Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb to the peak and conquer Mount Everest was once asked by an interviewer about his passion for mountain climbing. To which he offered this insightful reply. “It’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”
Hillary’s response is reminiscent of a quote by the 17th-century Russian monarch Peter the Great who once lamented, “I have been able to conquer an empire, but I have not been able to conquer myself.”
Both men speak to the issue of self-control, a quality in which we need a renewal in our age of rage, dissipation, and self-indulgence.
Self-control is listed among the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
In Peter’s exhortation to Christian growth, self Control is one of the virtues identified. “…giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control…. (2 Pet. 1:5-7).
The adjective form of this word is used in Titus 1:8 as one of the qualities for an elder. He must be self-controlled.
The apostle Paul uses the verb form of the word, translated “temperate” in some versions, in comparing the Christian life to the discipline and training exercised by an athlete. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”
Self-control is “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sexual appetites.” William Barclay writes that self-control “is the ability to take a grip of one’s self.” We often use the colloquial expression for gaining control of our emotions or a situation by saying, “get a grip.”
Consider 4 ways in which Christians need to exercise self-control.
(1) What we Think.
The wise man wrote, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” Thoughts that begin in the mind can soon dominate the soul. They must be brought under the control of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). We can master our minds, by thinking about things that are pure, praise-worthy, and honorable (Phil 4:8). Furthermore, our thoughts lead to feelings, which if not checked can get out of control.
(2) What we see.
“The lust of the eyes” has always been a problem for humankind. It began in the garden with Eve and continues today in more sensual forms. Jesus warned in the Mountain Message about the sin of sexual lust. Sexually charged movies and television shows are a challenge to our spirituality, as well as the nemesis of internet pornography. Self-control must be exercised to avoid them at all costs.
(3) What we Say.
The Bible admonishes us, “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (Jas 1:19). How often have we wallowed in regret because of a lack of self-control in uttering angry, hurtful, unkind, or even profane words? “Be not rash with your mouth” (Eccl. 5:2), is an admonition we need to heed as we control our emotions and avoid emotional outbursts and angry tirades.
(4) What we Do.
“Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against your soul,” is a command that demands self-control (1 Pet. 2:11). Paul told Timothy to “flee youthful lusts.” What we do is often the culmination of things we’ve been thinking, seeing, and saying. Self-control finds its application in spiritual renewal and transformation, as we refuse the conformity and pressures of our world (Rom. 12:1-2).
“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Prov. 25:28).
In his book, When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado offers this insight and challenge, “ I choose self-control … I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal.” Then He adds…
I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy.
I will be impassioned only by my faith.
I will be influenced only by God.
I will be taught only by Christ.
I choose self-control.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman