The Value and Need of Self-Control
“The fruitage of the spirit is . . . self-control.”—Gal. 5:22, 23.
1, 2. (a) How might the importance of self-control be expressed? (b) How is this borne out by what the apostle Paul says about it?
THE need for Christians to exercise self-control is how important? So important that the need could hardly be overemphasized. In fact, we might fittingly paraphrase the words of the apostle Paul about love and say: ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, if I have the gift of prophesying and have all the faith, and if I give all my belongings to feed others, but I do not have self-control, I am not profited at all.’—1 Cor. 13:1-3.
2 Does this seem to be an exaggeration? Then note the testimony of the apostle Paul. Surely no follower of Jesus Christ manifested more zeal and endured more for the sake of the good news than did Paul, even as he himself testifies at 2 Corinthians 11:22-33. And yet, in spite of such an outstanding record of zeal and endurance, yes, and fruitful ministry, what does Paul say about his need for self-control? “I browbeat my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” Could there have been any greater tragedy than to have labored so mightily and endured so much and yet have it all be in vain? Yet “somehow” it would have been in vain had Paul failed to exercise self-control!—1 Cor. 9:27.
3, 4. (a) How is self-control defined? (b) How might it be illustrated?
3 Truly, self-control is very important. And what is self-control? It is defined as “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions or desires”; “the act, power or habit of having one’s faculties or energies, especially the inclinations and emotions under control.” Of course, the very term implies exercising it in times of temptation or pressure when there is the greatest danger of acting in an unwise or selfish manner.
4 The value and need of self-control might be illustrated by a motorcar. Its engine may have as little as 35 or as much as 400 horsepower. But important as is the production of power by this engine, equally important is its being controlled, for of what value would a motorcar be if you could not control the speed or the direction in which it traveled? It would be an instrument of death!
5. What accounts for the need of self-control?
5 The problem of self-control arises because we are capable of using wrongly as well as rightly, wisely and lovingly, the various gifts and faculties with which Jehovah God has endowed us, since we are not bound by instincts as is the brute creation but are free moral agents created in the image and likeness of God. Even as the forces of inanimate creation, if not restrained, can cause much harm—witness thereto tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal waves and lightning—so also with the mental, emotional and physical powers with which our Creator has endowed us; if not controlled, they can cause much harm.—Prov. 25:28.
HARM DONE BY LACK OF SELF-CONTROL
6. What are some of the harmful results from a lack of self-control?
6 Look where we will, about us or in the pages of history, and we see the harmful results from a failure to exercise self-control on the part of men, women, and youths in particular. The shocking multiple murders reported in the newspapers and on the radio and TV are instances of persons failing to control a strong impulse to express hatred or frustration by murder. Failure to exercise self-control accounts for the spread of venereal disease, for the many illegitimate births, not to say anything about the widespread marital unhappiness, which results in separations, desertions and divorce. It is said that during World War I more soldiers were incapacitated because of venereal disease than by enemy bullets, and one recent report regarding the present Vietnam war stated that more than 25 percent of the troops had become infected in the same way. And what is drunkenness but the result of a failure to exercise control of one’s craving for alcoholic beverages? How often does a lack of self-control account for an auto accident as when a driver becomes irritated or lets his attention be diverted? Time and again, medical research has established, accidents are caused by imprudent behavior on the part of “impulse-dominated personalities”—those lacking self-control.
7, 8. (a) What examples did Eve and Cain give of a lack of self-control? (b) What other examples of a lack of self-control are recorded in the Scriptures?
7 Many are the warning examples that the Bible gives of the harm that results from a failure to exercise self-control. Eve might be said to be among the first. She “saw that the tree’s fruit was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon”; and so, instead of exercising self-control, she yielded to the temptation and partook of the fruit. (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:2-6) Cain was warned not to let his anger dominate him but to get the mastery of it; but he failed to exercise self-control and so slaughtered his brother, lost out on the hope of everlasting life and became the first of a long line of human murderers, all due to a lack of self-control.—Gen. 4:5-7; 1 John 3:12.
8 Then again, obedience to the command upon Lot and his family not to look back as they fled the doomed city of Sodom required self-control. Lot’s wife failed to exercise it, to her destruction. Jesus gave her as a warning example to his followers. (Gen. 19:17, 26; Luke 17:32) Jacob on his deathbed gave a sharp rebuke to Reuben his firstborn son, because of his failure to exercise self-control, Reuben apparently allowing himself to be tempted by one of his father’s concubines. “With reckless license like [flood]waters,” he defiled his father’s couch. (Gen. 49:3, 4) King Saul forfeited the kingdom of Israel because of his impatient lack of self-control, not being able to wait until the prophet Samuel came to offer up a sacrifice at a time of national emergency. (1 Sam. 13:8-14) And there have been incidents in the lives of some of Jehovah’s most faithful servants in which they failed to exercise self-control, to their great and lasting regret! How all such warning examples underscore for us the need of our exercising self-control!—Gen. 9:20, 21; Num. 20:7-13; 2 Sam. 11:1–12:15.
EXAMPLES OF SELF-CONTROL
9, 10. Who has given us the greatest example of self-control, and in what ways has he shown it?
9 On the other hand, to strengthen our resolve to exercise self-control God’s Word gives us many fine examples, chief of which is none other than Jehovah God himself. Jehovah God exercises self-control? Yes, he himself tells us this very thing: “I have kept quiet for a long time. I continued silent. I kept exercising self-control.” (Isa. 42:14) Unfaithful Israel deserved to be punished at once, but Jehovah restrained himself. Many people, ignorant of Jehovah’s attributes and purposes, complain because he permits wickedness and suffering; failing to appreciate that his permitting these—for wise and loving reasons—represents great self-control on his part. How so?
10 Jehovah God has unlimited powers at his command. He can use them in any way and at any time he sees fit. But he exercises his powers only in just, wise and loving ways. He is long-suffering, slow to anger, even as his Word tells us, and what is slowness to anger but the exercising of self-control over his righteous indignation? (Ps. 103:8; 145:8; Jer. 15:15; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nah. 1:3) He waited 120 years before destroying the wicked generation of Noah’s day, and waited for centuries before finally executing judgments upon unfaithful Israel in 607 B.C.E. (Gen. 6:3; 2 Chron. 36:15, 16) Satan and his demons, as well as their human tools and dupes, continually outrage Jehovah’s justice, they flout his authority, they affront him by blasphemy, slander and rebellion. He has feelings, even as the Bible shows. Does he not feel strongly about these things? He most certainly does! Yet he has endured it for millenniums; he has exercised self-control because of his wisdom and love.
11. In what ways did Jesus give us a fine example of self-control?
11 And without a doubt Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave the greatest example of a human exercising self-control. At no time throughout his earthly ministry did he ever lose control of his faculties, powers or emotions, never did he speak or act rashly or ill-advisedly. “When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening.” (1 Pet. 2:23) That took self-control! Thus we read at Matthew 27:13, 14: “Then Pilate said to him: ‘Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?’ Yet he did not answer him, no, not a word, so that the governor wondered very much.” This was most unusual. But Jehovah’s prophet had foretold that, when brought to trial, “he would not open his mouth,” and so Jesus restrained himself, not saying a word in spite of all the false accusations hurled against him. Truly, Jesus gave us a marvelous, yes, a perfect example of self-control to try to copy, and especially when under stress, as when before rulers!—Isa. 53:7.
12-14. What example of self-control did Joseph give? Gideon? King Saul? Daniel and his three companions?
12 Encouraging us to try to imitate Jesus Christ are also the fine examples of self-control that imperfect, frail servants of Jehovah like ourselves have given, even as God’s Word repeatedly shows. What a fine example of self-control Joseph gave when importuned by Potiphar’s wife! (Gen. 39:7-20) Another fine example in olden times of exercising self-control was given by Judge Gideon. After gaining the victory over the Midianites, he was faced with the envious men of Ephraim who tried to pick a quarrel with him by bringing false charges against him. Gideon, in the flush of victory, could easily have lost his temper and given them ‘a piece of his mind,’ which might well have resulted in bloody fighting among the Israelites. But no, he exercised self-control and tactfully paid them a compliment, causing them to depart in peace. He let reason, not emotion, dictate his words.—Judg. 8:1-3.
13 King Saul, although later losing his kingship because of his lack of self-control, as already noted, at first did show this fine quality. When he had just been made king some “good-for-nothing men” despised him, sneering: “How will this one save us?” and failed to bring him a gift in acknowledgment of his having been made king over them by Jehovah God himself. Saul could have taken umbrage, scolded, stormed or even taken action against them, but no, he refused to make an issue of it but exercised self-control: “He continued like one grown speechless.” How wise to remain silent under provocation!—1 Sam. 10:27.
14 Among others that might be mentioned were Daniel and his three young friends. When taken captive to Babylon they were offered the finest food and drink at the emperor’s directions. But though all the rest of the captives as well as all the Babylonians were feasting on such fare, Daniel and his three friends exercised self-control, refusing to eat these viands because they were unclean according to the law of Moses. For thus exercising self-control Jehovah greatly blessed them, they proving themselves wiser than all the rest of the king’s wise men. And without a doubt, this exercise of self-control helped to strengthen them so that when severer tests came, all four were able to stand, able to keep integrity.—Dan. 1:8-20; 3:16-30; 6:4-28.
NEED FOR SELF-CONTROL IN FOOD AND DRINK
15-17. (a) What fact regarding Christians obligates them to exercise self-control? (b) Self-control in food and drink is indicated by what facts, reasons and scriptures?
15 Self-control for Christians is indicated for ever so many compelling and forceful reasons, one of which is their stewardship. By reason of their dedication to Jehovah God they are stewards not only of privileges and skills but also of their time, their means and their strength. To discharge their stewardship properly requires self-control, as in food and drink. Obviously the drunkard and the glutton, who are lacking in self-control, are wasting not only their money but also their time and their strength. (Prov. 23:20, 21) But it would be a mistake to conclude that so long as we are avoiding those extremes we are exercising adequate self-control in eating and drinking. We might not be. A person may not be drunk, but still he may have imbibed too much if he becomes talkative or sleepy. Likewise one may not have eaten to the point of gluttony and yet have eaten too much if it makes him sluggish or drowsy. It may depend upon the occasion.
16 Self-control in food and drink is implied in the counsel: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Cor. 10:31) The Christian does not live to eat, as though the pleasures of the table were the best things in life! They are not! Christians should be willing to slight the table for the sake of the good news. Simple, plain food, taken in moderation is the best for the body. And it is also economical. For Christians this is not to be minimized, for modest eating habits can spell the difference between remaining in the full-time service and not being able to do so. Wisely the counsel is given: “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you; and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite.”—Prov. 23:1, 2, RS.
17 Christians should be willing to exercise self-control at the table for the sake of the Kingdom interests and blessings. How much benefit can we derive from a Bible lecture if we are drowsy because of having first eaten a big meal? We do not want to be among those whose “god is their belly,” or who are slaves “of their own bellies,” do we? How appropriate are Jesus’ words: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare.” Exercising self-control in eating and drinking is part of godly devotion, which is beneficial for all things, both for the present life—some medical authorities blame over-nutrition for practically all the modern degenerative diseases—and for the life that is to come.—Phil. 3:19; Rom. 16:18; Luke 21:34, 35; 1 Tim. 4:8.
18. In what two ways does self-control in food and drink aid us in exercising self-control of our emotions?
18 Besides, self-control at the table helps us to exercise self-control as regards our emotions, and that in two ways. First, in that the exercise of self-control in one respect helps us to exercise self-control in other matters. Thus a leading Christian minister who was very fond of peanuts said that he carried them in his pocket but did not eat them, for the purpose of developing self-control. By controlling his fondness for peanuts he was being helped to exercise self-control in other matters. And secondly, the more abstemious a man’s eating habits are the less frequently he is likely to be plagued with strong sexual passion, another area for exercising self-control. As has well been observed, ‘the more robust the lusty man is, the more prone he is to evil.’
NEED FOR SELF-CONTROL IN RELATIONS BETWEEN THE SEXES
19. (a) What might be said to represent the greatest challenge to self-control, as seen by what facts? (b) Why is this so, and yet how is this seen to be an expression of Jehovah’s love?
19 The need of exercising self-control in one’s relations with those of the opposite sex is, if anything, even greater and at the same time more difficult than exercising control in food and drink, with far more serious consequences involved. It might be said to represent the biggest challenge of all. Each year literally thousands of dedicated Christians are disfellowshiped throughout the world because their conduct toward those of the opposite sex had been unbecoming to Christians. And the reason why is easily understood when we give thought to what is involved. Jehovah God not only commanded the first human pair to be fruitful and become many, but at the same time put in each of the sexes such a strong attraction for the other that there would never be any danger of the human race committing suicide by failing to exercise its procreative powers because of the burdens that went with family life. This at the same time was another evidence of the love of Jehovah God, for he made the attraction of the sexes for each other extremely pleasurable. Thus he made it possible for everyone, regardless of how humble his circumstances might be, to enjoy one of the greatest blessings of life, being dependent neither upon genius nor great wealth.—Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-24.
20, 21. (a) Why has Jehovah God given laws governing the gift of sex? (b) What does God’s Word say about those who violate his laws in this regard?
20 But with this gift the Creator wisely, justly, yes, and logically, gave restrictions, not arbitrarily, but for man’s own benefit, and in particular for the benefit of womankind, the weaker vessel, and for the benefit of the offspring resulting from this blessing; for which reasons he ruled out fornication and adultery. Even as man’s need for food and drink entitles him neither to steal nor to make a glutton or a drunkard out of himself, so the power of sexual expression is not to be exercised in any way that pleases man without regard for God’s laws or the consequences to oneself or to others. So we are required to exercise self-control in regard to how we give expression to this instinct by thought, word and action. That is why God’s Word counsels husbands: “Drink water out of your own cistern, and tricklings out of the midst of your own well.”—Prov. 5:15-23.
21 Yes the arousal and satisfying of the mating instinct is an extremely pleasant sensation, and therefore the fallen human heart has a strong inclination to indulge therein. But unless this is exercised within the bounds of marriage it is stigmatized in the Scriptures as “the works of the flesh . . . fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct,” things that debar one from the blessings of God’s kingdom, even as we read: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people . . . For . . . no fornicator or unclean person or greedy person—which means being an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.”—Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3, 5.
22. What Scriptural counsel is given to men and women in regard to careful conduct between the sexes, with what implications?
22 Christian men in particular should be careful to exercise self-control as to their speech and actions, so as not to arouse uncleanness in the opposite sex, as it seems to be the tendency of fallen man to delight in seduction. Christian women, on the other hand, must be careful so that they “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind.” Just as masculinity brings pleasure to women, so femininity brings pleasure to men, but unless it is coupled with modesty it is an unclean pleasure. Miniskirts can hardly be said to be modest. The words of Jesus recorded at Matthew 5:28 have implications for women. How so? In that Christian women have the obligation not to dress provocatively, not to tempt men to keep looking at them and so reap a prideful pleasure in noting how they are able to play upon the emotions of men. And when men violate that scripture they not only become guilty themselves but may well arouse the woman so that she also becomes guilty. Clearly, both men and women in the Christian congregation must do their part if the older women are to be treated “as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.”—1 Tim. 2:9; 5:1, 2.
SELF-CONTROL IN OTHER AREAS
23, 24. In what other areas must Christians be careful to exercise self-control, and for what reasons?
23 The Creator did not put upon the lower animals the obligation to exercise self-control. By merely following their instincts they remain well, live out their appointed life-span and serve the purpose God meant for them. But with man it is different. Jehovah God endowed man with reason and with conscience and with willpower, which, however, have been impaired by the fall. Therefore imperfect man must continually discipline himself so as not to go to extremes in whatever may give him pleasure. Thus there is nothing wrong with recreation in itself, with sports, hobbies and suchlike, IF they are kept under control, in their proper place; IF moderation is exercised in their enjoyment. But if one has difficulty in being moderate in the enjoyment of such good things, be it a hobby or watching TV, it would be better to do entirely without than to have it become a snare to one.—Mark 9:43-48.
24 The same even applies to one’s daily secular occupation. It may be quite interesting or challenging, or one may find it greatly rewarding because of the money earned or other benefits. These factors may well cause one to become a compulsive worker, lacking in self-control. Such men often become victims of high blood pressure and suffer heart attacks. Then again, many persons are unable to exercise self-control in the acquiring of material things. Easily influenced by the flattering talk of salespeople, they make unwise purchases and thus become beholden to creditors.
25. What has been brought to our attention in the foregoing regarding the value and need of self-control?
25 Truly the value and need of self-control can hardly be overemphasized. Unless we exercise it, all our Christian labors may prove to have been in vain “somehow.” Lack of self-control started the human race on the road to sin and death and has caused the fall of many of Jehovah’s servants and misery to them. But it is possible to exercise it, as many faithful Bible characters have shown. In particular, when it comes to pleasures, to the things we enjoy of themselves, such as food and drink, sex and recreation, do we need self-control if we would do the wise, the loving and the right thing.
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Our need for self-control can be illustrated by a motorcar: It needs not only engine power but control of its direction and speed
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The Flood was really an example of God’s exercise of self-control: He waited 120 years before destroying that wicked generation
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Daniel and his three friends showed self-control by refusing to eat the king’s delicacies. Jehovah blessed them for their self-control