Self Control

Preaching and Worship Resources about Self Control

Self-control conjures images of athletic-like discipline and rigor as one denies oneself certain things in order to hone one's strength, skill, and abilities in other areas of endeavor. The self-controlled person knows when to say "No" to certain possibilities in order to allow other, more productive behaviors to flourish. The self-controlled person is the moderate person who delights in how God created the world and seeks to live within its limits and bounds.

In Scripture

"Like a city breached, without walls, is one who lacks self-control" (Prov. 25:28).

The prize "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one" (1 Cor. 9:24, 25).

Titus 2 "Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. . . . For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly" (Titus 2:3-6, 11-12).

Make every effort "For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins" (2 Pet. 1:5-9).

Points to Ponder

As a Fruit of the Spirit: There are nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, and self-control anchors the list. But in addition to being the last Christian virtue listed by Paul, self-control stands out on that list as being the only fruit that seems to be more inwardly directed. That is, love, gentleness, kindness, and the rest are traits that are primarily focused on other people. Self-control, however, is more of an inward discipline for any given individual. Although it will issue in certain outward behaviors that will affect others, this fruit very much begins inside one's own heart, soul, and mind. It may also be true, however, that the person who lacks this final fruit will find it very hard to express all the other fruit insofar as those who lack self-control and its attendant spiritual and physical disciplines frequently over-indulge in aspects of life in ways that make such a person rather unkind, unloving, and selfish.

Simple Sanity: There are a couple of Greek words in the New Testament translated as "self-control." The word used in Galatians 5 and its list of spiritual fruit is egkrates, which seems to mean, quite literally, "in control." The idea of "self-control" crops up the most, however, in the pastoral epistles and mostly in Paul's letter to Titus. There the word is sophorono, and that word has the curious meaning of "to be in one's right mind." The sophoronos person is in control of himself in the sense of not going "wild and crazy" in over-indulging in life's pleasures. On the island of Crete where Titus ministered, the Cretan people were renowned for their gluttonous excesses of all kinds. Their besetting sins were mostly appetitive in nature and marked by too much food, too much drink, too much sex. By contrast, Paul recommends sobriety in the sense of being in one's right mind, which is the mindset with which God created us to begin with. The self-controlled person respects life's boundary lines and so knows that although there may be nothing wrong with enjoying a cocktail or two with friends, enjoying too many cocktails leads to drunkenness and out-of-control speech and behavior. The self-controlled person is also the one who knows that God has certain places in life where sexuality belongs and certain places where it does not belong, that some foods are good for you (or allowable in moderation) while others wreck health one bite at a time. Self-control is simple sanity, the opposite of the insane binges of over-indulgence that are the hallmarks of people who are — as my mother used to describe certain people — "out of their ever-loving minds."

Self-Control and Sanctification: C.S. Lewis once said that lots of people seem to think that sanctification is like training a horse to run a little faster, whereas in reality sanctification is more like outfitting a horse with wings and teaching it how to fly. Sanctification is meant to be a major transformation, in other words, not a self-improvement project. Self-control is one of the Spirit's fruits and tools that enables this transformation to happen across a believer's life. Self-control makes us check our tongues/speech (a la James) so that we are temperate in what we say, not shying away from telling the truth but seeking to tailor our speech to help it build others up instead of tearing them down. Self-control helps us keep promises (in marriage, family, friendship, work) by helping us check ourselves against taking quick and easy shortcuts or opportunities for engaging in self-indulgent pleasures we ought not pursue. Self-control is finally also what allows us to be renewed in the image of God through Christ (the express image of God par excellence) by helping us revel in the good way God set up the creation, recognizing that there are good things to enjoy and engage in (activities, foods, drinks, sexuality, sports, entertainment) so long as they all respect the boundary markers God set up to promote our flourishing and protect us from harm.

From Lewis Smedes: "Self-control is a lot like controlling an orchestra. There are some powerful players down there inside of me — passions, desires, angers, sex drives, terrors of memories past and threats to come, and a lot more. My job is to set them free to play their parts. But if I let any one of them take charge, I would not have an orchestra; what I would have is a bunch of soloists on a binge" .


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.