Mike Ford, recalling a time in his youth when he indulged in too much of a good thing (in his case Coca-Cola unlimited), reminds us of Proverbs 25:16, which stresses that moderation is the best policy. Of all the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, self-control is the most difficult to attain. Many people, having a faulty, Aristotelian two-valued orientation, think that temperance means abstinence instead of moderation. As an example of the consequence of such errant thinking, consider that the vast government overreach in prohibiting all use of alcoholic drinks, rather than establishing public policies limiting intake to reasonable levels. Because people do not retain God in their personal evaluations of their behavior, God has turned them over to a reprobate mind, one which enslaves them to gluttony, alcoholism, sexual perversions, and other aberrations. God has given us free moral agency, not so we can give free reign to our impulses, but instead to facilitate the freedom to choose what is helpful. Through falling into excesses, we learn the appropriate boundaries, and can discipline ourselves as spiritual athletes to glorify God in our emergent righteous behavior.
David Grabbe, marveling that one in four atheists admitted in a recent poll to resorting to prayer when facing crises, reminds us that even believers suffer significant crises of faith. Luke 17:5 records the Disciples' plaintive request to increase their faith, realizing they did not yet have the capacity to forgive those who sinned against them. Faith is a gift which requires continual practice and exercise. God will grant us more faith if we faithfully use what He has already given us. If we do only what He expects of us, we should not feel entitled to additional reserves of faith. If we live our lives submitting to His will, God will generously give us more faith. Humility is a prerequisite for an augmentation of faith. If we want more faith, we need to faithfully use what God has already given us. Further, we must also exercise self-discipline and temperance as though we were training for the Olympics. All strength-building activities progress by incremental stages. Likewise, progression through increasing stages of difficulty is the key to success in overcoming sin. Consistency and focus empower us to overcome even the most stubborn challenges of our carnal nature. As we grow in faith, God will gradually add more pressure, enabling us to display more faith. He who has begun a good work in us will complete us until the day of Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Walter Mischel Test of self-control, a test in which only 30% of youngsters delayed gratifying their appetites, describes the techniques in which these students delayed gratification. Dr. Mischel, who was able to predict social success of these students on the basis of these earlier tests, determined to probe the mechanism of this self-control, discovering how to convert "hot stimuli" to "cold" (distracting) stimuli. Self-control constitutes the ability to direct or focus our attention so that our decisions will not be directed by wrong thoughts. If we change our thoughts, we can change our behavior. In essence, learning self- control (the last, perhaps most difficult to attain or most important designated fruit of God's Holy Spirit) is equivalent to repentance. Self-control refers to inner power to control impulses, emotions, or desires, exhibiting self-government. Self-control follows knowledge in the list of virtues, indicating we need to act on godly knowledge, practicing it in perpetuity. Holiness makes self-control possible; a holy person is self-controlled. God's Holy Spirit increases self-control exponentially, giving us the power to replace "hot" stimuli with "cold" stimuli. Ice cold stimuli (enforcing extreme restraint) must displace hot stimuli (giving into impulses). Like the apostle Paul, we must practice self-control for others. Like Joseph, we need to practice self-control on a daily basis. When we repent and continue to repent, we exercise self-control. In Luke 4, Jesus Christ exercises incredible self-control, refuting Satan's temptation with Scripture—the mind of God.
Martin Collins concludes that this nation has cast off all restraint regarding self-control and regulation of appetite. Self-absorbed and self-indulgent national leaders, through their disgusting lack of self-control, coupled with their influence on others, are bringing down hideous curses down on our people. According to the apostle Paul, lack of self-control, as well as the cultivation of self-indulgent perversions, would characterize large segments of our society living at the end times. Self-control caps off the list of the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. It may be strengthened by (1) overcoming evil with good (2) loving others (3) putting on Christ and mortifying the flesh, bringing every thought into captivity to God's Commandments, through God's Holy Spirit.
We live in a society where both food and information are readily available. John Ritenbaugh discusses the importance of mastering self-control and a true Christian's necessity of seeking truth by which to live his life.
Some equate abstinence with religious asceticism. Abstinence, however, has a much broader purview. Martin Collins explains that Christians may need to abstain from more than just sinful actions.
At its base, gluttony is nothing more than a lack of self-control. Martin Collins shows the more spiritual side of this too-prevalent sin.
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
No government—not even God's—can work without self-control. As a fruit of God's Spirit, this virtue may be the single hardest to master over the course of a lifetime, yet we need it to do our parts in God's Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
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