A lack of self-control can result in endless pain for the one who doesn’t have it and sometimes even more for the one who falls victim to someone who lacks self-control. Lives can be and are ruined because of this. I don’t have to give you graphic examples of this, the news is full of it. Accidents due to drunken drivers, children whose lives are ruined because of adults without self-control. Broken marriages..Just consider your own life… Each of us have done things we will always regret, things we did as a result of no self-control. This article is not to condemn, but to help. These situations and temptations are a part of being human, but we must know how to deal with this. We must know our limitations and our strengths in order to ensure we don’t fall victim to this and suffer or make others suffer.
Even without considering the serious consequences of a lack of self-control, we need to have self-control every day. We need self-control in order not to lose our temper, or break our diet or to refrain from saying something we shouldn’t.
We also need it for building ourselves up. We have written about speaking truth to ourselves, forming habits, memorizing Scripture and doing Bible study. We need to do all these consistently before we will see results in our lives and this requires self-discipline and self-control.
Examples from Scripture
There are many passages in Scripture that contain examples of self-control and self-discipline. We certainly can learn from all these. Here are a few examples: Adam didn’t exercise self-control when Eve offered him the fruit. Joseph exercised self-control when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. Samson didn’t have self-control when Delilah seduced him. In fact, he often didn’t exert self-control. David lost his self-control when he saw Bathsheba bathing.
Daniel and his friends practiced self-discipline and self-control when they chose not to defile themselves with the food of the king of Babylon (Dan 1:8.) Daniel also prayed three times a day, even after it became illegal to do so (Dan 1:8). Daniels three friends: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego did not bow down, nor serve the image of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 3:8) even when threatened to be thrown into the furnace. That is self-discipline. Achan didn’t have self-control when it came to the things under the ban in Jericho.
We can find many more examples in Scripture. What caused David not to have self-control in that specific situation? He was a man after YHVH’s heart (1 Sam 13:14.) Why were Daniel and his friends able to prevail even with death staring them in the face? What was different about Samson? We don’t know the answers to these questions, we can only speculate. What we do see is that it is easy to fall and it is also possible to prevail.
We first need to understand the concepts of self-discipline and self-control properly before we can make any conclusions.
We shall start off by defining self-control.
self-con•trol \-kən-ˈtrōl\ noun
1711: restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires—self-con•trolled \-ˈtrōld\ adjective2
Self-control is self-restraint or willpower. All of us possess this in variable amounts and we are admonished to have self-control. Those who do are often credited as wise.
It has also been proven scientifically that people who have stronger willpower have better life outcomes than people who don’t. An experiment was conducted in the 1960s, known as the marshmallow experiment in which willpower, or delayed gratification, was tested.
The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. (The reward was sometimes a marshmallow, but often a cookie or a pretzel.) In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.3
Self control can be learned
This experiment was later repeated and this time the kids who ate the marshmallow were put in a room with an adult, the kids observed the techniques the adult used to maintain their willpower. Techniques like distraction, taking a nap, closing their eyes, etc. The children were tested again and most were able to wait the 15 minutes. This proves that self-control can be taught.
Self-control is a limited resource
It has also been proven scientifically that self-control is a limited resource. Studies have shown that if a person was in a position of having to exert self-control for a period of time, it is very likely that when they are faced with a temptation after this period, that they will succumb to it.
John Tierney wrote in the New York Times:
You can read the article, if you are interested, the link is in the reference section.
From this, and other studies, we can understand why YHVH did not want Israel to mix with the nations. We have written more about this in the article Do not learn the way of the nations nor do what they do. YHVH knew that self-control is something we can’t always claim to have. Paul also warns:
1 Corinthians 10:12
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
Every one of us when tempted at a time when we are tired or vulnerable for some reason, will fall. It is for this reason that we are told to flee from evil.
Flee from temptation!
1 Thessalonians 5:22
22 abstain from every form of evil.
The Complete Jewish Bible translated it as follows:
1 Thessalonians 5:22
22 but keep away from every form of evil.
We are to keep away from every form of evil! Indulging in a little bit, might just be the beginning of indulging in a lot. If we as believers were strong enough to face every temptation, why would Y’shua have us pray
13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’
It is also written in 2 Tim 2:22:
2 Timothy 2:22
22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on YHVH from a pure heart.
1 Corinthians 6:18
18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.
If you know you are weak in a certain area, make sure you avoid getting in a situation where you have to exert self-control. In this way, you will ensure that you don’t succumb to the temptation at a vulnerable time. The best way to control self is avoidance of that which we may be tempted by.
Studies have also been done on how to restore self-control. They found that watching re-runs of television programs restored willpower. The brain being exposed to something familiar with a known outcome, can relax and re-fuel in a sense. I believe that instead of watching re-runs, we could restore self-control by reading Scripture or repeating memorized passages of Scripture. It is also familiar and has a known outcome. Maybe another reason why Scripture memorization is something of real importance to us.
Self-control is a virtue and is considered a fruit of the Spirit.
8 but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled,
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Anger is an area that is problematic to most of us. We may find it easy to exert self-control when confronted with most things, but may snap at the tiniest provocation. One way of dealing with anger is to do self-analysis every time we get angry. We are to find out what we thought and why, then we can speak truth to ourselves in this area and will eventually be able to conquer this. You can read more about this in the article “Speak truth to yourself
There are many scriptures that teach us about keeping our temper under control.
11 A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.
17 A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of evil devices is hated.
29 He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.
32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
28 Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.
Before we look into self-discipline, just a few ideas on how we can teach self-control to our children.
Teaching our children self-control
We as parents have a great responsibility. We are to ensure that self-control and self-discipline is taught from a young age. We have seen through the marshmallow experiment, that it will have a huge impact on their lives.
We are to firstly model self-control. Children learn much more from our example than from our instruction. Both are important but should never contradict. Secondly, we are to keep our promises to them. Children are more likely to have willpower if we keep our promises to them. They would otherwise think “why bother” it will anyway most probably not happen.
Now that we have learned more about self-control, we shall look at self-discipline as well as the relation between self-discipline and self-control as these two are closely related.
Self-discipline is defined as follows:
The definition of self-discipline is as follows:
Before we continue with self-discipline, we need to understand the relation between self-discipline and self-control.
We recently did an article on forming habits Using habits to set yourself apart. We shall now explain the relationship between self-control and self-discipline in the context of habits.
Establishing a good habit is an example of self-discipline. To implement the habit you have to react to the trigger. Making the right choice when the trigger occurs is self control. For example, setting our alarm to get up early to do Bible study is self-discipline. Getting up when the alarm goes off, is self-control. When I move behind my computer doing the Bible study, I am practicing self discipline. My choice then would be either open my Bible study program or Facebook. That is where self-control comes in again.
I also believe that when we apply self-discipline in our lives the likelihood of having to apply self-control will be less, especially if we apply the self-discipline of avoidance of temptation. For example, when you know YHVH’s Word and are obedient to it, you will know what is good and what is sin. Avoiding areas or situations that can be a temptation to sin, is self-discipline. When you avoid the temptation, chances are that you will not need to apply self-control in that area you avoided.
To sum it up: Self-discipline equals good habits, while self-control equals good choices.
Applying self-discipline starts with a plan or decision. We, for example, make a decision to get more exercise. That is the plan, now we need to decide how we will execute the plan and we will then need self-control to make sure we do.
So, we will also need a plan if we want to live a set apart life. The amazing thing is that YHVH has already given us that plan. He gave us His commandments to teach us how to live. That is the plan. We need to study this plan in order to know how to execute it. We then need to avoid what may be problem areas for us and apply self-control in the day to day execution of this plan. The Bible is our self-discipline manual. YHVH has also given us a helper.
26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
The apostle Paul wrote on self-discipline.
2 Thessalonians 3:11
11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.
It is about having that plan. That plan is rooted in our purpose. We have written about finding our purpose in the article Finding meaning. Our purpose is connected to YHVH’s purpose, or it should be. That is what finding meaning is all about.
In order to achieve this, we are to discipline ourselves.
1 Corinthians 9:27
27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
We have seen before that YHVH has given us His Spirit in order to teach us all things.
2 Timothy 1:7
7 For Elohim has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
In order to live a set apart life, we need self-control and self-discipline. YHVH gave us a plan to live by His Word, containing His purpose. We have learned that self-discipline and self-control are closely related. Self-discipline is the habit and self-control the good choices we make to realize this plan in our lives.
We have also learned that self-control can be learned and that it is a limited resource. For this reason, we are to avoid temptation, flee from it. We could otherwise be caught at a vulnerable time and may be unable to resist. Scripture memorization is a means we can use to restore self-control.
We hope this has blessed you and will inspire you to live according to YHVH’s plan. May He empower you through His Word to live a set apart life.
- All quoted passages are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995. We have substituted YHVH for LORD and Y’shua for Jesus.
- Mish, F. C. (2003). Preface. Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
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