Self-Control—Why So Important?
“By your contributing in response all earnest effort, supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, to your knowledge self-control.”—2 PETER 1:5, 6.
1. What remarkable display of physical self-control occurred in the 19th century?
WITHOUT a doubt, one of the most amazing displays of physical control was furnished by Charles Blondin in the latter half of the 19th century. According to one report, he crossed Niagara Falls a number of times, first in 1859, on a tightrope 1,100 feet [340 m] long and 160 feet [50 m] above the water. After that, he did so each time with a different display of his ability: blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, and carrying a man on his back. In another setting, he turned somersaults on stilts on a rope stretched 170 feet [52 m] above the ground. To maintain such balance required extremely great physical self-control. For his pains, Blondin was rewarded with both fame and fortune.
2. What other forms of activity are there that demand physical control?
2 While few could even come near to duplicating those displays, the importance of physical self-control in the exercise of professional skills or in sports is apparent to all of us. For example, in describing the virtuosity of the late famed pianist Vladimir Horowitz, one musician said: “For me the fascinating thing was a sense of complete control . . . , the sense of an unbelievable energy being harnessed.” Another report on Horowitz spoke of “eight decades of flying fingers in perfect control.”
3. (a) What is the most demanding form of control, and how is it defined? (b) What is the meaning of the Greek word rendered “self-control” in the Bible?
3 It takes great effort to develop such skills. However, even more important and challenging is self-control. It has been defined as “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the word translated “self-control” at 2 Peter 1:6 and elsewhere, has been defined as “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.” Individual self-control has even been called “the acme of human achievement.”
Why Self-Control Is So Important
4. The lack of self-control has reaped what bad fruitage?
4 What a harvest the lack of self-control has been reaping! Many troubles in the world today are primarily due to a lack of self-control. Truly, we are in “the last days,” when ‘critical times hard to deal with are here.’ Men are “without self-control” often because of greed, one form of which is being “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) This sobering truth has forcefully been brought home to us by the exclusion of over 40,000 erring individuals from fellowship with the Christian congregation during the past service year, largely because of grossly wrong conduct. To these must be added the many who were given reproof, mostly for sexual immorality but all because of failure to exercise self-control. Also sobering is the fact that some longtime elders lost all their privileges as overseers for the same reason.
5. How might the importance of self-control be illustrated?
5 The importance of self-control might be illustrated by an automobile. It has four wheels that enable it to move, a powerful engine that can turn those wheels very rapidly, and brakes that can stop them. However, disaster can result unless there is someone in the driver’s seat to decide where those wheels go, how fast they turn, and when they stop, by making controlled use of the steering wheel, the accelerator, and the brakes.
6. (a) What criterion regarding love might well be applied to self-control? (b) What further counsel must we keep in mind?
6 It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of self-control. What the apostle Paul said at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 about the importance of love might well be said of self-control. No matter how eloquent we may be as public speakers, no matter how much knowledge and faith we may have gained through good study habits, no matter what works we might be doing to benefit others, unless we exercise self-control, all of that is in vain. We should bear in mind Paul’s words: “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.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, 25) Helping us to exercise self-control in all things is Paul’s warning at 1 Corinthians 10:12: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”
7. (a) How did lack of self-control start the human race on its downward course? (b) What other early examples of lack of self-control do the Scriptures give us?
7 By allowing emotion rather than reason to govern his actions, Adam failed to exercise self-control. As a result, “sin entered into the world and death through sin.” (Romans 5:12) The first murder was also due to a lack of self-control, for Jehovah God had warned Cain: ‘Why are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen? Sin is crouching at the entrance, and will you get the mastery over it?’ Because Cain did not gain the mastery over sin, he murdered his brother Abel. (Genesis 4:6-12) The wife of Lot also failed to exercise self-control. She just could not resist the temptation to look back. What did her lack of self-control cost her? Why, her very life!—Genesis 19:17, 26.
8. The experiences of what three men of old provide warnings for us as to the need for self-control?
8 Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben, lost the birthright because of his lack of self-control. He violated his father’s lounge by having sexual relations with one of Jacob’s concubines. (Genesis 35:22; 49:3, 4; 1 Chronicles 5:1) Because Moses lost his temper over the way the Israelites tried him with their murmuring, complaining, and rebellion, he was denied the greatly desired privilege of entering the Promised Land. (Numbers 20:1-13; Deuteronomy 32:50-52) Even faithful King David, ‘a man agreeable to God’s own heart,’ got into deep trouble because of his lack of self-control on one occasion. (1 Samuel 13:14; 2 Samuel 12:7-14) All such examples provide us with wholesome warnings that we need to exercise self-control.
What We Need to Control
9. What are some scriptures that highlight the importance of self-control?
9 First of all, self-control involves our thoughts and emotions. These are often referred to in the Scriptures by the figurative use of such words as “heart” and “kidneys.” What we let our minds dwell on either helps us or hinders us in our effort to please Jehovah. Self-control is needed if we are to heed the Scriptural counsel found at Philippians 4:8, to keep considering things that are true, chaste, and virtuous. The psalmist David expressed similar sentiments in prayer, saying: “Let the . . . meditation of my heart become pleasurable before you, O Jehovah my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) The tenth commandment—not to desire anything belonging to a fellowman—required control of one’s thoughts. (Exodus 20:17) Jesus highlighted the seriousness of controlling our thoughts and emotions when he said: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matthew 5:28.
10. What Bible texts stress the importance of controlling our speech?
10 Self-control also involves our words, our speech. Many indeed are the scriptures that counsel us to exercise control of our tongues. For example: “The true God is in the heavens but you are on the earth. That is why your words should prove to be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2) “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” (Proverbs 10:19) “Let a rotten saying not proceed out of your mouth, but whatever saying is good for building up as the need may be . . . Let all . . . screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.” And Paul goes on to give counsel to put away from us foolish talking and obscene jesting.—Ephesians 4:29, 31; 5:3, 4.
11. How does James deal with the problem of controlling the tongue?
11 James, a half brother of Jesus, condemns unbridled speech and shows how hard it is to control the tongue. He says: “The tongue is a little member and yet makes great brags. Look! How little a fire it takes to set so great a woodland on fire! Well, the tongue is a fire. The tongue is constituted a world of unrighteousness among our members, for it spots up all the body and sets the wheel of natural life aflame and it is set aflame by Gehenna. For every species of wild beast as well as bird and creeping thing and sea creature is to be tamed and has been tamed by humankind. But the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed. An unruly injurious thing, it is full of death-dealing poison. With it we bless Jehovah, even the Father, and yet with it we curse men who have come into existence ‘in the likeness of God.’ 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.”—James 3:5-10.
12, 13. What are some scriptures that show the importance of controlling our actions and conduct?
12 Of course, self-control involves our actions. One area in which great self-control is needed has to do with our relations with those of the opposite sex. Christians are commanded: “Flee from sexual immorality.” (1 Corinthians 6:18, New International Version) Husbands are exhorted to limit their sex interest to their own wives, being told in part: “Drink water out of your own cistern, and tricklings out of the midst of your own well.” (Proverbs 5:15-20) We are plainly told that “God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Hebrews 13:4) Self-control is especially needed by those who would cultivate the gift of singleness.—Matthew 19:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 7:37.
13 Jesus summed up the whole matter regarding our actions toward fellow humans when he gave what is generally termed the “Golden Rule,” saying: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.” (Matthew 7:12) Truly, it takes self-control not to let our selfish inclinations or outside pressures or temptations cause us to treat others differently from the way we would want them to treat us.
14. What counsel does God’s Word give regarding food and drink?
14 Then there is the matter of self-control regarding food and drink. God’s Word wisely counsels: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine, among those who are gluttonous eaters of flesh.” (Proverbs 23:20) Particularly regarding our day, Jesus warned: “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.” (Luke 21:34, 35) Yes, self-control involves our thoughts and our feelings, as well as our words and our actions.
Why Self-Control Is Such a Challenge
15. How do the Scriptures show the reality of Satan’s opposition to the exercising of self-control by Christians?
15 Self-control does not come easily because, as all Christians know, we have three powerful forces arrayed against our exercise of self-control. To begin with, there are Satan and his demons. The Scriptures leave no doubt as to their reality. Thus, we read that “Satan entered into” Judas just before he went out to betray Jesus. (John 13:27) The apostle Peter asked Ananias: “Why has Satan emboldened you to play false to the holy spirit?” (Acts 5:3) Most fittingly, Peter also warned: “Keep your senses, be watchful. Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Peter 5:8.
16. Why must Christians exercise self-control with regard to this world?
16 In their efforts to display self-control, Christians must also contend with this world that lies “in the power of the wicked one,” Satan the Devil. Concerning it, the apostle John wrote: “Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.” Unless we exercise self-control and strongly resist any tendency to love the world, we will succumb to its influence, as did Paul’s one-time fellow worker Demas.—1 John 2:15-17; 5:19; 2 Timothy 4:10.
17. With what problem as regards self-control are we born?
17 As Christians, we also need self-control if we are to contend successfully with our own inherited fleshly weaknesses and shortcomings. We cannot escape the fact that “the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” (Genesis 8:21) Like King David, ‘with error we were brought forth with birth pains, and in sin our mothers conceived us.’ (Psalm 51:5) A newborn child knows nothing about self-control. When it wants something, it just keeps on crying until it gets it. One report on child training states: ‘Children reason in a way entirely different from adults. Children are self-centered and often unresponsive to the most logical persuasion because they are unable to “put themselves in another person’s place.”’ Truly, “foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy.” However, with the application of “the rod of discipline,” he gradually learns that there are rules he must obey and that selfishness must be curbed.—Proverbs 22:15.
18. (a) According to Jesus, what tendencies reside in the figurative heart? (b) What words of Paul show his awareness of the problem of exercising self-control?
18 Yes, our inborn selfish tendencies furnish a challenge for us when it comes to exercising self-control. Those tendencies reside in the figurative heart, concerning which Jesus said: “Out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies.” (Matthew 15:19) That is why Paul wrote: “The good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. If, now, what I do not wish is what I do, the one working it out is no longer I, but the sin dwelling in me.” (Romans 7:19, 20) However, this was not a losing battle, for Paul also wrote: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.” Pummeling his body required exercising self-control.—1 Corinthians 9:27.
19. Why could Paul well say that he pummeled his body?
19 Well could Paul say that he pummeled his body, for exercising self-control is complicated by many physical factors, such as high blood pressure, bad nerves, lack of sleep, headaches, indigestion, and so forth. In the next article, we will consider qualities and aids that will help us to exercise self-control.
Do You Recall?
◻ Why is self-control important?
◻ What are some examples of those who suffered loss because of lack of self-control?
◻ In what areas must we exercise self-control?
◻ What three enemies make it difficult for us to exercise self-control?
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Christians need to exercise self-control regarding food and drink
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Self-control will help us refrain from harmful gossip
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