Read: Proverbs 25:28
Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.
What does the Bible mean by self-control? Primarily it means to master your moods, impulses and behavior. What it doesn’t mean is simply to delay gratification. In our culture, delayed gratification means waiting two minutes in the fast food drive-thru instead of one, or to give up Coke for Lent—and drink Pepsi instead.
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 fleshly desires.
The root word from which self-control was derived meant to “take hold of something” or literally, to “get a grip.” In whatever particular area of life we struggle, these Biblical writers would say, “Get a grip on this thing!” And they 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. 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 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 man! 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 us to 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.”
Proverbs 23:29-35 talks about getting a grip on our drinking habits: “In the end, it’s going to bite you like a viper.”
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 23:1-3 also speaks of getting a grip on our physical lives: “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.” (Message)
Proverbs 10:19 says, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” (New Living Translation) Getting a grip on our mouth is one of the most discussed and most difficult areas where Proverbs calls for self-control. In fact, in the 31 chapters of Proverbs there are over 150 references to how we use, or misuse, our words.
You know, it’s too bad, in light of the last point, that God didn’t create the human body to include a mouth zipper. That would have made things a lot easier for some of us! But since he didn’t, self-control is still the best and only option for managing our mouth, and managing our life.
So where do you begin? Let me 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 to taking responsibility for your lack of self-control. John Maxwell said it this way: “The first victory that successful people ever achieve or win, is the victory over themselves.”
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 right now to give you just the right amount of grace and strength to gain mastery of these areas. 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. So just do what you can with what you’ve got!
Step three, start now! Today is God’s gift to you—that’s why it’s called the present—so get after it!
“All worthwhile men have good thoughts, good ideas, and good
intentions, but precious few ever translate them into action.”
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
Simply identify one area where you want to begin exercising self-control. Now, write out the first step you will need to take to achieve mastery in this area. And if you are willing, share your plan with someone.