We human beings spend a great deal of time and energy trying to control each other. Businesspeople and their clients draw up contracts to prevent being ripped off, and then look for loopholes in the contract so they can rip each other off just the same. When people work in groups, whether at school, work or somewhere else, there are often ‘control freaks’ who try to dominate decision-making. In personal relationships, friends as well as lovers engage in subtle power struggles and try to manipulate one another. I’m sure you could think of many other examples.
There are two forces that drive us to want to control other people like this. One is selfishness: we think that if we are in control of others, we will be able to do better for ourselves. The other is mistrust (sometimes bordering on paranoia): we think everyone else is out to rip us off, and that the only way to prevent this from happening is by controlling them.
When it comes to religion, a lot of people just see it as another tool that ‘the Man,’ or people in power, use to control the people. This is certainly true in some cases, including in Christianity, due to the failings of human beings. God, however, does not want us to control other people; he wants us to control ourselves. That is what a godly life is really about. Controlling our own desires, emotions, fears, and addictions.
Proverbs 16:32 reads, “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Self control is not easy but it is very rewarding!
One of the keys to self control is trusting in God. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Once we understand that God is almighty and that he loves us, this frees us from trying to control other people. It frees us from selfish ambition and fear of being ripped off, because we know God is going to take care of us. It frees us and allows us to focus on self-control.
Another key to self control, which may come as a surprise, is that it is achieved not by our own willpower, but by God's power.
“For this reason I remind you to keep alive the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love, and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)
Is it really self control if it’s driven by the Spirit of God? This illustrates the paradox of walking with God. As Paul put it in Galatians 5:25 (shortly after naming self control as one of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’), “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” God works in us but we have to be a willing participant in the process.
If we get too caught up with self control, we can become self-obsessed. We must remember that as Christians we are also to be looking out for others – but to serve them with love, not to control them:
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
Take some time to reflect on ways in which you use your time and energy to try and control other people in your life. Then pray to God to help you to channel that time and energy into self-control instead.
"For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of all people. That grace instructs us to give up ungodly living and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world, as we wait for the blessed Day we hope for, when the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ will appear" (Titus 2:11-13).