SELF-CONTROL IS THE KEY
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Gigi is Billy Graham's daughter, and she writes about one of those days she wishes she could wipe off the calendar. It all started with an experience some of you have had. It was flood damage to their house. The carpet men were there replacing the water ruined carpet. She was trying to do some cleaning up of the mess and overdid it. By suppertime she was totally exhausted. She got the kids into the car and headed for McDonald's. She stopped at the bank while her husband ran in. She was doubled parked. She glanced in her rearview mirror and saw a large older model car pull up behind her. It was driven by an older woman with flaming red hair. She started to blast her horn, and now we read Gigi tell what happened.
"I don't know what possessed me, but after my whirlwind day, this was the last straw! I decided not to move. She gave another long, loud blast which just reinforced my stubborn refusal to budge, and I motioned for her to pass me. As angry as she was, she managed to maneuver the big car around and pulled up beside me. Then she lowered her window and began to yell. I blew her a kiss. That did it! She screamed, then stuck out her tongue.
By this time she was out of her car, threatening me and calling me names, attracting the attention of people passing by. Suddenly I wanted to crawl into a hole. The red-headed grandmother returned to her car, and Stephan appeared, wandering what the commotion was all about. We continued on to McDonald's, but I was too distraught to eat."
She could not sleep well for several nights, for she felt she had been so unlike Christ, and she wished she could apologized to the woman. She had let her tiredness and anxiety drown out the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, and let her stubborn human nature take control. The point is, it happens to the best of Christians at times. We loose a sense of awareness that we are Christians, and that we are to be different from the world by demonstrating a power of self-control that is superior to what is natural to man. The Christian is under constant attack and without self-control is always at risk of blowing it, and demonstrating to the world that they are far from a finished product.
The point that Paul stresses is that a Christian leader is to be one who has a great deal of self-control so that he does not let his actions or emotions go to extremes. He does not dominate, lose his temper, or go off on a binge of drinking to escape the pressures of life. He is one who has other ways than the world has of dealing with the stress of life. He is not controlled by the circumstances, but is self-controlled. Food, sex, and money are all important elements in his life, but he is not controlled by them, for if he is he will lose his credibility as a leader. Again, we need to see that people who are excessive, domineering, and obsessed may be very successful people, but Paul says they do not qualify to be leaders in the church.
A well known pastor was counseling the son of one of America's great industrialists and he concluded that his drinking problem was due to the domineering actions of his father. He confronted the father and almost got kicked out of his office because the father went into such a rage. But later the man called and said he reflected on what had been said and it was true. He ran an empire all day and it was hard to shift gears when he came home to his family. He began to cry and admitted that unless God helped him he could not change. God did help him, and in time he learned to be different with his son. Here was a man greatly qualified to lead a major industry, but Paul says he was not qualified to lead even the little church of Crete. The church has higher standards than government or industry.
In these secular realms there is a demand for leaders who will do almost anything to succeed. Violence in behavior and the pursuit of dishonest gain are not vices in the dog eat dog world of competition. Human nature has not changed. These things were popular in Paul's day as well, but a Christian is to be different. A Christian leader is not to be violent Paul says. He writes the same thing to Timothy, and adds a word to clarify what he means. I Tim. 3:3 says the church leader is to be, "not violent but gentle." No man or woman is fit to be a leader who treats people in an ungentle manner. The Christian who is abusive to their mate and children, or to anyone is not a good reflection of the spirit of Christ.
A Christian leader is one who is always sensitive to other people's feelings and does not trample on them. You can see that this would take considerable self-control when working with people who are lazy, lying gluttons like they were in Crete. The impulse to treat them like the evil brutes they are would be always tugging at your emotions. It would take great self-control to resist. The immature Christian will surrender to this impulse and lost their temper. They may even try to compel people to be better by force. This will not work, for people must be led and taught and persuaded. Only the self-controlled mature Christian has the patience to put up with this slow process without exploding in frustration.
The mature Christian feels the same frustration and negative emotions as anyone else. The difference is that they do not let their behavior be controlled by their emotions. They are self-controlled. They choose how they will respond rather than being dragged along by their feelings to do what they don't want to do. Self-control is their major virtue, for it is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It enables them to choose the will of God rather than the desires of their human nature. Without self-control the Christian will not be a whole lot different from the non-Christian. They will be at the mercy of circumstances. A Christian leader is one who can demonstrate they are not slaves of circumstance. They can choose to act or react to life in a way consistent with their knowledge of God's will.
They are not people who are controlled by whims and desires. Such people tend to be impulsive, and so they overeat, overspend, and just lean toward excessiveness in all they do. They do not react gently, but violently to those who block the way of self-indulgence. They may be great people in many ways, but Paul says do not choose them as church leaders. Self-control is the key to defeating Satan. It was the key Jesus used to remain perfect in a fallen world. Imagine having a billion dollars but not buying a hamburger when you are famished and as hungry as you have ever been. Even this illustration does not match what Jesus did. He was starving, and yet with the power to turn stones into bread He did not do so. That was self-control, and by it He defeated the temptation of Satan.
The whole point of the temptation of Jesus was to make Him loose self-control and do something out of God's will. That is the point of all temptation. It is to get you to surrender your control to another force. Once you loose self-control you are under the control of some other force, and it is usually an evil force. Self-control is essential to be a good Christian, and especially to be a leader of Christians. What is not under control is out of control, and this leads to extremes. Any Christian who tends to be an extremist is not a good leader, for leaders need to examples of balance.
It is pretty much a universal belief among all people's of the world that the person who has learned self-mastering is the wisest of leaders. Cato the pagan could say, "He approaches nearest to the gods who knows how to be silent even though he knows he is right." Jesus had this kind of control before his accusers. This is hard to do, but it is what Jesus expects leaders in the church to do. Why is this so important? It is because the world in which the church is to serve is one of two major extremes. There is the pagan life-style of eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. The excessive lust for pleasure at any cost.
On the other hand, there is the ascetic life-style of the Gnostics and other cults that snared many Christians by their self-denial philosophy. They refused to enjoy the pleasures of life that God gave to man. Both extremes make a Christian unfit for leadership, for they both reject the balance life that the Bible reveals to be God's will for man. The self-controlled leader is to set the example of being an abstainer from lawless pleasures and moderate and legitimate pleasures.
The reason Paul made so much of this is because even the pagan world recognized that a life of balance, moderation, and self-control was the highest level that man could achieve. They called it temperance. Plutarch said, "Temperance is the greatest of the virtues. Euripides said, "Temperance is the noblest gift of the gods." Christians were to reach this highest level in the eyes of the pagan world as examples of what surrender to Christ could enable even the common man to achieve. Pagans would be impressed by a Christian who could be provoked and be insulted, and not respond with violence. The code of honor among men in many cultures, and for many years in our own, was to use violence to preserve your self respect and reputation.
The decades of dueling were due to this code in our culture. Many of the heroes of the screen still follow this code and pulverize anyone who dares to offend them. They are usually scum bags and notoriously evil, and so we cheer them on in their violence right along with the world. The paradox is that even though we love these heroes of violence they do not qualify to be our leaders in the realm of spiritual growth. If a man is quick to strike out and hurt another person, they are disqualified as a church leader. There is a great deal of difference between being a hero and being a Christian leader.
This paradox is even more radical as we look at the final negative in Paul's list of what a Christian leader is not to be. "He must not be pursuing dishonest gain." It is clear in the Bible that economic status has no bearing on Christian leadership. You can be very poor, or very rich, and be a truly godly leader. But the way you get your little or your great wealth makes a big difference. The thing that amazes me is how little commentators say about this particular negative. In our culture it is a very touchy subject because there is so much deception in this business of acquiring money.
Christians are involved in all kinds of businesses that make excessive profit from their products. Where do you draw the line between greed and an honest profit? If I can sell you for 5 dollars what cost me a quarter to make, is that greed or merely taking advantage of the system? It is extremely hard to define what a Christian would have to do to be labeled with this disqualification. The result is that it is just ignored, and today you could probably be a slum lord and still be an elder in the church. The culture rather than the Scripture sets the standard.
It is very hard to avoid being guilty here. If you have money invested in bonds or mutual funds, or if you have insurance, or just about any investment you can think of, you could very well be getting interest and making money off some company that provides and evil product or service, and which rips people off with cold and calculated greed. No doubt all of us have made money from investing in someone else's evil. There are many investment strategies today to help Christians be socially and spiritually responsible, but lets face it, to be an American in the kind of economy we have it is near impossible to avoid some level of greed.
But there is a counter-movement today that says Christians are not to conform to this materialistic economy that says that the one who dies with the most toys wins. Pastor David Sorensen and his Barbara wrote the book Tis A Gift To Be Simple. The sub title is Embracing The Freedom Of Living With Less. This is just one of many examples of couples who decided the cost of ever moving up and getting more and more was too great. Their marriage and their family suffered for the sake of requiring more stuff. They were always busy and had no time for love, fun, and enjoying the gifts of God. They were trapped in a life-style that did not mirror their true values. They had everything but the time to enjoy what they valued most. So they decided to do the unthinkable and deliberately move down and live on less.
They decided to cease their over consumption which our culture promotes, and aim for simplicity. As I read the book I could see the biblical basis for their choice, but I also recognized how hard it would be to persuade many to follow. Tony Compalo in his book Carpe Diem, which means seize the day, goes on and on about the American Christian is trapped in an absurd situation. He writes,
"Just think about last Christmas season. Your biggest problem was probably not figuring out where you would get enough money to buy presents for family members and friends. Instead, it was trying to figure out what to buy for people who had everything. The answer to that problem should have been self-evident. What you should buy for those who have everything, is nothing. But you didn't have the guts to pull it off, did you? No! Instead you went up and down the aisles of department stores having anxiety attacks. Panic-stricken, you searched yea, even prayed, that somebody somewhere had invented some new things that nobody needs so you could buy them for people who have everything. This is not an absurd description of a reasonable world. It is a rational description of an absurd world."
Capitalism has proved it is the best kind of economy. It has defeated fascism and communism in this century, and the whole world wants to get in on it now. The problem is, in order to keep it going you need people who will buy more and more things they don't need, and in larger and larger quantities. Our way of life demands that we be consumers of masses of things we do not need. In order to do this we need to make a lot of money, and that means we need to spend more of our life working and less of it with our family and in building relationships. The major portion of our lives has to be given to the goal of purchasing things we do not need. The result is that we are slaves and do not realize it. We are bound by loyalty to our culture to sacrifice our lives for the sake of the value system. You see the paradox of it all and the absurdity of it all. We fall in love with our slavery to the system, for it is exciting to be able to have masses of things we do not need. The more we get, the more successful we are, and our self-esteem is raised.
The Sorensen's down sizing of their life style said this was one of the major problems they had to cope with-the loss of self-esteem as they ceased to buy what they did not need. The bottom line is this: The vast majority of Christians are a part of our materialistic consumer oriented culture. None of us would dare to say I do not have a lot of things I don't need. As good Americans we need to have a lot of things we don't need. But a Christian leader is to be one who is self-controlled, and who is moderate in the degree to which he or she is motivated by the consumer spirit.
We already conform to the world too much in this area, but a Christian leader is to be one who may be rich, but who displays moderation in lifestyle. Many extremely wealthy Christians have done this successfully. They have made millions, but live a life style not that different from the average middle class Christian. On the other hand are the many middle class Christians who live like they have millions, and they devote their life to consumerism and the acquiring of things for status. The more I study Paul's qualifications for a Christian leader, the more I realize how hard it is to be a truly committed Christian in our culture. The scary thing is that we haven't even gotten to the positive things yet, and already it seems impossible to find Christians who can measure up.
I have concluded that hardly anyone is worthy to be a leader in the church, or to be a pastor. Just as we are saved by grace, so we are allowed to serve God by grace. We are not worthy, but everyone so chosen is to be a person who is committed to excellence of character, and one who is clearly striving to be an example of Christ likeness. As strange as it sounds, the more you know about how the world functions, the more you realize that being like Christ has strong financial implications.
I can rationalize my conformity, for I just look at my peers and say that I am only doing what they all do. I live up to the level of my income. I buy things I don't need because I can, and I am sure you do the same. We need to be reminded of the warning of Jesus in Luke 12:15, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed: A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Jesus knew that Christians would have a battle with greed and the persistent hunger to possess things. Paul's point is, only those who are winning this battle are qualified to be Christian leaders. Moderation in all things and self-control in all things is the quality to look for in a Christian leader. This should be the goal of all of our lives.