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Developing Self-Control

2 Peter 1:6

In all of my years of pastoral ministry, I would say that the presence or absence of self-control is one of the most determinative factors in whether a person will do well or have serious problems in his Christian life. It affects:


*A consistent quiet time (Bible reading, prayer, Scripture memory).

*How you manage your time (with work, family, being on time, scheduling of priorities, TV, etc.).

*Your stewardship of money.

*Your ability to overcome temptation.

*Your development of godly character qualities (1 Tim. 4:7).

*Controlling your temper and your tongue.

*Controlling your health (proper diet and exercise)


The word comes from a root word meaning power or lordship, thus expressing the power or lordship which one has either over oneself or over something (TDNT, 2:339). Philo describes it as superiority to every desire (ibid., 341). This is not (in the Bible) asceticism, but rather the discipline that frees us from bondage to sin and lust.



Titus 1:8—Used of elders.

Acts 24:25—Paul discussing with Felix righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.

Gal. 5:23—fruit of Holy Spirit.

2 Pet. 1:6—an essential in Christian growth.




Gen. 43:31—Joseph controlling his emotions before his brothers

1 Sam. 13:12—Saul used it to say that he “forced himself” to offer the sacrifice.

Esther 5:10—Haman controlled his anger.

1 Cor. 7:9—Self-control over lust.

1 Cor. 9:25—Athletes exercising self-control in all things to obtain a wreath.


How does one develop this quality?

  1. A daily walk in dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-23).
  2. Setting biblical goals out of the desire to please the Lord with my life (1 Cor. 9:23-27; 1 Tim. 4:7).


In many of the biblical uses of the word, the person is overruling his emotions because of a higher goal. Thus to exercise self-control means that you must go against your feelings because you want to please and honor God with all of your life.


  • These goals should be determined from Scripture (biblical character qualities and activities).
  • These goals will vary from person to person, depending on the areas in which the person struggles (see Spiritual Diagnostic sheet for an inventory).

What discipline is and is not:

  1. Discipline is an ongoing process, not a quick fix. Like staying in shape, the day you quit, you regress.
  2. Discipline involves hard work. It doesn’t come naturally. By definition, it means acting against your feelings because you have a higher goal. Both you and God must be involved.
  3. Discipline means discarding hindrances. Like an athlete, you get rid of anything in your life that hinders you from reaching your goal.
  4. Discipline means keeping your eyes on the goal: godliness. Thought, attitudes, words, actions.
  5. Discipline means managing your time in line with your goals. Making time daily to spend alone with God.
  6. Discipline is not opposed to the grace of God. Motive is crucial. If your motive is to take pride in how spiritual you are because you had your quiet time, that is legalistic. If your motive is to love and please God, that is not legalistic. Grace does not mean sloppy living.
  7. Discipline is not driving yourself relentlessly. God rested on the seventh day. He made our bodies to require rest and recreation.
  8. Discipline is not being so rigid that you are insensitive to what God is doing. His providence should overrule our rigidity. Jesus always had time for interruptions.

Time Management, Personal Goals

Pastor Steven J. Cole

Some helpful books:


  1. Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, by Donald Whitney [[NavPress, 1991]. Great book for personal growth and for working with other men.
  2. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, by Donald Whitney [NavPress, 2001]. Short, helpful treatment of areas where it’s easy to drift.
  3. Strategy for Living, by Edward R. Dayton & Ted W. Engstrom [G/L Regal Books, 1976]. A clear, helpful book. The main points:

    *How we live our life is determined by our goals.

    *What goals we choose are determined by our priorities.

    *Whether we reach our goals is determined by our planning.

    *A strategy for living needs good goals, Christian priorities, effective plans.

    *It is in the living that we find better goals, higher priorities, more effective plans.

    *The strategy is a process: Goals, priorities, planning, living.


  4. Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald [Oliver Nelson, 1984]. A pastor’s perspectives on motivation; the use of time; wisdom and knowledge; spiritual strength; and, restoration. I read this in 1985 and probably should reread it.
  5. First Things First, by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, & Rebecca A. Merrill [Fireside/ Simon & Schuster, 1994]. The authors are Mormons, not evangelical Christians, and so you must read it discerningly. Covey is the author of the popular The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. See following pages for some helpful quotes from the book.

Priority Questions:

  1. What is the best use of my time right now?
  2. How urgent is it?
  3. How important is it?
  4. How often must it be done?
  5. Can someone else do it more effectively than I?
  6. Is it part of the larger task to which I am committed?
  7. What will happen if it is not done at all?
  8. Is this the best way?

Every once in a while, ask yourself these four questions:


  1. What are we doing?
  2. What should we be doing?
  3. What should we be doing next?
  4. What should we not be doing?

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