Self-Control Vital for Christians
WHEN the police in a small town in New Mexico, U.S.A., responded to a report of a shooting, they found a young couple’s kitchen spotted with blood and strewn with green beans. The woman of the home had suffered a flesh wound. Why? The alleged assailant, her companion, reportedly told the police: “Wouldn’t you be mad if you had to eat green beans all the time?”
Hard to believe? Perhaps. Yet, for just such trifles people have even been killed. Such incidents are becoming more commonplace. To a large extent, this is due to a lack of self-control. Unable to control their emotions, people lash out in fits of anger—described by the apostle Paul as one of “the works of the flesh.”—Galatians 5:19-21.
This increasing lack of self-control is part of the proof that we are living in the “critical times hard to deal with,” “the last days” of this old, satanic system. Describing these days, Paul wrote that men (and women) would not be “open to any agreement, . . . without self-control, fierce.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) Clearly, “the last days” are upon us, and they are becoming increasingly violent.
What are Christians to do in view of this? Paul urged them to combat “the works of the flesh” by developing the fruitage of God’s spirit, including “self-control.” (Galatians 5:19, 22, 23) What is self-control? Why does Paul recommend this? What are some of the benefits it brings?
Self-control has been defined as “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” Paul showed that such restraint helps to identify the true Christian. In fact, the exercise of self-control assists in developing the other fruits of God’s spirit, such as peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, and mildness. It enables a Christian to persevere in serving God and in resisting the pressures from Satan, the world, and the imperfect flesh. Thus, Paul wrote the Galatians: “Keep walking by spirit and you will carry out no fleshly desire at all.”—Galatians 5:16.
This is particularly necessary now since our days are marked by an increasing lack of self-control. For example, police in many lands find that more and more motorists are ignoring traffic laws. Such violations often produce angry shouting matches that can lead to fights. Why, one thoroughfare in Houston, Texas, has a stretch called “Altercation Avenue” because of the many fights that break out there. As another example, consider what has sometimes occurred as motorists have waited in line to buy gasoline. A lack of self-control has resulted in explosions of temper and even in murder as some motorists selfishly sought to cut in on the line to ensure getting the gasoline they wanted.
In these and similar pressure situations, the Christian must be sure not to be influenced by those who vent their anger on others. He should always be identified by self-control and mildness.
Benefits of Self-Control
Self-control brings many benefits, some of which are rather obvious. For example, God’s Word condemns gluttony and drunkenness. (Proverbs 23:20, 21) The apostle Paul counsels: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Self-control helps us to comply, and this brings definite health benefits. However, overdrinking and gluttony are not only unhealthy but may even result in a Christian’s being excluded from the Christian congregation. Hence, self-control in these areas helps a Christian to stay close to Jehovah.
Self-control also helps us to resist the permissive spirit of this world. (1 Corinthians 2:12) Today, fornication, homosexuality, adultery, and all types of sexual perversions are widely proclaimed to be acceptable, normal. However, Christian men and women resist such propaganda and fight to keep themselves clean in God’s eyes. They know that “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men . . . will inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) Self-control makes it possible for them to resist contamination with immoral thinking that would suggest that such things are acceptable.
Wrong thinking spreads in various ways today but especially through entertainment, whether this be television, movies, music, stage plays, novels, or other media. The Christian must exercise self-control as to the time he spends enjoying entertainment, realizing that a person needs only so much entertainment to refresh himself, and after that point has been passed, entertainment becomes self-indulgent and a waste of time. He also has to use self-control as to the type of entertainment that he pursues, recognizing that much popular entertainment today highlights immoral attitudes, violent tendencies, or fascination with the occult. These things are not fit for Christians.—Ephesians 2:1-3.
Self-Control Results in Progress
Self-control is not just a protection. It also helps the Christian to make progress in spirituality and in his ministry. The apostle Peter stressed this when he wrote: “Supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, to your knowledge self-control.” These qualities, he said, along with endurance, godly devotion, brotherly affection, and love, “will prevent you from being either inactive or unfruitful regarding the accurate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8) How does self-control help us to progress as Christian ministers?
The Christian usually spends much time each month telling others about the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) However, some Christians may share in this activity only intermittently because of other demands made on their time or out of discouragement because of encountering a lack of interest. Such ones may possess an excellent knowledge of God’s Word. However, instead of progressing, they retrogress, perhaps to the point of complete ‘unfruitfulness.’ What should they do?
‘Supply to your knowledge self-control,’ advised Peter. This may be self-control in connection with time devoted to recreation, social activity, or even secular work. Or the self-control may involve regularly strengthening oneself to persevere in spite of meeting up with apathy. This a person can cultivate by means of regular personal Bible study, as well as by attending Christian meetings.
Self-control also helps a Christian to make progress in his relationships with others. By cultivating self-control, he will enjoy more success in colaboring with others in the congregation, and a spirit of joy and peace will prevail. (Ephesians 4:3) Each one will, through self-control, seek not to become a cause of stumbling to others in the congregation.—Philippians 1:9, 10.
Self-control especially involves control of the tongue. This is essential if we are to avoid stumbling others. But this is not easy. The disciple James wrote: “If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2) James did, though, encourage all Christians to work at controlling their tongues, so that they could use them for blessing others. (James 3:5-12) Thus he wrote: “The fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.”—James 3:18.
Self-Control When Preaching
On occasion, a Christian in the preaching activity may meet a very uncontrolled individual. On such occasions the Christian must exercise strong self-control, staying calm and not retaliating in word or deed. One Christian woman set an astonishing example in this regard. At the third home she called on one Saturday morning, the householder opened the door and began shooting at her. The minister remained calm, however. “You shot me,” she said. “Yes,” replied the householder, “I shot you,” and then continued shooting. The Witness reports: “I had two bullet holes in my coat, two in my bag and one in my foot. One bullet came between my feet. I felt powder burns on my legs as I was trying to get off her porch.”
The Christian woman kept unusual control of herself in this trying situation. She prayed to Jehovah to help her to get to the next house and not fall on the way. She made it, negotiating the steps with the help of her hands. The householder answered her knock and, learning that she had been shot, very kindly took her inside. The woman and her older daughter, a nurse, gave first aid while another daughter called the police and the paramedics. The self-control of this Christian minister greatly impressed first the police, then the paramedics, the crowd that gathered, and finally the hospital staff.
True, most Christian ministers are not shot at. But they do often have to deal with individuals who are very upset and angry. They should remember that “an answer, when mild, turns away rage.” (Proverbs 15:1) Jesus is their model. Of him, Peter wrote: “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.” (1 Peter 2:23) Yes, self-control is an excellent recommendation for the Christian minister.
How to Cultivate Self-Control
Since self-control is a fruit of God’s holy spirit, we need that spirit to develop it. As Paul wrote, “Keep walking by spirit.” (Galatians 5:16, 22, 23) All Christians must be eager students of God’s Word, itself a product of holy spirit. Regular study of that Word, and applying what we learn in our lives, will enable us to control our thoughts, to bring “every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2) Yes, it is vital for a Christian to learn to think as Jesus thinks and as Jehovah God thinks.
The heart, the seat of motivation, must also be constantly influenced by God’s spirit since self-control means to control, or to restrain, one’s emotions or desires, which spring from the heart. (Matthew 15:19) Remember, then, this good counsel: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Let God’s spirit touch your heart as you learn Bible principles. Seek to memorize, if possible, Scriptural counsel that you can draw on when faced with trying situations.
Good association with fellow Christians also helps develop self-control. (Hebrews 10:23-25) The various meetings of the Christian congregation are designed to help all Christians to grow in Bible knowledge and in the ability to produce the fruitage of God’s spirit. Additionally, seek out as associates those who are exemplary in the matter of self-control. Thus you, too, will be encouraged to develop this quality.—Proverbs 13:20; 27:17.
One thing that must never be neglected is regular communication with Jehovah through prayer. The Christian must constantly ask for his aid in cultivating self-control. Beg for his spirit to assist you. And if you find you have failed to exercise self-control in some matter, humbly and earnestly request Jehovah’s forgiveness. Jesus taught us to pray: “Do not bring us into temptation.” Paul encouraged Christians to “persevere in prayer.” So, go to Jehovah “incessantly,” asking for his help as you strive to cultivate self-control in your life.—Matthew 6:13; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
What an excellent Christian quality self-control is! Continue to cultivate it. Those who do so have more self-respect. They enjoy greater peace and happiness in their family and congregational relationships, as well as better relationships with others in their daily lives. More importantly, self-control helps to ensure a good relationship with the Creator and serves to identify them as true Christian servants of their God, Jehovah.
[Box on page 24]
For Your Study
This is the ninth article on “the fruitage of the spirit.” You can find the other articles in this series in the Watchtower issues of March 15, June 15, July 1, August 1, September 15, October 1, October 15, and November 15, 1985. You may enjoy setting as a personal study project a review of this fine Scriptural information.