“When my cousin started a fight with me, I got hold of his throat and began to choke him. I wanted to kill him.”—Paul.
“At home I lashed out at the slightest provocation. I would smash furniture, toys, whatever I found on hand.”—Marco.
We may not go to such extremes. Yet, all of us have difficulty controlling ourselves at times. This is primarily because we inherited sinful tendencies from the first man, Adam. (Rom. 5:12) Some, like Paul and Marco, have trouble controlling their temper. Others may find it a challenge to control their thoughts. They dwell on their fears or are often troubled by negative thinking. Still others may have difficulty in resisting the urge to commit sexual immorality, to abuse alcohol, or to misuse drugs.
Those who allow their thinking, desires, and actions to go uncontrolled can ruin their lives. But we can avoid that outcome. How? By cultivating self-control. To help us do that, let us discuss three questions: (1) What is self-control? (2) Why is it essential? (3) How can we cultivate this quality that is one aspect of “the fruitage of the spirit”? (Gal. 5:22, 23) Then we will consider what we personally can do if we at times do not have self-control.
WHAT IS SELF-CONTROL?
A person with self-control does not act on every impulse. Rather, he holds back from speaking and acting in ways that are displeasing to God.
Jesus showed us what self-control involves. The Bible says: “When he was being insulted, he did not insult in return. When he was suffering, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the One who judges righteously.” (1 Pet. 2:23) Jesus exercised such self-control when opposers ridiculed him as he hung on the torture stake. (Matt. 27:39-44) Earlier, he showed remarkable restraint when hostile religious leaders tried to trap him in his speech. (Matt. 22:15-22) And what an example he set when certain angry Jews picked up stones to throw at him! Rather than retaliate, “Jesus hid and went out of the temple.”—John 8:57-59.
Can we imitate Jesus’ example? We can, to some extent. The apostle Peter wrote: “Christ suffered for you, leaving a model for you to follow his steps closely.” (1 Pet. 2:21) Although we are imperfect, we can follow Jesus’ example of self-control closely. Why is it essential that we do so?
WHY IS SELF-CONTROL ESSENTIAL?
We need to have self-control in order to have Jehovah’s approval. Even if we have served Jehovah faithfully for a long time, we could lose our friendship with him if we did not control what we do and say.
Consider Moses, who was “by far the meekest of all the men on the face of the earth” at that time. (Num. 12:3) After decades of patiently enduring complaints from the Israelites, Moses lost control of himself. He got angry when they yet again complained about a shortage of water. He spoke harshly to the people, saying: “Hear, now, you rebels! Must we bring out water for you from this crag?”—Num. 20:2-11.
Moses failed to control himself. He did not give credit to Jehovah as the Source of the miraculously provided water. (Ps. 106:32, 33) As a result, Jehovah did not allow him to enter the Promised Land. (Num. 20:12) To his dying day, Moses likely regretted losing his temper.—Deut. 3:23-27.
The lesson for us? Even if we have been in the truth for a long time, we should never speak disrespectfully to those who irritate us or who need to be corrected. (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:12) True, as we grow older, our patience may wear thin at times. But remember Moses. We would never want to tarnish a long record of faithful service with a lapse in self-control. What can we do to cultivate this essential quality?
HOW TO CULTIVATE SELF-CONTROL
Pray for holy spirit. Why? Because self-control is an aspect of the fruitage of God’s spirit, and Jehovah gives his spirit to those asking him. (Luke 11:13) By means of his spirit, Jehovah can give us the power we need. (Phil. 4:13) He can also help us to cultivate other aspects of the spirit’s fruitage, such as love, which will help us strengthen our self-control.—1 Cor. 13:5.
Avoid anything that could weaken your self-control. For example, keep away from Internet websites and entertainment that feature wrong conduct. (Eph. 5:3, 4) In fact, we must avoid anything that might tempt us to do wrong. (Prov. 22:3; 1 Cor. 6:12) For instance, a person with a leaning toward sexual uncleanness may need to avoid romantic books and movies altogether.
We may find it difficult to apply this counsel. However, if we put forth the effort, Jehovah will give us the power that we need to control ourselves. (2 Pet. 1:5-8) He will help us to control our thoughts, speech, and actions. As evidence of that, Paul and Marco, mentioned earlier, each learned to control his violent temper. Consider also a brother who often lost his temper while driving, even getting into disputes with others. What did he do about it? “I prayed intensely every day. I studied articles on self-control and memorized helpful Bible verses. Although I have been working at this for years, it is still helpful for me to begin each day with the goal of remaining calm. And I leave early for appointments so as not to be in a hurry.”
IF WE FAIL TO EXERCISE SELF-CONTROL
At times, we will fail to exercise self-control. When that happens, we may feel too ashamed to approach Jehovah in prayer. But this is when we need to pray the most. So go to Jehovah in prayer immediately. Beg him for forgiveness, seek his help, and be determined not to make the same mistake again. (Ps. 51:9-11) Jehovah will not despise your sincere prayer for mercy. (Ps. 102:17) The apostle John reminds us that the blood of God’s Son “cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7; 2:1; Ps. 86:5) Remember that Jehovah tells his human servants to forgive repeatedly. So we can be confident that he will do the same for us.—Matt. 18:21, 22; Col. 3:13.
Jehovah was displeased when Moses temporarily lost his self-control in the wilderness. Nevertheless, Jehovah forgave him. And God’s Word speaks of Moses as being an outstanding example of faith. (Deut. 34:10; Heb. 11:24-28) Jehovah did not permit Moses to step into the Promised Land, but He will welcome Moses into the Paradise earth and give him the prospect of living forever. We can enjoy that same prospect if we keep striving to cultivate the essential quality of self-control.—1 Cor. 9:25.