In several places the Bible speaks about temperance. When we hear this word we are likely to connect it with the temperance movement of some generations ago. This movement of course was opposed to the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. While we may assume that this word is no longer applicable to us, we should realize that temperance has some broader meanings. In fact, a much better translation for the word “temperance” for today is rendered as “self-control.” While the word still applies to the misuse of alcohol, it applies to many other things. Although we don’t hear so much about this virtue any more, in Galatians 5:22-23, it is listed among the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….” Jesus is obviously looking for this fruit in our lives.
When we examine self-control we realize that the church has been a little fuzzy in its understandings. We Christians often think that only Jesus must have control of the Christian life. This is certainly true in the larger and most important sense. However, while Jesus is the Lord of the Christian life he still demands that we exercise a proper control over ourselves. He didn’t make us to be robots. He has given us everything we need to produce self-control in our lives. In 2 Timothy 1:7 we read: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” So we see that self-control is impossible for us without the help of the Holy Sprit (cf. Gal. 5:16).
It is a little like a city that has been conquered by a mighty king and then handed over to a local governor to administer. Jesus has done the conquering and delivering work, but our lives are now handed back to us so that we may administer them on Christ’s behalf and with his continuing help. The Bible gives us a good picture of this. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus relates the parable of talents. In this story, a wealthy man turns some of his great estate over the servants, leaving them in charge while he takes a long journey. Later the landlord returns and asks for an accounting of how they have administered his estate. Two of the servants are praised and rewarded for their good work, while one is severely reprimanded and punished for his carelessness (cf. Luke 19:11-27). In this parable we cannot fail to see the master as Jesus and the servants as ourselves.
AREAS NEEDING SELF-CONTROL
Let us look at some areas of our lives needing self-control. First and foremost is the need of self-control concerning our hearts. The Bible speaks of the heart as the essential person and not just as a blood-pumping organ. It is the seat of our emotions; of our deepest desires, loves and longings. It is the real source of feelings like anger, greed and lust (Matt. 15:18-20). Our hearts are constantly in need of self-control. In Proverbs 4:23 we are challenged: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The business of guarding the heart is clearly turned over to us and we must be vigilant.
Second, there is the area of our mind and thoughts. The Lord once made a great promise to Abraham. He said to the Patriarch, “…your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Gen. 22:17). While this passage has primary application to ancient city gates, it surely has a secondary spiritual application to our minds and thoughts. The mind today is so often a gate for the enemy. If we do not guard this gate, the enemy will enter and cause us great harm.
So many in our day have allowed the devil to trample on their minds and they are constantly feasting upon the garbage of this passing evil age. So many minds are filled with its lusts, greed and desires. This was also the case in Noah’s day. The Bible says of his generation: “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). What a tragic ending that generation had, as the great flood came and destroyed them all. The Bible assures us that the fires of the last day will do a similar work for those who presently have their minds fixed on evil things.
A third area of self-control regards our eyes. The Psalmist says: “I will set before my eyes no vile thing….” (Psa. 101:3). The righteous man Job says, “I made a covenant with my eyes….” (Job 31:1). It is so important today to make a covenant with our eyes and keep wicked things out of sight. So often, if we take just one look, we are hooked.
There are numerous evil visual impulses in our culture today. We constantly hear of young people doing utterly foolish things simply because they saw them done on TV or in the movies. Even the computer has become a tool of mind destruction. Today we are told the shocking information that among ministers of the Gospel, some twenty percent are dabbling in pornography, much of it, no doubt, from the Internet. If this is what the shepherds are doing, what in the world are the sheep doing?
A fourth area of self control is the tongue. This is a big area because the tongue has a direct connection to our hearts (Matt. 12:34). James in his little epistle deals a lot with the tongue. He says of this little member: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6). Tongue abuses are almost too many to mention. They would certainly include cursing, gossip, slander, lying, flattery, complaining, boasting, foolish talk, dirty stories, malicious speech, negative talk and just talking too much. We are told that there is no true religion without our gaining control of the tongue (Jas. 1:26). We are also told by Jesus, that someday we will have to give an account to God for every careless word we have spoken (Matt. 12:36).
There are many more areas where we need self-control. We need it not only in our talk but also in our walk. In our world today many are overcome with sexual lusts and passions. We Christians must learn how to exercise self-control in this area in spite of the permissiveness we see and hear all around us. In this respect the Bible gives us this advice: “Flee from sexual immorality….” (1 Cor. 6:18). It also challenges us to maintain purity and holiness in sexual matters (1 Thess. 4:3-7).
Of course, we do not want to leave out one very big area of self-control and that is the appetite. In the US we live in a land of plenty. The poorest in our country have an abundance compared to many people on earth. We must not abuse this blessing, and yet we are doing so. It is said now that some sixty percent of Americans are overweight. Many are not just overweight but grossly overweight. Lately this has also become a huge problem with many ofAmerica’s school children, who are also becoming overweight. There is a biblical name for all this. It is called gluttony, and it is a sin (Prov. 28:7).
There are other areas where we need self-control. We need it in our habits, in the use of our leisure time, in our sports activities, etc. In Proverbs 25:28 we read: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Without self-control our Christian lives will be defeated, destroyed and overrun by the enemy.
HOW CAN WE GAIN SELF-CONTROL?
We see again in 2 Peter 1:5-7 that self-control is something for which we are responsible. Peter says: “… make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” We see in this passage that virtues must be carefully built into our lives.
How can we gain self-control? We must first get our minds focused on Jesus. It is said in Hebrews 3:1: “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” In addition to fixing our thoughts on Jesus, we need also to fix our thoughts on God’s word. Like the Psalmist, we need to meditate on the word of God day and night (Psa. 1:2). We must focus on the good things God has provided, and think upon them. In Philippians 4:8 we are given this advice: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
The Bible tells us that our gaining self-control is a rigorous personal process. Paul says that just as ancient athletes gained a perishable wreath through their discipline, we by exercising spiritual discipline in all things can receive an imperishable crown (1 Cor. 9:25). In this light we need to picture the rigors of preparation that Olympic athletes face before they are able to compete in the games. We must ask, is our spiritual preparation anything like that today? Have we struggled against sin to the point of perspiration, exhaustion, pain and even to the point of shedding our blood if necessary (Heb. 12:4)?
In our effort to gain self-control we need to remember some important truths. We must remember that Jesus has robbed the devil of all his power (Matt. 28:18). We need to remember that we can resist the tempter, and we must. The Bible says: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7). When our great battles come, especially the ones we seem to be losing, we need to remember to call upon the Lord. The Bible says “…Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). This verse also has the meaning of being delivered. We must remember that there is a way of escape from even the most severe temptations. The Bible says: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
In all areas of our lives we must remember that we are not our own, but are bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). We are therefore servants of God and quite literally his slaves. We can no longer do what we wish or what the devil wishes. We must do what God wishes. Our lives must be spent in glorifying and pleasing our Lord.
– Jim Gerrish
Publication date, May, 2003