SELF-CONTROL (ἐγκράτεια, G1602, self-control, continence, temperance). It is listed in the NT as one of the basic Christian virtues. It is the mastery of self, the exercise of restraint, esp. in sensual pleasures. Self-control is man’s insurance against self-indulgence in immorality, drunkenness, brawling, gossiping, conceit, and greed. In temperance man foregoes excesses in acceptable pursuits, as eating, drinking, and conversation.
Lack of self-control.
It is stated in an old proverb that, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov 25:28). Self-control fortifies the inner man. It builds a wall of defense around him against destructive forces of evil. The pathetic tragedy of the physically strong man Samson was the result of his intemperance in sensual desires. His sexual love for ungodly women decreed his doom (Judg 14:2ff.). Israel’s beloved king, David, reaped tragic results from lack of self-control in sexual pleasures (2 Sam 11:2ff.); and so did his son Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-4). Paul was keenly aware of the threat of sexual lust. Consequently, in writing to the church in the large, wicked city of Corinth, he gave specific instructions on this subject, particularly as related to marriage. He urged self-control as a safeguard against immorality, “lest Satan tempt you” (1 Cor 7:5).
Practice of self-control.
Good examples and wise teachings are made available to Christians in the NT.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus practiced self-control, even though their enemies accused John of having a demon and Jesus of being “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:33, 34). John followed a strict course of self-control and abstinence, similar in some respects to that of the Essenes. Though Jesus was sociable and enjoyed feasting with friends, He set the perfect example of self-control. He enjoyed the blessings of nature and man, but abstained from sensual pleasures.
Self-control, like other Christian virtues, is not easy to maintain. It requires exercise of will and the aid of the Holy Spirit. Even the strong pagan may find himself lacking in self-control. Paul alarmed the Rom. governor Felix “as he argued about justice and self-control and future judgment” (Acts 24:25). And, as he wrote “to the unmarried and the widows” in the Corinthian church about sex matters, he was quite aware of how difficult it was to “exercise self-control” (1 Cor 7:8, 9). Young churches planted in the midst of paganism over the Rom. empire had a hard struggle against worldliness. Crete was one of the worst localities for “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12), and other reprobates. With this kind of environment, Paul realized the demands that would be made on church leaders. Consequently, he charged Titus to appoint bishops with strong Christian qualities. A bishop should be “hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled” (Titus 1:8).
Self-control is essential for success in the pursuit of any worthy goal. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor 9:25). Paul then asserted that he, like the athlete, constantly subdued his body for the Christian ministry. Self-control was constantly in Jesus’ teaching, as with reference to murder, sexual lust, swearing, retaliation, hypocrisy, greed and anxiety (Matt 5:21-6:34). Paul, likewise, catalogued sources of temptation, and advised how to combat them: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” In contrast to these, he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law” (Gal 5:19-23). With reference to the Christian ministry, Paul encouraged Timothy “to rekindle the gift of God that is within you,” for “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:6, 7). Peter said that in order to “become partakers of the divine nature,” one must have a number of supplementary virtues, including “self-control” (2 Pet 1:4-7).
F. F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls (1956), 126-137.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Rendered in the King James Version "temperance" (compare Latin temperario and continentia), but more accurately "self-control," as in the Revised Version (British and American) (Ac 24:25; Ga 5:23; 2Pe 1:6); adjective of same, egkrates, "self-controlled" (Tit 1:8 the Revised Version (British and American)); compare verb forms in 1Co 7:9, "have .... continency"; 9:25, the athlete "exerciseth self-control." Self-control is therefore repeatedly set forth in the New Testament as among the important Christian virtues.