Self-control is in short supply. The problem in our culture is an over-supply of everything else: food, drink, drugs, guns, sex, clothing, cars, casinos, toys, television, technology. We can indulge ourselves in every way imaginable--and in many cases, ways we cannot imagine.
All of us, if we are honest, lack self-control in some area. I don’t get enough exercise, my tongue flaps when it shouldn’t, I drink too much coffee, and my daughter knows not to leave a bag of Jax Cheese Twists anywhere near me.
Self-control is the equivalent of a dirty word in the contemporary lexicon: not to be mentioned. “If my behavior does not harm you, then what business is it of yours?” But, a lack of self-control has a ripple effect. My tongue-flapping may hurt someone’s feelings, too much caffeine may cause me to be irritable or anxious, and the Jax incident, combined with lack of exercise, leads to the need for new pants, which leaves fewer dollars for necessities.
There are extreme cases of self-control gone awry, such as the co-worker who starts shooting up the office. Whatever the triggers over time may have been, in the end he allows his baser impulses--rage, resentment, hopelessness--to fully rise to the surface and explode.
There are also daily events that don’t make the news: the woman at the stoplight who honks her horn angrily because traffic is not moving quickly enough for her. The child at the grocery store who, denied a favorite candy, has a meltdown. The mother who later does a line or smokes a joint or has four glasses of wine to deal with stress. The lonely twenty-something who is trying to eat her way to peace. The husband who secretly watches porn on his laptop.
But all of these--anger, indulgence, addiction--if allowed to build and continue, will eventually leak and cause unhappiness, relationship problems and worse.
Vincent's Word Studies of the New Testament describes the Greek meaning of the word for self-control as “holding in hand the passions and desires”(vol. IV, p. 168, available online here).
God is good and wants us to enjoy His goodness. Evil seeks the opposite. Jesus declared, “The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, NLT). He gives us the ability to “hold in hand” the temptation to lie, to lash out, to overeat, to self-medicate, to overspend, to commit violence.
The fruits of the Spirit--which we have been writing about for several weeks--are displays of God’s goodness in our lives. When we exhibit self-control--over our tongues, appetites, desires, and temptations--we are serving God and helping others to know there is a richer, more satisfying way to live.