Monday, September 28, 2009

Respectable Sins - Lack of Self-Control (Ch 13)

Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges
Chapter 13 - Lack of Self Control

Starting with the example of Solomon, Bridges illustrates how a lack of self-control can destroy everything.
Like a city whose walls are broken down
is a man who lacks self-control. (Prov 25:28)
Ironically Solomon himself wrote this proverb, yet he had a distinct lack of self-control in his love for women, which resulted in his heart turning away from God.

Bridges believes that self-control is one virtue that has received little conscious attention from Christians, for while we have boundaries for 'obvious sins', we pretty much operate within those boundaries however we like, which can in turn open us up to other sins. He helpfully defines self-control as
a governance or prudent control of one's desires, cravings, impulses, emotions, and passions. It is saying no when we should say no. It is moderation in legitimate desires and activities, and absolute restraint in areas that are clearly sinful. It would, for example, involve moderation in watching television and absolute restraint in viewing Internet pornography...

Biblical self-control...covers every area of life and requires and unceasing control with the passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls...We might say that self-control is not control by oneself through one's own willpower but rather control of oneself through the power of the Holy Spirit. (p110-1)
Bridges chooses three areas where he believes Christians often fail in self-control:

1. Eating and drinking - he is not talking about those who are overweight, but those continually give in to the desire for certain foods or drinks. The person who drinks 10 cans of cola a day, or the person who must have ice-cream every day, etc. It is the "tendency to indulge our desires so that they control us instead of us controlling those desires" (p112). I am tempted to think of those who claim they cannot get through the day without coffee.

2. Temper - the person who is short-tempered and who is easily angered. He notes that anger alone is usually sin, but the tendency to be easily angered is also a sin of self-control. James says:
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

3. Personal finances - this includes those who are in debt, spending beyond their means and also those with money who indulge themselves with whatever they desire. It is worth saying that if you are spending beyond your means, especially with spending that you cannot control (eg. compulsive shopping, gambling) - you need to seek professional help.

I heard a sermon about this topic once, and two of the points of application have stayed with me:
- do not buy the best or the worst of anything - the best is unnecessary and the worst is likely to cost more as it will not last - be wise and prudent.
- as much as you spend on leisure or hobbies, give the same to Christian causes or charity. So you can enjoy the money God has given you - when you spend $350 on a Wii, also give $350 away. Or when you enjoy a meal out, pay for someone to do the same.

As I thought more about this chapter, again I thought he really only scratched the surface. Of course, whole books could be written about self-control. Also, as he did point out, a lack of self-control leads to many other sins, so a lack a self-control with our tongues will be addressed in chapter 19 and so on.

However, here are some other areas of our lives where we might see a lack of self-control:
  • what we read - do we fill our minds with trashy romance novels or gossip magazines, or do we choose to read things which grow us in godliness? Do we insist of reading the newspaper each day but never do to same with our bible?
  • what we watch - mostly every show on television these days is an example of gross immorality, even more so in reality shows, so why even watch them? And why are so many Christians seemingly making it their goal to own entire series of television shows? Surely our time and money could be better spent.
  • how much time we give to hobbies & sports - do you follow the football or cricket so avidly that you ignore your family? Do you quilt so often that you neglect your children?
  • the things that we can hide as being good. eg. a desire to lose weight, the pull of continuous exercise - we can hide these under the guise of being self-controlled, but sometimes they can actually become a trap themselves.

I personally struggle with self-control in a number of ways - mostly around how I spend my time:
  • I would love to spend more time on the computer, writing, reading etc. However, it is unhelpful if is drags me away from my family or things that need to be done at home
  • When I read novels I have no self-control - I read every free moment I get & I ignore the kids. I have had to stop reading novels except when we are on holidays. If I could keep it to a time in the day when I can take a break, I think that would be fine, but I seem unable to do this - so I have to just stop reading fiction for most of the year. Sad, but true.
  • We realised a few years ago that we were eating a lot of chips, we would sit down at the end of the day and have a bowl of chips together. After a while, we realised it was completely unnecessary but also that we were starting to always expect to eat them. In the end, we just stopped buying them and chips are now a treat in our house. Although, Husband will be quick to point out that I still have my 2 pieces of dark chocolate each day with a cup of tea, and should probably give that up too, as I now seem to 'need' it!

Some things to think about:
  1. What areas do you struggle with self-control?
  2. How far do you go out of your way to meet your desires? Am you willing to say no to them?
  3. What am you modelling to others when you choose to indulge this desire?
  4. What does the way you spend your time or money say about your priorities?
  5. What can you change to exercise more self-control in these areas?

On Friday: Chapter 14 - Impatience and Irritability

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