“Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Proverbs 25:28). King Solomon informs us that the Creator has endowed human beings with a measure of self-control. Some people have more self-control, and some less. Some of us have more self-control in one area, and less in another. Each one of us is weak in certain areas, tempted by those sins that so easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1).
Since a man who has no control over his spirit is like a city that is broken into and without walls, every precaution must be exercised in order that lack of discipline and self-control does not result in the break down of the walls of our defense. Unfortunately, there are many people in our rapidly degenerating society who are no longer able to rule themselves. They are like a city that has been broken into and without walls. Since they rarely exercise self-control, they are vulnerable to all their enemies, and exposed to all the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil. All that is good goes out, and leaves them. All that is evil comes in and indwells them. When they are tempted to eat or drink too much, use illegal drugs, engage in sex outside of marriage, or lose their tempers, they give in almost immediately.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-CONTROL
Since prayerful, watchful self-control is like the walls that protect a city, it is essential that each child of God have control over his own spirit. He must be able to govern his appetites, desires and passions. “Applying all diligence,” Simon Peter instructs us, “in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self control… for if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (2 Peter 1:5-8). According to Simon Peter, to have a useful and fruitful life, knowledge of God is not sufficient. In addition to true knowledge about God, we need essential character qualities, including self- control. If we diligently apply ourselves to attain these qualities, we will be effective and productive, otherwise our lives will be useless and unfruitful. These qualities should be ours and they need to be growing stronger in our lives day by day. Simon Peter goes on to say that “he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:9). If we lack these qualities (including self-control), it is evident that we are not taking the issues of sin and salvation seriously. We are forgetting what it cost Messiah to purify us from our sins. We are blindly drifting away from the God we claim to love.
“Therefore brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Yeshua the Messiah will be abundantly supplied to you.” We have a responsibility to ensure that we remain on the straight and narrow path that leads to the eternal kingdom. If we diligently practice these qualities, especially self-control, then we will never stumble; the gates of Messiah’s eternal kingdom will swing wide open, giving us generous access; God’s calling us to Himself will be effective, and His choice of us will be made sure.
THE EXAMPLE OF MOSES
Look at what happened to Moses, one of the greatest servants of God, when he lost self-control at the waters of Meribah. “There was no water for the congregation, and the Jewish people assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron… The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.’ So Moses took the rod from before the Lord just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them'” (Numbers 20:1-12). Moses lost his temper, and instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it in his anger. That momentary loss of self-control cost Moses the privilege of entering the Land of Israel.
THE EXAMPLE OF PAUL
On the other hand, look at how seriously the apostle Paul, who walked in the Spirit more than any of us, and who had more spiritual gifts, considered this area of self-control: “I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians. 9:26-27). The rabbi from Tarsus exerted great effort to keep himself under control so that he would not discredit himself and the ministry entrusted to him.
HOW DO WE GAIN SELF-CONTROL?
There are two ways to gain and maintain self-control: by walking by the Spirit and by practicing spiritual disciplines. First, when we walk by the Spirit, (conducting ourselves in such a way that our life that is controlled by Messiah’s Spirit) we will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
It is not that the child of God is without desires of the flesh, appetites and passions; but with the help of the Almighty he does not allow them to gain control of him – he controls them. Rabbi Paul goes on to tell the Galatians that the indwelling of God’s Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23). If we are filled by the Spirit of God, there should be a noticeable increase in our ability to control ourselves. Gaining strength from the indwelling presence of the Lord, every child of the Almighty is enabled to master his thoughts, desires, inclinations, impulses, resentments, and keep them from spinning out of control.
The second way to gain and maintain self-control (which is complementary to the first), is by practicing spiritual disciplines. Rabbi Paul, besides telling us to walk by the Spirit, also instructed his disciple Timothy: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it
holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). The word translated “discipline” means to train or exercise. Unfortunately many people spend far more time exercising their bodies than they do their souls! Americans spend billions of dollars each year on bodily exercise. You can see them by the thousands at the health clubs, working out on machines, running, jumping, lifting, sweating. They pour their time, money and labor into exercising to get in shape, so their bodies will look and feel good and run at peak performance. Just as physical exercise promotes good health, so spiritual disciplines promote good spiritual health. Each child of God needs to keep himself in good spiritual shape. But too many professing believers are so spiritually under-disciplined that they have little fruit and power in their lives. Spiritual disciplines are the habits of spiritual devotion that have been practiced by the people of God since the earliest times, to keep them spiritually robust. Let’s take a look at some of the most important:
THE WORD OF GOD
No factor is more influential in shaping a person’s character and moral behavior than regular reading of the Holy Scriptures. Psalm 1 tells us that if our delight is in the Torah (the law, teaching, instruction) of the Lord, and if we meditate in His Word day and night, we will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever we do we will prosper. We need to train ourselves to take the time to read our Bible every day.
“Devote yourselves to prayer.” Often prayer flows naturally and easily. At other times we lack the sense of the nearness of God, and it is harder to pray. At those times we need to discipline ourselves to pray anyway, since we are to “pray without ceasing.” We need to train our minds to turn our thoughts throughout the day to talking with God. Teach your mind to talk to God about the things that interest you. Anything that comes to your mind, thank God for it, and pray about everything that strikes you powerfully. Thank and praise Him for who He is and what He has done. Intercede for yourself, for your friends and family, for your congregation, for the Jewish community, for the growth and health of the Messiah’s holy community, for the government, and for the world.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline which is not practiced much today, but used to be practiced regularly in the ancient Messianic Community. Fasting does not come to most of us easily or naturally. We like the pleasure that comes from eating too much! But fasting is expected from all of God’s people, and should be part of our normal spiritual disciplines. Yeshua said to us, “When you fast anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:17-18). Messiah gave us instructions what to do and what not to do when, not if, we fast. The Almighty takes notice of our fasting, approves of it, and will reward us for it.
Related to fasting is the discipline of silence, which is not practiced in most Protestant churches today. Silence is a purposeful abstention from speaking so that we may seek God. Though no outward dialogues are going on, there are internal dialogues with your own soul, and with God. Experiencing silence can help us come to grips with the realities of our sin, with the realities of death and judgement; ideas frequently drowned out by the many distractions of the world. That’s why saints and holy men have sought solitude
in the desert, with prayer and fasting. King David knew this truth when he wrote: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation” (Psalm 62:1). The words of Jeremiah are also instructive: “It is good that a person waits silently for the salvation of the Lord… Let him sit alone and be silent” (Lamentations 3:26-28).
Learning to control our tongue brings with it many other benefits. Ya’akov (James), the brother of Yeshua tells us that the ability to control our tongue is an essential part of true religion: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26). Ya’akov also says “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2). Practicing the discipline of silence, and learning how to bridle our tongues, will make it easier to gain self-control in every area of our lives.
Evangelism should be considered a spiritual discipline, since Messiah commanded each one of us to be His witness. To be a faithful witness, we need to train ourselves to share our faith in all kinds of circumstances, ready in season and out of season, whether we feel like it or not. If I have grown at all over the years, it’s because I’ve practiced this discipline. Train yourself to share your faith on a regular basis. A good witness does not wait for witnessing opportunities to occur – he makes them happen. Study Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and see how the Master shared the Good News. Read the book of Acts and see how the apostles shared their faith. Read books on witnessing. Talk with those who are good at it. Find out their methods, the things that have worked, as well as the things that haven’t gone over so well. You might make some mistakes, but you will learn from them, and you will grow in your ability as a witness of Messiah’s reality.
A significant portion of the Word of God concerns the proper use of money and possessions. If we don’t have control over our finances, something is seriously wrong. Gambling, buying on credit, and going into debt are signs that we are not governing our finances properly. We need to manage our finances in such a way that our needs, the needs of our families, and the needs of the Kingdom of God are met. Let me give you a simple formula that should work for most people: live on 80%, save 10% and tithe 10%.
The disciplined use of time is very important. Even though we are exhorted to use our time wisely because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16), many of us waste a lot of time with trivial pursuits. The world we live in is not conducive for using our time wisely, especially for the purposes of spirituality and godliness. In our modern society, there are more distractions than ever that can rob us of our precious time. The prayer of Moses in Psalm 90 is still a very good prayer for those of us living on the verge of the twenty-first century: “teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Let’s make the most of the precious time with which we have been entrusted. We also want to discipline ourselves to observe one very special period of time – the Sabbath. Let’s set it apart each week to worship the Almighty, and get refreshed and renewed. If you are too busy to treat the Sabbath as holy, then you are too busy.
These spiritual disciplines are like the muscles in our bodies – the more we use them, the stronger we become. By being filled with the Holy Spirit, and by diligently practicing these spiritual disciplines, we will grow in our self-control, so that we will not be like a city that is broken into and without walls, exposed to all the dangers of its enemies.