“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” – Proverbs 25:28.
“…the fruit of the Spirit is… self-control” – Galatians 5:23.
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” – Proverbs 16:32.
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” – 1 Peter 4:7.
HOW DO WE view self-control? How much do we prize it? How is it attained? In what conditions is it cultivated?
It is safe to say that all the characteristics (fruits) of the Holy Spirit are developed through conflict and adversity, situations in which we would in no way choose for ourselves.
A person may naturally be predisposed to having a gentle nature – one who is slow-tempered, but that is not the fruit of the spirit. Nice people have discovered meanness in themselves once the Spirit commences the work of salvation in their lives. “I have not come to bring peace but a sword”, said our Lord – that is to disturb and fragment all that is not built on God. The sword of God must disillusion us out of all our wrong way of thinking if we are to know true peace and stability. Prior to knowing the peace of Christ, comes the crises where our wits are exhausted and it is there we abandon every false hope and security; then we are ready to know His peace that transcends all human reasoning.
Self-control is never developed and exercised in tranquillity, no matter how close to God we may feel in our devotions. How do we find ourselves in situations that are apt to upset us and with people that are unusually irritating? How do we fare when circumstances explode against our will? How are we coping when all mayhem is breaking out around us?
To be self-controlled does not entail we are in control of our surroundings, but we are in control of how we react under certain situations. The peace of God that garrisons our hearts is the key factor here and without such we shall succumb time after time to the negative prevailing influences around us. Self control is proved when the odds are against us and we hold unflinchingly to God’s Word. We may feel we’re losing all, but this one thing remains: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” I may not know the how’s and whereof’s, but God does; I may not see a way out, but God already has it in hand. A hundred and one things may go wrong in and around our lives, but when we are assured by God Himself that “All is well” we can walk through the greatest peril, the very aspects of life that would normally fill us with dread. This is the knowing that “all things are working together for our good.” God is teaching us to be calm and when we know that stillness, the winds and the waves have to be subservient; they are no longer our enemies but our aids in walking closer to God.
Lacking in self-control is one the biggest disturbers of focussed and prevailing prayer. The result of being self-controlled is to know soundness of mind (sober-minded – not sombre-minded, which is a very different thing altogether) and without a sound mind we can neither be self-controlled. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3). Prayer is literally focussing on God and Spirit-led prayer will inevitably lead to knowing peace that goes way beyond our capability of comprehending, which is the healthiest peak of knowing a balanced equilibrium (mindset) in this life. That any one of us loses self-control always entails subconsciously that we are not secure and that we question God’s sovereignty over every matter and when we are in such a state of mind we will naturally revert to having our own selfish way, no matter how many toes we may tread on.
To be self-controlled is to have a vision burned on our hearts of God’s complete control over every affair – past, present and future, no matter how ugly life looks and feels. It is a knowing that all things must and will work together for our good and in the light of such knowledge we are more than content to lose arguments, to lose battles because we know Who has already won the war. God has ways of vindicating us if need be, but never to fuel our vindictiveness. Is God having His way through me? That is to be the motto of every professing Christian. God can have His way through you and me no matter where we are, so long as we are yielded to Him. Let Him in His own time bring streams in the desert. Sometimes for that to happen, God has to make channels in our own hearts before the streams flow, but always remember that the flow does not end with us: “…out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). The Jews were not chosen and called to be the only nation called and separated unto God; it was also to bring in the Gentiles. Israel was intended to be a nation of light unto all other nations. Spiritual hoarders will always turn stagnant and foul. Luke 6:38 is not just confined to the context it was spoken in, i.e. of being judgemental; it also works in the realm of good deeds and an overflow of benevolence.
Proverbs 16:32 statement about ruling one’s spirit is the very essence of self-control. Christ was fully in control of Himself when He turned over the moneychangers tables in the Temple; He never once lost His temper. Anger is not wrong – “Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) – but if I lose my step (peace and stability) with God because of my anger, then I need to bring that under the control of the Spirit where meekness and gentleness takes precedence over such emotions – not to tranquillise or sedate to where I become emotionless, but rather, those emotions are tempered by the Holy Spirit.
As mentioned earlier, self-control is developed in times of conflict. Just because temptation is strong never entails we are undone, as William Shakespeare said: “Tis one thing to be tempted, Another thing to fall” – it is rather the opportunity to grow in grace, faith and holiness. To withstand weak opposition and to be tried in fires that lack intensity shows the lack of quality and worth of what is being tested. That we are grieved, afflicted and heavily tried is a source of proving the genuineness of our faith and even though we may feel God is at times ‘slaying’ us, we will trust Him Who is ever in control of all our steps, for when He has tried us we shall indeed come forth as pure gold.