One of my favorite quotes is, “Gun control is hitting what you aim at.” As I was looking at the topic of self-control this quote came to mind. The reason is probably not what you think. It was not the control part of the quote that came to mind it was the idea of aiming. You see, self-control is all about what the goal is. I can exercise control of myself in order to become a better golfer, or in order to be a better father. Is there anything wrong with the goal of becoming a better golfer? Of course not! But if I know that there is room for improvement in me to be a better father and I instead strive to be a better golfer then, yes, I have done something wrong.
Some of you are probably saying to yourselves, “Duh!” But let me bring it to bear on our lives as Christians. How many times have I chosen to spend time watching the television instead of reading my Bible? Or gone fishing instead of going to see someone who needed some encouragement? While it may seem like a “Duh” thing self-control hits us where we live, in the real battlefield of good vs. evil, our minds. None of us could claim that one moment we were sitting at the kitchen table and the next we were in the bar throwing back a cold one. Life just does not happen that way.
How does life happen? Well I guess you could say it goes something like this. It is a quiet evening, it has been a long day at work and nothing seems to have gone right. Your wife has had a major crisis and the kids have been out of control all day. Trying to get some peace you turn on the tube and catch a rerun of some dumb show (as if there is ever anything worth watching on when you have the time). But something catches your eye. Maybe it is a commercial, or maybe a scene from a show, but it pictures friends having a good time around a drink and it seems that their lives are better than ours. Deep down you know that it is just a stupid TV show. It is not real and you know that life does not get better with a beer in your hand. But nonetheless it is tempting.
The reality is that many of us have been there. Maybe not in the exact same situation that I pictured above, we all have different weaknesses. The truth, however, is that we ALL HAVE WEAKNESSES. Yours may not be alcohol (neither is mine) but you have one and so do I. What does this have to do with self-control? Self-control is the difference between watching a little more while we consider the means and possibilities and turning of the TV set.
Self-control is not doing what we are tempted to do. It is putting a restraint on ourselves that no one sees or even knows about. It is that which we do when we don’t want to and don’t do when we do want to. It is telling the truth when a lie would spare us in the immediate context. It is not cussing when we smash our finger with a hammer. Self-control is understanding that, while there may be some degree of freedom in our lives, we can and need to restrain ourselves from actions which do not serve to lift up Jesus.
My college president recounted this story to me once. A man who was in the ministry was driving to a meeting with a woman to whom he was not married. The man told the president of the college that the whole way there he was quoting Scripture to himself and it didn’t work. To this the college president replied that at the time he did not need to quote Scripture he needed to turn the car 180 degrees and go to his home. The man knew what was right he lacked the self-control to do it.
Some of you are thinking that I am leaving out a key ingredient. I assure you I am not. I do realize that the Word of God tells us that without Him we can do nothing. Self-control is no exception. It is only when we are under the control of the Spirit of God that we can exercise self-control. But it is not a choice the Spirit makes for us, He gives us the power and enables us to put it to use. But in the end it is a matter of choice. That is why I believe that self-control is a matter more of the mind than of the body. If we discipline our minds to obey the leading of God then we should be less and less in a position to disobey Him. As I started this post saying, it is a matter of what our aim is. If our goal is to please God at all costs then our choices will reflect that. And choices that please God are the ultimate in self-control.