Developing and Displaying Self-Control
“The Fruitage of the spirit is . . . self-control.”—Gal. 5:22, 23.
1. To what might self-control be likened? Why?
A GENUINE pearl is something of value. It is rare and is keenly desired. But it is not obtained without effort. In the Persian Gulf, where it is said that the finest genuine saltwater pearls are acquired, the pearl diver may make twenty-five or thirty descents to the oyster beds a day, surfacing with perhaps a dozen oyster shells each time. Every dhow, which is an Arab coasting vessel, has a crew of forty to fifty men, half of whom are divers. Yet, we are told: “The yield of fine, genuine pearls is very small. For instance, in 1947, the crew of one boat opening a week’s catch of 35,000 pearl oysters obtained only 21 pearls. Of this number only three were of gem quality, suitable for commercial use.” (The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 edition, Volume 21, page 455) To the rare and precious genuine pearl one might liken the quality of self-control. In these “last days” how uncommon it is! How many are “without self-control”!—2 Tim. 3:1-3.
2. Define self-control.
2 In the Christian Greek Scriptures the Greek word for self-control is egkráteia, which means ‘self-command, self-control; temperance, moderation in pleasure; the mastery over, and government of the passions.’ (A New Greek and English Lexicon, by James Donnegan, 1836, page 423) According to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, self-control is “control of oneself: restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” Or, it may be said that self-control means maintaining poise and balance of mental and physical forces, keeping them restrained or restricted. It is possible for Christians to manifest this desired quality, self-control, for they have God’s holy spirit and “the fruitage of the spirit is . . . self-control [egkráteia].” (Gal. 5:22, 23) But, just as those who seek genuine pearls must labor industriously to secure them, so must spirit-filled Christians work hard at developing and displaying this valued pearllike quality, self-control.
3. How important is self-control in Christian life?
3 Christ’s life has been termed the ‘mirror of temperance,’ or of self-control. That self-control plays no small part in the lives of his followers is evident from the fact that the apostle Paul, when haled before Governor Felix nineteen centuries ago, talked to him “about righteousness and self-control [egkráteia] and the judgment to come.” Yes, self-control was so important that Paul made a special point of discussing it when he was before the Roman governor Felix.—Acts 24:24-27.
4, 5. (a) Self-control will enable the Christian to face what as the end of this system of things draws nearer? (b) What modern-day evidence is there of the display of self-control by Jehovah’s Witnesses when persecuted?
4 Self-control was a significant Christian quality nineteen centuries ago and it is vital today. As the end of this system of things draws ever nearer, there will be times of stress, of crushing anxiety, even grief, for many. With God’s spirit as expressed in self-control, the Christian will be able to remain balanced, while others crumble under strain. With self-control Christians can and will endure the daily pressures of life and will weather the severe storms of persecution. They have already demonstrated that they can do so. Of course, to face great opposition and violent persecution, various Christian qualities must play their part. But, unquestionably, self-control is greatly needed. In ancient times Christians displayed it in many ways, even in the face of death—when others would readily have abandoned their principles. These facts of history require no proof here. (See Awake!, April 22, 1962, pages 20 and 21, and The Watchtower, February 1, 1958, pages 73 to 75.) Let it be noted, though, that self-controlled Christians have not wavered in their faith under extreme pressure in the present day.
5 In his book entitled “The Nazi State,” Professor Ebenstein of Princeton University wrote concerning Jehovah’s witnesses: “When the witnesses did not give up the struggle for their religious convictions, a campaign of terror was launched against them which surpassed anything perpetrated against other victims of Nazism in Germany. . . . The sufferings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camps were even worse than those meted out to Jews, pacifists or Communists. Small as the sect is, each member seems to be a fortress which can be destroyed but never taken.” Also regarding persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses, Richard Mathison states in his book God Is a Millionaire: “All this persecution has worn well. . . . And, perhaps, the sternly conventional have a lesson to learn from the unyielding courage of this persecuted minority. During the Korean War, the products of easy Protestantism, of our military schools and our better colleges cracked by the score under the stress and blandishments of Communist brainwashing. A Pentagon study of the problem brought forth a red-faced conclusion: Those few Jehovah’s Witnesses who ended up as prisoners of war . . . withstood to a man the scientific, psychological efforts to convert them to Communism—better than a number of patriotic West Pointers.” Obviously, self-control is one of the qualities needed by Christians to endure intense persecution. Of course, it is also required by servants of Jehovah in other ways, in the various aspects of life. But how may this valued pearl be acquired?
HOW TO GAIN THIS FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
6, 7. (a) If you wish to develop and display self-control, what is a primary requirement? (b) What qualities must mark Christian prayers for self-control?
6 “If you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children,” Jesus Christ once reasoned, “how much more so will the Father in heaven give holy spirit to those asking him!” (Luke 11:13) What an assurance! Indeed, Christians who earnestly pray to Jehovah for his spirit as expressed in self-control will suffer no disappointment, for “no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14, 15) So, as a Christian who wishes to develop and display self-control, pray to Jehovah through Christ for God’s spirit so as to express this valued quality. (John 14:6, 14) And since continued effort will be required to maintain self-control, heed the admonition to “pray incessantly,” to “persevere in prayer” and to “be vigilant with a view to prayers.” (1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; 1 Pet. 4:7) Good advice all this!
7 In Christian prayers for Jehovah’s spirit and self-control, there must be sincerity and humility. If there is anything within a person, in his heart, that is affecting his composure, he should pray to Jehovah as did David of old, who begged: “Search through me, O God, and know my heart. Examine me, and know my disquieting thoughts, and see whether there is in me any painful way, and lead me in the way of time indefinite.” (Ps. 139:23, 24) Such humble, fervent prayer for Jehovah’s aid will surely bring results.
8, 9. (a) In addition to prayer, what is needed to gain and maintain balance? (b) What part do Christian meetings play in this regard?
8 Besides praying, however, the Christian who prizes the pearl self-control should work to gain and maintain balance by means of daily Bible reading and study. Joshua was admonished: “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, in order that you may take care to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way successful and then you will act wisely.” (Josh. 1:8) Self-control, balance, as well as wisdom will result from such frequent consideration of the law of God, provided that you apply Biblical instruction. And those who constantly place Jehovah before themselves will not totter.—Ps. 16:8.
9 But, understanding of Scriptural doctrines, laws and principles does not automatically come to a person. God is not dealing with individuals apart from his earthly organization. (Matt. 24:45-47) After the outpouring of the holy spirit on the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E., followers of Christ met in homes, not only to eat together and to enjoy pleasant association, but to praise Jehovah. They held congregational meetings at which fellow believers could aid and encourage one another spiritually. (Heb. 10:24, 25; Matt. 18:20; Acts 2:46, 47) The same is so today. Attending Christian meetings enables one to receive spiritual instruction that is vital in developing fruits of God’s spirit, including self-control. Also, at such gatherings one observes these qualities in action.
10. How does regular activity in the Christian ministry contribute to balance?
10 Regular activity in the Christian ministry is also vitally important. It contributes to balance. When you, as a minister, encounter and tactfully deal with queries and contentions, you develop maturity and greater self-control. Experience gained in the ministry will help you to maintain composure, self-command. With that experience and Jehovah’s aid, even under provocation you can “let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.”—Col. 4:6.
11. How does a spiritual viewpoint aid one?
11 Study of God’s Word and the pursuit of Kingdom interests will also enable a person to develop spiritual-mindedness. Life’s problems can be solved or at least lessened by appealing to and applying the Scriptures. The man with a spiritual viewpoint is balanced; he has self-control and is a happy person. So, fill your mind with the thoughts of God regularly. Be sure to reason on and apply Biblical principles when problems arise. You can thereby gain and maintain possession of the precious pearl self-control.—1 Cor. 2:6-16.
12, 13. In considering self-control, what may be said of habits?
12 Developing moderation in all things and cultivating good habits will also contribute to self-control. A Christian overseer is to be “moderate in habits.” But he is not the only individual in the congregation who should be that way. Paul said: “Women should likewise be . . . moderate in habits.” (1 Tim. 3:2, 11) And to Titus the apostle wrote: “Let the aged men be moderate in habits.” (Titus 2:2) So moderation and good habits are Christian musts! Work at being “moderate in habits” and make certain they are all good ones. This will improve your self-control.
13 But beware! Others can affect your balance. You may now have useful Christian habits, but watch your associations. “Bad associations spoil useful habits” (1 Cor. 15:33) Bad associates may take you away from Christian fellowship and cause you to become a lover of the world. Never allow that to happen, for “the world is passing away and so is its desire.” By all means display self-command in choosing your friends.—1 John 2:15-17.
14. To develop greater self-control, how should you treat your associates? Why?
14 Having chosen your associates, how will you treat them? If you are to develop greater self-control, then in dealing with them you must have empathy, putting yourself in their place at times. (Matt. 7:12) Give others the benefit of the doubt. How much better this is than to assume that someone’s oversight, his failure to speak to you on an occasion, for example, was a deliberate snub. Take a balanced view of matters. Display self-control and show insight. It will do you good. Remember this: “He that is showing insight in a matter will find good, and happy is he that is trusting in Jehovah.”—Prov. 16:20.
15. What attitude should be adopted toward discipline?
15 To develop self-control further as a Christian, humbly accept discipline. It may come to you as you read the Bible and Christian publications, noting admonition that should be applied in your life. Or, it may come from some Christian overseer, who also receives discipline in keeping with his own needs. Why reject any Biblical or Christian discipline? After all, it all comes from God, “for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” (Heb. 12:6) But, having considered ways of gaining the pearl self-control, let us appraise its value when in action.
CONTROL YOUR TEMPER, TONGUE AND THOUGHTS
16. (a) A man lacking control of his temper may be compared to what? (b) Whose temperament is note-worthy?
16 In ancient times, an unwalled city, or one whose walls had been breached by an enemy horde, was helpless indeed. Yet, a man lacking control of his temper is quite the same. Says Proverbs 25:28: “As a city broken through, without a wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” Such a man is without true balance. He lacks insight too, for Proverbs 19:11 states: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger.” Such a man should think of Christ. Jesus said of himself: “I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” He pronounced mild-tempered ones happy. (Matt. 11:29; 5:5) So if you feel the urge to explode in a fit of anger, meditate on his words and follow his example.—Heb. 12:1-3.
17. Can imperfect humans control their spirit? Prove your answer.
17 However, you may feel that it was relatively easy for Jesus, a perfect man, to control his spirit, while with imperfect humans it is quite another story. But is it? Abraham and Lot were just imperfect humans, though they were righteous men. (Gen. 15:6; 2 Pet. 2:7) When their herdsmen became enmeshed in angry dispute, what did Abraham and Lot do? “Abram said to Lot: ‘Please, do not let any quarreling continue between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we men are brothers.’” They separated but remained on good terms, as “brothers.” (Gen. 13:5-12) Well, are not Christians spiritual brothers? Yes, of course. Then they too should resolve difficulties, not in a spirit of anger, but with self-control. How unchristian it would be to act otherwise!
18. With respect to spirit, whose course should Christians imitate and whose should they avoid?
18 Perhaps you recall two fleshly brothers, sons of Jacob, who forfeited a better blessing because they were violent men, given to wrath. Regarding them Jacob said in his deathbed blessing of his sons: “Simeon and Levi are brothers. Instruments of violence are their slaughter weapons. Into their intimate group do not come, O my soul. . . . Cursed be their anger, because it is cruel, and their fury, because it acts harshly. Let me give them a portion in Jacob, but let me scatter them in Israel.” (Gen. 49:5-7) These violent sons of Jacob acted harshly and with anger. They lacked self-control, whereas Abraham and Lot possessed it. Certainly Christians should avoid the course of Simeon and Levi and should imitate that of Abraham and Lot.
19. What is the effect of unrestrained temper? So, what Scriptural advice should be heeded?
19 Unrestrained temper damages relationships with others and it shows that one is not wise. “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out,” says Proverbs 29:11, “but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last.” Aptly, the Congregator of old declared: “Better is one who is patient than one who is haughty in spirit. Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” (Eccl. 7:8, 9) Wisdom is not displayed by one who is egotistical. And “he that is quick to anger will commit foolishness.” (Prov. 14:17) So, do not quickly take offense. Rise above petty annoyances. “Do not say: ‘I will pay back evil!’ Hope in Jehovah, and he will save you.” (Prov. 20:22) Seek ways to turn aside the anger of others, remembering that “an answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Prov. 15:1) Even if others cause offense, act quickly to rectify matters. Heed Paul’s words: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.”—Eph. 4:26; Matt. 5:23, 24.
20. What did John say of one who hates his brother? Hence, how should Christians act?
20 Christians cannot afford to lose self-control and fly into a rage, showing hatred instead of love, nor should they harbor such enmity. (Prov. 26:24-26) If they did so, they would be in darkness. The apostle John wrote: “He that loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in his case. But he that hates his brother is in the darkness and is walking in the darkness, and he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11) Regardless of where you are or the nature of prevailing circumstances, maintain self-control. In the home, for example, do not be a harsh husband, a nagging wife or a pouting, ill-tempered child. (Col. 3:18-20) Uncontrolled tempers lead to rage and regret. But those who are kind, not harsh, considerate, not critical, and mild-tempered rather than ill-tempered will have heavenly approval in these respects.
21, 22. Control of the tongue calls for heeding what Scriptural counsel?
21 Naturally, to control your temper you have to control your tongue. James wrote: “Out of the same mouth come forth blessing and cursing. It is not proper, my brothers, for these things to go on occurring this way. A fountain does not cause the sweet and the bitter to bubble out of the same opening, does it? My brothers, a fig tree cannot produce olives or a vine figs, can it? Neither can salt water produce sweet water.” (Jas. 3:10-12) Yes, James was discussing the tongue, and the powerful point he made is plain. Christians must surely restrain the tongue.
22 Obscene speech, gossip and slander have no place in the Christian’s life. “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth,” Paul told the Ephesians, “but whatever saying is good for building as the need may be, that it may impart what is favorable to the hearers. . . . Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all injuriousness.” (Eph. 4:29-31) Shun unclean speech. And watch what you say about others. (Ps. 15:1-3) Do not spread or even listen to gossip. As stories are repeated, they are often embellished. Gossip may thus develop into slander, concerning which the Israelites were told: “You must not go around among your people for the sake of slandering.” (Lev. 19:16) Heed those words. In this and in other ways control your tongue.
23. How can Christians control their thoughts, and what kind of thinking should be avoided?
23 But if you are to shun gossip, slander and obscene speech, you must control your thoughts. So, if what is improper or unclean comes into mind, exercise restraint. Bring to mind and meditate on things that are righteous, chaste, lovable, well spoken of, virtuous and praiseworthy. (Phil. 4:8, 9) Pray to Jehovah for greater self-control. This means to avoid materialistic thinking and worry too. After all, Jesus said that “even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15) So why be anxious? Jehovah knows your needs in the way of food, drink and clothing. Christ wisely declared: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:25-34) What good advice! Follow it, exercising self-control, and you will be happy indeed.
DISPLAY SELF-CONTROL IN EATING, DRINKING AND RECREATION
24. (a) Though one’s eating may not reach the point of gluttony, what effect could it have? (b) What may result from a lack of self-control in drinking alcoholic beverages?
24 While we should not be unduly concerned about acquiring food or drink, once we have it we should display self-control. Proverbs 23:20, 21 warns: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine, among those who are gluttonous eaters of flesh. For a drunkard and a glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with mere rags.” Of course, one’s eating may not quite reach the point of outright gluttony. But overeating can mean a lethargic, unfruitful ministry and drowsiness at Christian meetings. Therefore, exercise self-control in eating. And by all means avoid drunkenness. It degrades a person. Furthermore, if a Christian became inebriated, this might stumble others and bring reproach upon Jehovah’s organization. Drunkenness can easily ruin one’s life entirely, for a habitual and unrepentant drunkard must be disfellowshiped from the Christian congregation. He surely pays for his lack of self-control!—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
25. In seeking and enjoying recreation, what should the Christian bear in mind?
25 Even when he relaxes, a Christian cannot forget self-control if he is to please God. When enjoying recreation, he must be moderate. Sports, for example, must be kept in a proper place. “Bodily training is beneficial for a little,” wrote Paul; “but godly devotion is beneficial for all things, as it holds promise of the life now and that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8) In seeking recreation, the true Christian will not yield to imperfect inclinations of the fallen flesh, but will select types of entertainment or amusement that will have an upbuilding effect upon him. However, he will also use good judgment in not keeping late hours, which may injure his health and reduce his effectiveness in the ministry. So, off to bed he will go early Saturday night, for instance, so that he will be fresh and alert for ministerial activity on Sunday morning. Why dissipate energies foolishly in the pursuit of recreation, only to defeat its very purpose through a lack of self-control? Act wisely. Be moderate, exercising self-control in this aspect of life too.
26. Why is self-control worth all the work put into gaining and manifesting it?
26 It is apparent, then, that, like the exquisite natural pearl, self-control is neither gained nor developed further without earnest effort. But it is worth all the work you put into gaining and manifesting it. Just consider its value and importance. By developing and displaying self-control in these last days, you will please Jehovah. And, by remaining faithful to him, you will be the happy recipient of his blessing now and in his promised new order. (2 Pet. 3:11-13) In fact, today, with so much to be done in praising Jehovah and preaching the good news of the Kingdom, self-control is vital to your Christian progress.