Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled . . . 1 Timothy 3:2
I ate a donut yesterday. For many of you, this wouldn’t be a big deal. For me though, one of my greatest life struggles has been with self-control. If I want to eat something, I eat it. If I want to do something, I do it. The most destructive manifestation of my lack of self-control has been my drug use, but food has perhaps been my most relatable struggle and donuts have become the symbol of that struggle.
So . . . yesterday. I had just finished a three-day CrossFit competition and was on my way home. I’d trained hard for months and had been eating well. I decided that on my way home, my reward would be a donut and coffee. It was glorious. Donuts are amazing. I did stop at just one. Previously, I probably would have bought a box, eating them all, and disposing of the packaging before I got home. I am learning and maturing. Today, I’m back to eating well.
I only tell that story to introduce the topic of self-control. In today’s passage, Paul said that a minister of the gospel – which we all are as Christians – must display self-control. Elsewhere, we’re told that self-control is a result of God’s Spirit working in us (Galatians 5:22-23). In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul said that he would not be mastered by anything. For the Christian, self-control is a necessary part of growing and maturing.
Why? Why does the Christian need to learn self-control? The problem is that while we live in these bodies, our nature retains self-destructive appetites. When we become Christians, our desire for donuts – or drugs, pornography, money, or glory – don’t automatically go away. We still desire things that enslave us to immediate gratification, causing us misery later. Whatever controls us, distracts us from our relationship with the father, preventing us from doing his will. We cannot simultaneously follow our will and God’s will. Until our appetite is perfected, we must follow one or the other. So, for the Christian, learning to control one’s desires is absolutely necessary to experience the life for which we were made.
We don’t all struggle with the same thing. Some will struggle with food. Some will master food and then struggle with pride because they don’t appear to have a food problem. Others will struggle with lust, money, anger, or drugs. Whatever our struggle is, we must not be mastered by it. Daily, we must go to God, asking what it is that he wants us to do with our struggle. Then, we must do it. In doing so, we will learn self-control, finding the life, joy, and peace for which we were made.