Typically when “self-control” is mentioned, most people picture gritting one’s teeth and forcing oneself to do what is right even though everything within wants to do the opposite. This exhausting view of self-control makes this fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23) seem nearly unattainable.
Self-control is mentioned in seventeen passages of the New Testament and there are some surprising insights that we gain from looking at these passages.
Paul actually talked about self-control in his Gospel presentation to Felix:
“As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you." - Acts 24:25
Make sure you are frequently having sex with your spouse, if you wait too long your self-control gives out:
“Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” - 1 Corinthians 7:5
If you are a single person that is struggling with self-control, maybe you need to get married soon:
“But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” - 1 Corinthians 7:9
Our goal of advancing the kingdom is eternally important. We should be more self-controlled than professional athletes because what we are doing actually matters eternally:
“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.” - 1 Corinthians 9:25
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” - Galatians 5:22-23
Paul encourages women to focus more on self-control than on outward looks:
“...and I would have the women dress becomingly, with modesty and self-control, not with plaited hair or gold or pearls or costly clothes,”… “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” - 1 Timothy 2:9, 15
“In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.” - 1 Timothy 3:11
One of the qualifications of leaders is self-control:
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,” - 1 Timothy 3:2
It’s amazing that the lack of self-control was descriptive of the last days:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” - 2 Timothy 3:1-5
In writing to Titus, Paul states self-control for leaders, for men, and for women:
This list is sort of like Peter’s version of the “Fruit of the Spirit” and here we find self-control right in the center:
“For this very reason, 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, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” - 2 Peter 1:5-7
MY THREE FAVORITE SELF-CONTROL VERSES
Grace actually teaches us to live self-controlled! Grace does not enable sin, it empowers us not to sin. It teaches, trains and changes us into people that walk rightly.
True grace causes us to operate in the fruit of self-control:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” - Titus 2:11-12
Many versions of this verse say, “Sound mind” but I prefer the practical translation of this verse, which says self-control. We have the option of being controlled by fear or having self-control:
“for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” - 2 Timothy 1:7
I love how practical this last verse is. It so clearly says what we all need to hear. Self-control is not a sprint, it requires “exercising habitual self-control.” Especially as leaders, we must be habitually self-controlled:
“But as for you, you must exercise habitual self-control, and not live a self-indulgent life, but do the duty of an evangelist and fully discharge the obligations of your office.” - 2 Timothy 4:5 (Weymouth)
Self-control is a beautiful thing. It is not about gritting your teeth and fighting your inner desires. It is about directing your choices, the ability and freedom to make your decisions.
When we were sinners, we were controlled by our sin: by drugs, alcohol, anger, lust, greed, etc. But now that we are in Christ, we are not controlled by God; instead, He actually puts the reins of our life back into our hands and says that by the empowerment of grace we will be able to be self-controlled. We didn’t move from the devil controlling us to now have God controlling us. Nope. God actually frees us, empowers us and gives us the ability to make choices that we weren’t able to make when we were living as victims of our sin bondage.
I think of the how I did competitive Judo as a young man. Self-control wasn’t simply the ability to not eat a box of donuts; self-control was the ability to move my body in a perfect manner and to execute the movements that I had in my mind.
Self-control is for something, not simply against.