Rioting seems commonplace these days. Whenever a group of people doesn’t get its way, you can count on mass protests that usually involve violence. On social media, rage is a dominant theme, and for decades psychologists have encouraged us to vent our emotions.
Meanwhile, the thought of saving sex for marriage (and then being faithful to one’s spouse) is met with incredulous stares and outright ridicule. In Western culture, people now expect to indulge in whatever pleasure they choose without repercussions. As we exit Pride Month and watch the meltdown over Roe v Wade being overturned, we can’t avoid seeing how desperately people want to enjoy sexual pleasure without any restraint. I still remember my ex-boyfriend begging me, “Let’s lose our self-control.”
To which, incidentally, I answered, “Let’s not.” But I digress.
Scripture insists that Christians exercise the very self-control that the world despises. As I’ve continued studying Titus 2:2-6, I’ve learned that the word translated “sensible” actually refers to having self-control or restraining one’s impulses.
But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
6 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. ~~Titus 2:1-8 (NASB95)
Notice how Paul repeats that word. It’s almost like a drumbeat, as if he wants its incessant rhythm to impress the importance of self-control into our brains. In the culture of Crete, self-indulgence was the general rule, and Titus needed to teach his churches to reign in their disorderly passions as a testimony to the Lord’s transforming power. Similarly, those of us in today’s angry, permissive society have the responsibility to be sensible.
No, it’s not easy to practice self-control in a culture that worships the idea of emotion as a guiding force. For instance, I allowed my feelings to direct my behavior for years, justifying my lack of self-control because of psychological precepts that my church embraced. Although we gave psychology a veneer of Christianity by tweaking Bible verses and ignoring their context, I found myself becoming more and more self-centered. As a result, I didn’t control my anger, and I routinely demanded my own way. Sadly, the older woman in the church who mentored me inadvertently encouraged me to follow my feelings.
I don’t think my experience is unique. Even those who try to follow the model of Titus 2:3-5 are so busy emphasizing submission in marriage, child-rearing and not working outside the home that they barely notice the command to teach younger women to control their emotions. Consequently, women just think they’re more emotional than men, so they don’t have to worry about self-control.
As you can see from our text, however, the Holy Spirit thinks otherwise. In fact, Paul writes in Galatians that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. ~~Galatians 5:22-23 (NASB95)
In this passage, the Greek word translated “self-control” denotes mastery over passions, which is stronger than the word Paul uses in Titus 2. Yet I bring the Galatians passage up because I believe the two words compliment each other. More importantly, I want to dispel any inference that we can control ourselves through our own efforts. In Galatians, Paul makes it clear that self-control comes as a by-product of the Holy Spirit. Certainly we have the responsibility to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), but that responsibility in no way negates our dependence on Him to give us self-control.
By the same token, dependence on the Holy Spirit doesn’t negate our responsibility to exercise the self-control that He gives us. Returning to Titus 2, we notice that Paul instructs Christians to be sensible, meaning that he wants us to manage ourselves in a manner consistent with God’s holiness. While we fully recognize that our ability to control ourselves comes only from Him, we also understand that we exhibit that fruit through our obedience to Him.
The obedience that results in self-control (as well as the rest of the Spirit’s fruit) points back to the Word of God, which the Holy Spirit Himself breathed out (2 Peter 1:21). Put simply, He enables us to follow His Word, using that Word to give us direction. For example, my flesh may give me a strong desire to visit websites that would lead me into sin, but the Spirit will remind me of Scriptures condemning that sin. As I choose to resist temptation to open that website, He empowers me to walk in the Spirit by exercising the self-control that He gives me.
Therefore, we learn self-control as we apply Scripture to our daily temptations. For this reason, it’s vital that we saturate ourselves in Bible study, submitting ourselves to local churches that handle the Word well. We can supplement our churches’ teachings with solid online resources, and most definitely we must be in God’s Word as individuals. The more we bathe ourselves in God’s Word, the better we can walk in self-control.
The past few years have been characterized by a marked abandonment of sensible behavior. So we must train ourselves, and then train younger women, the necessity of managing our emotions and behavior for the glory of God. The First Century mandate still holds fast in the chaotic world of 2022. Praise God that His Spirit won’t neglect to help us.