Keeping in check, restraining, or controlling one’s person, actions, speech, or thoughts. (Ge 43:31; Es 5:10; Ps 119:101; Pr 10:19; Jer 14:10; Ac 24:25) The Hebrew and Greek terms involving self-control literally denote having power or control over oneself. Self-control is a ‘fruit of God’s spirit’ (Ga 5:22, 23); and Jehovah, though possessing unlimited powers, has exercised it at all times. Instead of taking immediate action against wrongdoers, he has allowed time to pass so that they might have the opportunity to turn from their bad ways and thereby gain his favor.—Jer 18:7-10; 2Pe 3:9.
However, once it was firmly established that those to whom time for repentance had been extended would not avail themselves of his mercy, Jehovah rightly ceased to refrain from executing his judgment. A case in point involves the desolaters of Jerusalem. Failing to recognize that Jehovah allowed them to gain control of Israel to discipline the Israelites for unfaithfulness, these desolaters treated them without mercy and carried the discipline farther than God’s judgment had required. (Compare Isa 47:6, 7; Zec 1:15.) Jehovah had foreknown this and, through the prophet Isaiah, indicated that the time would come when he would no longer hold back from punishing the desolaters: “I have kept quiet for a long time. I continued silent. I kept exercising self-control. Like a woman giving birth I am going to groan, pant, and gasp at the same time. I shall devastate mountains and hills, and all their vegetation I shall dry up.”—Isa 42:14, 15.
Christ Jesus also exercised self-control. The apostle Peter, when calling to the attention of house servants the need to be in subjection to their owners, wrote: “In fact, to this course you were called, because even Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely. . . . When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.”—1Pe 2:21-23.
In “the last days” lack of self-control was to be one of the characteristics marking those who would not be practicing true Christianity. (2Ti 3:1-7) However, since Christians are to be imitators of God and of his Son (1Co 11:1; Eph 5:1), they should strive to cultivate self-control in all things. (1Co 9:25) The apostle Peter stated: “Supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, to your knowledge self-control, to your self-control endurance, to your endurance godly devotion, to your godly devotion brotherly affection, to your brotherly affection love. For if these things exist in you and overflow, they will prevent you from being either inactive or unfruitful regarding the accurate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—2Pe 1:5-8.
The quality of self-control should especially be in evidence among those serving as overseers in Christian congregations. (Tit 1:8) If overseers are to deal effectively with problems inside the congregation, they must maintain self-control in word and deed. The apostle Paul counseled Timothy: “Further, turn down foolish and ignorant questionings, knowing they produce fights. But a slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.”—2Ti 2:23-25.
Failure to exercise self-control in a given situation can tarnish a long record of faithful service and plunge one into all kinds of difficulties. An illustration of this is what happened to King David. Though loyal to true worship and having love for the righteous principles of God’s law (compare Ps 101), David committed adultery with Bath-sheba, and this led to his having her husband Uriah placed in a battle position where death was a near certainty. As a consequence, for years afterward, David was plagued with severe difficulties within his family. (2Sa 12:8-12) His case also demonstrates the wisdom of avoiding situations that can lead to a loss of self-control. Whereas he could have left the rooftop of his palace, David evidently kept on looking at Bath-sheba as she bathed herself and so came to have a passion for her.—2Sa 11:2-4.
Similarly, it would not be good for a person lacking self-control to remain single when he could enter into an honorable marriage and thereby protect himself against committing fornication. In this regard, the apostle Paul wrote: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.”—1Co 7:9, 32-38.