I have grown up in the church. I went to Bible college and graduated from seminary. Yet, one topic seemed to be glaringly absent upon reflection.
Sure, the church might do a fast for a special event or highlight self-control around New Years. However, Chapel messages, sermons, Bible Studies, and other conversations were filled with good, solid truths from Scripture, though a little incomplete.
If self-control was mentioned, it was often in the area of sexuality. We were told to “discipline ourselves” (1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We were told “Don’t give in to your desires” but we should “wait” until we were married before engaging in sexual activity. This is true and biblically accurate. However, it is an incomplete way of explaining the issue of self-control because it is primarily selfish in nature.
Self-control is not about me. But about others.
The explanation of “wait” focuses on waiting until one’s personal desires are met. Sex, in this view, becomes about me. But, the kind of love God desires “does not insist on its own way” but rather “endures” all things (1 Corinthians 13:5-7). Love advances and promotes the needs of others above our own. The ultimate example of this kind of love is Jesus (Ephesians 5:25-27; Philippians 2:1-8; 1 John 4:9-12). Love will often take endurance and “self-control.” Love means that I’m not the center of attention. Self-control, when rightly explained, moves us from a focus on our own needs and redirects them to seeing and seeking the true needs of others.
Perhaps a better way of explaining of “waiting” until marriage for sex is to encourage individuals and couples to grow in selfless and humble service to others. Teens and dating couples should develop the self-control to say “No” to their own desires, whether it is eating out for dinner, grabbing coffee, or binging on Netflix because they are laying a foundation for life-giving love. Self-control is a habit forming characteristic necessary in all areas of life.
But, why is self-control so difficult?
I want to explore this topic of self-control in a follow-up post about three reasons that self-control is a difficult topic to address and apply.