To Win the Prize, Exercise Self-Control!
“Every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things.”—1 CORINTHIANS 9:25.
1. In line with Ephesians 4:22-24, how have millions said yes to Jehovah?
IF YOU were baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you went on public record that you were willing to engage in a contest that has eternal life as its prize. You said yes to doing Jehovah’s will. Before making a dedication to Jehovah, many of us had to make significant changes so that our dedication would be meaningful, acceptable to God. We followed the apostle Paul’s counsel to Christians: “Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct and which is being corrupted according to his deceptive desires . . . Put on the new personality which was created according to God’s will in true righteousness and loyalty.” (Ephesians 4:22-24) In other words, before saying yes as respects dedication to God, we had to say no to an unacceptable former way of life.
2, 3. How does 1 Corinthians 6:9-12 indicate that two kinds of changes must be made to gain God’s approval?
2 Certain features of the old personality that prospective Witnesses of Jehovah must put away are directly condemned by God’s Word. Paul enumerated some in his letter to the Corinthians, saying: “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom.” He then showed that first-century Christians made necessary personality changes, adding: “Yet that is what some of you were.” Notice, were, not are.—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
3 Paul suggested that additional changes might also be necessary, for he continued: “All things are lawful for me; but not all things are advantageous.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Thus, many today who desire to be Jehovah’s Witnesses see the need of saying no even to things that although lawful are of no advantage or are of little lasting value. These may be time-consuming and could sidetrack them from pursuing things of greater importance.
4. On what do dedicated Christians agree with Paul?
4 Dedication to God is made willingly, not grudgingly, as if it entailed a huge sacrifice. Dedicated Christians agree with Paul, who said after he became a follower of Christ: “On account of [Jesus] I have taken the loss of all things and I consider them as a lot of refuse, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8) Paul gladly said no to things of little value so that he could continue to say yes to God.
5. In what kind of race did Paul successfully participate, and how can we do likewise?
5 Paul exercised self-control in running his spiritual race and was finally able to say: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me as a reward in that day, yet not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his manifestation.” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8) Will we someday be able to make a similar expression? We will if in faith we exercise self-control while running our Christian race without letup and through to completion.
Self-Control to Do Good
6. What is self-control, and what are two areas in which we must exercise it?
6 The Hebrew and Greek words translated “self-control” in the Bible literally denote that a person has power or control over himself. They often convey the thought of restraining oneself from doing bad. But it is obvious that a measure of self-control is also required if we are to use our bodies in doing good works. The natural tendency of imperfect humans is to do wrong, so we have a twofold struggle. (Ecclesiastes 7:29; 8:11) While refraining from doing bad, we must also compel ourselves to do good. In fact, controlling our body in order to do good is one of the best ways to avoid doing bad.
7. (a) For what should we pray, as did David? (b) Meditating on what will help us to exercise greater self-control?
7 Clearly, self-control is vital if we are to follow through on our dedication to God. We need to pray as did David: “Create in me even a pure heart, O God, and put within me a new spirit, a steadfast one.” (Psalm 51:10) We can meditate on the benefits of avoiding things that are morally wrong or physically debilitating. Think of the possible harm of not avoiding such things: serious health problems, disturbed relationships, even premature death. On the other hand, think of the many benefits of holding to the way of life that Jehovah prescribes. Being realistic, however, we must not forget that our heart is treacherous. (Jeremiah 17:9) We must be resolute in resisting its attempts to downplay the seriousness of upholding Jehovah’s standards.
8. What reality does experience teach us? Illustrate.
8 Most of us know from experience that the unwilling flesh often tries to extinguish the fire of a willing spirit. Take, for example, Kingdom preaching. Jehovah takes delight in the willingness of humans to participate in this life-giving work. (Psalm 110:3; Matthew 24:14) For most of us, learning to preach publicly did not come easy. It required—and perhaps still requires—that we control our body, “pummel” it and “lead it as a slave,” instead of allowing it to dictate the course of least resistance.—1 Corinthians 9:16, 27; 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
“In All Things”?
9, 10. What is included in exercising “self-control in all things”?
9 The Bible’s counsel to exercise “self-control in all things” indicates that more is involved than just controlling our temper and refraining from immoral conduct. We may feel that we have achieved self-control in these areas, and if so, we can indeed be grateful. Yet, how about other areas of life in which the need for self-control may not be so obvious? To illustrate, suppose we live in a relatively affluent country with a high standard of living. Would it not be wise to learn to say no to unnecessary spending? Parents do well to teach their children not to buy whatever they see just because it is available, is appealing, or is financially within their reach. Of course, if such instruction is to be effective, parents must set the proper example.—Luke 10:38-42.
10 Learning to do without can strengthen our willpower. It can also enhance appreciation for the material things we possess and can make us more sympathetic toward those who must do without some things, not by choice, but out of necessity. True, a modest course runs counter to such popular attitudes as “be good to yourself” or “you deserve the best.” The world of advertising promotes the desire for instant gratification, but it does so for the sake of its own commercial profit. This situation may impede our efforts to display self-control. A magazine from a prosperous European land recently noted: “If keeping undesirable impulses under control requires an inner struggle on the part of those living under the agonizing circumstances of extreme poverty, how much more so is that true of those living in the land of milk and honey in today’s affluent society!”
11. Why is learning to do without beneficial, but what makes this difficult?
11 If we have difficulty distinguishing between what we want and what we truly need, it might be helpful to take steps to ensure that we do not act irresponsibly. For example, if we desire to counteract a leaning toward uncontrolled spending, we may want to resolve not to buy on credit, or when shopping, we may take only a set amount of money. Recall that Paul said “godly devotion along with self-sufficiency” is “a means of great gain.” He reasoned: “We have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8) Are we? Learning to live a simple life, free of the excess baggage of self-indulgence—in whatever form—calls for willpower and self-control. It is, though, a lesson worth learning.
12, 13. (a) In what ways do Christian meetings involve self-control? (b) What are some other areas in which we need to cultivate self-control?
12 Attending Christian meetings, assemblies, and conventions also involves a particular manifestation of self-control. For instance, that quality is necessary lest we let our mind wander during the program. (Proverbs 1:5) It may take self-control not to disturb others by whispering to our neighbors rather than giving the speaker our full attention. Adjusting our schedule so that we can arrive on time may require self-control. Further, self-control may be needed to set aside time to prepare for the meetings and then to participate in them.
13 Exercising self-control in small things strengthens our ability to do so in larger matters. (Luke 16:10) Thus, how fine it is to discipline ourselves to read God’s Word and Bible publications regularly, studying them and meditating on what we learn! How wise it is to discipline ourselves concerning inappropriate jobs, friendships, attitudes, and personal habits or to discipline ourselves to say no to activities that could rob us of precious time for God’s service! Staying busy in Jehovah’s service is certainly a fine protection against things that could draw us away from the spiritual paradise of Jehovah’s worldwide congregation.
Become Full-Grown Through Self-Control
14. (a) How should children learn to exercise self-control? (b) What benefits can come when children learn such lessons early in life?
14 A newborn infant is not noted for self-control. A pamphlet by experts in child behavior explains: “Self-control does not happen automatically or suddenly. Infants and toddlers need parental guidance and support to begin the process of learning self-control. . . . With parents guiding the process, self-control increases throughout the school years.” A study of four-year-old children revealed that those who had learned to exercise a degree of self-control “generally grew up to be better adjusted, more popular, adventurous, confident and dependable teenagers.” The ones who had not begun learning this lesson “were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated and stubborn. They buckled under stress and shied away from challenges.” Obviously, to become a well-adjusted adult, a child must learn to exercise self-control.
15. What does a lack of self-control indicate, in contrast with what goal set out in the Bible?
15 Likewise, if we are to become full-grown Christians, we must learn to manifest self-control. A lack of it indicates that we are still spiritual babes. The Bible admonishes us to “become full-grown in powers of understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:20) Our goal is to “attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of stature that belongs to the fullness of the Christ.” Why? “In order that we should no longer be babes, tossed about as by waves and carried hither and thither by every wind of teaching by means of the trickery of men, by means of cunning in contriving error.” (Ephesians 4:13, 14) Clearly, learning to exercise self-control is vital to our spirituality.
16. How does Jehovah provide help?
16 To cultivate self-control, we need divine help, and it is available. God’s Word, like a perfect mirror, shows us where we need to make personal changes, and it provides counsel on how to do so. (James 1:22-25) A loving brotherhood stands ready to offer help too. Christian elders show understanding in offering personal assistance. Jehovah himself gives freely of his holy spirit if we ask for it in prayer. (Luke 11:13; Romans 8:26) Therefore, let us joyfully use these provisions. The suggestions on page 21 may help.
17. What encouragement does Proverbs 24:16 give us?
17 How comforting to know that Jehovah values our efforts when we try to please him! This should motivate us to continue to strive for more self-control. Regardless of how often we may stumble, we must never give up in our efforts. “The righteous one may fall even seven times, and he will certainly get up.” (Proverbs 24:16) Each time we score a victory, we have reason to be pleased with ourselves. We can also be sure that Jehovah is pleased with us. One Witness says that before dedicating his life to Jehovah, each time he was successful in refraining from smoking for a week, he rewarded himself by buying something useful with the money self-control had helped him to save.
18. (a) What is involved in our battle for self-control? (b) What assurance does Jehovah provide?
18 Above all, we should remember that self-control involves the mind and emotions. We can see this from Jesus’ words: “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; James 1:14, 15) He who has learned to control his mind and feelings will find it easier to control his whole body. Let us therefore strengthen our determination to avoid not only doing wrong but even thinking about it. Should wrong thoughts arise, reject them immediately. We can flee from temptation by prayerfully keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 4:15, 16) As we do our best, we will be following the counsel of Psalm 55:22: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.”
Do You Recall?
• In what two ways must we exercise self-control?
• What does it mean to exercise “self-control in all things”?
• What practical suggestions for cultivating self-control did you take special note of during our study?
• Where does self-control start?
[Box/Pictures on page 21]
How to Strengthen Self-Control
• Cultivate it even in little things
• Meditate on its present and future benefits
• Replace what God forbids with things that he encourages
• Reject improper ideas immediately
• Fill your mind with spiritually upbuilding thoughts
• Accept the help that mature fellow Christians can give
• Avoid compromising situations
• Pray for God’s help in times of temptation
[Pictures on page 18, 19]
Self-control moves us to do good