Thursday, June 13, 2013

Self Control

In our country, self control is something that is almost non-existent. We're being taught that we should do as we please. I don't believe in living selfishly. I  believe that my life is not my own but the Lord's and everything I do is to glorify Him. My brother recently had to lead a fellowship where the topic was self control. I love what he wrote and that he captured my thoughts perfectly. I asked him if I could post it on my blog and he graciously agreed. So here it is: 

SELF CONTROL - By John Paul Senyonyi

Each of the different characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit focuses on how we respond to God and how we treat other people. Joy and faithfulness are expressed vertically while peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness bear directly on how we interact with others. And, the juiciest fruit, which is at the center of our spiritual fruit salad, is love, which has both a horizontal and vertical dimension. 

Nestled among the Spirit’s produce is the seemingly out-of-place fruit of self-control. This characteristic of a Christ-follower seems to focus more on me instead of on my relationships with other people. I can exercise self-control when I’m the only person in the house. In fact, sometimes the hidden, private moments when no one else is looking is precisely when I need self-control the most. 

However, if we properly exercise the fruit of self-control, it will benefit those around us. In some ways, we might consider this virtue the most important because without self-control the works of the flesh cannot be overcome and the other elements of the Fruit of the Spirit will not be evident. 

When the Greeks wanted to illustrate self-control, they built a statue of a man or a woman in perfect proportion. To them, self-control was the proper ordering and balancing of the individual. Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.” Plato believed that our animal urges must be governed or else they will produce “a feverish state in the soul, a city of pigs” which knows no limits. When we’re not self-controlled, our life is like a pigsty. That’s quite a word picture.

The word translated “self-control” in the NIV is rendered “temperance” in the King James Version. It comes from the word “strength” and means, “one who holds himself in.” To be self-controlled is to not live in bondage to the desires, passions and appetites of the flesh. My body is a good servant but a miserable master. 

While “self-control” is a good translation of the Greek word, it’s a bit deceiving because we all know that we can’t control ourselves simply through our own willpower or self-determination. Self-control is more than just self-help. Paul speaks of our dilemma in Romans 7:18: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out.” 

We can get a fuller meaning of self-control from Paul’s extended discussion of his ministry in 1 Corinthians 9. In this passage, Paul contrasts exercising control over his body with running “aimlessly” in verse 26. He argues that athletes exercise self-control because they have a clearly defined purpose or goal. They cannot afford to be distracted by every passion or desire that comes along. We can therefore define this final fruit of the Spirit as the “control of the self by the Spirit for the sake of the gospel.” What looks like self-control is actually the result of letting someone else take control. Self-control, biblically speaking, means walking by the Spirit, under the Lordship of Christ.

Broken Down Walls

In order to fully understand this fruit, it’s helpful to describe what the absence of self-control looks like. Proverbs 25:28 provides a dramatic description of the individual living out of control, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” When the book of Proverbs was written, one of the main sources of strength and protection for a city consisted in the building and maintaining of walls. A wiped out wall was considered a breach in security. A city with walls in disrepair was a city with a shameful reputation. 

That’s one of the reasons Nehemiah was so motivated to begin a building campaign in Nehemiah 1:3. Those who lived in the capital were in “great trouble and disgrace” because the wall of Jerusalem was broken down. It was open to attack and ultimate destruction. The man or woman who lacks self-restraint is like a city that has no effective defense. They are not able to resist those things that can destroy their lives and the lives of others. When occupants of a city for whatever reason neglected their own safety by failing to build and maintain strong walls, they would have been looked upon as a weak and foolish people. Likewise, when we forfeit the fruit of self-control, we are feeble and not very wise.

The Bible offers several vivid examples of people who lived out-of-control lives. One of the most dramatic stories is of Samson, found in Judges 14-16. He is a portrait of self-destruction. As one of Israel’s judges, the Spirit of God empowered him. He was known for his strength and led God’s people for 20 years. One of his primary tasks was to protect his people from the influence of the pagan Philistines. But because he did not have self-control he instead visited Philistine prostitutes and eventually told Delilah about the secret of his power. Lacking sexual self-control, he soon lost his hair, his strength and his life.

Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “He is a governor that governs his passions, and he is a servant that serves them.” 

Unfortunately, some of us have allowed our walls to be broken down. Instead of governing our desires and appetites, most of us are “bingers” by nature. Some of us binge on food, some on sleep, others on work, and still others on TV, sports, spending or sex. Solomon reminds us of the importance of keeping a watch on how we’re doing in Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life

Self control inventory
Are you struggling with self-control in any of these areas that are addressed in the Book of Proverbs? 

Uncontrolled lust. Proverbs 6:26: “For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.”

Uncontrolled ambition. Proverbs 23:4: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.”

Uncontrolled drinking. Proverbs 23:29-30: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.”

Uncontrolled anger. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

The emphasis in this passage and the key to seizing self-control is grace – God’s lavish favor poured out on undeserving sinners. This grace does at least two things.

1. Grace redeems us (11, 14a). There is no way we can save ourselves. God took the initiative and brought salvation to us. Verse 14 explains that Christ “gave Himself for us.” He paid the price to buy us back from the shackles of sin.

2. Grace reforms us (12, 14b). Salvation not only changes our position before God, we’ve also been given a change in attitude, appetite, ambition and action. We’ve been given freedom from the condemnation of sin and we also have freedom from the domination of sin. Warren Wiersbe writes that the “same grace that redeems us also reforms our lives and makes us godly.” God is training us through the Holy Spirit to be the kind of people that bring glory to Him. 

Practical steps to obtain self control
Admit you have a problem with self-control.
Yield to the lordship of Christ. Galatians 5:16: “Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Cultivate the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer.
Invest in spiritual friendships. Ecclesiastes 4:10: “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!”
Curtail bad influences. Avoid those things that tempt us. 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company corrupts good character.”
Practice good habits. Job 31:1 says that Job made a covenant with his eyes to not gaze lustfully at a woman. 
Welcome gracious correction. Things would have ended differently for Samson if had listened to those who warned him to let God control his sex drive.

The key to displaying each of the nine character qualities known as the Fruit of the Spirit is not to try harder but to understand the short phrase that appears right after the spiritual fruit salad in Galatians 5:23: “Against such things there is no law.” This means that these characteristics cannot be legislated or enforced by a set of rules. You can’t make somebody be kind or patient or gentle. Likewise, no law can keep us from displaying luscious fruit in our lives. The only thing that is keeping us from allowing His fruit to ripen is our own selfishness and sinfulness.

I want to close with a very powerful reminder from Jim Cymbala. He writes this in his latest book, Fresh Power: “While Christ’s work on the cross...was the only way to settle the problem of guilt, sin, and condemnation; the coming of the promised Holy Spirit was God’s way of changing human beings from the inside out. The law given to Moses had failed on this very point. It was in itself holy and just, but the problem was the sinful nature within people. 

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