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Fruit of The Lips: Self-Control

FOTL 3-2

It’s an interesting concept to think that self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The more that God is in control of our lives, the more we gain a little bit control over the self as well. The more autonomous and independent that we are are, the less we have a grip over our impulses and emotions. But the more that God abides in us, our minds, emotions, intentions, and actions come under a newfound freedom. Freedom to say no to sin. Freedom to take our thoughts captive. And freedom to bear all things in love. 

 

 

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28, ESV)

 

Without self-control, a man is completely conquered by his appetite, emotions, and circumstances, leaving his life (and those in his life) to defenseless ruin. When he is hungry, he eats. When he is angry, he vents. When he is tired, he whines. When circumstances don’t suit him, he complains. In the ever-shifting, day-to-day, tides of this world, he is an untethered beach ball when he should be an anchor. It is the child who most embodies a natural lack of self-control, but they are protected, rebuked, and corrected as they mature. For a man to behave in such a manner is embarrassing, foolish, and destructive. Like a bucking Branco, our passions get whipped up in us, wanting to be free to run wild. But the gift of self-control is a set of reigns and a bit in the mouth of our passions—we can pull and steer and guide and stop without them completely running amok. And let me be careful here when I say “they” when I refer to passions. I don’t want to give the impression that “they” (our passions) are some external force working on us upon us; they are expressions of us. When a child whines and is disobedient and says, “I’m tired”, they are not relieved of their duty to joyful obedience, even if they need a nap. Neither is a man excused from his use of pornography because he is “lonely”, or a wife excused for harsh words because she is “irritated”. Our emotions are expressions of us and what is inside. A key verse from this study bears this out explicitly for the tongue: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

 

The man with self-control is the man whose walls are up and whose family is safe. Pay attention to who is the enemy here: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” The forces of temptation may be external, but the unbridled need for what has been tempted comes from within. A man who cannot check those desires is the one who leaves the door unlocked for the home invader. Worse, he has no doors, no locks, and no walls. He is easy to conquer, putting up no defense. 

 

The fruit of love covers a multitude of sins and is not irritable, but the man without self-control has not such restraint — someone cuts them off in traffic, they cannot turn their gaze or mind from lustful thoughts, they are so insecure they they feel slighted by every conversation and gesture of others, the have little restraint on what they watch, eat or consume. Without self-control, he is the enemy. With self-control, he is the protector. Self-control takes the various and plentiful temptations that come with each day and checks them at the walls, allowing for the peace behind the ramparts. 

Not only is he the enemy of his own home, he is the enemy of himself. His passions are the things that are consuming him. When he looks at the destruction of his life he isn’t able to make the connection that it is his own lack of self-control that has caused the damage. He sells his soul for a bowl of stew, eats another helping and complains about his health, watches porn for another night and has no actual relationships with women. Our habits are what form our character. We are either further catechized into habits that become virtues or we are catechized into vices. Virtues and vices tend to not be the rare qualities that extend from your behavior but the very bedrock of them. When the house is on fire, a man who has been shaped in the habits of self-sacrifice, love and protection should immediately make the decision to run into the fire to help those in need. No deliberation is needed. His habits have turned into virtue. In much the same way, a man who has made a habit of self-service will not deliberate too long between what is right and wrong. His impulse and instinct will be to what his habits have for so long cultivated. A man with no self-control stops wrestling with challenges and defaults to giving into them. 

 

 

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)

 

Often the lack of self-control comes through fear. We don’t trust God enough to deal with our situations, so we try to deal with them ourselves without his help. We don’t see him in our circumstances, so we panic. We don’t see or trust that He is working in our circumstances, so we manipulate and exploit others. But God is gracious in giving us perfect love which casts out fear. We don’t have to let fear drive us toward sin. 

 

In your speech, it’s easy to let fear do the driving. When someone you love is speaking or acting towards you in a sinful manner, the fear of self, or of losing your pride, or if your lives together not going the way you want or think they should go, can easily lead you to speak harshly, hyperbolically, and in accusatory tones. It is often said that the responses to fear are either fight or flight. The man who is fearing the wrong things, who isn’t fearing the Lord but is daily fearing the world, will fight all the wrong battles and run from all of the right ones. Fundamentally, the man is uncalibrated, lacking the power and the love that accompany self-control. As our study from 1 Corinthians 13 informed us, to love someone demands sacrifice; you cannot accomplish the demands of love without the God-given power of self-restraint. 

 

 

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.” (Titus 2:2–6, ESV)

 

Titus describes a central characteristic of godly men, woman, and youth (young men), to be self-control. The men are described as having sober-minds. They are minds that are not inebriated by their emotions–minds which are clouded and confused by lack of self-control. When the plane is going through a storm, you don’t want the pilot to share the same level of panicked feelings that the passengers may have. This ability to navigate life without temperamental volatility marks the man as someone with who is dignified and composed, someone whose life is in submission to God rather than the self. 

 

The older women are to likewise be self-controlled, and this was evident by their reverent behavior. They were not slaves to much wine and they were not slanderers. They are temperate enough to not let the joys of wine turn into a vice, and they are noble enough not to fight by use of slander. When compelled into selfishness and autonomy, they demonstrate submission to the Lord and to their husbands. And they often demonstrate this submission to the Lord by their submission to their husbands, teaching the other, younger women, what is means and looks like to love their husbands and their children. And look at the cause and effect of this text: the way these women act, namely their demeanor through self-control and submission (kindness, too), has the effect of the word of God not being reviled. How many children grow up in homes where their parents take them to church, put them in a christian school, get frustrated with them if they aren’t acting in a Christian way, while the child has a front row seat to all of the parents’ hypocrisy and especially their volatility? Without self-control, without the evidence of worship, where the parent is not seen as clinging and abiding in the vine, where there is no repentance and evidence of the Spirit’s power, where the walls of self-control are down part of the wreckage inside you home will be that  the word of God will be reviled. It will be seen to be disingenuous, a manipulation on them — a powerless fraud. 

 

We have an overabundance of what might be called “self-expression”. Instead of seeing self-denial as a virtue if it comes in the service of God or or neighbor, our culture classifies self-denial as repressive and despotic. We are taught to lean into our emotions, believing that they validate our actions. We can loot a store because of injustice, slander someone online because we are envious, yell at our spouses because they were inconsiderate, explore our sexuality because of our lusts, etc. We are a society that has no riverbank of self-restraint and have been poured out into a swampland. 

 

 

Self-Control In Speech 

 

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:2–12, ESV)

 

This text is primarily saying two things. One, the tongue has an oversized influence. Like a tiny spark that burns down a forest or a rudder that turns a whole ship, your tongue dramatically effects your life and those around you, staining the whole body and torching the whole corse of life. And two, the tongue is hard to subject to come under self-restraint. The man who manages self-control here is close to a perfect man. With it we bless the Lord and we curse people who are made in his image. We can praise our children and we can devour them. We can love our spouse and we can battle them. We can praise our friends and bless our neighbors or we can slander them. So if self-restraint should be focused somewhere acutely, it should be on our lips. Just as our speech has an oversized influence for evil, it can also have an oversized influence for good. 

 

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth. The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” (Proverbs 10:19–21, ESV)

 

The tongue or a righteous man blesses in many ways. His tongue is restrained, not causing unnecessary damage by speaking too much. But his tongue is also food, giving life and nutrition to those who hear him. He speaks in wisdom, encouragement, praise, and kindness. And his tongue is choice silver. Not only are his words carefully selected so that they serve and build up, but they are also lovely, adorning the wisdom and righteousness with beauty. 

God has demonstrated to us not only who He is in concept, but has expressed who He is through speech. He isn’t just holy, kind, gentle, and loving in remote definition; He has spoken to us kindly, lovingly and gently. Let it be that we, too, not only carry the concepts of virtue in our Christianity, but also as the fruit of our lips.

 

 

So let it be that our defenses are up, our words be few, and let our words be lovely.