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!