Self-Control—A Safeguard Against Disaster
THE man and woman were together. He was working for a few days on a repair job on her house. Both were members of a Christian congregation. The woman was unhappy in her marriage. She began to pour out her feelings and problems to the man. He felt sympathetic and, in the process of trying to counsel and comfort her, put his arm across her shoulders. Further intimacy followed, and before long they found themselves involved in adultery.
This couple had not planned or schemed to commit such a sin. Up to this point they both had lived good moral lives and were walking according to the way for Christians. Was it lack of love of God’s Word or of proper moral standards? Not primarily. It was a failure to exercise SELF-CONTROL.
Self-control is one of the fruits of God’s spirit. The Christian’s self-control is directed, not inherently, but by his knowledge of God and his Word. That is why the apostle Peter admonishes, ‘Add to your knowledge self-control.’—2 Pet. 1:5, 6.
In a listing of nine of the fruits of the spirit, love is put first, ahead of self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Of course, if love always operated perfectly and constantly in the Christian, he would exercise self-control also at all times. But because all, including Christians, are imperfect, self-control is a facet of the Christian personality that needs ever-vigilant attention.
Lack of self-control can lead to disaster. A person may have joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith and mildness. He may have practiced these all along. But, losing self-control, he may temporarily lose all these other qualities as well. During that interval he may do irreparable damage to his own life and to the lives of others.
Christians therefore pray for self-control. Otherwise they can fall into a trap. Everyone has sin working in his flesh, so that ‘what he wishes he does not always practice; but what he hates is often what he does.’ (Rom. 7:15) Because of this sad condition, the apostle Paul said: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:27.
That is why Jesus included in the prayer that he taught his disciples the plea: “Do not bring us into temptation.” (Matt. 6:13) God does not tempt anyone to do bad. But He knows that when a Christian does wrong it is rarely a case of being completely ignorant of the wrongness of his actions. Usually the person knows that what he is doing is displeasing to God. When tempted to sin, he will likely think, How will God feel about this? What effect will it have on my relationship with God? with the Christian congregation? How will it affect my family? Will my action bring reproach on the name of God and of Christ? on myself as a Christian? on the congregation? He will either heed these warning thoughts or cast them aside and go headlong into a sin.
Therefore, when the Christian prays, “Do not bring us into temptation,” he is asking God to remember him in time of trial and to call to his mind the strong warnings of the Bible—to put clear, unmistakable “stop signs” along the road. He asks God, if he should begin to weaken, to bring him to his senses and call him to a halt. God is not going to stop him forcibly and thereby interfere with his freedom of choice, but by fortifying the person’s mind with the right thinking that comes from divine wisdom Jehovah ‘makes the way out in order for him to be able to endure the temptation.’—1 Cor. 10:13.
If the Christian fails to look to God with the substance of this prayerful appeal in his heart, the principle will go into operation: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.” (Jas. 1:14, 15) The tempted person will be irresistibly enticed to the point where he throws all caution and principle to the wind and goes right into the sinful action ‘like a bull that comes to the slaughter.’ (Prov. 7:22) This is just what the Devil wants. (1 Pet. 5:8) But God will stand by the Christian who prays in time of stress, infusing into him the power of self-control.
On one occasion God spared David from a great calamity by restoring David’s self-control. In this case God used a human agency, a woman, to appeal to David to turn from taking a headlong course. This woman was Abigail. David and his men, outlawed by wicked King Saul, had guarded the shepherds and flocks of Abigail’s husband Nabal, a rich man. When David sent a delegation requesting food supplies, Nabal screamed abuses at them. Because of Nabal’s senseless, vicious action, David, greatly aroused, was on the way to wipe out Nabal’s household, but Abigail met him and pleaded with him to leave matters to Jehovah instead of taking vengeance into his own hands.
David saw the disaster into which his anger was about to throw him, and replied: “Blessed be Jehovah the God of Israel, who has sent you this day to meet me! And blessed be your sensibleness, and blessed be you who have restrained me this day from entering into bloodguilt.”—1 Sam. 25:2-35.
Think of the disaster David would have brought upon himself if God had not helped him to regain self-control in his hurry to massacre the men of Nabal’s household! And in these corrupt times self-control is equally vital to the Christian. Young people who are trying to live according to Christian standards are constantly thrown into association with those among whom bad practices are the everyday thing. These people without self-control exert strong pressure on the young Christian to induce him to use drugs or to engage in immorality, insubordination, vandalism or violence. Yes, young or old, a Christian’s loss of self-control could lead to an act that would ruin his life and seriously harm others. In one moment of time he could make a blot on his Christian record and a scar on his conscience.
As with other fruits of the spirit, self-control has to be developed by study of God’s Word and application of his commands. Self-control maintains balance and enhances the other Christian qualities. Through “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life,” this world strongly appeals to “the old personality which conforms to [our] former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his [the old personality’s] deceptive desires.” (1 John 2:16; Eph. 4:22) For this reason true Christians realize the great importance of developing the reliable safeguard—self-control.