ADD TO KNOWLEDGE SELF-CONTROL
By Owen B. Moseley
The concept of “control” includes, among other things, the ideas of exercising authority or influence; of holding in restraint; of managing or directing. Self-control has been defined as: “Control of one’s emotions, desires, or actions by one’s own will.” Louisa May Alcott, who died in 1888, discussed the difficulty of self-control as follows:
A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
Charles Dickens expressed one important aspect of self-control when he said: “Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human natur’.” When an individual fails to exercise authority over his own desires and emotions, when he fails to hold them in restraint, he becomes a slave to base pleasures. Solomon said, in Proverbs 25:28—“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.” In Solomon’s time, a city without walls was defenseless against all enemies. The city is wrecked and becomes ruins—the winds and the rains blow in. Likewise, the man who does not exercise control over his own desires and emotions opens himself up to attack from Satan and his forces. The man’s life becomes dilapidated—his character becomes wrecked. The exercise of self-control serves as a wall to protect us from many temptations. Self-control helps to protect us from bad influences and unhealthy desires.
In Proverbs 16:32 Solomon said: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Being slow to anger is one way of demonstrating self-control; that is, we demonstrate that we have command of ourselves.
In the latter part of Proverbs 16:32 Solomon said: “And he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” When we rule our own spirit we are practicing self-control; self-discipline. Solomon says that when we practice self-control that we are better than he that taketh a city. In other words, our private victory over self is really greater and better than great military exploits that result in the taking of a city. Why is this? Because self-control is very very difficult. Why is self-control so difficult? Perhaps the primary reason is because the enemy is within.
Many times we are able to cope with things that are external to our being but we cannot deal with things within. When coping with things external to our being we usually have some authority over us—civil laws, the law of society, and/or the laws of God. If we break any of these laws (and are caught) we have to pay a penalty—sometimes immediately.
There are many areas of life that are not subject to outside authority. For example: Who controls our emotions? Our thoughts? Our desires? And even many of our actions? Our emotions, our thoughts, our desires, and all of our actions are under our own control. In a sense, we are our own judge. We do become the product of our own thoughts. Solomon said in Proverbs 23:7—“ For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” That is, the enemy (if he exists) is within.
Not only is the enemy within, but, the enemy is very subtle. God said in Jeremiah 17:9—“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Since the enemy is within and since the enemy is very subtle, we need to do everything within our power to see that we exercise self-control. One way to help ensure that we exercise self-control is to have a pure heart and to let God reign in our hearts.
When we let God reign and when we exercise self-control, we become masters of ourselves. When we successfully do battle with bad and evil tempers—with improper inclinations—with impure impulses—then we are “better than the mighty” or “he that taketh a city.”
Controlling ourselves in all aspects of our being is vitally important in attempting to live as God would have us to live. Paul likens the Christian life as running a race and says the following in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NASB)—“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” Paul says to run in such a way that you may win. This suggests that many may be running the race of the Christian life in a manner that will not lead to victory. Paul states that all who run the race are to exercise self-control. If we look at the winners in almost all athletic races we see that the winners are individuals who have maintained self-control in training for the event and in performing in the event. If we expect to successfully complete the Christian race, we too must maintain self-control in preparing our lives for living the Christian life and we must maintain self-control as we live the Christian life.
Questions for each of us?
1) Do I exercise self-control to the extent that it serves as a wall to protect me against bad influences and unhealthy desires?
2) Do I demonstrate that I am in command of myself by controlling my anger?
3) Do I let God reign in my life so that I am better able to control my emotions, desires, and actions?
4) Do I maintain self-control so that I can successfully complete the Christian race?