Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday, 9 January 21:
Genesis 25:29-34 – “Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!’ (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
Decisions have consequences. Esau, driven by a desire for instant gratification, acted upon impulse and sacrificed his future and his legacy for a bowl of stew. And do you really think he was dying of starvation? Of course not. The Bible doesn’t say how long Esau had been without food while hunting, but doubtful it was 40 days in a desert as Jesus experienced. And Esau’s bowl-of-stew temptation wasn’t Satan promising him the whole world as Jesus experienced. No doubt, Esau was hungry, but he felt the same kind of ‘starvation’ gluttons feel, an insatiable desire for self-gratification. What Esau lacked was self-control, and he, his family, and his descendants paid immeasurably for it. Did Esau consume the stew, or did the stew consume him?
In his lack of self-control, Esau took something that should have been good (a nice bowl of stew) and made it bad, as is the case with all sin. God gives us good things and good desires (such as hunger or sexual attraction) and we pervert them in our pride, fear, selfishness, and idolatry (when we worship what God created rather than God Himself and allow the desire to lord over us rather than the Lord – see Romans 1). God made food for nourishment, but we abuse it. God made sex for good, but we pervert it. Money can be used to resource the needs of many, but we use it for our own selfish desires. As C.S. Lewis says, “Badness is only spoiled goodness.” In our lack of self-control, which is motivated by self-centeredness and selfishness, we spoil goodness.
It is easy to arm-chair quarterback Esau’s decision, but if we are honest, we can all relate with him to some degree. How many times and in how many different ways have we traded something great for instant gratification which seemed pleasing at the time but really didn’t satisfy? (see Hebrews 11:25) Often, we just can’t seem to control ourselves, but why? To some degree, we all lack self-control, and the Bible warns that this is not something we should take lightly:
- Proverbs 25:28 — A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
- Proverbs 16:32 — Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
- Titus 2:6 — Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.
So, how do we get in control of ourselves? Merriam-Webster defines self-control as, “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” Related words include, will-power, temperance, dignity, discretion, balance, discipline, and stability – all attributes of which we likely wish we had more. Helping people get more self-control is now big business. Psychology Today offers ten steps to getting more self-control – 1) Have a can do attitude; 2) set goals; 3) self-monitor; 4) get motivated; 5) have self-confidence (believe to achieve); 6) maintain will-power (“psychological energy”) by setting fewer goals; 7) avoid what tempts you; 8) be clear on the “why” and the “how” of the goal; 9) change your patterns of behavior; and 10) have an “if-then” strategy – “If (this) happens; I will do (this).” The problem with behavior modification methods such as these is they usually don’t work, at least not for long (much to the diet industry’s delight) – “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) The problem with self-control is seeing “self” as the control or solution, expecting self to overpower self. At best, this would be an even match, but since even our better self lacks integrity, we are on a losing strategy.
The fact is, self-control issues are spiritual issues. The Bible explains that self-control is not obtained through force of will but rather by the Holy Spirit –
- Galatians 5:22-23 — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
- 2 Timothy 1:7 — For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- Galatians 5:16-17 — But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
- Titus 2:11-14 — For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Self-control is faith, hope, and love practically applied. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Faith is trusting God with the present; hope is trusting God with the future (faith projected forward), and love is the pouring out of the overflow of God in our lives back to Him and to others (God is Love – the branch that provides love to the vine). Contrary to popular psychology, the secret to self-control is not seeing ourselves more clearly and mastering ourselves more effectively; the secret (which is no secret at all) is to see God more clearly, to make Him our master, to be controlled by His love. We have self-control when the unseen God is more powerful and real to us at the moment than what is seen – this is faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1, 6) Our self-control, or lack thereof, reveals something about how we really see our invisible God:
- 1 Peter 1:8 — Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory….
- Romans 8:24 — For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
- 3 John 1:11 — Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
- 1 John 4:20 — If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
- John 20:29 — Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
- 2 Corinthians 4:18 — …we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
- Philippians 3:19 — Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
So, how do we see God more clearly that we would follow Him and experience the fullness of His joy and satisfaction? The Bible says that the we must first remain in His word and in prayer – “Watch (from the perspective of His word) and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Then we must do what Jesus commanded – deny self (do not focus on self or rely on self), to up our cross daily, and follow Him. This takes effort:
- 2 Peter 1:5-7 — For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 — Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
- Titus 1:8 — But hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
- 1 Peter 5:8 — Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
- Titus 2:2 — Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
- 1 Timothy 2:9 — Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,
- 1 Corinthians 6:12 — “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
- Romans 6:12 — Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Said another way, self-control is all about perspective – what you are staring at and how you see things. As we know about perspective, what is closest to us seems biggest and most relevant. Make God bigger in your eye than anything else by getting closer to Him, and keep your eyes (spiritual eyes) affixed to Him, not yourself or those temptations. Draw closer to God first, and then you will be ready to resist the devil:
- James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
- James 4:7 — Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Decisions have consequences, but God’s grace is bigger than your consequences. If you are like me, you have made some regrettable decisions, but God will use even your failures to draw you closer to Him – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29) The key to self-control and handling our consequences is abiding in God’s love and seeking to be increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus through your circumstances.
- Galatians 5:22-26 — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, but we must keep in step with the Spirit. If you are struggling in some area of your life with self-control, focus on your relationship with Christ rather than your issue or yourself. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 9 Jan 21: Today, turn to God for self-control rather than to self.