Self-Control

Santa Teresa's Bow

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder

Perhaps there is no virtue harder to practice than “self-control.” Sometimes it seems like our very bodies conspire against us (Romans 7:14 ff.). Who doesn’t wrestle with cravings? “Just one more cookie” has been the downfall of many diets. From a more serious perspective, drugs, alcohol, pornography, gambling are all very real addictions that war against us. We desperately need to learn self-control so let’s open God’s Word and find some help as we reach for the fourth rung of Peter’s Eight Rung Ladder (2 Peter 1:5-7).

There are many Greek words in our New Testament that are translated “self-control,” but the specific word Peter choses to use in 2 Peter 1:6 is relatively rare. Paul used it in Galatians to describe part of the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22, 23) and Peter uses it here to describe the fourth step:

5 make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with 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,” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

The final place we find this word in the New Testament is in Paul’s sermon to the Roman Governor Felix:

Acts 24:24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him.”

If there was one virtue Felix lacked, it was self-control! Felix had been a slave in Rome, but was freed by the Emperor Claudius and was actually appointed to serve the Empire as Proconsul of Judea. He was a man of appetites. A Roman historian, Tacitus, observed, “Antonius Felix practiced every kind of cruelty and lust, wielding the power of a king with the instincts of a slave” (Histories, 5.9). He was married three times. Felix divorced his second wife and seduced the Jewish princess Drusilla, from Azizus, king of Emesa, when she was only sixteen years old. He needed to hear Paul’s bold sermon on “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment.”

So how do we gain control of our emotions and appetites? Peter gives us the answer in our text. Each of the eight virtues mentioned builds on the previous virtue. We begin with faith: what we believe, and put our faith into action with virtue: moral excellence – what we do. From this we gain understanding: “knowledge” and knowledge helps us learn self-control. Peter says, “if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful” (v. 8). “For if you practice these qualities you will never fall,” (v. 10). Spiritual growth isn’t easy, but it is essential! Let’s keep climbing.

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