“The fruitage of the spirit is . . . self-control.”—GAL. 5:22, 23.
1, 2. (a) What can result from a lack of self-control? (b) Why is the topic of self-control relevant today?
SELF-CONTROL is a godly quality. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Jehovah possesses self-control in perfect measure. Humans, however, are imperfect and therefore struggle to maintain self-control. Indeed, many of the problems that people face today stem from a lack of self-control. That lack may result in procrastination and underperformance in school or at work. It may also lead to verbal abuse, drunkenness, violence, divorce, needless debt, addiction, imprisonment, emotional trauma, sexually transmitted disease, and unwanted pregnancy, to name a few.—Ps. 34:11-14.
2 Clearly, people who lack self-control are causing problems for themselves and for others. And the problem of lacking self-control is worsening. Self-discipline was studied in the 1940’s, but recent studies have shown that people have become much worse at exercising self-discipline. This is no surprise to students of God’s Word because the Bible foretold that one evidence that we are living in “the last days” is that men would be “without self-control.”—2 Tim. 3:1-3.
3. Why should Christians want to cultivate self-control?
3 Why should you be interested in cultivating self-control? Consider two important reasons. First, it has been observed that people who are able to control their impulses generally have fewer major problems. They are more stable emotionally, they are better at forming wholesome relationships, and they are not as angry and prone to anxiety and depression as are impulsive people. Second, the ability to resist temptation and to control inappropriate impulses is fundamental to retaining God’s favor. The failure of Adam and Eve illustrates this truth. (Gen. 3:6) And think of the sad results reaped by others who since then have failed to exercise this important quality.
4. What should be encouraging to any who are struggling to exercise self-control?
4 No imperfect human can exercise perfect self-control. Jehovah is aware of his servants’ struggles in this regard, and he wants to help them dominate their sinful tendencies. (1 Ki. 8:46-50) As a loving Friend, he warmly encourages sincere individuals who want to serve him but who have a hard time exercising self-control in some area of life. Let us consider Jehovah’s perfect example. Then we will learn from good examples and bad ones recounted in the Bible. And we can review practical suggestions that can help us to strengthen our self-control.
JEHOVAH SETS THE EXAMPLE
5, 6. What example does Jehovah provide regarding self-control?
5 Jehovah exercises the quality of self-control perfectly, for he is perfect in all that he does. (Deut. 32:4) We, however, are imperfect. Even so, in order to understand the quality of self-control, we need to examine Jehovah’s example so that we can better imitate him. What are some noteworthy instances when Jehovah displayed self-control?
6 Think about how Jehovah exercised self-control in dealing with Satan’s brazen rebellion. That challenge needed to be met. The Devil’s challenge no doubt aroused indignation, anger, and contempt among heavenly creatures loyal to God. Perhaps you feel similar emotions when you consider all the suffering Satan has caused. Jehovah, however, did not react hastily. His response was measured and entirely fitting. He has been slow to anger and has been just in dealing with Satan’s revolt. (Ex. 34:6; Job 2:2-6) Why? Jehovah has allowed time to pass because he does not want anyone to be destroyed but “desires all to attain to repentance.”—2 Pet. 3:9.
7. What can we learn from Jehovah’s example?
7 Jehovah’s exercise of self-control teaches us that we too ought to weigh our words and consider our steps carefully; we should not rush into things. When you face an important issue, give yourself the time you need to act wisely. Pray for wisdom to say or do the right thing. (Ps. 141:3) In the heat of the moment, it is all too easy to react emotionally. Many of us have lived to regret hasty words or rash actions!—Prov. 14:29; 15:28; 19:2.
EXAMPLES AMONG GOD’S SERVANTS—GOOD AND BAD
8. (a) Where can we look for examples of godly qualities? (b) What enabled Joseph to respond as he did when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him? (See opening picture.)
8 What Bible examples underscore the value of controlling our reactions? You can no doubt recall several Bible characters who exercised appropriate restraint when tested. One is Jacob’s son Joseph. He showed restraint when he was serving in the house of Potiphar, the chief of Pharaoh’s guards. Potiphar’s wife set her eyes on Joseph, who was “well-built and handsome,” and she tried to seduce him. What prevented Joseph from succumbing to her repeated advances? No doubt, he took the time to consider what the consequences would be if he were to lower his guard. And when the situation became critical, he fled from her. He reasoned: “How could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?”—Gen. 39:6, 9; read Proverbs 1:10.
9. How can you prepare yourself to resist temptations?
9 What does Joseph’s example teach us? One thing is that we may need to flee from the temptation to break one of God’s laws. In the past, some who are now Witnesses struggled with overeating, heavy drinking, smoking, drug abuse, sexual immorality, and the like. Even after baptism, they may at times be tempted to return to their former practices. Still, if you are ever tempted to break one of Jehovah’s laws, strengthen yourself by taking time to ponder the disastrous spiritual consequences that you could face for failing to restrain sinful impulses. You can try to foresee situations in which temptations could likely present themselves and decide how you can avoid them. (Ps. 26:4, 5; Prov. 22:3) Should you ever face such a test, ask Jehovah to give you the wisdom and self-control to resist.
10, 11. (a) What reality do many adolescents have to face at school? (b) What can help young Christians to resist pressures to engage in wrong conduct?
10 Many young Christians face a trial like Joseph’s. Consider Kim. Most of her classmates were sexually active, and after a typical weekend, they boasted of their latest sexual encounters. Kim had no such stories to tell. She admits that being different at times made her feel “abandoned and alone” and that her peers considered her stupid because she did not date. Yet, Kim was wise enough to know that among many youths the temptation to engage in sex is great. (2 Tim. 2:22) Schoolmates often asked whether she was still a virgin. That gave her the opportunity to explain why she would not engage in sex. We are proud of young Christians who are determined to resist pressure to share in sexual immorality, and Jehovah is proud of them too!
11 The Bible gives warning examples of individuals who lacked self-control concerning sexual conduct. It also shows the sad consequences that can result from such uncontrolled behavior. Anyone facing a situation similar to that of Kim would do well to ponder the case of the naive young man described in Proverbs chapter 7. Think, too, of the course Amnon took and the terrible outcome of his behavior. (2 Sam. 13:1, 2, 10-15, 28-32) Parents might help their children to develop self-control and wisdom in regard to romantic relationships by discussing the topic during family worship, using the Bible passages just mentioned.
12. (a) How did Joseph restrain his emotions in dealing with his brothers? (b) In what situations must we restrain our emotions?
12 On another occasion, Joseph again set a fine example of self-control. To understand what was in his brothers’ hearts, Joseph concealed his identity when they appeared before him in Egypt to buy food. And when his feelings were particularly intense, he withdrew to a private place to hide his tears. (Gen. 43:30, 31; 45:1) If a fellow Christian or a loved one displays poor judgment, your showing restraint similar to that of Joseph might help you to avoid an impulsive reaction. (Prov. 16:32; 17:27) If you have disfellowshipped relatives, you may need to control your feelings in order to avoid unnecessary contact with them. Self-restraint in such situations is not automatic, yet it is easier if we realize that our actions are in line with God’s example and in harmony with his counsel.
13. What lessons can we learn from accounts concerning King David?
13 The Bible offers a notable example in King David. He wielded great power but refrained from using it out of anger when provoked by Saul and Shimei. (1 Sam. 26:9-11; 2 Sam. 16:5-10) That is not to say that David always controlled himself, as we know from his sin with Bath-sheba and his initial reaction to Nabal’s greed. (1 Sam. 25:10-13; 2 Sam. 11:2-4) Nevertheless, we can learn valuable lessons from David. First, overseers among God’s people need to be especially careful to exercise self-control so that they do not abuse their authority. Second, no one can be complacent, thinking that he is safe from temptation.—1 Cor. 10:12.
PRACTICAL THINGS YOU CAN DO
14. What experience did one brother have, and why are our reactions in similar situations important?
14 What can you do to work on your self-control? Consider this real-life situation. A vehicle rear-ended Luigi’s car. Despite being in the wrong, the other driver insulted Luigi and tried to start a fight. Luigi prayed, asked Jehovah to help him keep his composure, and tried to calm the other driver—but to no avail. Luigi made a note of the man’s insurance details and left while the man was still shouting. A week later, Luigi was making a return visit on a woman and he learned that her husband was the other driver! The man was embarrassed and apologized for his tirade. He offered to contact Luigi’s insurance company to speed up the claim. The man took part in the spiritual conversation and appreciated what was being said. In hindsight, Luigi could see how important it was that he had kept calm after the accident and how detrimental it could have been had he lost his temper.—Read 2 Corinthians 6:3, 4.
15, 16. How can Bible study help you and your family to cultivate self-control?
15 Diligent and conscientious Bible study can help Christians to develop self-control. Recall that God told Joshua: “This book of the Law should not depart from your mouth, and you must read it in an undertone day and night, in order to observe carefully all that is written in it; for then your way will be successful and then you will act wisely.” (Josh. 1:8) How is it that Bible study can help you to cultivate self-control?
16 As we have just noted, the Scriptures contain accounts that vividly illustrate both the benefits and the consequences of our actions. Jehovah had these accounts recorded for a purpose. (Rom. 15:4) How wise it is to read them, meditate on them, and study them! Try to grasp how they apply to you and your family. Ask Jehovah to help you to apply his Word. If you discern that you are deficient in some aspect of self-control, admit it. Then pray about it, and strive to see how you can improve. (Jas. 1:5) No doubt, research in our Christian publications can help you to locate relevant material that will further help you.
17. In what ways can parents help their children to develop self-control?
17 How can you help your children to develop self-control? Parents know that this quality does not come naturally to young people. And as is the case with all qualities that their children need to learn, parents should set the example. (Eph. 6:4) So if you see that your children are struggling to control their impulses, ask yourself whether you are setting a fine example. Do not minimize the good effect of your being regular in the field service, in attending meetings, and in conducting family worship. Do not be afraid to say no to your children’s requests if need be! Jehovah set limits for Adam and Eve—limits that could have instilled in them a proper regard for his authority. Similarly, parental discipline and example have the goal of teaching children self-control. Love for God’s authority and respect for his standards are among the most precious things that you can cultivate in your children.—Read Proverbs 1:5, 7, 8.
18. Why can you be confident that good associations will prove to be a blessing?
18 Certainly, whether you are a parent or not, you should not overlook the need to choose your associations wisely. Seek the company of those who will encourage you to pursue worthwhile goals and avoid trouble. (Prov. 13:20) Spiritually-minded associates will have a positive influence on you, moving you to imitate their course of life marked by self-control. And no doubt your good conduct will encourage your friends. The self-control that results is fundamental to your enjoying everyday life in God’s favor and to sharing good things with your loved ones.