Self-Control Vital to Progress
“Supply to your faith . . . self-control.”—2 Pet. 1:5, 6.
1, 2. (a) What kind of training was required of Greek athletes of ancient times? (b) What quality is particularly needed by both athletes and Christians, and how does Paul express this?
“DO YOU wish to gain the prize at the Olympic games?—Consider the requisite preparations and the consequences: you must observe a strict regimen; must live on food which you dislike; you must abstain from all delicacies; must exercise yourself at the necessary and prescribed times both in heat and in cold; you must drink nothing cooling; take no wine as formerly; in a word, you must put yourself under the directions of a pugilist, as you would under those of a physician, and afterwards enter the lists. Here you may get your arm broken, your foot put out of joint, be obliged to swallow mouthfuls of dust, to receive many stripes, and after all be conquered.” That was the lot of the Greek athlete of ancient times, according to the Greek philosopher Epictetus. They had no easy time of it. Those athletes, such as runners, made strenuous efforts to gain fame and a corruptible crown. In the Olympian games it was fashioned from the wild olive; in the Pythian games, from laurel; in the Isthmian games, near Corinth, it was a pine wreath. Many were the rigors of the athlete’s life and, among other qualities, he surely needed self-control—all this in what might well be a futile attempt to get personal glory and a perishable crown!
2 The apostle Paul, in his first canonical letter to the Corinthian congregation, used the ancient games as an illustration and showed the Christian’s need for self-control. He likened followers of Christ to runners in a race, saying: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things.” Obviously, Paul displayed self-control, for he went on to say: “Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I browbeat my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27) Yes, Christians are like runners in a race, and a runner must discipline himself. He cannot be immoderate and erratic in habits and training. In his case self-control is vital for success.
3. With respect to self-control, why can Christians look heavenward?
3 Paul and the Corinthian believers to whom he wrote, men and women alike, were runners in a race that was much more important than any athletic contest. And for them success would mean, not a withering crown, but the “crown of life,” of which the apostle John wrote later, as recorded at Revelation 2:10. To obtain this grand prize, these Christians had to exercise self-control. And as they did so they could all afford to look heavenward. Why? Because Jehovah God, who gives his holy spirit to true Christians, furnishes the supreme example of self-control in action. “I kept exercising self-control,” Jehovah has declared through Isaiah. (Isa. 42:14) Of course, there Comes a time when God shows that he is mightier than his enemies, but never does he lose his perfect self-control. (Isa. 42:13) Jehovah’s principal attributes of love, power, justice and wisdom are always in absolute balance. (1 John 4:8, 16; Ps. 62:11; Deut. 32:4; Job 12:13) Humans, with finite minds, may not always understand divine dealings, but Jehovah is indeed the very Paragon of self-control.—Dan. 4:34, 35; Isa. 55:8, 9.
4. Contrast persons who have Christian self-control with those who do not possess it.
4 But why place so much emphasis on self-control? Well, consider this: One lacking this quality may react unfavorably, undependably, under pressure. And persons have little confidence in the advice offered by an individual who is given to extremes. So, Christian ministers, “let your reasonableness become known to all men. The Lord is near.” A Christian whose reasonableness is known to all his acquaintances, one who lives “with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things,” will be viewed as mature, dependable, a person whose counsel, based on the sure Word of God, is worthy of credence. (Phil. 4:5; Titus 2:11, 12) Such a person with self-control can be entrusted with responsibility within the Christian congregation. On the other hand, the lack of sufficient self-control may pose problems and necessitate the giving of correction to the immoderate one. Therefore, it behooves any Christian to develop and display self-control. But just what progress is possible for Christians who have this quality?
PROGRESS POSSIBLE FOR SELF-CONTROLLED MEN
5. What kind of men was Titus to appoint? What quality were they especially to display?
5 In the first century of our Common Era, the apostle Paul left Titus in Crete that he “might correct the things that were defective and might make appointments of older men in city after city.” (Titus 1:5) Self-controlled men were needed to serve in such capacities. Paul wrote: “For an overseer must be free from accusation as God’s steward, not self-willed, not prone to wrath, not a drunken brawler, not a smiter, not greedy of dishonest gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, sound in mind, righteous, loyal, self-controlled.” (Titus 1:7, 8) Such a man was not an extremist. He was not self-willed. You would not find him enmeshed in drunken neighborhood brawls. He was no smiter. His self-command was also shown in that he was “not greedy of dishonest gain.” The man who would qualify for oversight, in whom fellow believers could place confidence and trust, must be “a lover of goodness.” He was to be hospitable and must be “sound in mind.” Especially must he display self-control. With it he could avoid rash or unchristian attitudes and actions.
6. What has increased the need for self-controlled Christian men, and so what should Christian men do?
6 Yet, Crete was but a relatively small island in the Great or Mediterranean Sea. The good news was “bearing fruit and increasing in all the world.” No longer being restricted to the Jews, it was reaching the people of the nations, Gentiles once alienated from God. (Col. 1:5, 6, 21-23) As Christian missionary evangelizers penetrated into new territory, the need for more mature men with self-control increased, for new congregations were formed. And how much greater is that need today! The good news of God’s established kingdom is being heralded earth wide. Hence, the need for Christian overseers and ministerial servants who possess God’s spirit as expressed in balanced Christian living and self-control is even greater today. This need will grow as there is further expansion and development of Jehovah’s earthly organization. Therefore, let Christian men press on in developing self-control and the other fruits of God’s spirit. Progress, including privileges of serving as overseers and ministerial servants in newly formed congregations, is open to mature, self-controlled Christian men.
7. Why is self-control needed by overseers and other servants in the Christian congregation?
7 A Christian overseer in Crete, as elsewhere, should be “self-controlled, holding firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching.” Why? “That he may be able both to exhort by the teaching that is healthful and to reprove those who contradict.” (Titus 1:8, 9) He must have accurate knowledge of God’s Word in order to impart exhortation, teaching that which is healthful. Sometimes Christians have serious problems and find it difficult to weigh these matters of great concern without assistance. Consequently, they may consult with a mature brother, such as the congregation overseer. If a person does so, it is vitally important that he receive sound counsel rooted in the Scriptures. Hence, overseers and other servants in the congregation need self-control. They must not be swayed by sentimentality or some other beclouding emotion, for their words may well affect precious lives. Those having the responsibility of oversight, if appealed to for counsel and aid, should consider Biblical laws and principles, pointing these out to inquirers, who must then make their own decisions. (Gal. 6:5) So, if a Biblical law or principle is involved in a matter, it must be viewed from the Scriptural standpoint by the overseer. Though a situation is critical and the pressure intense, overseers must be careful that they do not make comments that reflect a lack of self-control.
8. What should be done in making a personal decision or solemn agreement?
8 A Christian does not always find it necessary to discuss a problem with the congregation overseer. Often it can be resolved privately by a direct personal appeal to the Scriptures, along with prayer to Jehovah. But if you have a serious problem and must make a decision, remember self-control. Resist any tendency toward impetuosity or presumptuousness. No matter how weighty the decision or how difficult the circumstance, maintain self-command. Think before you act or speak, for “it is a snare when earthling man has rashly cried out, ‘Holy!’ and after vows he is disposed to make examination.” (Prov. 20:25) Meditate and pray before reaching a conclusion or making a solemn agreement. (Eccl. 5:2-5) Do not lean on your own understanding. Call to mind the reminders of Jehovah in his Word and act on these. Remember: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul. The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise.”—Ps. 19:7; Prov. 3:1-6.
CONGREGATION JUDICIAL COMMITTEE
9. Against what should the overseer and congregation judicial committee guard in endeavoring to restore one who has erred?
9 Of course, problems within the Christian congregation may vary considerably. Therefore, at times, though he is not directly sought out for aid, an overseer may make efforts to restore a man who has erred in some way. In fact, the congregation judicial committee may be required to handle the matter. The apostle Paul told Titus to appoint men who were able to “reprove those who contradict.” (Titus 1:9) That could not be accomplished by a vacillating, uncertain man lacking self-control. So this sterling quality is needed by the overseer and the entire congregation judicial committee. Paul told the Galatians: “Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to restore such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted. Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.” (Gal. 6:1, 2) No emotional, impassioned judgment, no uncontrolled, ill-advised remarks should be forthcoming. Those with spiritual qualifications should not yield to imperfect human inclinations toward intemperate words or deeds. Such yielding would only stand in the way of rendering real spiritual assistance.
10. (a) In order to do what does the committee need self-control? (b) What steps should the committee take when repentance for gross wrongdoing is lacking? when it is manifested?
10 Without doubt, the congregation judicial committee needs self-control, so as to act on principle and not emotion. If dedicated Christians have sinned but manifest true repentance following some misdeed that calls for disciplinary action, such contrition should not be ignored. However, sentimentality must not be permitted to override Scriptural principle when decisions are made that affect the welfare and cleanliness of the Christian congregation. At times repentance for gross wrongdoing is totally lacking, this necessitating the disfellowshiping of the offender. Acting in accord with Paul’s inspired counsel, responsible ones in the Corinthian congregation of old had sufficient courage to oust a man guilty of incestuous immorality, so that the congregation might not be hurt spiritually. Only after true repentance was manifested could they be encouraged to extend forgiveness and confirm their love for this person. (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:1-11) The congregation judicial committee of today must exercise self-control so as to avoid harshness when mildness and love are called for, or indecision and weakness when firmness and determination are essential.
SELF-CONTROL VITAL FOR WOMEN, OTHERS
11. What kind of person is a Christian wife who has self-control, and against what is she protected?
11 Self-control is certainly a must in resolving personal and congregational problems in a proper manner. Also, the exercise of this fine quality may lead to increased privileges for Christian men. But self-control is needed by all Christians who wish to progress. Godly women who have it are a real asset to the congregation. Benefits resulting from a Christian woman’s exercise of self-control may first be felt in the home. The capable Christian wife who has it is a good example in word and deed. She is like the good woman but very much unlike the bad woman of whom it was written: “A capable wife is a crown to her owner, but as rottenness in his bones is she that acts shamefully.” (Prov. 12:4) The Christian wife and mother who cares for her household duties and her children and who has at heart the interests of God’s kingdom is kept safe from the pursuits of idle women who lack self-control. Unlike them, she does not meddle in the affairs of others, does not gossip or become ensnared in misconduct. Instead, she keeps busy in proper pursuits and thus proves to be a blessing to her husband, her children and all her associates.—1 Tim. 2:15; 5:11-15.
12. How can a Christian woman who displays self-control expand her ministry?
12 A Christian woman who displays self-control can also expand her ministry. She may be privileged to assist other women in the preaching work under the direction of the overseer and in keeping with the congregational arrangement for offering training and personal assistance. It is apparent, however, that, if a dedicated woman lacks self-control and constantly goes to extremes in dress or demeanor, she Could not be used to aid other women in the ministry. (1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Pet. 3:3, 4) If she wrangles with other women in the congregation, perhaps even regarding petty matters, what kind of an example does she set? Not a good one. So, if a Christian woman wishes to make progress toward maturity and to be in a position to take on the privilege of giving some assistance in ministerial service, to Jehovah’s praise, she must cultivate and display self-control.
13. How can elderly Christians who have self-control help others?
13 But, then, what of elderly persons in the Christian congregation? They too need self-control. And if they have it, they may be able to help others. Just think of the years of experience an older Christian may have had in God’s service and of resulting benefits. Understandably, many who have served Jehovah faithfully for a number of years are often turned to for aid by younger, less experienced Christians. These must make their own decisions, but at times an elderly dedicated servant of Jehovah can be of assistance by drawing on personal experience and by directing attention to Biblical principles, thereby benefiting the inquirer.
14. (a) Why is it a pleasure to associate with older persons in the New World society? (b) Though some older Christians may not be able to do as much as they once did in Jehovah’s service, how can they contribute to the advancement of the preaching work?
14 However, advancing age may bring problems with poor health and diminishing vigor. Therefore, elderly Christians need to cultivate self-control, so that they will remain joyful despite their hardships. How often we find that older persons of this system of things are out of sorts, cranky, difficult to please! There is little pleasure in associating with them. But older individuals in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses cultivate and display self-control and so it is a pleasure to speak with them and to have them as associates in the ministry. True, today some of them may not be able to do as much as they once did in Jehovah’s service. But self-control enables them to make progress toward greater spirituality, and even silently, by their steadfastness and exemplary conduct, they spur younger ones on in Christian activity. The many true-life accounts of elderly witnesses of Jehovah published in The Watchtower serve as a source of real encouragement. Indeed, in many ways older Christians are making a fine contribution to the advancement of the work of preaching the good news of the Kingdom.—Prov. 16:31.
15. What may result if Christian youngsters display self-control?
15 But what about youngsters—you boys and girls? Why, if you display self-control, you will bring happiness to your parents? Many children of this wicked system of things lack self-control and act foolishly, creating problems for their parents. Actually, they are stupid. Who would want to be like them? Proverbs 17:25 says: “A stupid son is a vexation to his father and a bitterness to her that gave him birth.” On the other hand, if, as a Christian youngster, you develop self-control, you will win the approval of Jehovah, your parents and others, in all likelihood. How you act means a great deal, for “even by his practices a boy makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright.” (Prov. 20:11) If you are a young Christian with self-control, probably you will be given privileges and some responsibilities in the home. Even at the congregation meeting place, the Kingdom Hall, you may be able to help in cleaning or may be given other things to do, if you show that you can be trusted to handle matters well. Cultivating self-control will also enable you to advance to greater capability. So, young ones, self-control is vital to your Christian progress too.
DISPLAY SELF-CONTROL AND CONTINUE TO PROGRESS
16. How can all Christians benefit by developing and displaying self-control?
16 It is evident, therefore, that all Christians can benefit by developing and displaying self-control. With it all dedicated servants of God can improve their ministry, the quality of their service to Jehovah and their worship in general. Many are the incentives toward displaying Christian self-control. Mature persons manifesting this fruit of Jehovah’s holy spirit act in ways that contribute to the unity and advancement of God’s earthly organization. They do not cause problems or act as disrupting influences within the Christian congregation. Also, whereas those lacking self-control cannot be given greater responsibility, if you have this quality, you are more likely to be able to shoulder it. You can be trusted to take a balanced view of matters when decisions must be made. You can thus expand your ministry and reap increased joys and blessings.
17. Self-control is vital to Christian progress today, but what other reason is there for displaying it?
17 However, not only is self-control vital to your Christian progress today. Actually, it is essential to your gaining life in God’s promised new order. Paul wrote: “More over, if anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:5) To gain Jehovah’s approval and everlasting life, we must meet his requirements, complying with his rules. So, “let us also put off every weight and the sin that easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” (Heb. 12:1, 2) Imitate his course. He manifested self-control. One who professes to follow Christ while deliberately ignoring the need for self-control may well fail in his race for the prize of everlasting life. Why, he could no more hope to win in it than the athlete of ancient times could expect to come off a victor if he scorned discipline and exercised no self-command. Of course, one Christian cannot and should not judge another. (Rom. 14:4) But be assured that Jehovah “judges impartially according to each one’s work.” (1 Pet. 1:17) Therefore, how very hard each Christian should work at cultivating and manifesting the fruits of Jehovah’s spirit, including self-control! One’s life is at stake!
18. Even now a Christian can determine what?
18 Even now a Christian can determine if he is running the race for life in such a way as to have the hope of gaining this prize. In what proved to be the twilight of his earthly life, after enduring much more than any athlete of his day, Paul was able to say: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me as a reward in that day, yet not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his manifestation.” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8) The apostle was already confident that he had run the Christian race faithfully and that he would receive the “crown of righteousness,” which has by now been conferred upon Paul and other spirit-begotten Christians who have proved faithful to death. But, whether your hopes are heavenly or earthly, you should be displaying self-control and running in such a manner as to have confidence that you have Jehovah’s approval and will gain everlasting life, if only you continue in your present godly, self-controlled course.
19. Why is there good reason to “supply to your faith . . . self-control”?
19 Be determined, therefore, to show self-control. Be an asset to Jehovah’s earthly organization. Do this whether you are an elderly person, a younger adult, or a child. Of course, to gain and maintain self-control requires effort, great effort at times. But it is vital to your Christian progress. Furthermore, it may mean your very life. Hence, there is good reason indeed to “supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, to your knowledge self-control.”—2 Pet. 1:5, 6.