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Bible Search
The Source of Self-Control (2 Peter 1:6)
Growing by Addition
The Source of Self-Control
2 Peter 1:6
 
In his book called "So, You Want to be like Christ?",  Chuck Swindoll opens his chapter on self-control with this story.
 
"One night I was sitting up late, relaxing in our family room and watching SportsCenter when the thought hit me, 'That half-gallon of ice cream is just going to get old sitting over there in the freezer, and that would be such a waste. I think I'll just have a few bites and rescue it from freezer burn.'
 
"So I took the half-gallon container of Rocky Road out of the freezer (no need to dirty a clean dish!) and sat down with a spoon. I ate it all. In fact, I emptied it before SportsCenter was over. But it gets worse. I micro waved the last part and drank the little bits that get caught around the seams of the container. Like I said, I hate wasting ice cream.
 
"Suddenly, I realized that the kids were sure to notice that the ice cream was gone. They would never have noticed a missing ten-pound roast or half a turkey, but no one in our family could get away with eating more than his or her fair share of ice cream. So I quietly sneaked out to my car, drove to the store, bought a new half-gallon of Rocky Road and carefully placed it right where the other one had been.
 
"I was in the clear. At least I thought, except for one tiny detail. I forgot that one of our kids had eaten a little bit out of the top of the other container. Busted! When they saw it they let me know, in no uncertain terms, that they knew exactly what I had done. The whole family got a charge out of that one."  Can anybody relate to that story? Has anybody here ever micro waved the seams? That's a new one for me. I've never done that before, but I might think about it next time!
 
Self-control. We all struggle with it and if we have any desire at all to please Christ and live a Godly life, then we wish we had more of it!  Whether it is eating or drinking or talking or exercising or parenting or spending or controlling our temper or taming our sexual impulses, we know how difficult it is to bring those desires under control.
 
No wonder Peter instructs us in 2 Peter 1:6 to add to our faith, virtue, knowledge and self-control.
 
We are learning what it means for a Christian to grow by addition.  We start with a faith relationship with the Lord and to that, we begin to develop and mature and grow into the very image of Jesus Christ. 
 
Faith is actually the commodity that supplies us with all the other attributes listed here.  First comes virtue, that attitude of moral excellence that is made possible through the energy and power and Spirit of God. 
 
Then, like Christ Himself, we commit to being a lifelong learner.  We immerse ourselves in the study and application of the Word of God so that we are always ready to defend ourselves against the attacks of Satan and offer a clear, concise, reasoned response to those who ask about our faith.
 
Next, we are told to add self-control. So as we've done with the other subjects, let's begin with
 
1.  The Background
 
Although the concept of self-control gets a lot of attention in the Bible, the words themselves don't appear that often, especially in the Old Testament. 
 
In fact, if you do a word search on the Old Testament using the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New American Standard Version you will find exactly 0 occurrences of the phrase. 
 
It does appear 1 time in the Revised Standard and New International Versions in Proverbs 25:28  where we read, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control."  The idea is that of vulnerability. 
 
The Hebrew word translated as self-control actually has its root in the idea of retaining or restraint. A man who cannot control or restrain himself is very vulnerable, like a city whose walls have been broken down because that weakness of control gives our enemies and opponents the opportunity to do damage. 
 
Other English-language versions of the Hebrew Scriptures use words like “instruction” or “discipline.”
such as we see in
 
Proverbs 1:1–3
 
Another example is
 
Proverbs 5:22–23
 
While we don't have many instances of the word in
the Old Testament, we do find great examples of self-control in men like Joseph as he resisted the advances of the Pharaoh's wife, or David as he refused to take advantage of the opportunities to kill King Saul.  Both were motivated by this spiritual discipline of self-control.
 
In the New Testament, the phrase is much more prominent.  The apostle Paul mentions it in his explanation of faith in Jesus Christ as he stood before the Roman governor Felix.
 
Acts 24:25
 
Isn't that interesting?  Paul's presentation of the gospel includes this reference to self-control and the Greek term used in this verse means “being self-disciplined, temperate, moderate.”
 
Another Greek word for “self-control” in the New Testament carries the idea of being “sober or moderate."  An example is found in Paul’s letter to Titus where he writes,
 
Titus 2:11–12
 
Other scriptures speak of individuals exercising self-discipline or self-control in the face of temptation.  And we certainly need to take note of the fact that self-control is listed in Galatians 5:22-23 as a part of the fruit of the Spirit.
 
So with that background in mind, let's consider
 
2.  The Definition
 
Self-control is the God-given ability to regulate one’s personal life, attitudes, thought processes, desires, passions, patterns and habits so that in word and action, we reflect the nature and life of Christ.
 
In practical terms, it means learning to bring the old nature under control so the new nature is revealed. 
And notice the emphasis is on "learning". Remember, our text reminds us to "diligently pursue" these characteristics of Christ. 
 
That means self-control can be learned and accomplished.  Some of you may have heard of Walter “Marshmallow Man” Mischel.  He is Austrian-born Ivy League professor known for his experiments in self-control.
 
Back in the 60's, he created a test to see how various five-year-olds would respond to being left alone with a marshmallow for 15 minutes with instructions not to eat it — and with the promise that if they didn’t, they would be given two.
 
The New York Times reported on his finding by writing,
 
    Famously, preschoolers who waited longest for the marshmallow went on to have higher SAT scores than the ones who couldn’t wait. In later years they were thinner, earned more advanced degrees, used less cocaine, and coped better with stress. As these first marshmallow kids now enter their 50s, Mr. Mischel and colleagues are investigating whether the good delayers are richer, too.
 
Mischel's observation is very relevant.  He reminds parents the main thing to gather from his work is not the test scores and so forth.  The key observation is not whether you eat the marshmallow at age 5.  That isn’t your destiny. The key observation is that self-control can be taught.
 
And I will remind you that his findings are from a purely humanistic viewpoint.  We can practice self-control.  Want proof?  Think about the last time your wife and you were having one of those knock-down drag-out fights like you do.  She's red in the face.  You're so angry you're about to explode.  You're yelling and screaming and letting each other have it, and suddenly the telephone rings. 
 
"Hello!"  No, we're doing fine.  Just another day in paradise!" 
 
Or think about the drive to church!  It all begins when dad is sitting out in the car honking the horn.  The wife comes out with three bibles, five Sunday school quarterlies, the tithe check, two children and a strip of toilet paper attached to her shoe.  She gets in the car and the husband says, "Did you get my Bible?"  And the fight is on! Al the way to church!
 
Then you get out, come into the building and be all nicey-nice and sweet and holy and greet everyone and smile like the hypocrite that you are!  See that's why it's not hard to get people to teach children and preschoolers.  They're up there in the room saying, "Then what did mommy say to daddy?  You can tell me!  We'll pray for them. 
 
 
Don't tell me you can't control yourself!  We do it all the time! And most of the time we do it without even tapping into the presence and power of God to make it happen!
 
But it is possible to live a life of self-control.  But it takes work!  In New Testament terms, the Greek word translated "self-control" literally means "the strength to hold yourself back." It speaks of "inner power or strength."
 
Paul uses the term in 1 Corinthians 7:9 regarding the control of sexual desire. He refers to it again in 9:25 as he speaks of the athlete's control over his body and its wants during the period of time he is training for a contest.  It involved rigid discipline and training.  The athlete that went into training had long days of strenuous exercise, mixed with separation and loneliness.
 
That's the reason Peter tells us to diligently seek to add self-control to our faith.  It requires maximum effort!  Now pay attention to what we're learning here.  We start with faith.  Peter makes it a point to tell us in verse 3 that it is God Who is supplying everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
 
So the good news is, this virtue and knowledge and self-control we are to add to our faith doesn't originate with us.  We don't have to produce or manufacture it.  In fact, we can't.  It comes from God.  It's a part of the package deal that comes with salvation.  
 
But there is some effort on our part that is required and the effort we make to diligently pursue these attributes it to put ourselves in places or take ourselves out of places so that God can supply and produce these things in us. 
 
So God is on the supply side of all we need.  To our faith, we are to add virtue.  That is an attitude of Christ-likeness, coupled with the power to make it happen.  We then take that attitude and start learning of Christ.  We decide we are going to have a daily quiet time.  We're going to get involved in Sunday School and church.  We're going to take advantage of Bible Study opportunities.
 
So everything is in place, right?  And once we do that, it's easy isn't it?  We just get up and come to church and pray and tithe and everything just falls into place and we just grow and become like Christ. 
 
We wish!  But it's not that easy!  It requires self-control or we could use the world "discipline" and that's where the rub develops because we don't like the word "discipline".  By the way, Scripturally speaking, the words "discipline and discipleship" are one and the same. 
 
To be a disciple is to be disciplined.  And unfortunately, in our culture, including the church, the word "willpower" has all but been forgotten.    Most of us have grown soft, flabby, and fat either outwardly or inwardly or both.
 
The overindulgence and underachievement of our age has created a monster whose brain is lazy, vision is blurred, hands are greedy, skin is thin, middle is round, and seat is wide.
And what has spawned this strange, pillowy product is a serious lack of self-control.  So how do we develop self-control? 
 
3.  The Example
 
It sounds so easy.  Just make up your mind and do it.  Just say no.  Just walk away.  Just push away from the table.  It all sounds so simple.  But developing self-control  is one of the most difficult things you can ever learn to do.
 
Ultimately, true self-control is not about bringing our selves under our own control, but under the power of Christ and the control of God.  The truth of the matter is, we can't fully bring ourselves under control.  James observed we couldn't even control our tongue,  much less the rest of our body. 
 
So to draw from our definition, if we are successful in regulating our personal life, attitudes, thought processes, desires, passions, patterns and habits so that in word and action, we reflect the nature and life of Christ, the power to do that is going to have to come from somewhere besides us. 
   
Now we learned last week that Christ came into this world and lived His life as a man full of God.  It's worth noting that when He went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, He was led by the Spirit.
And when He came out of the wilderness 40 days later, He was full of the Spirit. 
 
True self-control is a gift from above, produced in and through us by the Holy Spirit.
 
And until we acknowledge that it is received from outside ourselves, rather than whipped up from within, then anything we do to withstand sin and temptation will be for our glory, rather than God's.
 
You may be able to trick yourself into some semblance of true self-control. You might be able to drum up the willpower to be nice when the phone rings. But you alone get the glory for that, and you'll never be consistent.  Someone will cross you at the wrong time or you'll get up on the wrong side of the bed.   
 
So ultimately, our controlling ourselves is about being controlled by Christ.  And the good news is we are brothers and sister of most self-controlled man in the history of the world.
 
Everywhere we look in the New Testament, we see example of His self control.  As the writer of Hebrews tells us, all his life he was “without sin”.  Peter reminds us “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth”.  We see Him in the Garden until sweat came like drops of blood, but His commitment was to do what God willed, rather than doing what He willed. 
 
At the trials and crucifixion, His enemies spit in his face and slapped Him.  They beat and scourged Him, but He didn't open His mouth or try to fight back. And ultimately, as Paul writes, He was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. 
 
So there is no lack of example in the life of Christ when it comes to self-control.  Let's look at one in particular that is found in
 
Matthew 26:47-56 
 
The setting for this encounter is the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Judas arrives along with the chief priests and elders and 600 Roman soldiers armed with clubs and swords. 
 
He greets Jesus with a kiss and Peter responds by cutting the ear off one of the guards.  Now there is lots to see in these verses, but what I want to do is just take a few minutes to contrast the response of Peter to the response of Christ to this situation.
 
I think it safe to say, Peter is a perfect example of a lack of self-control.  He makes a foolish and near-fatal decision that would have, as we'll see, interfered with the fulfillment of Scripture.  
 
Listen:  I don't care how smart you think you are.  If you are not in step with the Holy Spirit of God, you are out of control and if you persist in doing things your own way, you are destined to make foolish and fatal decisions that will take you out of the will of God. 
 
So Jesus gives him three good reasons not to use the sword.  Number one, it’s fatal to you if you use it.  Number two, it’s foolish, because God doesn’t need it.  And number three, you’ve got to go with the plan of God.
 
In sharp contrast, notice the response of Christ. 
There are actually three responses Jesus gives to three different groups or individuals, and everyone of them is an example of His perfect self-control.
 
 
First, there is His response to the crowd
 
It's not recorded here, but in John 18 we find some details Matthew doesn't include.  Verse 4 of that chapter tells us that when Jesus went out to greet this mob as they arrived to arrest Him, He asks for whom they are searching.  They tell Him they are searching for Jesus of Nazareth.  He says, "I am He", and when he says that, all of them, near 1,000 people are knocked backward onto the ground.  
 
So who do you think is in control here?  He simply breathes the name of God, and immediately it is established who's in charge.  He's not a victim.  He's not at their disposal.  He's not fighting and resisting.  He's in control.
 
The second response is to Judas.
 
verse 50
 
There is no struggle, no anger, no rage, no wrath, no venom. He is the epitome of absolute calm and complete trust in God. He doesn’t react as a criminal would react in this case.  He doesn’t even react as an innocent man would react by resisting and screaming for His freedom.  He is under control.  He even calls Judas "friend".  He doesn't have to lower Himself or lose His composure.  He doesn't have to overreact to what is happening.  Instead, He is calm, cool, collected and in control.
 
The third response is to Peter.
 
Notice verse 53
 
Peter's standing there with blood dripping off his sword, and Jesus says, "What are you doing with that dumb sword, Peter?  If I want help, I won't ask you, I'll ask My Father and He’ll send Me more than twelve legions of angels.  By the way, that's more than 72,000 angels! 
 
You say, "Is that significant?"  Probably not, if your idea of angels is little fat babies wearing diapers.  But the scriptural presentation of angels is much different.  In 2 Kings 19, we are told of one angel who killed 185,000 Assyrians all by himself.  Just suffice it to say, the Lord has a lot of fire power at His disposal!
 
That is a reminder that God is not without resources!  He doesn't need your sword or your mouth or your brain or you Facebook account to fight His battles!    You don’t need to defend the Kingdom of God with your sword. 
 
And by the way, notice Jesus uses the word "now".  In other words, I can pray now and get an immediate answer from heaven.  I don't have to take a number.  I don't have to wait in line.  God is not without resources and they are available to me immediately.  I can pray, and He will immediately, on the spot, provide all the help I need. 
 
Peter, on the other hand, has no trust.  Peter thinks like a human. Peter doesn’t understand His spiritual resources.  But Christ does, and we see Him compared to Peter, and He is totally calm and under control.  And I want to remind you, we have the privilege of standing with the triumphant Savior, victorious, willing to endure whatever comes along. 
In Jesus, we have a source for true self-control far beyond that of our feeble selves. So how do we appropriate that power in our life? 
 
4.  The Application
 
I want to give you a theological answer, then I want to give you a practical answer.  To say that we as Americans and especially American Christians are out of control is an understatement.  Our society is
 
- financially out of control 
 
Americans are the most indebted people on earth, with household debt averaging $71,500, twice that of Great Britain, and eighty-nine times that of Switzerland. In addition to that, we are
 
- physically out of control. 
 
Someone has calculated that every day in America:
 
- we eat 75 acres of pizza
- 53 million hot-dogs
- 167 million eggs
- 3 million gallons of ice cream
- 3,000 tons of candy
- $2,021,918 is spent on exercise equipment
-$3,561,644 on tortilla chips
-$10,410,959 on potato chips
- drink 524 million servings of Coca-Cola
-eat 2,739,726 dunkin donuts
 
And yet, at any given time, over 100 million people are on diets.  Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta say that nearly 60% of adults do not exercise regularly. 
In fact, the word exercise, like the word discipline, really irritates some people. Also, Our society is
 
- emotionally out of control
 
Many places in America have become battlegrounds.  Schools have become shooting ranges.  Road rage is common on the highways.  Child abuse and domestic violence and unspeakable crimes fill our news channels.   And it's obvious our society is 
 
- morally out of control
 
Much of what passes for entertainment is either embarrassing or disgusting .  Racial conflict is rampant.  Our nation's flag is regularly disrespected by professional athletes. 
 
And to this culture, Proverbs 25:28 says, "Like a city whose walls are broken down, is a man who lacks self-Control."  So how do we gain control of our own lives, whether it is our finances, our physical bodies, our emotions or our morals? 
 
Scripturally speaking, there is only one way to bring Self under control and that is to kill it.  It must die to be brought under control.  And the only way it can die is by crucifixion.  Listen to what Paul said in
 
Galatians 5:24-25
 
Now self always dies a hard, violent death.  A. W. Tozer said, "Self is one of the toughest plants that grow in the garden of life.  It is, in fact,  indestructible by any human means. 
 
Just when we are sure it is dead, it turns up somewhere as robust as ever to trouble our peace and poison the fruit of our lives . . .. The victorious Christian neither exalts nor downgrades himself.  His interests have shifted from self to Christ.  What he is, or is not, no longer concerns him.  He believes that he has been crucified with Christ, and he is not willing either to praise or deprecate such a man."
 
Now, once self dies, then the Spirit is free to rule and reign and control that person.  A preacher named S. D. Gordon used to say, "In every man's life there is a throne, and when self is on that throne, Christ is on the cross.  But when Christ is on that throne, self is on the cross."
 
So on the theological side of things, self control means dying to self and allowing the Holy Spirit to control us. 
 
But let's bring it on down to where we lived.  On the practical side, I want to give a list of tips offered by Pastor John MacArthur designed to develop self-discipline:
 
  1. Begin with small things. Learn to discipline yourself in small things because these lead to big things.
  2. Clean your environment. Clean your desk, room, house, garage, etc.  Become discontent with a mess in general.  Get to the place that orderliness matters.
  3. Make a schedule and learn to conform to it. You only have so much time in this life.  You should budget it just like you do other limited resources like money.
  4. Wean yourself off of being entertained. Entertainment is often a time-thief. To be self-disciplined, entertainment must become something that you can take or leave.  Train yourself to do things that are productive when you have excess time.  Read, take a walk, plant flowers, have a conversation.
  5. Be on time. Order your little universe so that you can get to where you are supposed to be on time and in your right mind.
  6. Keep your word, even in the littlest things. Do things when you say you will and how you say you will.  This calls for discipline before and after you make the commitment. Discipline before you make a commitment is required so that you do not over-commit yourself, and discipline after is required to fulfill the commitment.
  7. Do the hardest task first. It is probably the most important.
  8. Finish what you start. If you start it, finish it.
  9. Practice self-denial just for the sake of self-denial. It reminds you that you are in charge of you.
  10. Volunteer. Volunteering forces you to leave a little space in your life and forces you to order your life such that you have a little extra time to do something that is not part of your agenda.
 
If it will point people to Christ, our self-control must be visible and obvious.  A man was walking through a supermarket with a screaming baby in the shopping cart. The infant was wailing, but the father seemed quite controlled and unperturbed as he quietly said, “Easy now, Albert, control your temper. “Keep calm, Albert."
 
Finally, in admiration for the man’s patience as the child continued to wail, the woman walked up to him and said: “Sir, I must commend you for your patience with baby Albert.” To which the man replied, “Madam, I am Albert!”
 
So, "giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge, self control."   Why?  So when people notice, it gives us the opportunity to say, "Sir, or madam, it is Christ within me!   
 
Let's pray.
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