So, when is the last time you thought about self-control? It can almost seem impossible in a culture that has no interest in self-regulation. Most of us might get close talking about it but usually in reference to our diet or getting into physical shape. I want you to notice that I said talk. I would guess that most of us do not give much consideration that “self-control” is something that should touch every area of our lives. We should not be surprised that it is a requirement for maturing as a follower of Jesus.
I was surprised this past week to see the emphasis on self-control in our culture. What was very interesting was to read about the need for “Emotional Control.” I came across several health professionals that were warning of the negative consequences of uncontrolled emotions. This is something that we see all around us in just about every context of life. It can be seen in temper tantrums of children, teens and adults. It is also a major influence in self-destructive habits. The challenge for the follower of Jesus is that we are called to have control over our emotions and the other areas of our lives, including our diet. Yet, the temptation is pay lip service while I live and do what I want to do.
We all know that emotions are very powerful. They are God given but have been tainted by the sin force in our lives. They are part of every follower’s life. The Apostle Paul had to encourage the younger pastor Timothy to get control of his emotions. Timothy was pastoring a large church, what we could call today a mega church, located in Ephesus. He was more of a non-confrontational person. Paul actually describes him as being timid. The challenge with ministering in a larger church is that while you have more people, you have more people challenges. So Paul reminds Timothy that God has called him to the ministry, “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,” (2 Timothy 1:6) I want to come back to this in a moment, but Paul is encouraging Timothy to draw closer to Jesus. But he reminds us that the follower of Jesus is a significant reality, God is at work in our lives. Paul is more than likely speaking of the time when Timothy was “ordained” or set apart for ministry. It was a time when other spiritual leaders recognized God’s gifting and calling in his life. And Paul reminds Timothy to invest in his God given ministry.
And then Paul reminds Timothy that God has equipped him and all followers to keep ministering even when faced with challenges. It is a reminder, not to give up, not run, but to press forward in Jesus’ power. He writes, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Listen, it is easy to give up when things get tough. But if we let our emotions dictate our decisions we will rob ourselves of God’s blessing in our lives and the lives of others. Timothy was struggling with the “fear of man.” We are reminded in Proverbs that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25) One of the blessings of knowing Christ is that He is with us 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives through the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our negative emotions are often the result of our inability to change a situation or to see things from God’s perspective. Yet, Paul reminds Timothy, and us, that this type of fear does not come from God. I want you to stop for a moment and reread that last line. What he is communicating is that God does not want us to be controlled by our emotions. What we see is that God’s work in our lives, instead, is represented by power, not weakness or inability, love not hatred, not jealousy or self-focus, but self-control.
The key to overcoming our emotions is by pressing closer to God during those emotional times. The Bible reminds us that it is then that God’s power is released in us and the fruit of God’s character is ripened. Let me leave you with this passage as a reminder to be self-controlled by not emotion-controlled. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
-Pastor Joe Parkinson