Saturday, March 29, 2014

A 52 Word Journey for Bible Study in 2014:Words 11 and 12: Self-Control and Self-Discipline

In January, I began a series of blog posts summarizing what I'm calling my 52 word journey of Bible study. I'm taking one word from Scripture a week and studying it as part of my personal Bible study. As a means of helping to organize my jumbled notes (and often equally jumbled mind!), I'm sharing my journey of study on my blog. Over the last two weeks, I've studied the words self-control and self-discipline.


The words "self-control" or "self-controlled" are only mentioned 13 times in the Bible and only twice in the Old Testament--both in the book of Proverbs.Examining the original Hebrew Solomon used gave me a better understanding of what self-control really is. Proverbs 16:32 reads, "Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city."The Hebrew, mashal ruwach is translated as self-control in English. A literal translation of those Hebrew words in the second part of Proverbs 16:32 would read "he who reigns over his spirit than one who takes the city". I often understood "self-control" as having control over my actions, but it's really more internal than that. To be sure, having the self-control not to eat a second piece of chocolate cake or not to yell at someone who cut you off in traffic, is  indeed exercising self-control of one's actions. To have true reign over your spirit, however, means that you are able to squash the desire for a second piece of cake or that you are able to control your emotions in such a way that you do not have an emotional reaction to the driver who cut you off that might lead to the desire to yell at him or her. Exercising self-control is nipping our sinful desires in the bud.

In the New Testament, 5 of the 11 mentions of self-control/self-controlled are found in the book of Titus, and 4 of these come in the context of Paul's teaching to Titus to ensure that the church was of sound doctrine. In Titus 2, Paul encourages Titus to teach various groups within the church to be self-controlled, and in verse 11-12, Paul notes that the grace of God teaches us "to live self-controlled". The Greek word translated self-controlled--sōphronōs-- more literally means "of sound mind".

 It is a God of grace that teaches us to be of a mind and a spirit of self-control. It's not a God of overberance and spiritual micromanagement. Self-control is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23). To be self-controlled is not to be a robotic, self-killjoy, it is to reign over your own spirit as fruit of the Holy Spirit because you have allowed God's grace to teach you.


I was somewhat surprised to find that a form of the word "self-discipline" is only found in the Bible once, in 2 Timothy 1:7 where Paul notes that God gave us a Spirit of self-discipline. The root of the Greek word translated as self-discipline is the same as the one I noted above that is translated to self-controlled. Because there was only one use of  "self-discipline" in the Bible, I decided to expand my study this past week and also study the concept of discipline as it is portrayed in Scripture.

In the Old Testament especially, there is a clear message about our receptivity to discipline in our lives. In Proverbs, Solomon notes that a bad attitude toward discipline can lead to death (5:23), poverty and shame (13:18), and to despising self (15:32). On the other hand, several verses note that being receptive to discipline can lead to blessing:

  • Psalm 94:12-"Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord, the man you teach from your law"
  • Job 5:17-"Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty"
  • Proverbs 10:17-"He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray".
  • Proverbs 12:1-"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid". 
  • Proverbs 19:20-"Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise".
Discipline is often cast in a negative light, but really it is helpful (albeit often painful) to enable us to become better people and followers of God.

In Hebrews 12, the author discuss God's discipline and how it comes because of the relationship that we have with Him--as His children. Just as earthly parents discipline their children because they love them and want them to grow and mature, so God disciplines us so that we grow and mature spiritually. This is what separates discipline from punishment. Discipline is rehabilitative; punishment is punitive.

Previous posts:

 Introduction to the 52 Word Journey

 Words 1 and 2: Confidence and Peace

 Words 3 and 4: Perseverance and Works

Words 5 and 6: Humility and Compassion

Words 7 and 8: Kindness and Faithfulness

Words 9 and 10: Goodness and Pride

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