Wisdom and Self-Control
“Maintain sound wisdom and discretion.
My son, don’t lose sight of them.
They will be life for you
and adornment for your neck.” (Prov 3:21-22)
The importance of wisdom in the lives of God’s people must not be understated. Wisdom dictates that we pay attention not only to what is explicitly evil, but also to what can become an evil if we do not know when to stop an activity. That initial activity may not even be wrong in itself, but our engagement in it may lead to other problems when we are not as careful as we ought to be. God’s people are to have self-control, and that self-control applies not only to what is expressly forbidden, but also to an imbalanced measure of activity in what is initially acceptable. Sleep, for example, is certainly good (Prov 19:23), but sleep can also be the indicator of laziness when taken too far (Prov 19:15; 20:13; 24:33). This is an important principle in Scripture.
Think about this: “If you can’t do that without also doing this, then don’t do that.” Many parents invoke this principle when they are raising their children, and it applies to multiple activities—again activities that are not in themselves wrong. Yet if those activities become the vehicles by which we do wrong, then we need to rethink those activities and, in some cases, cease them altogether.
“Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions, than capturing a city” (Prov 16:32).
When children are smaller, it might be as simple as: “If you can’t play quietly without screaming and running, then you won’t be able to play right now.” There’s always a context to that, of course. There’s nothing wrong with running and playing, but we told our kids that if they can’t play gently and quietly after services without running (in the building so as to run into an older person, or in the parking lot where a car might run into them), then they would have to sit quietly until we go. Self-control is, once again, the discipline here, and we need to teach our children to have it.
The self-control principle continues into adulthood, but with more serious implications. If you can’t root for a sports team without cursing your neighbors because they like a different team, then you need to rethink your involvement in that. Perhaps even harder for many is this: if you can’t engage in political activities or discussions without falling into malicious and evil behavior, then stay out of it. If involving yourself in political discussion and action entails, for you, anger, bitterness, gossip, evil suspicions, and so on, then get away from it until you learn how to control yourself, deny yourself, and submit yourself to the Lord. Cut out those areas that are a problem for you.
“Better a dry crust with peace than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov 17:1).
There’s nothing wrong in themselves with being a fan of a sports team or engaging in forms of political activity and discussion, but if engagement for us entails acting and speaking in ways that are ungodly, then it’s far better to stay away.
Does all of this sound extreme? Recall what Jesus said about the same basic principle:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matt 5:29-30)
There’s nothing wrong with using your eyes or hands, but if they become vehicles of lust and evil, then we better take the radical steps to do what is right. “But that’s hyperbole.” Ok, but do we get the point? Do we get the application? Take whatever steps are necessary to cut out those things that keep us from the eternal kingdom. Nothing is worth selling your soul over.
Self-control is a key virtue that God’s people need to be adding to their lives and nurturing (2 Pet 1:6). “Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25). As Paul told Timothy, “But as for you, exercise self-control in everything…” (2 Tim 4:5).
Let us seek, then, to gain a heart of wisdom. We want to know not only what is explicitly evil, but also to recognize when we might be taking something that is good too far and thereby engaging in what is wrong. We need to know our own limitations and be able to call a halt to something that we know will become a problem for us. Wisdom is able to exercise that self-control. May God help us to foster it.