Word of the Week: Restraint

Henry Ward Beecher was an American minister and social reformer known for his support of the abolition of slavery.

Beecher tells the story of a man who once came to their house and confronted his father, regarding a personal grievance with him. The young man in Beecher’s words was “ red with wrath” and boiling over with rage.” His father “listened to him with great attention and perfect quietness until he had got it all out, and then he said to him in a soft and low tone, ‘Well, I suppose you only want what is just and right?’”

“Yes,” the man replied, “but went on to state the case over again.” Very gently Mr. Beecher replied, “If you have been misinformed, I presume you would be perfectly willing to know what the truth is?”

The man agreed that he would. Mr. Beecher then “very quietly and gently made a statement on the other side, and when he was through the man got up and said, ‘Forgive me… forgive me.”

Beecher remembered that incident and wrote, “Father had beaten him by his quiet, gentle way. I saw it and it gave me an insight into the power of self-control. It was a striking illustration of the passage, ‘He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city.’” (Prov 16:32).

This story also reminds me of the wise man’s counsel in Proverbs 17:27, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.”

Our word of the week is “restraint.”

Our world thinks the path to a full, filled and carefree life is to cast off all restraint. Through the years we’ve heard this notion expressed in various ways that are summed up in the mantra “Do your own thing.”

However, true happiness and genuine self-fulfillment are not found in throwing caution to the wind and ignoring restrictions. C. S. Lewis once observed that “For any happiness, even in this world quite a lot of restraint is necessary.” This is true in society at large, in our homes, and in our churches.

Freedom is not the absence of restraint. The 19th century U.S. statesman and Senator was right when he wrote, “Liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.

The tone and tenor of the Bible speaks to the need for personal restraint. The apostle Paul in the book of Galatians writes about our liberty in Christ, but in the context warns against unbridled lusts. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

Furthermore, he reminds us of the constant battle between the flesh and the spirit. They are opposed to one another. So, you “cannot do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17-18).

For the Christian restraint is both external and internal. We are guided by the revelation of God’s Word. The wise man reminds that “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law” (Prov. 29:18). The Gentile word, described by Paul in Romans 1, is a perfect example of what happens when people reject the knowledge of God and live without regard to moral restraint. Humanity sinks into depravity and engages in every kind of debauchery imaginable And some beyond our imagination.

Of course, internal restraint is also needed. The Bible calls Christians to be people of self-control, soberness, and temperance. We must examine ourselves. Check our motives. Control our thoughts. Curb our passions. And restrain ourselves from ungodly influences and unrighteous activities.

In a family, following God’s plan, there is a mother and father seeking to train their children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Failure to teach our children godly restraint may render the kind of results Eli realized when “his sons made themselves contemptible” because “he failed to restrain them”(1 Sam 3:13).

In God’s family, the church, Shepherds are given the task “to watch for our souls” (Heb 13:17) as they “tend the flock  of God” (Ax 20:28) seeking to keep it morally and doctrinally pure. We must listen to the righteous counsel of such men who can help us develop spiritual and moral restraint.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “Moral result can only be produced by moral restraints.”

–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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