Exercising Self-Control in a Culture That Values the Unleashed Self

We glorify the uninhibited self in popular culture today.  The culture says that the one who advocates limits is not “with it”, reactionary, and irrelevant.  How stark is the contrast one gets when reading the Bible, though.  My heart’s desire is that God’s people would find joy in God’s limits, given for our own good.  Today, I’d like to extract a few principles on self-control from a single proverb (Proverbs 25:28), presenting a brief commentary in note form:

He whose spirit is without restraint Is like a city that is broken down and without walls.

Principle 1: Self-control is the best kind of control to have.

There is a contrast drawn between the military victor and the one who controls his anger.  Note that the writer is not saying that military conquest is necessarily bad; only that self-control is better.  Essentially, if you fail to do one of these two things, it is better to fail as a military man.

Why is this principle true?

1. The most important struggles in life are spiritual, not physical (Eph 6.12, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”)

2. God’s intention for man is to exercise dominion over creation; to whom much is given, much is required; how can one exercise dominion over creation and not have dominion over himself?

3. Jesus refrained from controlling others (seeking political advance), but did make it his objective to control himself (for example, he endured temptation)

4. Key question to ask: am I more concerned with making others do what I want than making myself do what I should?

5. The fruit of the Spirit consists of self-control, not other-control; self-judgment before judgment of others (note the log in your own eye)

6. Application questions:

6a. Marriage: Is it better to have control over your emotions when your spouse makes you angry than to put on a nice show as a happily married couple?

6b. Family: Is it better to have control over your emotions if your kids disappoint you than to have stellar kids that regularly suffer under your angry outbursts?

6c. Work: Is it better to have emotional control during difficult situations at work and get laid off than to advance to the highest rung in your career while being abusive to others?

6d. School: Is it better to have control over your emotions when you get an F than to be a star pupil who stabs other students in the back?

6e. Self: Is it better to be an unmarried, never-been-on-a-date kind of person with physical and moral purity than to be popular with the opposite sex while having an addiction to pornography?

Principle 2: When you control yourself, you protect yourself

1. Ravaged city with broken-down walls is compared to a man with no self-restraint

2. No wall >>> No restraint

3. Notice the irony: in the case of a city, the wall is there to protect an external enemy; with a man, the restraint is to be directed toward  himself internally (you would have expected the proverb to read, “like a man with no restraint on his opponents”)

4. Implication: Lack of self-control is damaging and brings great vulnerability; the presence of self-control brings spiritual protection

5. How does self-control protect us?

5a. The world: self-control is how you escape corruption in the world (2 Pet 1.4)

5b. The flesh: self-control keeps us from becoming slaves to the flesh (Rom 6.16)

5c. The devil: self-control denies an opportunity for the devil’s schemes (Eph 4.27)

6. Application question: what are the avenues of approach in your life for the attack from the world, flesh, and devil?

7. Gospel principle: if self-control is not present, knowing Christ leads to uselessness and fruitlessness; if it is present, you are protected

Principle 3: Self-control is possible when obeying God makes you happy

1. See also Prov 29.18: “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

2. Question remains: how do you develop self-control?

3. 2 series of Cause & effect are stated in Proverbs 29.18: if no vision from God – people run wild; if there is law-keeping – personal happiness

4. Key ideas

4a. No word from God – no self-control;

4b. Obey God’s word – be happy.

5. Notice that lack of restraint and happiness are seen as mutually exclusive; they do not co-exist

6. Notice that impact of lack of revelation is corporate, but responsibility is personal; personal initiative is required

7. Implication: Take the initiative to obey God.  How?

7a. Requires that we believe he has spoken

7b. We must trust that obeying will make us happy

7c. Illustration:  “All men seek happiness,” said Blaise Pascal. “This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

8. Self-preservation is not the highest end of man; man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.


1 thought on “Exercising Self-Control in a Culture That Values the Unleashed Self

  1. I think the military analogy is apt and could even be expanded on. The battle for self control needs to be won before we can launch a successful and sustained attacks against the evil ‘outside’.

    Even then, I think we can only ‘win on the home front’ In the sense of supressing enemy activity to a minimal and unproductive level. The ‘mopping up’ actions against saboteurs and holdouts in our own flesh will continue until the larger war is completely won and the enemy is utterly annihilated (that task is beyond us!).

    Personally, I’ve been making a point of praying (with and for my children…and myself!) for a loving and obedient spirit. I’m convinced that being obedient to God and loving towards others are keys to maximizing personal (and household) peace.


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