? What is it? Control of self, self-discipline, being able to rationally decide what I will or will not do, and not give way to temptations that the enemy may place before me, and not giving ways to desires that go beyond God’s boundaries, or giving way to fads and fancies of the modern world. Remember we referred to Paul’s description of what we used to be like before we came to Christ, which included, “at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) Jude wrote to the church about, “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” (Jude v.4) The abandoning of self-control goes with godlessness, and rejects grace.

So how do I develop it? Well, from the recent verses, develop an ever more godly life. As we’ve seen previously, as with all fruit of the Spirit (and this is one of the list) it develops naturally when we allow the Spirit to lead our lives. That is not to say that I do not need to exercise my will – I must. It is not a case of Him or me; it is both of us working this out in my life. May it be so.

63. Self Control

Meditations in 1 Peter : 63: Self Control

1 Pet 5:8a Be self-controlled and alert.

Now if you are alert and can remember some of the things we’ve previously covered, you may remember that back in chapter 4 Peter said, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) and so there we briefly considered this matter of self control – but it was only briefly!

In the world in which we live, we have had a number of instances over recent years of people who have broken loose and lost all control. Recently there was a man in the north of England who came out of prison, shot his girl friend’s new boyfriend – and her – and then went on to shoot a policeman sitting quietly in his police car. Now any one in their right mind would know that you are not going to get away with that, so why do it? You know it must have a bad ending. It did – he ended up shooting himself when cornered by the police after a massive manhunt. The end was predictable, so why start out down that path? The answer is loss of self-control.

Little children round about 2 or 3 lose self control when they throw a tantrum. We expect them to grow up and develop self-control. Elderly people are often noted to speak without care; they put aside the social niceties that they have lived by and speak what their minds think. It seems in old age we sometimes lose self control. Comedians sometimes produce routines that are funny and the humour comes in saying what is not expected, because mostly there are certain norms in society that we seek to conform to. In a comedy routine it can be funny to face the removal of those. Self-control is something that we expect of mature and responsible human beings. For example, when an individual hurts themselves, we don’t expect them to break loose with a bunch of obscenities – but sadly in modern society that is often not so – for that is a sign of lack of self-control. I purposefully determined many years ago that if I even hit my hand with a hammer while working, I would simply respond with an “Ow!” and nothing more.

Lack of self-control is demeaning. Civilised society puts a premium on it and perhaps the English “stiff upper lip” is the classic example of that which, no doubt, went over the top. Showing emotion is not a bad thing but there is a fine line between showing emotion and breaking lose. A classic example of that was Joseph who, in love, could no longer hide himself from his brothers: Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.” (Gen 45:1,2) That was a legitimate loss of control.

An example of bad loss of control is seen in Aaron and the golden calf incident, where we read, “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” (Ex 32:25). Now that is interesting because it shows that self-control was conforming to God’s will, the Law. Various times in the Old Testament period there were references to the land being brought under the control of Israel. Being in control meant not letting the enemy have control, so control there meant resisting the enemy’s activity – again to bring the land under the rule of God.

Self control is thus seen in these instances as being necessary to resist sin and Satan and to allow God’s will to prevail. Solomon wrote, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Prov 29:11) There are times when restraint (self-control) is the wiser course of action to resist the temptation to respond without restraint and open the way up for worse to happen.

Now another way of speaking of ‘self-control’ is ‘self-discipline’ which is why modern versions no longer speak of self-control but self-discipline when Paul was speaking to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7). Self-control or self-discipline are there seen as strong character things, indications of a mature person. Self-control, being one of the things set over and against timidity or lack of confidence, is thus seen as a sign of strength in an individual, something that enables them to feel good about themselves.

There seems a sort of circular thing here. People who feel bad about themselves often seem to exhibit lack of self-control – listen to the language of the person with low self-esteem, often bolstered by expletives which they think will make them look hard or strong. We know differently! But the person who knows they are not in control of themselves then feels badly about it. For example, the person who wants to give up smoking but can’t feels, deep down, bad about themselves. In fact any one of us who are dominated by a bad habit, feels bad about ourselves. With the presence and help of the Holy Spirit, the Lord wants us to be in control of ourselves.

The person who can’t control their eating, their drinking or looking at pornography, is out of control and each one of these things leads to self-destruction. Perhaps an essential thing is to note why people act out of control. The gunman in my earlier illustration allowed anger to develop into revenge and soon a whole downward spiral of bad attitudes were taking over that meant eventual self-destruction. The person who overeats or over-drinks or has a yearning to view pornography, needs to face their own needs and realise that the means they are using to satisfy them are destructive. Jesus has to be the answer to all our needs, and that means submitting to Him as both Saviour and Lord.

With the presence of God in us, we are called to lives of freedom and freedom, strangely, means being able to be in control of oneself. May we know His power and His presence releasing us into self-control!

 

God who disciplines

God in the Psalms No.10 

Psa 6:1 O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath

Our initial response to these words may not be one that lifts our spirit. Most of us would read these words and say, “Oh dear!” (or something similar!). The thought of being rebuked or disciplined is not a comfortable one! These exact words are repeated in Psa 38:1. In fact the concept of the Lord disciplining His people is a very common one in Scripture, and when we see it in context we will see what a good thing it is.

Psa 39:11 says, “You rebuke and discipline men for their sin”. So, there discipline is linked with our sin. Well we would expect that perhaps but look at Deut 4:35,36: You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you”. The ‘things’ referred to there were His acts of deliverance in Egypt before the Exodus and their experience of Him at Sinai.  This idea is repeated in Deut 11:2,3: “Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt.” Again the discipline that is referred to comes about by observing the mighty acts of God as He dealt with Pharaoh and led them to their land.

Well let’s consider a general definition of discipline and see how it might fit what we’ve seen here:

discipline = training that develops self-control and character.

Now what would have been the effect upon Israel of watching God at work in Egypt? It would have gradually brought the revelation to them that He is all-mighty, all-powerful and that He deals with pride, arrogance, idol worship and sin generally. This should have taught them that God was not to be trifled with!   Psa 94:12 says, “Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law”. In other words, discipline comes about when we realize God’s Law, when we realize God’s standards, the way God has made things to be, when we realize the boundaries God has given us in life.

Discipline can thus be seen to be conforming our understanding and our lives to God’s design, God’s character and God’s will. The Lord made us perfect when He made the world but with the Fall, sin made us think and do things contrary to that perfection. Discipline is both the process and the product that brings us back to God’s way of thinking and acting. David was feeling very low in Psalm 6. It wasn’t that He objected to discipline but he didn’t want God to have to discipline him in anger because of sin.

Heb 12:5-11 is probably THE New Testament passage on discipline. The writer encourages us to
not lose heart when he rebukes you (v.6) and then gives the reason: the Lord disciplines those he loves” and “God disciplines us for our good” (v.10), so that Later on… it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). Now substitute the word, “trains” for discipline and we see more clearly what this is about. It’s not about punishment; it’s about bringing us into conformity with the truth – the truth of who God is, how He’s made the world to be, and how we are to live to get the best out of it.

Yes, it so often needs difficult circumstances to mould us. That was what was happening to David. We learn patience by having to wait, endurance by having to hang on in with difficult and trying circumstances, to love by being given difficult people, and so on. Each of these is God training us, disciplining us, and conforming us to His likeness – because He loves us and wants the best for us.