The theme of our recent youth retreat was self-control, and that’s also been a theme for my recent study and sermons in 1 Corinthians 9-10. Self-control touches everything in our lives.
Usually our thinking about our self-control starts with physical/external/tangible things. We think about what we eat, what we do, how much we sleep, and so on. These are very much a part of self-control, just as athletes exercise self-control in all things in order to win the prize.
But while that’s true, self-control starts inside and actually has more to do with the inside than outside.
Take corporate worship for example. We are told to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
There are two parts to this. We are not to neglect meeting, which means we must show self-control to get here. There are many “good” reasons not to. There are always distractions and difficulties. Sometimes it is impossible, but don’t think that it will always be easy. That’s why self-control is necessary.
The second part is that we are to consider encouraging one another, which means we must show self-control to be here. Get here, and be here. We can’t check out, wander off in our minds to some other place, or distract ourselves with digital devices. We must be self-controlled in our considering work. This is the time we meet with God, and this is a time for building up the body, which requires our full attention.
Most meal plans that emphasize self-control do not include necessary feasting. You may be allowed a cheat day, or you may take one anyway, but the emphasis is usually on limited rather than unlimited portions.
When Christ gives Himself to us, He gives all of Himself. We have a portion in Christ, but we do not get only a portion of Him. We do not have to “cheat” to get more of Him.
Both during training and during the actual run, it is important to get the proper fuel for your body. You need energy stores for immediate effort and for down the road. I’ve seen odd things offered to runners along a marathon route, from bananas to bagels to beer, from marijuana to Monster drinks. Some of these will keep a runner going for a moments, some of them will keep a runner going for miles.
In the stadium of the Christian life, the same is true. If every week was like a lap, there is a full table at the first corner set for sake of soul gratitude and gas.
The communion table is not separate from our self-control, it is part of it. This meal feeds our faith in the imperishable reward, and reminds us that we all run in body as a Body. We run to win, but we run together, to win together, which is not the typical way to think of a race.
We all have Christ, and we have all of Christ. He is the one who qualifies us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:12), and He Himself is our refreshment and our provision for the race.
My Bible class started to read through The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment the last Quarter of the year. We didn’t quite make it halfway, but I wanted to start rereading it again for myself this summer anyway. Though a repetitive Puritan (is that redundant?), Burroughs convicted me many days in class. If I can keep up the reading I’m sure I’ll have more quotes to share.
The following one made me think about a few things: social media and Matthew 15:10-20 and emotional control. It’s easy to blame our negativity and fear and irritation on external things, when in fact the problem is in our own hearts. We can, and should, learn the art of a calm heart even when the outside is neither smooth or still. (Also, we can unfollow as necessary.)
“A great man will permit common people to stand outside his doors, but he will not let them come in and make noise in his closet or bedroom while he deliberately retires from all worldly business. So a well-tempered spirit may enquire after things outside in the world, and suffer some ordinary cares and fears to break into the suburbs of the soul, so as to touch lightly upon the thoughts. Yet it will not on any account allow an intrusion into the private room, which should be wholly reserved for Jesus Christ as his inward temple.” (23)
The fruit of the Spirit are one. That is, Galatians 5:22 says “fruit” (singular) while seven pieces are listed. The first few are more often remembered because we say them more often (love, joy, peace); we trail off halfway through figuring that our friend knows that we know the rest.
It is the last piece that I want to call our attention to for now: self-control.
In the world we live in, there will be control. And as it has been observed, either we will control ourselves or others will control us. Wisdom knows that “the hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor” (Proverbs 12:24). Be diligent on your own, or have a manager always watching over your shoulder while you flip burgers.
This isn’t only an employment issue, or even a political one, but includes our entertainment and our relationships.
If we cannot control our tastes we will eat junk. Eating junk too much junk for too long and we will become what we eat. If your favorite music is vapid, if you can’t wait for the weekend to binge watch movies, your soul will become as thin as the wifi signal that feeds your distractions.
In our relationships, if we cannot control emotions, we will be enslaved to bitterness, or to lust, or eventually to alimony payments. It is the Gentiles who live in the passion of lust (1 Thessalonians 4:5), they are enslaved to their passions. They are not free.
Spirit-filled self-control is not a law, but there is no law against it. In Christ our fleshly desires have died, and “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).
These sermon notes on self-control are better than a heap of Babylonian bricks. Wilson aims his admonition at the angry, but certainly there is application for all sorts of afflicting or tempting emotions. It all starts from the text: “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28, KVJ).
Notice that a man who is not self-governed is compared in the first instance to a man who is defenseless. Not having rule in his own spirit, which means he does not have rule over his own spirit, means that the walls of his “city” are little more than rubble. Now this means that self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall. But there is more. The man who has “no rule” is a man who has no rule over his spirit. In other words, the problem is that his soul is tempestuous. He lets others live in his head rent-free. This is the man who is defenseless.
Someone who is self-controlled in his spirit is someone who is a warrior. His city is not defenseless, but this control is not just a defensive posture. Note what Proverbs tells us elsewhere. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32).
A man with self-control in his spirit can defend his city, but more than this, he can take a city.