Self-control may be one of the most obvious external aspects of the fruit of the Spirit because when someone doesn’t have self control, it’s usually no secret. In some cases people keep self-control issues to themselves (e.g. food binging, pornography, etc.) because they are ashamed or uncomfortable sharing their struggle with others. In other cases, the lack of self-control is shown through displays of anger, sexual activity outside of marriage, and careless words – just to name a few. However, when someone is cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, he or she will display self-control in difficult situations.
On our first married Valentine’s Day, Eric took me to Olive Garden. Of course, the line was out the door, so we settled in for a long wait. During that time I began to feel overheated, so I went outside to get some fresh air and was privileged to witness a lovers’ meltdown. The doors of the restaurant swung open and a large, angry woman came bursting out, yelling at her man. I’m not sure if they were married or not, but I couldn’t help but hope that they weren’t! Apparently he was not happy about the wait and was very hungry, so they proceeded to yell at each other as they left the restaurant. He shouted “The wait is 45 minutes! I’m starving!” And she replied, “We wouldn’t want you to pass out now, would we?!” This entire conversation could have been done in private, or at least at a whisper’s level. Who knows if their Valentine’s Day was ever salvaged? However, we can assume that if they were willing to scream at each other in a very public place, they probably lash out at each other on a regular basis. It is an understatement to say that this couple lacked self-control. Couples being led by the Holy Spirit will still have disagreements and disputes, but they will conduct themselves in a kind, respectful, and controlled manner. Lashing out at your date or spouse in public is unnecessary and creates deep, sometimes life-changing, wounds.
The word for self-control in Galatians 5:22-23 comes from the Greek word, egkrateia, which means “the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.” The lack of self-control will negatively affect relationships. We all know people who regret decisions made in previous relationships. When decisions are made with little thought or planning, the effects of those decisions are usually not expected. For instance, when two teens initially decide to study alone in an empty house and end up engaging in a sexual relationship, they were not exercising wisdom in being alone together or self-control. They are likely not planning to be teen parents; yet, it happens all too often.
On a different note, lacking self-control can lead to violence in relationships. Those closest to us can make us very angry because they have inside knowledge and access to parts of our heart that other people don’t have. If anger is a problem for a person lacking self-control, it may only take one harsh, sarcastic comment from the other person to set him or her off… causing bruises, bleeding, and/or broken bones.
On a less traumatic scale, lacking self-control can simply cause us to hurt each other with our words. When we are tired or out of fellowship with God, it is so easy to beat people up with our words. There are words Eric has said to me in a moment of anger that I will never forget. And there are words I’ve spoken to him in anger that he will never forget. We’ve forgiven each other, but the words cannot be retrieved. Careless words often wound more deeply and longer than even physical wounds.
This topic may be difficult for you and your boyfriend or girlfriend. Is there evidence of self-control in your relationship? In observing your relationship during your private times, do you and your potential spouse exercise self-control? Temptation is not a lack of self-control, but giving into the temptations shows a lack of self-control. When you put yourself in a situation that is sure to cause you temptation (e.g., spending time alone in an apartment, parking on an abandoned dirt road to “talk” discussing inappropriate things with each other, joking about inappropriate things, etc.), it is only a matter of time before self-control is lost. (James 1:14)
If self-control is a problem in your relationship, take a look at your walk with Christ. Whom are you trying to please the most – Him or your significant other? Are you walking with Him? Do you find that you have a lack of self-control in your life, especially in regards to your relationship? Do you find yourself praying constantly for forgiveness and desperately wanting to please the Lord? If so, we would urge you to seek the counsel of your pastor, an older couple in your church, or a Christian counselor. It could be that there are parts of your heart you are hiding from God.
John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols” – and it is possible to make your relationship an idol – where you serve it more than you serve the Lord. If maintaining self-control is currently a problem, regardless of the reason, you will find the issue continuing after marriage. It is easy to believe that sexual self-control issues will automatically go away after marriage when sex is “legal.” However, if you have a problem with self-control now (sexually-related or not), it will continue to manifest itself after marriage.
Whether the issue is sexually related or not, many people struggle in some area where there is a failing of self-control. If you find yourself in that category, make a concerted effort to find someone to talk to about the issue. You are not alone – others before you have gone through the same issue. Find someone you respect who you can talk to about your issue of self-control or ask him or her for a reference of someone you can talk to about it. Many people try to hide their sins from one another, but we are told that we are healed through sharing them (James 5:16).
Interestingly, instead of confessing their sins to one another, Christians often try to appear to each other as if they have no sin in their lives – attempting to appear fully sanctified. Yet, when one stops and thinks about it, it is specifically because one fights sin that is an evidence for one’s salvation. Does your boyfriend or girlfriend fight temptation or do they cast off self-control and give into it? This is an area worthy of serious contemplation when considering your choice of spouse.
Do you see areas of a lack of self-control in your boyfriend or girlfriend that concern you? What about areas in your own life?