A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls. Proverbs 25:28 (NLT)
I’ve written several posts covering attributes or core values that are needed to be successful in life. They were inspired by Anita Etanga, who lives in Limbe, Cameroon. She mentors teens. I asked her what she thought the teens needed the most, and she quickly replied “They need values – they don’t have any!”
The next generation has not been instilled with any values that will guide their lives. It’s a universal phenomena and its not just limited to Sub-Saharan Africa. There is a void that, if ignored, will not end well.
When I reflect on my other posts on core values, I may have missed the most important one: self-control. It is the last “fruit” in the list of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:23. It may be the last in the list, but I believe it is be the key to the others.
Why is self-control the most important? I would submit that a person who does not exhibit or have self-control is not likely to exhibit other Christ-like values. The definition of self-control is “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations”.
Self-control has two aspects – one positive and one negative. The positive side of it is the self-discipline side – where you set a goal and are disciplined enough to pursue it and not let things get in the way. With self-control, we can control doing bad things that we shouldn’t do, and conversely, it aids us in doing good things that we should do. The positive side of self-control is developing the discipline to do good things we should.
The Greek word “self-control” is egkrateia. It means “temperance: the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites”. With this definition, teens can learn that being tempted in the area of sexuality is normal. The lesson is that you can develop self-control in this area. This is the negative side of self-control – developing the ability to control the bad things that you shouldn’t do.
The above picture shows someone carefully crossing a stream. A misstep has consequences. Not having self-control can have consequences, too. Not all of them are good, either. Self-control provides the basis for disciplining ourselves to do what we need to do today, so that, later, we can do what we want to do.
Almost everything in life goes better if you have self-control. Without it, you may not have the internal discipline to get up early enough to get to work on time. And, surely, you won’t be able to stop eating that entire bag of potato chips, even though you know it is bad for you.
How do you develop self-control? I guess that’s the question for the ages. Some people have a built-in GPS like my daughter, Liz. She always able to be guided by an internal core set of values which controlled her behavior. I never worried about her when she was growing up because of her strong innate self-control.
But not all are like my daughter. Not all are wired with a rock solid built-in sense of right and wrong. Her self-control permitted her to control her moods, her reactions and her words. It also extended to her behavior – her actions and reactions.
The disciplines you establish for today will determine your success tomorrow. I can attest to that principle. Those with self-control can manage their money, their health and their schedule. Staying healthy requires the self-control to exercise regularly and eat correctly. It’s a continuing process.
I’ve been doing distance biking and swimming since 2015. I started slowly – initially a few laps in the pool and a couple of miles on my bike. I didn’t start by trying to do 40 miles on the bike or swimming a mile. Those distances are now the norm for me. But I must admit that there are days when I could easily pass up the exercise and I have to push myself. That’s self-control: developing will-power to accomplish a goal.
For most of us, our own will-power is not enough for long-lasting self-control. It takes a power larger than ourselves. God wants us to exhibit self-control which is why he sent the Holy Spirit to aid us. “For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control.” [2 Timothy 1:7 (TEV)].
One of the “12 steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous is for alcoholics to admit that there is a power greater than themselves which can help them overcome their addiction. It’s the key to tapping into a resource and power that is available for all believers.
So, the question is – for you and me – in what area of your life do you need to develop more self-control? That’s our challenge for today. Identify an area of your life that you feel is out of control, and pray to God and the Holy Spirit to help you conquer it. He answers prayers, and you might be surprised at the result. After all, God is in the miracle business.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Help your mentee identify critical areas in their life that need self-control. Hold your mentee accountable by checking on their progress.
WORSHIP: Join Matt Maher as he sings “Lord, I Need You.”
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