Let Your Self-Control Exist and Overflow
“Supply to your faith . . . self-control.”—2 PETER 1:5, 6.
1. In what unusual situation might a Christian give a witness?
JESUS said: “You will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them.” (Matthew 10:18) If you were called before a governor, a judge, or a president, what would you speak about? Perhaps first about why you were there, the accusation against you. God’s spirit would help you do so. (Luke 12:11, 12) But can you imagine speaking about self-control? Do you consider that an important part of our Christian message?
2, 3. (a) How did it occur that Paul could witness to Felix and Drusilla? (b) Why was self-control a fitting subject for Paul to speak about in that situation?
2 Consider a real-life example. One of Jehovah’s witnesses was arrested and brought to trial. When given an opportunity to speak, he wanted to explain his beliefs as a Christian, as a witness. You can examine the record and you will find that he gave forensic testimony “about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come.” We are referring to an experience of the apostle Paul in Caesarea. There was an initial interrogation. “Some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla his wife, who was a Jewess, and he sent for Paul and listened to him on the belief in Christ Jesus.” (Acts 24:24) History reports that Felix “practised every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of king with all the instincts of a slave.” He had been married twice before when he induced Drusilla to divorce her husband (violating God’s law) and become his third wife. Maybe it was she who wanted to hear of the new religion, Christianity.
3 Paul went on to talk “about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come.” (Acts 24:25) This would have made apparent the contrast between God’s standards of uprightness and the cruelty and injustice Felix and Drusilla were part of. Paul may have hoped to move Felix to display justice in the case at hand. But why bring up “self-control and the judgment to come”? This immoral pair were inquiring what “belief in Christ Jesus” entailed. So they needed to know that following him requires restraining one’s thoughts, speech, and actions, which is what self-control means. All humans are accountable to God for their thinking, words, and deeds. Thus, more important than any judgment from Felix in Paul’s case was the judgment that the governor and his wife faced before God. (Acts 17:30, 31; Romans 14:10-12) Understandably, upon hearing Paul’s message, “Felix became frightened.”
It Is Important but Not Easy
4. Why is self-control an important part of true Christianity?
4 The apostle Paul recognized self-control as a vital part of Christianity. The apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ close associates, confirmed this. When writing to those who would “become sharers in divine nature” in heaven, Peter urged displaying certain qualities that were essential, such as faith, love, and self-control. Hence, self-control was involved in this assurance: “If these things exist in you and overflow, they will prevent you from being either inactive or unfruitful regarding the accurate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—2 Peter 1:1, 4-8.
5. Why should we be especially concerned about self-control?
5 You know, however, that it is easier to say that we should display self-control than it is actually to practice it in our daily life. One reason is that self-control is relatively rare. At 2 Timothy 3:1-5 Paul described attitudes that would prevail in our time, in “the last days.” One trait that would characterize our period is that many would be “without self-control.” We see this proving true all around us, do we not?
6. How is lack of self-control manifested today?
6 Many people believe that it basically is healthy to “let go” or to “let off steam.” Their view is reinforced by role models in the public eye who seem to ignore self-control of any sort, who simply indulge their impulses. To illustrate: Many who like professional sports have grown accustomed to wild displays of emotion, even violent rage. Can you not recall, at least from the press, instances where brutal fights or mob scenes erupted at sporting events? Our point, though, does not require that we devote much time to reviewing examples of lack of self-control. You could list many areas in which we need to show self-control—our consumption of food and drink, our conduct with the opposite sex, and the time and money spent on hobbies. But rather than skim over many of such, let us examine one primary area in which we must manifest self-control.
Self-Control Regarding Our Emotions
7. What aspect of self-control merits special attention?
7 Many of us have been reasonably successful in regulating or restraining our actions. We do not steal, succumb to immorality, or commit murder; we know what God’s law is about such wrongs. How successful are we, though, in controlling our emotions? In time, those who fail to cultivate emotional self-control often lose self-control in regard to their actions. So let us focus on our emotions.
8. What does Jehovah expect of us regarding our emotions?
8 Jehovah God does not expect us to be automatons, so that we neither have nor manifest any emotion. At Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus “groaned in the spirit and became troubled.” Then “Jesus gave way to tears.” (John 11:32-38) He showed quite a different emotion when, with perfect control of his actions, he drove money changers from the temple. (Matthew 21:12, 13; John 2:14-17) His loyal disciples also displayed deep emotions. (Luke 10:17; 24:41; John 16:20-22; Acts 11:23; 12:12-14; 20:36-38; 3 John 4) Yet, they realized the need for self-control in order that their emotions did not lead to sin. Ephesians 4:26 makes this quite clear: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.”
9. Why is controlling our emotions so important?
9 There is a danger that a Christian might seem to manifest self-control while, in fact, his emotions get out of control. Recall the response when God approved Abel’s sacrifice: “Cain grew hot with great anger, and his countenance began to fall. At this Jehovah said to Cain: ‘Why are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen? If you turn to doing good, will there not be an exaltation? But if you do not turn to doing good, there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving.’” (Genesis 4:5-7) Cain failed to control his emotions, which led him to murder Abel. Uncontrolled emotions led to an uncontrolled deed.
10. What do you learn from Haman’s example?
10 Consider, too, an example from the days of Mordecai and Esther. The official named Haman became angry that Mordecai would not bow to him. Later Haman erroneously thought he would be favored. “Haman went out on that day joyful and merry of heart; but as soon as Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and that he did not rise and did not quake on account of him, Haman was immediately filled with rage against Mordecai. However, Haman kept control of himself and came into his house.” (Esther 5:9, 10) He was quick to feel the emotion of joy. Yet he was also quick to feel rage at the mere sight of one against whom he held a grudge. Do you think that when the Bible says that Haman “kept control of himself” it meant he was exemplary in self-control? Hardly. For the time being, Haman controlled his actions and any show of emotion, but he failed to control his jealous rage. His emotions led him to plot murder.
11. In the Philippi congregation, what problem existed and what could have led to it?
11 Similarly, lack of control of emotions today can greatly harm Christians. ‘Oh,’ some might feel, ‘that would not be a problem in the congregation.’ But it has been. Two anointed Christians in Philippi had a serious difference, which the Bible does not describe. Imagine this as a possibility: Euodia invited some brothers and sisters for a meal or a pleasant gathering. Syntyche was not invited, and she felt hurt. Perhaps she responded by not inviting Euodia on a later occasion. Then both began looking for the other’s mistakes; in time, they hardly spoke to each other. In a scenario like that, would the basic problem be the lack of an invitation to a meal? No. That would be just the spark. When these two anointed sisters failed to control their emotions, the spark became a forest fire. The problem persisted and grew until an apostle had to intervene.—Philippians 4:2, 3.
Your Emotions and Your Brothers
12. Why does God give us the advice found at Ecclesiastes 7:9?
12 Admittedly, it is not easy to control one’s emotions when one feels slighted, hurt, or treated with prejudice. Jehovah knows that, for he has observed human relations from man’s beginning. God counsels us: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Notice that God gives attention first to emotions not to actions. (Proverbs 14:17; 16:32; James 1:19) Ask yourself, ‘Should I give more attention to controlling my emotions?’
13, 14. (a) In the world, what commonly develops from failure to control emotions? (b) What things might lead Christians to hold grudges?
13 Many people in the world who fail to control their emotions start vendettas—bitter, even violent, feuds over a real or imagined wrong against themselves or a relative. Once emotions get out of control, they can exert their harmful influence for a long time. (Compare Genesis 34:1-7, 25-27; 49:5-7; 2 Samuel 2:17-23; 3:23-30; Proverbs 26:24-26.) Certainly Christians, no matter of what national or cultural background, should see such bitter hostilities and grudges as wrong, bad, to be avoided. (Leviticus 19:17) Do you view avoiding grudges as part of your self-control regarding emotions?
14 Just as in the case of Euodia and Syntyche, failure to control emotions could lead to problems now. A sister might feel slighted at not being invited to a wedding feast. Or maybe it was her child or her cousin who was not included. Or perhaps a brother bought a used automobile from a fellow Christian, and before long it broke down. Whatever the reason, this caused hurt feelings, emotions were not controlled, and those involved got upset. Then what?
15. (a) What sad consequences have resulted from grudges between Christians? (b) What Bible counsel bears on a tendency to hold grudges?
15 If an upset person does not work at controlling his emotions and making peace with his brother, a grudge could develop. There have been cases when a Witness asked not to be assigned to a certain Congregation Book Study because he did “not care for” some Christian or family attending there. How sad! The Bible says it would be a defeat for Christians to take one another to worldly courts, but would it not be equally a defeat if we avoided a brother over a past slight to us or to some relative? Do our emotions reveal that we put blood relationships ahead of peace with our brothers and sisters? Do we say that we would be willing to die for our sister, but our emotions so move us that we hardly speak with her now? (Compare John 15:13.) God tells us pointedly: “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath.”—Romans 12:17-19; 1 Corinthians 6:7.
16. Abraham set what good example as to dealing with emotions?
16 A step toward regaining control of our emotions is to make peace or resolve the cause for complaint, rather than letting animosities persist. Recall when the land could not support Abraham’s large herds along with those of Lot, and their hired workers therefore began to quarrel. Did Abraham let his emotions get the better of him? Or did he manifest self-control? Commendably, he suggested a peaceful solution to the business conflict; let each have a separate territory. And he gave Lot the first choice. Proving that Abraham had no bitterness and that he held no grudge, he later went to battle in behalf of Lot.—Genesis 13:5-12; 14:13-16.
17. How did Paul and Barnabas fail on one occasion, but what followed thereafter?
17 We can also learn about self-control from an incident involving Paul and Barnabas. After having been partners for years, they disagreed over whether to take Mark on a trip. “There occurred a sharp burst of anger, so that they separated from each other; and Barnabas took Mark along and sailed away to Cyprus.” (Acts 15:39) That these mature men failed to control their emotions on that occasion should provide a warning for us. If it could happen to them, it can happen to us. They did not, though, permit a lasting breach to develop or a vendetta to grow. The record proves that the brothers involved regained control of their emotions and later worked together in peace.—Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11.
18. If feelings are hurt, what can the mature Christian do?
18 We can expect that there may be hurt feelings, even grudges, among God’s people. They were present in Hebrew times and in the apostles’ days. They also have occurred among Jehovah’s servants in our time, for all of us are imperfect. (James 3:2) Jesus urged his followers to act quickly to resolve such problems between brothers. (Matthew 5:23-25) But it is even better to prevent them in the first place by improving our self-control. If you feel slighted or offended by a relatively small thing your brother or sister said or did, why not just control your emotions and simply forget it? Is it really necessary to confront the other person, as if you will not be satisfied until that one admits to being wrong? Just how much are you in control of your emotions?
It Is Possible!
19. Why is it fitting that our discussion centered on controlling our emotions?
19 We have dealt primarily with one aspect of self-control, controlling our emotions. And that is a key area because failure to control our emotions can lead to losing control of our tongue, our sexual impulses, our eating habits, and many others aspects of life where we must display self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:8, 9; James 3:5-10) Take courage, though, for you can improve in maintaining self-control.
20. How can we be sure that improvement is possible?
20 Jehovah is willing to help us. How can we be sure? Well, self-control is one of the fruits of his spirit. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Thus, to the extent that we work to qualify for and to receive holy spirit from Jehovah and to manifest its fruitage, to that extent we can expect to be more self-controlled. Never forget Jesus’ assurance: “The Father in heaven [will] give holy spirit to those asking him!”—Luke 11:13; 1 John 5:14, 15.
21. What are you resolved to do in the future about self-control and your emotions?
21 Do not imagine that it will be easy. And it may be harder for some who grew up around people who gave free rein to their emotions, for some with a more excitable temperament, or for some who just never tried to display self-control. For such a Christian, letting self-control exist and overflow may be a real challenge. Yet it is possible. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) As we get nearer and nearer to the end of the present system of things, stresses and pressures will increase. We are going to need not less self-control but more, much more! Examine yourself as to your self-control. If you see areas in which you need to improve, work at it. (Psalm 139:23, 24) Ask God for more of his spirit. He will hear you and will help you so that your self-control will exist and will overflow.—2 Peter 1:5-8.
Points for Reflection
□ Why is control of your emotions so important?
□ What have you learned from the examples of Haman and of Euodia and Syntyche?
□ What will you honestly try to do if a cause for offense occurs?
□ How can self-control help you to avoid holding any grudge?
[Picture on page 18]
When before Felix and Drusilla, Paul spoke about righteousness and self-control