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The Big “Why” of Self-Control
Self-Control Word Study, Lesson 2
In our previous lesson, we discussed some of the negative consequences of lacking self-control. Now let’s flip that to some positive reasons to develop self-control. In psychology, when you are trying to break bad habits and build good habits, they often ask you to think about your big “why.” Why do you want to make this change? What outcome will this have in your life? By keeping your focus on your big “why,” you can continue to make progress toward your goal.
To help you process your thoughts as you go throughout this lesson, a reflection journal sheet is available. You can access it by clicking here.
When it comes to developing self-control, the Bible offers some pretty big “why”s for us to consider. These “why”s are so big that they have eternal consequences. Let’s look at two of them.
Self-Control Helps Us Be Aware of the Devil’s Schemes
*In the next two sections, I will refer to the 1984 NIV translation that uses the word “self-controlled” more frequently. In the 2011 NIV, this word is often translated “sober” instead. The connection between these will be discussed in Lesson 6.
Lack of self-control is one major way that the devil gets people to sin. He puts a temptation in front of us, and because we lack self-control, we give in to that sin. This is the first reason we need to have self-control: To resist the devil’s schemes. One of the best warnings and promises the Bible gives for Christians is in 1 Peter 5:8-10 (1984 version):
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
The Greek word for self-controlled in this passage is nēphō, which gives the connotation of being sober or vigilant. We need to be vigilant, watching carefully for ways the devil is trying to trip us up and pull us away from Christ. This constant awareness can help us see the problem before it attacks us. Then we can be ready for the attack so we can better defend ourselves against it. If we use our self-control to resist the devil, God will restore us and make us strong and steadfast.
Self-Control Helps Us Be Alert for Christ’s Return
The word nēphō is also used in 1 Thessalonians 5. The context of this passage is being alert for Christ’s return. Verse 2 tells us that the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Then verses 4-9 (1984 version) go on to say:
But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
These verses remind me of the Armor of God study we did last summer (2021). In that study, we learned that the enemy wants to keep us in the dark, because sin dwells in the dark and keeps us hidden from the light of God. But if we put on the armor of God, some of which are mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5, we will be able to stand strong against the devil’s schemes, as we discussed in the previous section.
But even more than being alert for temptations from the devil, if we are alert and self-controlled, we can stay away from sins that would cause us to not be ready for Christ’s return. When Christ returns, we will all face judgment. Paul connected the concepts of self-control and judgment when he was talking to Felix and Drusilla in Acts 24:25. We aren’t really told exactly what Paul said about these topics, but the connotation is that we need to maintain righteousness and self-control to be ready for judgment.
We are also told to be nēphō so that we can pray. Again speaking in context of Christ’s return, 1 Peter 4:7 (1984 version) says, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” What are we to pray for? The rest of this passage tells us:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11, 2011 version)
We are to pray that we will be able to follow in obedience to Christ, loving others and using the gifts that we have received from him. These things bring glory to God, and if we live lives of self-control to bring honor to God, we will be ready for his return no matter when it happens.
Now that you’ve read these verses, what is your big “why” for developing self-control in your own life? Is your big “why” only thinking about what you want in the moment, which eventually leads to misery and death, as we discussed in Lesson 1? Or is your big “why” focused more on being able to identify the devil’s schemes and resist him? Which one will help you be ready for Christ’s return?
In the next two lessons, we’ll discuss in more depth how self-control is the mark of the Christian. We’ll look at Christians in general as well as specific instructions for men, women, and leaders.
To help you process your thoughts as you go throughout this lesson, a reflection journal sheet is available. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically.
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