THE CONTROL ISSUE: THE EFFECTS OF SELF-CONTROL ON OUR SELVES AND OTHERS

The issue of control has both a positive and negative aspect to it. When we use control to manipulate others, it is detrimental to all concerned. When we understand that we can learn to control ourselves by the help of God’s empowering work within us, it will produce some amazing results.

Les Parrott III in his book, ‘The Control Freak,’ explains

Feeling in control is vital to mental and physical health. Psychologist Judith Rodin has demonstrated in experiments at Yale University how merely feeling in control can increase the functioning of a person’s immune system. Control is also critical to our happiness at home and our satisfaction at work. In fact, after reviewing a huge number of studies on what makes people happy, David Meyers, author of ‘The Pursuit of Happiness,’ discovered that feeling in control is one of the key traits of happy people. Of course, he is not saying that you can control everything about your life. The point is that the most happy people on the planet do not leave their lives up to chance or luck. They draw on God’s enabling power to steer their boat with intention rather than being bandied about by random winds.[i]

Though we may not be in control of what comes our way in life, we can respond to them with the right kind of attitude: with confidence in God, with hope that all things will work for good; and that God is ultimately in charge. On the flip side are those who are out of control or feel that they are drowning in life and there is nothing that they can do.

Not only is control an important part of our ability to live well, but losing control has a negative effect on our ability to function. The loss of control is driving people into doctors’ offices with psychological and medical diseases, at great human and economic cost.[ii]

Is it any wonder that the negative aspect of the current restrictions that the government is outlining to provide safety is actually creating great emotional pain, anxiety and stress in people who are not responding to it with the right attitude. Many people are feeling the loss of control in their lives.

What we discover from the Scriptures is that one of the results of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives as believers is the development of self-control. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23)”. In other words, laws are created to try and keep people within healthy boundaries, but when we have the love of God at work in our hearts there is a power that is greater moderating our lives. We are operating out of a heart of love toward others and these expressions become evident.

One thing that the wisdom writers, particularly in Proverbs, encourages is self-control. Those who have responsibility over others are to help guide them into a more self-regulated, disciplined, and self-controlled life. Many proverbs in Proverbs 29 deal explicitly with this idea of self-control. The challenge to parents and other authority figures, particularly civic leaders is to help govern people’s behavior by both instructive and corrective means. This begins with the individual person self-regulating in order to help those they are responsible for to live more productive and healthy lives. When done properly it affects how people live together in families and within communities. The wisdom writers warn that those who refuse to listen to correction will ultimately be brought down, often through self-destructive behavior. In the wisdom literature we that those who reject biblical wisdom desire to live unrestrained lives, but the consequences of casting off all restraints ultimately creates greater complexity in life, more entanglements and destructive outcome for individuals, families, and communities. This is how nations enter into times of great decline in all areas of life. Wise people listen to sound correction and learn to control themselves, which will guide them in life. Chapter 29 begins with a warning for those who refuse to listen to correction, which a foundation in the development of wisdom. “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed-without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).” We will explore two critical issues that need to be addressed if we are to live wisely.

THE FIRST CRITICAL ISSUE IN LIVING WISELY IS TO BE SELF-CONTROLLED

This is more than just an either-or state, but something that can be developed as a person yields to the working of God’s Spirit within us. We have seen from Galatians that the result of God’s Spirit at work in the human heart facilitates self-control. However, people often take a passive approach to experiencing this work. In Philippians 2:12-13 we discover that a person must ‘work out,’ what God is working into our lives. In 2 Peter 1:5, we discover that we are being instructed to ‘make every effort to add to our faith.” This suggests that we must cooperate or apply biblical truth in our lives otherwise we become as Peter states, ‘ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 1:8).’”

The wisdom writers describe the person who lacks self-control with an engaging metaphor. “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control (Proverbs 25:28).” A wall that has been breached has lost its ability to protect that community. A lack of self-control allows all kinds of unwanted intruders to invade our lives. The broken walls create a condition of ‘helplessness and uselessness’ as David Hubbard points out.

“So it is with one who cannot keep in check (‘rule’ translates a noun used only here and whose verbal root means ‘hold back,’ ‘retain’; …his ‘spirit,’ that is, his attitudes, dispositions, and emotion. The virtues of self-restraint are lauded in 16:32 as being acts of heroism that outstrip military conquest. To be out of control is to be susceptible to a wide range of dangers and to be incapacitated for any productive activity.[iii]

What we need to understand is that we are responsible for managing our emotions. Yes, we will need God’s help but ultimately we must yield to God and address the issues in our lives. In an earlier blog entitled ‘Managing Your Emotions,’ I discuss in detail how we actually practice this in our lives.

A. The opposite of self-control is folly and uncontrollable outbursts.

“Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end (Proverbs 29:11).”

The word for anger [rage] in verse 11 is the Hebrew word for ‘wind,’ ‘spirit,’ or ‘mind,’ implying the fool gives ‘full vent’ or shoots off his mouth about things that make him mad. The wise man, on the other hand, refrains from talking too much, thereby giving himself time to think through something that bothers him before he speaks.[iv]

This is significant, because we remind ourselves that the fool is seen here in Proverbs in a moral category. The fool is the morally deficient person, one who is not evidencing the ‘fear of God.’ When we do not control our emotions, we are behaving like the ungodly. If you are prone to explosive anger and it has become a habitual behavior pattern, then you must seek to have God’s empowering grace subdue that that behavior in your soul. Wisdom teaches us to control ourselves. Richard Clifford summarizes this by saying, “As always, hotheads are fools and the self-controlled are wise.”[v]

It is critical to give thought to what we are about to say and to ponder the effects our words may have on others. We may apologize for hasty, hurtful words, but much damage is often done. We can never fully undo what we have said. It diminishes both the speaker and the hearer. We have all had moments where we have wounded others because we did not manage our emotions. Often less said the better in many contexts. “A fool readily pours forth all he knows, regardless of the effect it may have for good or evil. A wise man discreetly guards his tongue, knowing the impropriety of hasty speech.”[vi]

No wonder James who was deeply influenced by wisdom literature writes:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.[vii]           

William Norris penned these insightful words:

If your lips you would keep from slips, Five things observe with care: To whom you speak; of whom you speak; and how, and when, and where.[viii] 

B. The dangers of conflict with foolish people.

Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.

If a wise person goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.[ix]

The word translated by some as mocker, and others by scoffer; could also be translated braggart. This is the person who will not listen but is interested only in their own opinion. The fool cannot be reasoned with.

Mockers are radical fools. They not only lack wisdom; they ridicule those who do. When they have influence over a city, whether officially or by their assertions, they rock it in negative ways. They are those who would take a bad situation and intensify it into a riot. On the other hand, the wise are coolheaded. In a bad situation, they would calm tempers for the good of the community.[x]

Bruce Waltke explains how the mocker stirs up an entire community.

“The mockers brings a community’s inner resentment against social injustices (e.g. cheating, favoritism, and nepotism) to a boiling point by laughing at the moral order, distorting the truth, and arousing people’s baser passions through heated rhetoric. …By contrast, the wise turn back anger (see 15:1) by addressing the issues of the human heart, not by proposing superficial measures that cover over the internal tensions. They call the community to repent of wrongdoing (28:13), to confront its difficulties while trusting the sovereignty and goodness of God (16:1-3), to seek the well-being of others, not of self (29:7) [The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern], to speak with both calm reason for truth and with grace (12:18; cf. Isa. 28:17), and to act kindly and charitably toward each other.[xi]

This explains why “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2). The key is to do what is right. This is critical when people are in the position of authority, such as a parent, teacher, pastor, employer, or a civic leader. When those in positions of authority enrich themselves at the expense of those they have been entrusted to care for it creates untold damage in the home, the workplace, the church, the community, and the nation. “By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down (Proverbs 29:4).” Here we see this in the context of national government, but whatever realm leadership is found it must be for the sake of those they lead. Here in 29:4, we see that the leader is enriching him or herself at the expense of those that they ought to be serving.

The metaphor of high and low for prosperity and decline is employed to differentiate between good and bad governance. …A just king ‘causes the land to stand up,’ that is, makes it prosperous. But one who raises taxes brings down a country. Confiscatory taxation [excessive or unreasonable tax or cost] is the antithesis of ‘justice.’”[xii]

The word that is translated ‘bribes’ here in the NIV could be translated contributions or things. Clifford and Longman translate this as excessive taxes. “A king with justice cause the land to endure, but the tax man tears it down.’”[xiii] Tremper Longman goes on to comment.

This proverb likely cannot be used to argue against all taxes as detrimental to a nation. …Likely, this person’s taxes are to be understood as unjust since the contrast is with the just king of the first colon. Unjust taxation takes all the energy out of the land. Samuel also warned Israel that the king they wanted could well turn out to be an exploiter and detrimental to the people (1 Samuel 8:10-18).[xiv]

In light of our theme of control, too much control by those in authority destroys rather than enriches those they lead.

THE SECOND CRITICAL ISSUE IN LIVING WISELY IS TO HELP PEOPLE WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR TO BECOME SELF-CONTROLLED                  

One of God’s callings upon those who are given responsibility for others is to help discipline their lives. In other words, help them to become self-controlled.

A. Those in leadership roles must learn to discipline those that they are responsible for in a fair manner.

That certainly is self-evident when parenting. What may be less evident is in other realms of leadership. However, whenever people are responsible for managing people, they are to exercise discipline and correction when and where needed. The keys to successful nations, communities, children, and employees is that they live well-ordered lives. We can understand when people rebel because the discipline is excessive and unjust and it creates deep frustration. We are instructed by Scripture that as parents we must not exasperate our children. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).” This exasperation can be cause by either neglect or unrealistic expectations without showing support.

Nor should employers threaten and abuse those who labor for them. Here in Ephesians it describes the slave owner/slave relationship as outlined in the first century:

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.[xv]     

Here we see that Paul’s words certainly reflect in the following proverbs:

The poor and the oppressor have this in common: the LORD gives sight to the eyes of both. If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne will be established forever.[xvi]

The powerless and powerful are both given the same gift.

To give ‘light to the eyes’ means ‘to allow to live’ as in Ps. 13:4: ‘Give light to my eyes lest I sleep in death.’ Before God, judgments based on wealth are insignificant. Human judgments, on the other hand, are often made on the basis of power and wealth.[xvii]

What is being stated here is that God who gives life to all will judge all of us according to His standards. In verse 14, those who are in a leadership position must realize that they must treat people impartially and fairly as God determines the outcomes of our lives.

B. Leaders must avoid neglecting making others accountable.

So, there needs to be guidance and making people accountable. One of the things that makes being a parent or an employer difficult is having to correct and discipline others properly. For many, the temptation and tendency is to neglect discipline entirely, which ultimately is detrimental to both parties.

A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother.

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.[xviii]

Proverbs presumes that the greatest service a parent can render a growing child is discipline. To discipline a child is to offer guidance, reproving when necessary, but always in a context of love and of confidence in the child. A good example of loving discipline is 23:15-16. This saying is about the goal of the process-the formation of a loving and responsible adult. The outlook is very pragmatic; it is in the self-interest of a parent to educate a child well, for wise offspring will care for their elderly parents.[xix]

We can find many aspects of what happens when a parent neglects this critical aspect of their responsibility toward their children. In King David’s case, we have the story of Absalom, David’s son, who murdered his brother and later rose up in rebellion against his father.  

We can see what happens when leaders succumb to pressures from the people they serve and allow that to determine their actions. Another example is when parents allow their children to have their own way when it is detrimental to both the parent and child. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD that one gets justice (Proverbs 29:25).”

One example of succumbing to people pressure is found in the story of the rebellion in the wilderness. When Moses went up to receive the law, the responsibility of the people fell on Aaron’s shoulders. The people demanded from Aaron that he would give them the desire of having someone care for them, to give them direction for their lives. The underlying issue was that they wanted their way, they were also driven by fear.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.[xx]

What was the result? We find God’s anger and disappointment in their decision.

Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt have become corrupt.

They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.[xxi]

Moses coming on the scene sees their riotous and unrestrained or lack of self-control.

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so became a laughingstock to their enemies.[xxii] 

They had now endangered themselves because of their actions. It states in Exodus 32:25 that they were ‘out of control.’ This is always a dangerous state to get into. Things are done in that kind of a context that would never be done when people are walking in wisdom and living sober, self-controlled lives. When we reject God’s wise words, we end up ‘doing our own thing,’ to our own detriment. The issue many times is a lack of understanding. “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction (Proverbs 29:18).” The word that is translated by the NIV as revelation is hazon, some translations interpret this word as vision. In the prophetic literature it was the word of the LORD that came to the prophets. Here in Proverbs wisdom literature, hazon speaks of a need for guidance. This is the guidance that God gives. Where there is no hazon, translated here as revelation in other translations as vision, the result is disastrous. The idea of casting off restraint can be understood as falling into anarchy, which is exactly how the book of Judges understands the moral declension in their times. “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit [or as some translated; did what was right in their own eyes.] Judges 25:21.

Bruce Waltke points out: “A nation left to its own devices can run wild just as an individual.”[xxiii]  Robert Alden summarizes this text by saying: “…the nation that ignores God’s Word can expect spiritual and political anarchy.”[xxiv] The blessed or happy people are those who actually obey God’s instructions.

It is critical that we surrender to the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in order to live a self-controlled life and be able to guide others to live a disciplined life. Paul as a wisdom writer states:

Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise,

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery [excess, unrestraint living, anarchy]. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.[xxv]

To be filled with the Spirit means we are living a life of love, joy, peace, but also self-control in obedience to God’s revealed will in His word. When we live self-controlled lives we can exercise our responsibilities to those God has called us to instruct, nurture, guide and correct. We need to help those who we are responsible for as parents, employers, leaders of churches, leaders in our community, province, and nation to lead with wisdom, integrity, honesty and courage. We need to instruct and correct when necessary so that people do not live in spiritual and political anarchy.

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[i] Les Parrott III, ‘The Control Freak, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000), 38.

[ii] Ibid, 39.

[iii] David Hubbard, Proverbs, The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol. 15A, (Dallas, TX: Word Books Publishers, 1989), 448.

[iv] Robert Alden, Proverbs: A Commentary On An Ancient Book Of Timeless Advice, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983), 201.

[v] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, The Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1981), 252.

[vi] Harry A. Ironside, Proverbs and Song and Solomon, An Ironside Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006), 256.

[vii] James 1:19-20, New International Version of the Bible, 2011.

[viii] William Norris, as quoted by Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 378.

[ix] Proverbs 29:8-9.

[x] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 503.

[xi] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), 436-37.

[xii] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, 251.

[xiii] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, 502.

[xiv] Ibid, 502.

[xv] Ephesians 6:9.

[xvi] Proverbs 29:13-14.

[xvii] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, 252.

[xviii] Proverbs 29:15, 17.

[xix] Richard Clifford, Proverbs, 253.

[xx] Exodus 32:1.

[xxi] Exodus 32:7-8.

[xxii] Exodus 32:25.

[xxiii] Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, 446.

[xxiv] Robert Alden, Proverbs: A Commentary On An Ancient Book Of Timeless Advice, 202.

[xxv] Ephesians 5:15, 17-18.

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