Rev. Canon Dr. John Senyonyi
We live in an age of licence. The world is on a rampage to abolish all self-restraint and glorify hedonism. We excuse our base passions saying, “It is the way I am.”
It is inconceivable that a person who will not control his own passions should be entrusted with managing other people. As Paulo Coelho said, “If you conquer yourself, then you conquer the world.” And Stephen Covey adds, “The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of the proactive person.”
When President Lyndon Johnson of the U.S. was overweight, his wife challenged him, “You can’t run the country if you can’t run yourself.” He respected his wife’s wise observation and lost 23 pounds.
Self-control is the leash by which we restrain our base cravings. Unmitigated anger, sex outside marriage, swearing or revelry exhibit a person out of control. So is the unrestrained consumption of food, drug and alcohol abuse, the love of money, gambling, careless talk, shopping problems, or an impure thought life. The lack of self-control grants authority to another to control us.
All Bible greats were people endowed with self-control: Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David or those mentioned in Hebrews 11. Others like Cain, Esau, Amon, and Absalom, failed for lack of self-control.
The Contemporary English Dictionary defines self-control as “the ability to behave calmly and sensibly even when you feel excited (or) angry.” It is restraint and self-discipline in the face of attraction, passion or provocation, not in the absence of temptation.
Irish statesman Edmund Burke put it well: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
Self-control so shows the depth of our Christian character that it is listed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit – last but not least. It is likeness to Christ. Whoever does not exercise self-control cannot claim Christ-likeness.
Self-control says, “No” to everything ungodly and says, “Yes” to Jesus’ will. Our passions rule us when we surrender to them. It is victory when you say, “No” though the body cries, “Yes”. Then you are in charge of yourself. For that reason, self-control is opposite to self-indulgence.
It is a ‘No’ to illicit sexual attraction, to eating more because it tastes good, to revenge when provoked, to talking carelessly, or expressing an unfitting opinion, to opening that porn site, or to living a life you cannot afford. Self-control is in active mode when you say, “No”, to lack of exercise!
Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University said, “… the social and personal problems facing people … over and over, the majority of them have self-control failure as central to them. Studies show that self-control does predict success in life over a very long time… If we’re concerned about raising children to be successful and healthy and happy, forget about self-esteem. Concentrate on self-control.”
Researches on children monitored over several decades exist, which prove Baumeister. For example, four–year–olds that resisted eating the candy placed before them, faired significantly better in life in their latter years. When we throw self-control to the wind, we lose our future.
Joseph was a self-controlled slave. He presumably had the boiling sexual urge like any young man would. He was not impotent. Mrs. Potiphar offered herself to him in the secrecy of her house. Sex is probably the most powerful passion for a normal young man. Instead he ran off.
Many would call him a fool. Worse, she falsely accused him of attempting to rape her, and he was thrown in prison! But this gave him the good future.
Joseph has lessons for us. The primary lesson is that you and I have the steel to resist temptation. Do not blame anyone else for failure in self-control.
Besides, a person with self-control can be trusted with the Master’s holdings. No husband celebrates his wife’s company with a notorious philanderer. People with self-control are good stewards simply because they keep the boundaries of ownership! They know what is not theirs!
Self-control sets boundaries and limits on our lives. Joseph knew he could touch everything EXCEPT Potiphar’s wife. Self-control discerns when enough is enough– “… eat what is enough for you”. When we exercise self-control it becomes a lifestyle.Of a person without self-control, the Bible says he is “like a city broken into … without walls”.
Finally, we learn from Joseph that self-control checks desire with restraint. Although Joseph’s sexual desires had the opportunity, he restrained himself from the opportunity. Paul concludes, “All things are permissible, but not all things are helpful.”
Develop self-control; it is mastery over yourself. Amen.