Whatever Happened to Self-Control?
Updated: Jan 5
Does it seem to you that self-control and personal restraint are missing in contemporary society? Lack of self-control is a factor in such tragedies as road rage, workplace violence, mass shootings, and sideline rage. It is also the principle cause of Internet flaming. All of these unfortunate manifestations of poor self-control are the result of people choosing to let their sinful nature go unrestrained. They fail to exert self-control. When this happens, people often behave in a destructive manner.
In every instance of road rage, workplace violence, mass shootings, sideline rage, temper tantrums, or just minor emotional outbursts, the perpetrators had a choice. They could have consciously chosen to exercise self-control, but didn’t. There are a lot of people who, when they feel like saying or doing something, barge right ahead with no concern for consequences. This is why there are so many embarrassing moments recorded on social media and the Internet, moments people now wish they could erase from their lives but can’t.
Failing to exert self-control can ruin your life and the lives of others. At the very least, it can leave you deeply embarrassed over something you did or said that you now regret. For Christian brothers and sisters, this is an important topic. Self-control is a Biblical expectation. Proverbs 25:28 likens anyone who fails to exert self-control to a city with its walls torn down. In Biblical times, a city without walls wasn’t safe; it was vulnerable. The analogy is apt. People without self-control make themselves vulnerable. They are susceptible to danger from without and within. When you fail to exercise self-control, you become your own enemy, and you give others—including Satan—the power to use your unrestrained behavior against you.
Failing to exercise self-control can damage relationships at home, in school, at work, or in the community. Think about it. Do you want to interact with people who constantly lose their tempers, break down emotionally, or blurt out ill-advised statements without any consideration of consequences? Would you trust such a person with confidential information? Would you want to work closely with such a person? Probably not. Here is some advice I give counseling clients all the time that is good advice for you too: Just because you feel like saying or doing something doesn’t mean you should. Discretion and tact are important in human relations. Both require self-control and personal restraint.
The Bible has much to say about self-control. The following verses from Scripture provide the guidance you need to make self-control and personal restraint part of your daily walk with the Lord. These verses will help you exercise self-control. Self-control will, in turn, improve your life while also honoring God in the process:
2 TIMOTHY 1:7. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
PROVERBS 18:21. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
JAMES 1:19. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
PROVERBS 20:11. “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”
These verses from Scripture contain important lessons about exercising self-control. Let’s look at an example of how these verses convinced one individual of the importance of exercising self-control and showed him how to go about it.
SCRIPTURE IN ACTION: AN EXAMPLE Rodrigo had a bad habit: if he felt like saying or doing something, he did it and let the chips fall where they may. Not surprisingly, Rodrigo had a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. A friend once told him, “Rodrigo, you have no sense of restraint.” In college Rodrigo did a lot of immature and ill-advised things; some of the worst of which were recorded for posterity on social media. What seemed like fun and games at the time was now coming back to haunt him.
Since graduating from college, Rodrigo had been trying to land a job in his field: accounting. So far, in spite of excellent grades, he had been turned down by three prospective employers. Both had researched him on social media. In each interview, he was told that his evident lack of self-control might reflect badly on the company. Rodrigo regretted his immaturity and lack of self-control. What’s more, he was working hard to overcome it, but that didn’t seem to matter to potential employers. All they saw on social media was an out-of-control college student.
After being turned down by employers two more times, Rodrigo approached his pastor for help. After explaining he was having trouble landing a job, Rodrigo told Pastor David, “I’ve never had any self-control and that shortcoming has finally caught up with me.” The pastor was quick to correct him. “You have as much self-control as anyone else. God gave you self-control, but apparently you choose not to exercise it. Self-control is a choice, not something you have or don’t have. It is a manifestation of the fruit of the spirit. You have as much self-control as you choose to have. You just need to exercise it.”
They discussed how Rodrigo could start exercising better self-control. Pastor David told him that saying or doing anything that came to mind was a bad habit he would have to break. A good way to start would be to concentrate on talking less and listening more. Then, before speaking or acting, he should consider the potential consequences of what he wanted to say or do. Pastor David told Rodrigo to remember that self-control is a choice.
Rodrigo took to heart what his pastor advised. In his next interview, he took control of the situation from the outset by forthrightly admitting that throughout his college days he had often failed to exercise an appropriate level of self-control. He had said and done some immature things, things they could view on social media if they were so inclined. But those regrettable days were over. He said, “If you will take a chance on me, I guarantee my current behavior will reflect well on your company.” Using this honest and forthright approach, Rodrigo finally got a job. It turned out that the person who hired him had once struggled with self-control himself and understood the value of redemption and second chances. LESSONS FROM SCRIPTURE FOR YOUR DAILY WALK To enhance your daily walk with the Lord, learn from Rodrigo’s experiences about practicing self-control and personal restraint. There are several important lessons in his story. The first is that we all have the ability to exercise self-control and personal restraint (2 Timothy 1:7). Some people choose to exercise it and some don’t. Self-control and restraint are choices we make not genetic assets that some people have but others don’t. God gave you self-control, but he also gave you the free will to exercise it or not. Just like Adam and Eve, you are free to make the right choice or the wrong choice.
Words are powerful. They can build up or tear down, help or hurt (Proverbs 18:21). Rodrigo had to learn that just because you feel like saying or doing something doesn’t mean you should (Proverbs 29:11). The things we say and do have consequences. He almost undermined his career before it even got started by failing to exercise self-control and restraint. Before speaking or acting, it is wise to consider the consequences. If your words are not helpful, positive, or productive, why say them? If your actions are not commendable, why proceed?
Personal restraint is an invaluable asset to those who chose to exercise it. Saying things that hurt, mislead, or cast you in a bad light can create problems that stay with you forever. Learn to listen more and talk less. Learn to avoid speaking or acting out of anger. You will never put your foot in your mouth by listening (James 1:19). Because our human nature is sinful, it is necessary to restrain it from time to time. Just imagine what would happen if people could hear your thoughts. When you words are unrestrained, that’s exactly what happens.
To make choosing words that honor God and cast you in a positive light part of your daily walk with the Lord, try this strategy. Before speaking, ask yourself if what you plan to say will be helpful or hurtful. Then ask yourself if saying what makes you feel good in the short run is worth the problems doing so might cause in the long run. If you aren’t sure, there is always the option of remaining silent. You are less likely to regret what you didn’t say than what you did. Think of it this way. You will never have to take back something you didn’t say.
People often lose control of their tempers and say things they later regret. The reason you come to regret things said in anger is that losing your temper really means you have given control of it to Satan. If you feel like you are going to explode, find a room where you can be alone and vent your temper there. People have long memories; impressions once made are hard to unmake. Losing control in a public setting makes you vulnerable to those who might use your outbursts against you. If you use venting alone in a room where no one else will hear you as a self-control method, remember to ask God for forgiveness. Even though nobody else heard you, God did.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com