Benjamin Franklin stated, “Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society.”
“A lack of self-control destroys lives, families, and futures. To control one’s self is to hold self to a high standard of truth, character, and morality (i.e., the divine nature). Those who exercise self-control prove themselves to be responsible members of society. Far too many Christians are good at attaining knowledge yet they fail in the area of self-control. We must all be honest with ourselves, identify our weaknesses, admit our errors, and strive to be stronger in the Lord.” (Robertson’s Notes)
Many declare out of frustration, “I wish I had more self-control!” Many of us have heard this declaration or have made it ourselves. In society, we talk about our lack of self-control regarding: food, the words of our mouth, sexual desires, technology. David Qaoud shares his insight, “Christians who have self-control and are seeking to grow in self-control are a blessing to everyone around them. Seek to be one of them.”
Self-control or temperance is defined as the “moderation of passion; particularly, habitual moderation in regard to the indulgence of the natural appetites and passions; restrained or moderate indulgence; as in eating and drinking opposed to gluttony and drunkenness; as in other indulgences, to excess.” [Webster]
Self-indulgence seeks what is temporary while self-control seeks what is long-lasting; both can have eternal consequences or rewards.
Foundational Thoughts on Self-Control
Swindoll shares, “As believers building on faith with moral excellence and knowledge, we must never allow anything to control us but the Master. Not money, sex, power, food, drink, drugs, habits, work, or personal goals. Self-control means maintaining a balanced life, even when the world encourages indulgence. It means saying “No” to the second helping – or the second glance.” [Swindoll 298]
Shaddix asserts, “To the Greeks this word carried the idea of controlling the passions instead of being controlled by them. But believers understand that controlling passions is only possible as one submits to the control of the indwelling Christ (M. Green, 2 Peter, 88). Peter’s readers needed reminding of this because the false teachers believed that following their own lusts and showing no restraint were signs of maturity (2:2; 3:3).” [Shaddix 22]
Ivill encourages, “As we walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh, we bring all of our appetites under the control of Christ. Though we may want to indulge in the corruption of this world, we yield our desires to the Spirit’s control, asking Him to rein in our passions so that we might serve Christ more fruitfully and effectively.” [Ivill 110]
Wiersbe speaks of self-control, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city’ (Proverbs 16:32). ‘Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit’ (Proverbs 25:28). Paul in his letters often compared the Christian to an athlete who must exercise and discipline himself if he ever hopes to win the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:7-8).” [Wiersbe 24-25]
Self-Control by Self or God?
Peter urges us to ‘make every effort to add to our faith…self-control.’ The question is, “Is self-control something we do in our own strength or is self-control dependent upon God?”
In 2 Timothy, we find, ‘God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control.’
In 1 John 2, we discover, “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh [craving for sensual gratification] and the lust of the eyes [greedy longings of the mind] and the pride of life [assurance in one’s own resources or in the stability of early things] – these do no come from the Father but are from the world [itself].
The Word of God states self-control is a fruit of the Spirit of God which according to Paul, we can exercise and according to Peter, we can diligently increase to become productive, fruitful, able to see, and kept from stumbling.
Cindy Hatcher states, “The key to self-control is having the will to submit and be surrendered to the Spirit of God. Self-control is all about learning how to have our soul submitted to our spirit man. And it’s our new spirit-man that God’s working on; our old man is dead and gone. When we don’t have our soul (mind, will, and emotions) submitted to the Spirit, then that’s when we’re in the flesh, and that’s when we can find self-control to be difficult. We need…to be surrendered to the Holy Spirit, and that’s how, in partnership with God, we grow in the characteristics of Christ.” [Hatcher]
Galatians 5 exhorts us to “walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
“Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit. Let’s not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another.”
“Displaying self-control is often a matter of responding rather than reacting. When we react to a situation, we let our emotions take control. Responding, however, involves developing a thoughtful response that is guided by reason more than emotions. As Christians, our responses to situations are to be guided by the fruits of the Spirit.” [GCU]
Ephesians 4 continues this thought, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”
1 Corinthians 9 asks, “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. 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. Therefore we run in such a way, as not without aim; we box in such a way, as not beating the air; but we discipline our body and make it our slave, so that, after we have preached to others, we ourselves will not be disqualified.”
It is imperative we have teachable hearts. Humility and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit can keep us from pride, lust, and the deeds of the flesh.
Self-Control by the Spirit of God
While laying the foundation for 2 Peter 1, https://strengthwithdignity.com/life-and-godliness-foundation-and-faith/ we talked about clothing ourselves with Christ. Colossians 3:1-4 pronounces that “if then you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth. For [as far as this word is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in [the splendor of His] glory.”
Colossians 3:9 tells us to ‘lay aside the old’ and verse ten encourages us to ‘put on the new self’ and verse twelve list what we are to ‘put on,’ mainly: a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Subsequent verses add to ‘put on’ a forbearing spirit, a forgiving spirit, and love which is the perfect bond of unity.
Romans 12 mentions us being transformed by the renewing of our minds, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The Spirit of God strengthens and empowers us to ‘set our minds on things above’ and to ‘lay aside the old self and put on the new self’ and to ‘renew our minds’ in the Word of God.
OT Biblical Life of Self-Control
Nehemiah, cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes in the capitol of Susa (present-day Iran), traveled to the city of his ancestors to restore it. As Nehemiah encouraged his people to rebuild the walls and gates of their desolated city, the ruling officials mocked them. The ruling officials falsely accused them of rebellion against the king. (2:19)
Nehemiah exercised self-control by not engaging verbally or physically with his accusers. As Nehemiah and the workers repaired the walls and began to actually make progress, the officials ‘became furious and very angry and mocked’ them. (4:1) The officials words demoralized some, yet the work continued because ‘the people had a mind to work.’ (4:6)
Yet Nehemiah’s response to the angry, mocking officials was prayer. He exercised self-control in the natural realm and looked to God for strength and assistance. And the Lord exposed the plot against them which was the enemy’s plan to mingle in with the workers, then turn and kill them and stop the rebuilding of the wall. After the plot was exposed, the workers worked with at tool in one hand and a weapon in the other hand. Others took turns, half of the workers would work while the other half stood guard, then they would switch places.
Nehemiah’s Self-Control and Wisdom
When the wall was nearing completion, the officials tried to lure Nehemiah to a neighboring city in order to kill him. He responded, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (6:3) We see Nehemiah walking in self-control, wisdom and strength.
The officials responded with false accusations and printed reports that the people were planning to rebel against the king and make Nehemiah their king. The officials were trying to manipulate Nehemiah because they wanted to remove him and stop the completion of the wall. Nehemiah’s self-control, patience and refusal to be manipulated and distracted led to the wall being finished in 52 days. “When all our enemies heard of it, all the nations that were around us were afraid, and they lost their confidence; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.” (6:16)
Nehemiah walked in self-control as the officials mocked, then threatened him. He continued to pray, to work with his hands, to encourage the people, and he set up strategies of protection as they worked on the restoration of the wall. Nehemiah refused to buckle under the harassment and oppression of the ruling officials; he prayed, faithfully worked with his hands, and walked in self-control in regards to those around him.
NT Biblical Life of Self-Control
The story of the man born blind exposes heavenly and earthly perspectives. The earthly perspective of blindness was it was a result of sin while the heavenly perspective was ‘in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ (John 9:3) After being healed, instead of rejoicing with him regarding his healing, those around him questioned him repeatedly. The healed blind man exercised self-control by answering the peoples’ questions multiple times of how Jesus healed him.
He did eventually answer his questioners with a little bit of impatience, “How amazing! You don’t know where He comes from yet He opened my eyes. Since the world began it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (9:30, 32-33)
Jesus came to the healed blind man and said, “’Do you believe in the Son of God?’ He answered, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen Him, and it is He who speaks with you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ and he worshiped Him.” (9:35-38)
After years of blindness, sitting on the streets begging, the blind man could now see. He could see his family, his neighbors, travelers, his town, and creation. I’m sure he wanted to go about seeing everyone and putting faces with voices. I’m sure he wanted to go around and see everything as the world gained a new perspective with his eyesight. Yet, he exercised self-control and patiently answered everyone’s questions about his healing.
It must have taken a lot of self-control to not be upset at the people who knew him only by his handicap when he was a whole person on the inside whether blind or with sight. People are greater than their external attributes.
Historical Life of Self-Control
Rosa Parks is known as “the mother of the civil rights movement.” Parks “refused on principle to surrender her seat because of her race, which was required by the law in Montgomery, Alabama at the time. She was briefly jailed and paid a fine.” (NCC) “Parks’ arrest on December 1, 1955 launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott by 17,000 black citizens.” At the time, Parks had been the NAACP local chapter’s secretary for twelve years. (NPS)
“At the time of the bus boycott, seventy-five percent of the public transportation customers in Montgomery were black, and they remained united for more than a year, as the boycott crippled revenues for the bus line.” The bus boycott lasted 381 days. The spokesperson for the movement (Montgomery Improvement Association), was a little-known pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “He was chosen because he was new to the area and didn’t have any enemies in the community.” (NCC)
“A Supreme Court ruling and declining revenues forced the city to desegregate its buses thirteen months later.” Parks lost her seamstress job and received death threats, so she moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1957. From 1965-1988, she worked for the Michigan Representative, helping the homeless find housing. She received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1999. (NPS)
Rosa Parks didn’t violently or verbally attack the white male passenger or the bus driver enforcing the unjust Montgomery segregation laws at the time. Parks exercised self-control by quietly remaining in her seat. She quietly enforced the rule of etiquette that a man give up his seat for a lady [not a lady give up her seat for a man]. Parks staunchly refused to be judged by the color of her skin; she was a lady and expected to be treated as a lady, even by a white man.
Rosa Parks maintained, “No matter what the circumstances are, it is best to pursue behavior that is above reproach, because then you will be respected for your actions.”
Rosa Parks’ self-control, her respectful refusal to be judged by the color of her skin, her quiet demand to be treated like a lady, the favor she held in her community, all led to a peaceful movement which led to efforts which would lawfully end segregation.
Personal Life of Self-Control
When my husband counsels young men regarding lust. He will say, “Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate ice cream. What are you thinking about?” The young man will always reply, “Chocolate ice cream.” My husband will then say, “Strawberry ice cream. Strawberry ice cream. Strawberry ice cream. What are you thinking about now?” The young man will always reply, “Strawberry ice cream.” This example illustrates that what we focus on is what we will think on; therefore, if one is struggling with lustful thoughts, it is imperative to change the narrative by renewing one’s mind with God’s Word. This ‘exchange’ has set many free from their struggle with lustful thoughts.
We can apply this concept to fear or anxiety. If fear or anxiety is out-of-control, we can find comfort in God’s word regarding trust; by renewing our mind about not being anxious and trusting God, we can be set free from fear. The ‘exchange’ of fearful and anxious thoughts for faith-filled, heart-surrendered, soul-trusting Words of Life have aided many in their walk of faith.
Self-control can be us ‘refusing to do something,’ or it can be us ‘stopping what we are currently doing,’ or it can be us ‘starting to do something’ such as renewing our mind or setting our minds on things above or delighting ourselves in God. These intentional acts can aid us in walking in the Spirit and producing the fruit of the Spirit, self-control.
Thank you, Lord, for helping us walk in self-control by refusing to do what is wrong, choosing to do what is right and walking in obedience to You by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Thank you for the grace to renew our minds in Your Words of Life that we might be conformed into Your image and bear good fruit by the power of Your Holy Spirit. We desire to walk in self-control in all things that we might run our race in faithfulness until the end. Amen.
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
For further reading on life and godliness, see Lisa’s post on Life and Godliness: Foundation and Faith https://strengthwithdignity.com/life-and-godliness-foundation-and-faith/
And Life and Godliness: Knowledge https://strengthwithdignity.com/life-and-godliness-knowledge/
And, To Fear or Not to Fear: Man or God? https://strengthwithdignity.com/fear-or-not-to-fear-man-or-god/
Proverbs 16:32, 25:28; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:1-4, 9; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 2:16
Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC). Copyright 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by the Lockman Foundation.
Kingdom Character: Growing in Self-Control. Published by Cindy Hatcher on March 10, 2009. Retrieved March 15, 2021 from https://cindyhatcher.com/kingdom-character-growing-in-self-control/
Ivill, Sarah. 1 Peter, 2 Peter and Jude: Steadfast in the Faith. RHB, 2017.
New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1971, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.
On This Day, Rosa Parks Wouldn’t Give up Her Bus Seat. Written by National Constitution Center (NCC) Staff. Published December 1, 2020. Retrieved March 15, 2021 from https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/it-was-on-this-day-that-rosa-parks-made-history-by-riding-a-bus
Robertson, John C. 1 and 2 Peter: Robertson’s Notes. Robertson, 2013.
Rosa Parks. National Park Service (NPS) – U.S. Department of the Interior – International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Retrieved March 15, 2021 from https://www.nps.gov/features/malu/feat0002/wof/rosa_parks.htm
Shaddix, Jim and Daniel L. Akin. Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 2 Peter and Jude. B & H Publishing Group, 2018.
Swindoll, Charles R. Swindoll’s Living Insights: New Testament Commentary – James – 1 & 2 Peter. Tyndale House Publishers, 2014.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/temperance
Weekly Devotional: Fruit of the Spirit – Self-Control. Written by Lauren Abraham on January 29, 2016. Published by Grand Canyon University on gcu.edu. Retrieved March 15, 2021 from https://www.gcu.edu/blog/spiritual-life/weekly-devotional-fruit-spirit-self-control
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Alert: Beware of Religious Imposters – NT Commentary 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John, Jude. Victor Books, 1984.
World English Bible (WEB) by Public Domain. The name “World English Bible” is trademarked.
Self-Control: One of the Biggest Indicators of Christian Character. Published by David Qaoud on GospelRelevance.com Retrieved March 15, 2021 from https://www.gospelrelevance.com/2018/08/13/self-control-one-of-the-biggest-indicators-of-christian-character/