11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14 He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
It’s here that second, we see the seriousness of self-control.
So, what does self-control look like? Sometimes in order to fully understand something it is helpful to describe what the absence of it would look like. Proverbs 25:28 provides a dramatic description of the individual who has no self-control and is living a life that is completely out of control, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.”When the book of Proverbs was written, one of the main sources of strength and protection for a city consisted in the building and maintaining of walls. A weak or wiped out wall was considered a breach in security. A city with walls in disrepair was without defense against their enemy, so is the person who has no restraint over their spirit. They are not able to resist those things that can destroy their lives and the lives of others. They have no defense against anger, lust, or any other unbridled emotion that wants to destroy their life. This was one of the driving reasons Nehemiah was so motivated to begin a building campaign in the book of Nehemiah. For those who lived in the capital city were in “great trouble and disgrace” because the wall of Jerusalem was broken down. When occupants of a city for whatever reason neglected their own safety by failing to build and maintain strong walls, they would not only be looked at as weak people but also very foolish people. The same is true for us, when we forfeit the fruit of self-control, we are not only feeble but foolish. Proverbs 16:32 provides the positive side of self-control: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”A comparison of the two proverbs reveals the great importance of self-control as both an offensive and defensive attribute. Now the Bible gives us many vivid examples of people who neglected their walls and lived out-of-control lives. One of the most dramatic is the story of Samson, found in Judges 14-16. As one of Israel’s judges, the Spirit of God had empowered him with great strength so that he could protect God’s people from the influence of the pagan Philistines. But because he did not have self-control he instead visited Philistine prostitutes and eventually told Delilah about the secret to his power. Lacking sexual self-control, he soon lost his hair, his strength his influence and his life. Samson is a portrait of self-destruction. King Saul is another man with a serious lack of self-control. His broken-down walls allowed jealousy and hatred to march in and take control of his heart. Hate not only ran his life but ruin it, he became so determined to destroy David that his life spun completely out of control. He wasted his life fighting David instead of the enemy. In the New Testament we find Paul presenting the gospel to Felix, a Roman governor. What’s interesting is that Paul chose to emphasize “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” in Acts 24:25. Felix was like many in the Roman Empire, scholars tell us that when ancient Rome was disciplined and controlled, it was a great nation, but when it became saturated in its own sin it lost its glory. Drunkenness, orgies, and an “anything goes” mindset caused Rome to cave inward and implode upon itself. The decline of the Roman Empire went hand-in-hand with self-indulgence. The sad reality is that America is heading down this same road of ruin. In fact, the Bible clearly tells us what this world is coming to, especially as it describes the moral conditions of the last days of society in second Timothy 3:1-5 “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power.”If you skipped hurriedly over the list, thinking you knew them all, you might have missed “without self-control.” All the other evil behaviors in the list are examples of the absence of self-control. Felix responded to Paul’s preaching like many of us do today, for the second half of Acts 24:25 reveals that he was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”I doubt that he ever called for a second sermon on self-control. Benjamin Franklin got is correct when he said, “He is a governor that governs his passions, and he is a servant that serves them.”Unfortunately, many of us have allowed our walls to be broken down. Instead of governing our desires and appetites, most of us have indulged them, because we are “bingers” by nature. Some of us binge on food, some on sleep, others on work, and still others on TV, sports, spending or sex. Solomon reminds us of the importance of keeping a watch on how we’re doing in Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Today people view freedom as getting to do what they want when they want. But people who try to gain freedom without self-control are like a ship which is free when it loses its rudder; it is free to sail anywhere, even on the rocks. We need the rudder because it doesn’t just provide direction but also protection. Self-control lets you sail around the storms of sin instead of getting sucked into them. So where are you at when it comes to self-control? Sometimes it’s helpful to do a self-control Inventory. So, let me ask you are you struggling with self-control in any of these areas that are addressed in the Book of Proverbs?
- Uncontrolled lust. Proverbs 6:26: “For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.”
- Uncontrolled spending. Proverbs 21:20: “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”
- Uncontrolled ambition. Proverbs 23:4: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.”
- Uncontrolled drinking. Proverbs 23:29-30: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.”
- Uncontrolled anger. Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
So what condition are your walls of self-control in? Are they weak and worn down or ready for war?