Self Control. Whoa, what an annoying word, right?
Our culture has painted the picture of self-control as something ridiculous. You would never see on the front of a magazine, “5 Steps to Practice Self-Control!” but rather something that look more like, “5 Steps to the Life You Deserve.” Am I right? Usually we grudgingly look at self-control as something that restrains us, binds us, and keeps us from the things we love. And in a way some of those descriptions might be true. But a proper view of self-control is necessary to appreciating it and understanding what God intended for us when He instructed us to live self controlled lives.
Titus 2:3-5 says,
“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderersor addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
If someone challenged you to go without one thing for a week, what would it be? How long could you last? Social media? Sweets? Cell phone? TV?
Better yet, have you ever set goals for yourself in January (aka ‘New Years Resolutions’) and by February forgotten what they were?
“Self control is what we need in order to say no to sinful desires and what we need to follow through with godly desires” (64). Scripture is very clear on self-control. Its a fruit of the Spirit living within us. Paul emphasized it in Titus 2 as he directed every single group; older women, younger women, older men, and younger men. If Paul required self-control, that must mean it is attainable. So why do we struggle with it SO much? Self-control requires effort. It doesn’t come naturally or easily. We continually fail because we are attempting to accomplish such a grandiose task in our own strength. Mahaney reminds us that, “It is only as we cooperate with the power of the Holy Spirit that we will achieve self-control” (65).
God’s Word likens self-control to that of a protective wall. Just like in history when massive stone walls were built around cities for protection from the enemy, self-control protects us from the attacks of our enemy who would love nothing more than to steal, kill, and destroy us.
But why is self-control SO hard? To put it bluntly, because sin is enjoyable. We have selfish natures that are inclined to sin. The Bible is very clear that sin is enjoyable for a season. However, Proverbs 16:25 makes it clear: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Not exercising self-control in our sleeping habits (whether too little or too much), eating habits (making poor food choices, indulgence, or vanity), our thoughts and our behavior all reflect selfish motives and leads to regret and destruction. But by practicing self-control in these areas, we are protected from the ill effects of poor decisions and poor time management. Mahaney states, “When we recognize self-control as the virtue that spares us from sin’s negative consquences, we will welcome it eagerly as our friend.” (67)
In the book, Carolyn covers 4 areas where self-control is vitally important: Our Appetites, Sleep Habits, Our Thoughts and Feelings, and Our Behavior.
1. Our Appetites:
Whether eating too much, too little, or making unhealthy choices, our eating habits say a lot about our ability to control ourselves. A quote from Elisabeth Elliot ends with, “We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies to ourselves.” (68). It is undeniable that undisciplined use of our bodies will hinder our service to God. When we don’t eat healthy, our bodies reflect that. The less healthy our bodies are, the less able we are to serve the Lord physically. On the other hand, eating too little or obsessing over our health is also not glorifying God with our bodies. The sin of vanity is no less serious than the sin of gluttony (71).
2. Our Sleep Habits:
Sleep is a gift from God. It restores our physical strength and resets our emotions. “God has designed our bodies to require sleep, and to cut corners may be expression of pride–an arrogant disregard of our God-given physical limitations” (71). But we can also love sleep a little bit too much (I might fall into this category!) Proverbs 20:13 is clear that loving sleep too much results in laziness and poverty. We must make the most of our time. A lot of women classify themselves as “night owls,” making excuses for their choice to stay up late and sleep in. But rather than using our evening hours for personal pleasure , we need to use that time to prepare for the next day and to go to bed early enough to rise ready to serve God and our families.
3. Our Thoughts and Feelings:
In our feeling-obsessed culture, we MUST develop a proper understanding of feelings. They are a gift from God! Life would be amazingly bleak if we could not feel. But because of sin, the way we think and feel is often contrary to what Scripture commands. We often need to tell ourselves how to feel instead of letting our feelings tell us how to think. Sinful thoughts and sinful feelings lead to sinful behavior. We must exercise self control in this area. 2 Corinthians 10:5 commands us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. Remember: Just because we feel something doesn’t make it true. Our feelings are either ruled by truth or ruled by sin (75).
4. Our Behavior:
There are tons of areas where our behavior needs self control. But there is one that affects all the others. One behavior, if diligently pursued, will promote self-control in every other area. What is it? The daily practice of meeting with God. Call it a cliche, but cliches are cliches because they are true. By meeting with God every single day, we are acknowledging that we are totally dependent upon His grace. No matter what our circumstances are, intimacy with God in His presence is the rock that will empower us to fight our battles every day. We should eagerly and consistently respond to our Savior’s invitation to come and meet with Him. What a privilege!
All of this probably sounds overwhelming. Our temptation is to muster up new resolve and get to work. But just like New Years resolutions tend to fall flat when we try and try and try, so will our efforts in the area of self-control. That’s why we have to surrender ourselves again to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to accomplish it through us. John 15:5 makes it clear: “Apart from [Jesus] you can do nothing.”
- Think about the one area where you are most in need of self-control. What is one way you can apply what you’ve learned in this chapter before our next meeting? (Remember–not “all by yourself!”)
- Make a plan to meet with God every day this week. Acknowledge your dependence on Him for self-control.