Our series from 2 Peter 1:5-7 continues with self-control, also rendered as temperance in some versions. In the previous step, we are to have grown in knowledge so that we know what we should and should not do and have some experience with navigating life’s situations (you can read more about that in the last post here). We need to begin applying that to our lives so that we don’t just choose what we want. That is where self-control comes in.
What it Is
The Greek word used here is defined by Strong’s Concordance as self-mastery, self-restraint, and self-control. All of these words express the idea of being in command of and regulating yourself. In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, Paul compares the Christian life to a race. To be competitive in a race, you must be very disciplined and committed. He then explains in verses 26-27: “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Let me give you an example of a lack of self control. See the picture above? I really enjoy crocheting. I started that project this weekend. For those of you who don’t crochet, there are various thicknesses of yarn and various sizes of crochet hooks to use. The size of a given number of stitches depends on which of those you choose. Most crochet patterns have a very helpful piece of information called the gauge; if you crochet a small swatch of the pattern, it should be a certain size. Then you can regulate your stitches before you begin making the larger project so that it turns out right.
Basically, it saves you time in the long run if you go ahead and check it. Well, on Friday night I was so excited to get started that I just estimated and went. By the time I had two rows finished, I realized the afghan would have been ginormous in width if I continued. Since I’m not trying to wrap up an elephant, I had to unravel everything I had done and start over. If I had checked the gauge in the beginning, I could have avoided that. I lacked self-control, and it slowed me down.
Self-control is related to patience in this way. It also means having the strength of character to be able to avoid excess. I thoroughly enjoy chocolate. I could easily overindulge, but I do my best to moderate this aspect of my life. Thanks to my parents encouraging me to eat the green stuff, I actually did learn to like broccoli. I like to think of self-control as being able to make yourself do what you know is right especially when you don’t want to.
What it Does
Self-control in practice, in my life, means I am going to try to start crocheting the gauge swatch first. That, and continuing to eat broccoli and all the other healthy food. But it also means that even when I come home tired from work to a house that needs cleaned, a dog who needs walked, and cats who need fed, that I do spend time in study and prayer.
Is self-control easy? Absolutely not. By definition, it’s not. It isn’t self-control to sing hymns in the car on the way to work if that’s what you like to do. It is self-control to avoid making that snarky comment to the cashier at the grocery store who doesn’t seem to have it all together if that’s what you are tempted to do.
How we Get It
We are in a war. Every day, we are fighting spiritual battles. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) We are soldiers. Soldiers must be disciplined. We don’t have a drill sergeant staring us down and making us do cringe worthy numbers of push ups daily to get in shape. But you know what? We still must be spiritually in top condition. We must be our own drill sergeants. We are responsible for disciplining ourselves so that we are fit to fight. It is something that we can help each other in as Christians, but nobody knows my weakness better than me.
Every day, we have choices to make. With prayer and God’s help, self-control can become a way of life. It doesn’t mean we have to become rigid and completely give up things unless they are inherently sinful. 1 Timothy 6:17 says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” So I am still going to eat chocolate. I just won’t eat a bag of it a day.
Now my brothers and sisters, let’s work on self-control. Standing on our faith with the desire to do what is right and knowing what is right, let’s choose right, even when it is the hard thing.
Especially when it is the hard thing.
May the Lord bless and keep you,