Scrabble pieces mounded and spread across the center of the tables at bible study, continuing our study of the fruit of the Spirit, the gals were asked, working as individuals or as a team how would YOU spell self-control. Encouraging them to consider, think and ponder if narrowed down to one word, “What it is to walk in self-control?”
Paul writes to Titus his son in the faith, giving him the character guidelines of an elder, “He must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Tit. 1:8 ) The word he uses for self-controlled is ‘sophron’ it is a compound word, starting with ‘sozo’ which means sound, safe, healthy and ‘phren’ which is ‘inner outlook’ which regulates outward behavior. It is having a solid-sound inner perspective which affects our acted out choices, basically it is having our outside properly reflect our inside, if it doesn’t we are out of balance, out of control.
Here’s the fun part, it is the word we get ‘diaphragm’, the inner organ that regulates controlled breathing and ultimately the heart beat. A great example would be an opera singer, who through years of practice and discipline learns to control the length (quality) of their tones. With effort, and concentration they bring from the depth of their gut (if you will) a song. So we the listener can see their passionate movements and hear the resonating tones from within. Ultimately it is a ‘balanced’ skill, properly controlling the sound.
Biblical self-control (sophrone) is learning the discipline and practice of balance, our actions reflecting a solid-sound inner perspective, conviction, values and goals. However, it is GOD that defines the solid-inner perspective stuff, we don’t get to run off belting out our own sound. This balancing skill is not “one-size-fits-all” because we are all different, what I need to help regulate my walk with Jesus, may be different from you. How I stake out my boundaries lines are shaped distinctly for me. Yet we all have the same regulating ‘organ,’ it is the Holy Spirit. Discipline takes us to the place of yielding, seeing and acting according to Holy Spirits guidance.
Proverbs 28:25 “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Paints a very vivid picture doesn’t it, a city is only as secure as its walls. We are only as secure as the boundaries we set, the staked out guidelines. With no secure walls we are vulnerable, so vulnerable. We are called to master self to the degree of caution and guard. Remember God
gave us free will, we are NOT puppets. Even in our freedom, we are still called to walk a balanced life, a holy life.
Temperance is another word used for self-control which means curbing one’s desires and impulses. How do we curb these desires? How do we guard and set guidelines, how do we regulate, use self-control in areas that we know are weak and make our walls weak. Whether that is curbing our desires for food, or reigning in our physical appetites, or controlling our tongue which is indeed one of the hardest to manage. James speaks of it (chapter 3) as a large ship being controlled by a small lil rudder. Self-control not only means to discipline, but to correct, correct in the sense as to change course. It is the decision to remain within the boundaries. If we find ourselves outside of those boundaries, we change course! James also likens control of the tongue with the bit in a horse’s mouth, “Whoa Nelly!”
Most of our struggle starts in our thought life, if only we can learn to allow our minds to be transformed (Ro. 12:1-2) and pull thoughts into captivity, “We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ.” 2 Cor 10:5 (MSG)
Self-control is the goal of finding and maintaining a balance between obsession and neglect. Within these two extremes we find a comfortable fit for where, who, why, what and how we give our attention, again Holy Spirit holds the permission slip for all these. We do this through guarded guidelines which point us to either abstinence (none at all, no way, not going there) or moderation, having the ability to say, “That’s enough …for now.”
Our boundaries often are defined and kept by the questions we ask, ‘Do I really want that? Do I really need that? Can I afford it? Is that good for me? Will it hurt? Will this get me in trouble? (My go to question) These are all appropriate and good, but what of the questions God asks?
Genesis chapter 3: Adam & Eve are in the Garden, they just had the conversation with the Serpent, and chose to eat the fruit (oops) God comes, and asks “Where are you?” God knew very well where Adam was, the question was for Adam. God wants him to acknowledge where he is and why he is there. “What has sin done to me …why am I running away from Him? Why am I hiding? Maybe God too is asking US… where are you? The next verse, Adam told God he was afraid and was naked. God asks “Who told you that you were naked?” What form of disobedience got you to this point? (They ate from the forbidden tree – Knowledge of Good & evil) We could go further back … Who were you spending time with? (the crafty serpent) “Who were you talking to?”
Genesis 16: Hagar & Sarah didn’t get along, (to say the least) Hagar runs away. God sees her, saying, “From where have you come, and where are you going?” “Where are you going? Ever taken off in one direction (impulsively) emotions being the driving force? God may ask ‘Where are you going… and why?
Still in Genesis, chapter 32, Jacob wrestled with God throughout the night and wouldn’t give up until God blessed him. So God asks the question ‘What is your name?’ Of course God knew Jacob’s name but He asked the question to get Jacob to say who he was. Jacob means ‘deceiver’ – But God has something more for him. God changes his name from Jacob to Israel – from ‘Deceiver’ to Prince of God. A change of name is an outward sign of the inward change. (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Saul to Paul, and Simon to Peter)
If God asked us RIGHT NOW, in our current circumstance “What is your name?” How would we answer? I am Weak, I am Tempted … Sad… Doubtful or Discouraged’ or could it even be ‘BUSTED!’ He wants to change our name.
Exodus 4: Moses is at the burning bush, God just told him to go to Egypt and demand Pharaoh let the Hebrews go. Moses said, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? God asks, What is that in your hand? God knew what he was holding, (a staff) God uses that staff mightily! On the same note, if God were to ask us right now, “What is that in your hand?” What would He find? Is it something we need? Is it something God can use? Is it something God would approve of? Self-control is the decision to remain within the boundaries. Are we careful of what is in our hands?
1 Kings 19: Elijah had just witness the great show down at Mt Carmel, he against the 850 false prophets, their ‘god’ (lil ‘g’) didn’t show up, he had them douse the altar of the Lord with a lot of water, he prayed and God sent fire down and burned up EVERYTHING, water and all, then had all the false prophets killed. Well King Ahab told his wife Jezebel (not a super feminine, soft gal) what Elijah had done, she sent a messenger telling him he too would die, so Elijah ran. God found him in a cave, he asks “What are you doing here?” Have we too ever heard God asking ‘What are you doing here?” Are we in the right place, a God-honoring place?
Jesus. Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am? (Mk 8:29) and “Do you love Me?” (Jn 21:15) These go without mentioning more. Who do WE say Jesus is, do we love Him, evident in word & deed?
Psalm 1:1-2 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD…” Blessed is the man who does not walk – stand – or sit. See the progression? Walk-stand and sit. It goes from casual to intimate sitting. Folks, there WILL be times we need to just ‘walk on by’ or walk away’ and not walk WITH, or in, no standing, and for crying out loud …NO sitting! If we see the ‘opportunity’ for some walking, standing and sitting, R-U-N! (away) Run to God, if you need a physical refuge, run to a godly friend! Always (again ‘always’) have an accountability buddy, someone you trust, trust the God in them and trust they will grab you by the ear and (lovingly) haul your back side back over within your staked boundaries.
Make a plan, get those boundary stakes set NOW and stick to it: Prior disciplines prepare us for present dilemmas. Genesis 14 (I paraphrase) A bunch of kings fight another bunch of kings – in the battle Abrams nephew Lot was taken captive, (he lived in Sodom) Abe pursues the captors, recovers all the plunder and rescues all the people. The King of Sodom comes to Abe asking for his people and telling Abram he can keep all the plunder. Abram knew the reputation of Sodom. (I love Abes resolve) v22, Abram answers, “I have raised my hand to the Lord God Most High, Creator of Heaven & earth and have taken an oath that I will accept NOTHING belonging to you.” Abram ‘raised his hand’ and took an oath PRIOR to this happening. He set his boundaries. He was prepared. The following verse, chapter 15:1 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram, do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.” God rewarded Abraham with Himself – HE was Abes reward. May we too hear of God, “I am your great reward”
The list is vast, yet Paul wraps up the qualities evident of the Holy Spirit moving in and through our lives with self-control, (Gal. 5:22,23) so very appropriate: Our outside properly reflecting our inside.
Do we need to pause and listen to the questions God may be asking us? Do those questions require us to go quickly, change course and re-stake our boundaries. Once the boundaries are set, we stay put. As my dear friend and pastor, Pam said, “We don’t color outside the lines.” May we too bring from the depth of our gut a song, a song full of balanced breathing, so others see our passion and hear the resonating tones of Jesus from within. Self-Control.
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love & good deeds.” – Heb. 10:24)