Wednesday, December 21, 2011

True Gentleman: Self Control

            What is self-control? Merriam-Webster defines self-control as, “restraint exercised over one's own impulses, emotions, or desires.”[1] But is it simply restraint from doing things you know you shouldn’t do? Or is it leaning toward moderation in certain situations … for instance: drinking, discipline of one’s children when you are angry, or retaliation when you feel like you have been “done wrong?”
Unfortunately, for most of us, self-control is often thought of as a bad thing – a thing that hinders all that a person can be and/or experience. What we fail to realize is that self-control can be one of the most beneficial attributes of a person who is seeking to serve and lead others. Maybe that’s why they see it that way. They aren’t planning to serve or lead, they simply want to take. They are self-serving.
            One of the best modern examples of self-control draws from Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down. For those readers who are not familiar with the operation, book, or movie, a military operation that should have been routine escalated into what military personnel call FUBAR – F’ed Up Beyond All Recognition.
An angry, retaliatory mob of people from the city of Mogadishu swarmed down on some of America’s most elite combat units who had been sent into the marketplace to extract targets from warlord Aidid’s Tier One personalities. The sheer number of people who wanted to kill the American’s would have overwhelmed anyone but the composure of the men on the ground and their teammates overhead allowed a majority of the men to escape immanent death. Though many were wounded, nineteen gave their lives, and one held as a prisoner of war, the situation could have gone from bad to worse if it had not been for their self-control, professionalism, and training.
            How can I present a combat situation as self-control in the same stroke as I write about Jesus who told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? That is a bit bizarre but self-control can be seen in so many different ways. One example involving Jesus was at the Temple (Matthew 21:12-16).[2] He often went to the Temple to hear the reading of the Scriptures and be in the house of his Father. On this occasion, the abuse within the confines of the Temple was to such a degree that Jesus showed the jealous fury of our God and began overturning tables and running the moneychangers out of his Father’s house.
Later in the story, Jesus is found sharing the Scriptures and his love with children. The chief priests and teachers of the Law of Moses got upset with him because of the miracles that He was doing and the reaction that the children were having to him and the miracles – “shouting praises to the Son of David.” This story shows us two beautiful sides of an amazing Lord – jealous fury and loving compassion. Opposites that live together in a wonderful harmony that is so much of whom the Lord is and what He does.
            Jesus’ self-control always proceeded from his good will, had a definite sense of propriety, and was equal to all emergencies. He understood when things were necessary for certain situations and when they weren’t for others. Another example is the story of a woman caught in the sin of adultery (John 8:1-11). Why didn’t Jesus condemn the woman? He, of everyone involved in the story, had the right to condemn. Why didn’t Jesus condemn everyone involved? Why not accuse the accusers? Again, He had every right.
I think Jesus taught us a great lesson by accusing neither the woman nor her accusers. Instead, He offered each party the opportunity to reflect on who they were on the inside. He simply said, “You throw the first rock if you’ve never sinned.” When no one was perfect enough to even pick up the stones He said to the woman, “No one can judge you because of what you’ve done – your sin – because they have sinned. Now you … go and don’t sin anymore.”
            Wow! “Go and sin no more!” That sentence more than any other in the Bible haunts me to this day. Can I sin no more? The first three words of his command are very easy to keep, “Go and sin” but Jesus challenges us with two more words, “no more” and expects it to happen. Does He really mean that I don’t have to sin anymore? Is that conscious sinning or is that all sins? Does this simply mean have some self-control and quit disobeying God? I’d like to think it’s that but it’s one of those paradoxes in the Bible that I know I’ll never answer fully on my own accord and I’d seriously question the motives of someone who did say they had a concrete answer for it. Paradoxes, I’ve come to believe, are some of the most awe-inspiring things about our God.

            The following verses may offer some insight to you as to the self-control that our Lord showed and ultimately expects of us. I fully believe that his greatest victory in self-control was shown on the cross and that every situation that surrounded his passion culminated in his suffering and death on the cross, the ultimate victory.

  • “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
  • “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:7)
  • “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” (Matthew 4:10)
  • “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (Luke 6:27-30)

Reflect on this:

  • In what areas of your life do you still lack self-control?
  • What do you think about the command, “Go and sin no more?”
  • Describe a time when you lost all self-control. What could you have done differently to achieve a different result? Do you know that you are forgiven? Have you confessed this to the Lord?
  • How do you practice self-control?

[1]      accessed December 21, 2011.
[2]               See also Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:13-22.

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