Cultivating the Fruit of Self-Control
“The fruitage of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”—GALATIANS 5:22, 23.
1. Who have given us the finest examples of self-control, as seen by what scriptures?
JEHOVAH GOD and Jesus Christ have given us the finest examples of self-control. Ever since man’s disobedience in the garden of Eden, Jehovah has kept exercising this quality. (Compare Isaiah 42:14.) Nine times in the Hebrew Scriptures we read that he is “slow to anger.” (Exodus 34:6) That takes self-control. And certainly God’s Son exercised great self-control, for “when he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return.” (1 Peter 2:23) Yet, Jesus could have asked his heavenly Father for the support of “more than twelve legions of angels.”—Matthew 26:53.
2. What fine Scriptural examples do we have of the exercise of self-control by imperfect humans?
2 We also have some fine Scriptural examples of self-control exercised by imperfect humans. For instance, this quality was displayed during a notable incident in the life of Joseph, a son of the patriarch Jacob. What self-control Joseph exercised when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him! (Genesis 39:7-9) There was also the fine example of the four Hebrew youths who exercised self-control by refusing to eat the Babylonian king’s dainties because of Mosaic Law restrictions.—Daniel 1:8-17.
3. Who are noted for their fine behavior, as seen by what testimony?
3 For modern examples of self-control, we can point to Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole. They deserve the commendation given them by the New Catholic Encyclopedia—that they are “one of the best-behaved groups in the world.” A Philippine university instructor stated that “the Witnesses practice religiously what they learn from the Scriptures.” Regarding the Witnesses’ convention in Warsaw in 1989, a Polish reporter wrote: “55,000 people did not smoke one cigarette for three days! . . . This demonstration of superhuman discipline impressed me with admiration mixed with awe.”
Fearing God and Hating What Is Bad
4. What is one of the greatest aids in exercising self-control?
4 One of the greatest aids in cultivating self-control is the fear of God, the wholesome dread of displeasing our loving heavenly Father. How important the reverent fear of God should be to us can be seen by the fact that the Scriptures mention it many times. When Abraham was about to offer up his son Isaac, God said: “Do not put out your hand against the boy and do not do anything at all to him, for now I do know that you are God-fearing in that you have not withheld your son, your only one, from me.” (Genesis 22:12) Emotional stress no doubt ran high, so it must have taken a great deal of self-control on the part of Abraham to proceed with God’s command to the point of lifting up his knife to slay his beloved son Isaac. Yes, the fear of God will help us to exercise self-control.
5. What role does the hating of bad play in our exercise of self-control?
5 Closely related to the fear of Jehovah is the hating of bad. We read at Proverbs 8:13: “The fear of Jehovah means the hating of bad.” In turn, the hating of what is bad also helps us to exercise self-control. Time and again, the Scriptures tell us to hate—yes, abhor—what is bad. (Psalm 97:10; Amos 5:14, 15; Romans 12:9) That which is bad is often so pleasurable, so tempting, so enticing that we simply must hate it in order to fortify ourselves against it. All such hating of what is bad has the effect of strengthening our determination to exercise self-control and thus serves as a protection to us.
Self-Control, the Course of Wisdom
6. Why is it the course of wisdom to curb our selfish inclinations by practicing self-control?
6 Another great aid in our practicing self-control is to appreciate the wisdom of displaying this quality. Jehovah asks us to exercise self-control for our own benefit. (Compare Isaiah 48:17, 18.) His Word contains much counsel showing how wise it is to curb our selfish inclinations by practicing self-control. We simply cannot escape God’s unchangeable laws. His Word tells us: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.” (Galatians 6:7, 8) An obvious example is that of eating and drinking. Many ills result because people eat or drink too much. All such yielding to selfishness robs a person of self-respect. More than that, an individual cannot yield to selfishness without also damaging his relationships with others. Most serious of all, lack of self-control damages our relationship with our heavenly Father.
7. What is a major theme of the book of Proverbs, as shown by what Bible texts?
7 Therefore, we must keep telling ourselves that selfishness is self-defeating. An outstanding theme of the book of Proverbs, which stresses self-discipline, is that selfishness simply does not pay and there is wisdom in exercising self-control. (Proverbs 14:29; 16:32) And let it be noted that self-discipline involves much more than simply avoiding what is bad. Self-discipline, or self-control, is also needed to do what is right, which may be difficult because this goes against our sinful inclinations.
8. What experience highlights the wisdom of exercising self-control?
8 Illustrating the wisdom of exercising self-control is the case of one of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing in line at a bank when a man pushed ahead of him. Though the Witness was a little annoyed, he exercised self-control. That very day he had to see a certain engineer to get a signature for some Kingdom Hall plans. And who did this engineer prove to be? Why, the very man who had pushed ahead of him at the bank! Not only did the engineer prove to be very friendly but he charged the Witness less than one tenth of the regular fee. How happy the Witness was that he had exercised self-control earlier that day, not letting himself get provoked!
9. What is the course of wisdom when we meet with abusive reactions in the ministry?
9 Time and again when we go from door to door preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom or stand on a street corner trying to interest passersby in our message, we encounter abusive speech. What is the course of wisdom? This wise statement is made at Proverbs 15:1: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage.” In other words, we need to exercise self-control. And not only have Jehovah’s Witnesses found this to be true but others have also. The curative value of self-control is being appreciated more and more by the medical profession.
Unselfish Love Helps
10, 11. Why is love a real help in exercising self-control?
10 Paul’s description of love at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 shows that its power can help us to exercise self-control. “Love is long-suffering.” To be long-suffering takes self-control. “Love is not jealous, it does not brag, does not get puffed up.” The quality of love helps us to control our thoughts and emotions, to curb any tendency to be jealous, to brag, or to get puffed up. Love moves us to be just the opposite, making us humble, lowly in mind, as Jesus was.—Matthew 11:28-30.
11 Paul goes on to say that love “does not behave indecently.” It also takes self-control to act decently at all times. The quality of love keeps us from greed, from solely ‘looking out for our own interests.’ Love “does not become provoked.” How easy it is to get provoked because of what others say or do! But love will help us to exercise self-control and not say or do things that we would afterward regret. Love “does not keep account of the injury.” Human nature is inclined to harbor a grudge or to cherish resentment. But love will help us to dismiss such thoughts from our minds. Love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness.” It takes self-control not to take pleasure in what is unrighteous, such as pornography or degrading TV soap operas. Love also “bears all things” and “endures all things.” It takes self-control to put up with things, to endure trialsome or burdensome things and not let them discourage us, cause us to retaliate in kind, or incline us to quit serving Jehovah.
12. What is one way to show our appreciation for all that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have done for us?
12 If we truly love our heavenly Father and appreciate his wonderful qualities and all he has done for us, we will want to please him by exercising self-control at all times. Also, if we truly love our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, and appreciate all he has done for us, we will heed his command ‘to pick up our torture stake and follow him continually.’ (Mark 8:34) That certainly requires that we exercise self-control. Love for our Christian brothers and sisters will also keep us from hurting them by taking some selfish course.
Faith and Humility as Helpers
13. Why can faith help us to exercise self-control?
13 Another great help in exercising self-control is faith in God and his promises. Faith will enable us to trust in Jehovah and wait for his due time to set matters straight. The apostle Paul makes the same point when he says at Romans 12:19: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, . . . for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” In this regard, humility can also help us. If we are humble, we will not be quick to take offense because of imagined or real injuries. We will not rashly take the law into our own hands, so to speak, but will exercise self-control and be willing to wait on Jehovah.—Compare Psalm 37:1, 8.
14. What experience shows that self-control can be acquired even by those greatly lacking in it?
14 That we can learn to exercise self-control was powerfully brought home in an experience involving a man with a violent temper. Why, he had such a temper that when the police were called because of the rumpus he and his father were causing, he knocked out three policemen before others subdued him! In time, however, he came in touch with Jehovah’s Witnesses and learned to exercise self-control, one of the fruits of God’s spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Today, 30 years later, this man is still faithfully serving Jehovah.
Self-Control Within the Family Circle
15, 16. (a) What will help a husband to exercise self-control? (b) Self-control is especially needed in what situation, as seen from what experience? (c) Why is self-control needed by a wife?
15 Self-control is certainly needed within the family circle. For a husband to love his wife as he loves himself requires that he exercise much control of his thoughts, words, and actions. (Ephesians 5:28, 29) Yes, it takes self-control for husbands to heed the words of the apostle Peter at 1 Peter 3:7: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge.” Especially when his wife is not a believer will the believing husband need to exercise self-control.
16 To illustrate: There was an elder who had a very ill-tempered unbelieving wife. Yet, he exercised self-control, and this benefited him so much that his doctor told him: “John, either you are by nature a very, very patient man or else you have a powerful religion.” We do indeed have a powerful religion, for “God gave us not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love and of soundness of mind,” enabling us to exercise self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7) Additionally, it takes self-control on the part of a wife to be submissive, especially when her husband is not a believer.—1 Peter 3:1-4.
17. Why is self-control important in the parent-child relationship?
17 Self-control is also needed in the parent-child relationship. To have children that are self-controlled, parents themselves must first of all set a good example. And when children require discipline of one kind or another, it should always be administered with calmness and in love, which takes real self-control. (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21) Then again, for children to show that they really love their parents calls for obedience, and to obey certainly requires self-control.—Ephesians 6:1-3; compare 1 John 5:3.
Making Use of the Help God Provides
18-20. What three spiritual provisions must we take advantage of in order to cultivate the qualities that will help us to exercise self-control?
18 To grow in fear of God, in unselfish love, in faith, in hatred of what is bad, and in self-control, we need to take advantage of all the help Jehovah God has provided. Let us consider three spiritual provisions that can help us to exercise self-control. First of all, there is the precious privilege of prayer. Never do we want to be too busy to pray. Yes, we should desire to “pray incessantly,” to “persevere in prayer.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12) Let us make the cultivating of self-control a matter of prayer. But when we come short in exercising self-control, let us contritely supplicate our heavenly Father for forgiveness.
19 A second area of assistance in displaying self-control is getting the help that comes from feeding on God’s Word and the literature that enables us to understand and apply the Scriptures. It is so easy to neglect this part of our sacred service! We must exercise self-control and keep telling ourselves that there is no more important reading material than the Bible and that provided by “the faithful and discreet slave,” and thus we must give it priority. (Matthew 24:45-47) It has been well said that life is never this and that but this or that. Are we truly spiritual men and women? If we are conscious of our spiritual need, we will exercise the self-control required to turn off the TV and prepare for our meetings or read The Watchtower that may just have arrived in the mail.
20 Third, there is the matter of doing justice to our congregation meetings and the larger assemblies and conventions. Are all such meetings an absolute must for us? Do we come prepared to take part and then do so as we have opportunity? To the extent that we do justice to our meetings, to that extent we will be strengthened in our determination to exercise self-control under all circumstances.
21. What are some of the rewards we can enjoy for cultivating the spirit’s fruit of self-control?
21 What rewards can we expect for trying hard to exercise self-control at all times? For one thing, we will never reap the bitter fruits of selfishness. We will have self-respect and a clear conscience. We will save ourselves ever so many troubles and will remain on the road to life. Further, we will be able to do the greatest possible good to others. Above all, we will be heeding Proverbs 27:11: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” And that is the greatest reward we could possibly have—the privilege of gladdening the heart of our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah!
Do You Recall?
◻ How does fear of God help us to exercise self-control?
◻ Why does love help us to exercise self-control?
◻ How does self-control help in family relationships?
◻ What provisions must we make good use of if we are to cultivate self-control?
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Joseph exercised self-control when tempted
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Child discipline administered with calmness and in love takes real self-control