For the past few articles, I have covered the different characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit that is listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Today, I will cover the final characteristic which is temperance, or self control.
Self=control is an important character trait that faithful Christians must have. Living the faithful Christian life means that we have to think through everything that we do and say so that we do not commit sin.” Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded” (Titus 2:6). Christians are to deny themselves the pleasures of sin and not base their actions on impulse. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). Acting impulsively, unfortunately, is something that is commonly seen in the world today.
Being impulsive is something that many people have a problem with today. The word “impulsive” comes from the word “impulse” which means “a sudden spontaneous inclination or incitement to some usually unpremeditated action” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The practice of speaking or doing things “before we think” is a common thing among some people. They choose to say or do certain things without thinking of the consequences of their actions. This habit is not viewed favorably by God, and it can cause us a lot of problems if we go through life acting on impulse. In this article, I would like to discuss some ways that a Christian can act on impulse, and the dangers that an impulsive mindset can provide.
First of all, some Christians can have the negative habit of saying hurtful things to others before they think through all of the possible outcomes and consequences that their words will have on themselves and others. James 1:19 is a handy verse to have memorized in such a situation where a person may be tempted to speak negatively on impulse. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” It is often in times of anger that a person will “spout off at the mouth” so to speak and say things he or she will most likely regret later. The tongue is the one part of the body that cannot be tamed. “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8). We can cause a lot of hurt and permanent damage to relationships when we impulsively use our tongue to hurt others. We can also hurt our influence by using our tongues to curse and to take God’s Name in vain. “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. “(Exodus 20:7). We should also not use our tongues to speak about perverted things. “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:6).
God tells us to use our tongue wisely, and to not be impulsive in our speech. “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:” (I Peter 3:10). We are to think about what we are going to say before we say them. Anything that we say is a thought before we say it, so we must be sure to guard our thoughts as well. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8). We must guard our thoughts and guard our tongues against any corrupt or evil thing in order to be faithful Christians. “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29). If we fail to do so, we will have to answer for our sinful words one day. “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36).
Unrighteous anger is another way that some people can act on impulse and commit sin. Just as we should monitor our speech, we can also learn from James 1:19 that we should be “slow to wrath.” By being “slow to wrath” we must make sure that we do not have unrighteous anger. We can, however, have righteous anger and not sin. What is the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger? Righteous anger occurs when we become angry at sin. Jesus showed righteous anger when He came into the temple and saw the moneychangers selling items to use in animal sacrifices. “And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:15-17).
Jesus showed righteous anger because He became angry with sin. It is acceptable by God to show righteous anger as long as we do it in a way that we do not sin ourselves. For instance, we cannot become angry at sin and use profanity or mistreat the person who is committing the sin. On the contrary, we must treat everyone with respect and love, even when we are rebuking them regarding their sins. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” (Leviticus 19:17).
We commit sin when we have unrighteous anger. Unrighteous anger occurs when we become angry over matters of opinion rather than matters of biblical right and wrong in which we become angry about sinful things. For example, when I was a practicing mental health counselor, I saw many clients who were required to attend “anger management” therapy sessions. These sessions were often ineffective because the person who was under state probation often did not want to really change his or her pattern of behavior. The person merely wanted to attend the required number of therapy sessions necessary to please the probation officer and let that be it.
Anyways, I remember one client in particular who was already on state probation for offences that I cannot remember at the moment. He came to me for a certain number of therapy sessions that were centered on “anger management.” His probation officer made attending anger management therapy sessions with me a requirement in order to continue to be on probation and to not have to finish his sentence in jail. Why did this client have to see me for anger management? Because he had thrown an empty, plastic soda bottle at his girlfriend while they were arguing over something to do with the girlfriend’s dog, and she called the police. As you can imagine, the girlfriend was unharmed by the plastic soda bottle, but this client could have avoided the 5 or 6 sessions with me if he had just learned to control his anger. At first, I thought the story could have been made up by the client to cover up what he actually did to his girlfriend, but he brought me a copy of the police report to prove that his story was true. I tried to teach him ways to cope with his anger without doing something wrong, but he was one of those people who did not think he had a problem. This client would have done well to read Ephesians 4:26; “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:”
Finally, some people can do things on impulse that are wrong, when they actually meant to do something good. They mean to do something good, but they do not fully think through the process by which they will do the good as they should, and they end up doing wrong. For instance, I had a client that I had one therapy session with which was comprised of taking down information about him to give to the Nurse Practitioner that would be handling his medications. He was an elderly gentleman who was a member of the church of Christ. He was happy to see me because I was one of two therapists there that was a member of the church of Christ. Prior to seeing me, he had spent a couple of days in jail for breaking into cars that he found parked in the street near the apartment in which he lived. This man did not talk much, so I had to get most of my information from his son-in-law who was present during this session.
The son-in-law told me that the reason the elderly man was breaking into cars was because he wanted to leave religious tracts which taught about the churches of Christ on the car’s windshield in hopes of converting the owner, but since it was windy and raining on that particular day, the man was breaking the driver side window and leaving the tracts in the seats on the inside of each of the vehicles. This example shows a person who meant to do something good, but went about it the wrong way
We should always think things through before we say or do anything. We should always work to be more like Christ and less like the world in which we live every day. We can do this by praying every day, many times a day, and studying our Bibles every day.
With a good knowledge of the Bible, we can help ourselves be faithful Christians, as well as teach others to do the same. We can use the Bible to rebuke others as well, in a loving manner. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (II Timothy 3:16). Saying sinful things and having unrighteous anger will cause us to suffer punishment for eternity if we do not repent of these sins before we either die, or the Day of Judgment comes.
Acting in an impulsive manner, no matter the motive, is not worth losing our souls over. “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” (Colossians 3:8). If Christ would not say or do it, then we should not say or do it as well. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:” (Ephesians 4:31). I hope that this lesson shows the importance of thinking things through and not acting out impulsively. We must all be sure to take time to think before we speak or act, so that we can let our Christian light shine before the world. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).