“But the fruit of the Spirit is …self-control.”
Thoughts…. Okay—I want to talk about self-control, and judging by the length of this extra-credit devotional, I have not exercised any! But if you’ve got some extra time today, I think this might be worth your read.
So what does the Bible mean by self-control? There are several different words used in the New Testament for self-control, but the word in our Galatians text is enkrateia, which refers to being strong in something.
In this case, it means to master your moods, impulses and behavior. Self-control is not simply “delayed gratification.” In our culture, delay means waiting two minutes in the fast food drive-thru instead of one, or giving up Coke for Lent—and drinking Pepsi instead.
Biblical self-control may mean giving something up completely. Self-control is the ability to direct my physical desires to fulfill God’s purposes, instead of using them for my own personal gratification. Self-control means taking care of my body in a God-honoring way. Self-control means biting my tongue instead of making that sarcastic remark. Self-control means saying “No” to something I want but isn’t good for me. Self-control says to a watching world that God’s long-range purposes for my life are more important than what looks and feels good right now. Self-control means to take dominion over my desires.
The root word for self-control means to “take hold of something” or literally, to “get a grip.” In whatever particular area of life we struggle, Paul and the other Biblical writers who preached about self-control would say, “Get a grip on this thing!”
And these writers are very specific about the areas where we are to get a grip and practice self-control. Foundationally, they would say get a grip in every area of your life. Don’t let anything be out of your control; bring every area of your life under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul talked about bringing his entire body under control. He even said he would bring every thought captive.
But there are some specific areas which the book of Proverbs, in particular, exhorts us to exercise self-control:
In Proverbs 29:11 we’re told to get a grip on our temper—and I think it would be safe to broaden that to include all of our emotions—get a grip on our moods. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
Proverbs 6:25-26 tells us that we’d better control our sexual desire: “Do not lust in your heart after the beauty of an adulterous woman, or let her captivate you with her eyes, for she will reduce you to a loaf of bread…” In other words, if you lack control in the area of sexual purity, you’re toast! If you give over control to impure thoughts, pornography, or an inappropriate relationship, it will lead you right down the path to destruction.
Proverbs 21:20 teaches that we must get a grip on our consumption and spending: “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.” If you are out-of-control in your spending habits and in bondage to materialism, debt, or living from paycheck-to-paycheck, robbing Peter to pay Paul, begin to cultivate this fruit.
Proverbs 23:29-35 talks about getting a grip on our drinking habits. It warns that if you’re loosing the control battle to strong drink, “in the end, it’s going to bite you like a viper.” That’s why Paul says, “don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to excess, but instead be filled, or controlled, by the Spirit.”
Proverbs 23:4 warns us to get a grip even on our ambition: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.”
Proverbs also speaks of getting a grip on our physical lives, even exercising self-controlled in our eating habits. Proverbs 23:1-3 says, “When you go out to dinner with an influential person, mind your manners: Don’t gobble your food, don’t talk with your mouth full. And don’t stuff yourself; bridle your appetite.” (The Message)
Perhaps the most discussed, and most difficult area where Proverbs calls for getting a grip is on our mouth. The 31 chapters of Proverbs have over 150 references to the words we speak. Proverbs 10:19 says, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” (New Living Translation) Proverbs 21:23 says, “Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.” (The Message) James says when you get control of your tongue, you’ve got perfect control. This little slab of muscle in your mouth is the last and most difficult physical member to bring under self-control. And when it’s not, it does enormous damage. If you’re prone to gossip, criticism, harshness, lying, discouraging words, the Bible says, “do what it takes to get a grip, because you are destructive to others and putting yourself in eternal danger.”
There is no area of life where we’re exempt from developing self-control. We need to blanket our lives with this fruit so that the devil can’t get a foothold and distract us from the life God desires us to live.
So where do you begin? Let me quickly suggest 3 starting points for cultivating self-control:
Step one, start with you! One of the most profitable discoveries we can make in life is to realize that we can only work on changing us! This is the very first step is to take responsibility for your lack of self-control. Instead of worrying about the change that should take place in someone else, focus on you.
D. L. Moody was once asked, “Of all the people you come into contact with, who gives you the most trouble?” Moody’s answer: “D. L. Moody. I have the most trouble with myself.” The cartoon character Pogo said it well: “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.” The whole issue of self-control starts with self. You’ve got to begin to work on you! John Maxwell said it this way: “The first victory that successful people ever achieve or win, is the victory over themselves.” No person is truly free until he or she attains self-mastery.
Now this may sound elementary, but most people trip up right from the start because they are unwilling to face reality about themselves. So start the self-control you with you!
Step two, start small! The old adage is true, “you can eat an elephant—one bite at a time! Don’t get overwhelmed with how far you may have to go. God is ready to give you just the right amount of grace and strength to gain mastery of these areas right now. He doesn’t give you a reservoir of grace and strength for a month or a year from now. But like the manna in the desert, he gives you the right amount for today. And tomorrow, he’ll give you the right amount for that day. Do what you can today. You don’t become a spiritual giant by praying an hour a day…you begin by praying five minutes a day. Or may three or two…you just begin spending time with God. So it is with any area of self-control. So begin by identifying your area, ask God for help and begin to take resolute action steps.
Step three, start now! Do it today. John Hancock said, “All worthwhile men have good thoughts, good ideas, and good intentions, but precious few ever translate them into action.” The Bible says today is the day of salvation! Don’t let a minute go by without taking action to develop self-control. All heaven is holding its breath for you to begin—and succeed. The time is short and heaven is a nearer reality than ever before. And you have a Father who will move heaven and earth to give the will and the power to develop self-control in any and every area of your life, because he loves you and wants you to be free. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12-13, “Be…careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”
There is a prize for us who run the race and train our bodies and discipline our minds and partner with the Spirit to develop the fruit of self-control: It is the reward of heaven and recognition of God in the life to come. It is to have God’s final approval that will make every effort you put forth now to develop self-control, as painful and sacrificial as it may be, worth it in the end.
Prayer… Father, today I would like to take some small steps to bring self-control to my life, especially the troublesome areas of my mind and my mouth. By your strength, I will think only on what is pure, noble, uplifting and glorifying to you, and I will speak only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. At the end of this day, may the self-control that I exert over my flesh be pleasing to you and take me a step closer to full devotion.
One More Thing… “Our words are the commentaries on our wills.” — Antony Farindon